Role vs Roll: Ending the Debate


When I first started playing D&D, I was not only a new player, but also a new Dungeon Master. I had never played D&D with anyone before as a player, and therefor I had never actually seen a game of Dungeons & Dragons being played, ever. I had seen a couple of movies like Mazes and Monsters, and I extrapolated the rest of what I thought I knew about role-playing from societal stereotypes and preconceptions. For me, at the time, I thought that the game had to be completely immersive, as realistic as possible, and tell the greatest stories anyone had ever heard. No out of character talking would be allowed in my games. I even envisioned getting a hooded cloak and staff and dressing the part of a so-called real Dungeon Master one day.

That was exactly what I thought was going to happen. But, then my first campaign began. My only steady player was my best friend. We were just starting High School, so a couple of guys would play here and there, but most of them either lost interest or were too busy to play with any regularity. My friend had drawn up a Human Druid, and since I was pretty much running a solo campaign, I also drew up a character. I drew up another Elven Magic-User, the exact same as my first character. We had our characters drawn up, my world was about halfway done being drawn out on maps, and we were ready to play. But instead of wanting to play by talking in-character and describing the actions that we undertook, my friend was more into the mass combat and conquest scenarios that were intended to be merely the backdrop for my campaign. He simply was not interested in role-playing anything. Not the interactions with his lieutenants and their underlings, not the heated negotiations with rival kings and lords, not even the meeting of his wife or the raising of his children. He only wanted to command his armies on the field of battle and be told about everything else that happened off-screen, so to speak.

That first campaign of mine went on for about a year or so. My friend’s Druid ended up conquering the entire starting continent, and we decided that that was as good a place as any to stop and regroup. I never once got to speak to him in-character as any of the NPCs, or even as my Elf. But regardless of everything else, that was my first real campaign, and I loved every second of it. Nothing went the way that I thought it would. We did not even play the way that I thought we were required to play. Instead we just made-up a bunch of stuff, rolled some dice, told a few jokes, and had the most amazing time learning how to play D&D ever.

Years later, I got the opportunity to play a game of White Wolf’s, Vampire: The Masquerade with my cousin. She had played it a bunch with her group, and was willing to run a solo campaign for me. I was super excited. Not only was I going to get to see how someone else ran a game, but I loved vampires and was looking forward to playing out the story of my character. I drew up a Toreador and decided that he had been sired by one of the Antediluvians. She ran that game as a pure role-playing experience. In fact, there was no need for me to have taken the time to fill out my character sheet, because no dice were ever rolled. I had built a character that  was a combat machine, with proficiency in both small arms and melee combat, but instead of getting to try out any of the mechanics for combat, I spent my entire first session talking to other vampires at a fancy party. I even attempted to force the issue at one point, by specifically looking for a fight, but there was no derailing this train. Now, I am sure that her group enjoyed hundreds of hours playing their particular style of role-play, but I never played another session after that. In fact, I never played any of the World of Darkness games after that. I still love their stories and world concepts, but the game had been forever ruined for me.

“As long as you can communicate what it is that you want, and are comfortable with, there should not be any issues.

Does that mean that I did not, or do not like role-play? No, not at all. I have always had a love for acting (I was involved in my local theater company since I was a small child), and I enjoy the deep level of immersion that my current campaign has taken on. However, the fact remains that one of my favorite campaigns ever involved no role-play at all, whereas one of the worst gaming experiences I have had was nothing but role-playing. So what is the answer? Which is better?

Neither is better. Both are better. It simply depends on who is playing, who is running the game, and whether or not those styles can be blended into a fun and exciting campaign. Some players would not feel comfortable playing with a DM, or fellow players, who spoke in-character using accents and voices, while wearing costumes and holding replica weapons. Some players feel superior to others and refuse to play with anyone that they feel is not up to their level of role-playing ability. As long as you can communicate what it is that you want, and are comfortable with, there should not be any issues. If Player A wants to talk in-character as Rathar the Unkillable to Player B’s character, whom Player B is more comfortable talking as in the 3rd person, that is okay! Remember, the goal is to have fun, not to prove who is the best actor…

Good Gaming my friends!

– The Dungeon Master

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