Role Playing versus Roll Playing

George Kelln's picture

I have been thinking about this subject and how others handle Role Playing versus Roll Playing in their games.

The situation has come up in my game several times and I fumble way through it; what my players and I want is a consistent set of guide lines to follow.

I'll set up a situation:

A PC approaches a local lord, wanting to impress upon him the need to build a palisade around the village, in order to protect it from a Gargun attack.

Now on one hand, Player A, himself, is a pretty good talker, and relishes the times when his character gets to make speeches in the game; despite whatever the Rhetoric or Oratory MLs of his character maybe.

On the other hand, Player B, is not a good talker, and tends to dread having his character making speeches in the game; despite the fact that his character may have above average Rhetoric or Oratory skills.

Now the skilled that would be used in the game would Rhetoric or Oratory; so the dilemma is, do I Role Play or Roll Play.

If I Roll Play, Player A will get the most enjoyment (which is desirable) and I as the GM must try and based the lord's reaction on it – be that he maybe even a lowly peasant. However, Player B will stumble and stammer his way through the speech, being as brief as possible, even though he may be priest with high Rhetoric or Oratory MLs.

If I Role Play, I have to some how base the lord's reaction on what their characters says, Player A will have the advantage; but if I Roll Play, now matter what they say, it will still come down to dice roll against their character's Rhetoric or Oratory skill and Player B will be favour in this case.

Your thoughts on the matter are appreciated.

McBard's picture

Because very, very few players and GMs would NOT default to a character's ML in Sword if the character were to strike the same Lord in your example (and not rely on the player's knowledge of swordsmanship), I think you should clearly default to the character's ML in Oratory were the same character to make a speech to the Lord.

Now, you might offer a +10 special bonus to a character for the player's role playing--in EITHER the Sword or the Oratory situation--for especially entertaining or creative ideas.

Frankly, it's bad role playing for your Player A (whose character is a poor speaker) to role play his character as having exceptional Oratory. If the player is such a good role player, suggest he or she try to role play as boorish or tongue-tied.

I would under no circumstances punish a shy player's character (high in Oratory) for the player's own communicative short-comings. You wouldn't punish a player's mighty warrior because the player is small/weak/clumsy?

George Kelln's picture

Then it would come down to series of dice rolls, so a few examples of a "TYPICAL" exchange would go something like these examples:

PC: Our characters wander into town to see what is going on
GM: Make intrigue roll to find out what is happening...

PC: We want to purchase some supplies, food, ale, etc., from the inn
GM: Make Rhetoric Roll to find out how much the innkeeper charges you...

PC: We want to try an convince the people in the inn's common room that we are great warriors with stories of our adventures
GM: Make an Oratory Roll to determine their reactions...

PC: I attack the thug with my sword
GM: Make a Sword Roll...

Typically, examples #1 & #3 I see as prime Role Playing opportunities for the PCs, helping to tell the story of their adventure; example #4 I see as a pretty much straight forward (Combat) Roll Play opportunity, and example #3, I see could land somewhere in the middle.

I agree that a player has try and play his character according to his stats, skills, and attributes; but embellishments, stories telling, and NPC interactions are a staple of Role-Playing Games (at least I hope), and while not wanting to punish a shy player for not "Talking it up" is not good, nor is punishing the not-shy player for having to "Talking it down".

So you see my dilemma, when the players just tell me I use my intrigue skill to determine what is going on the town, my response to them is; "How are you using it?" They look a me and reply "I don't know, I just roll against the skill". Or one player gets up and in front of the baron tells of the party's adventures and how they had help the baron's cause... closely followed by others players saying "Ditto"

istvan's picture


there are two problems at the same time.

Your player, who is playing a priest, did choose a wrong character for his style of play. I would suggest your player to make another character that is more fun for him. In my opinion it’s not good for the gameplay if one reduces a priest to the rituals and skills. The problem
with roleplaying is that it is a communicative game. You can act like a strong hero in pen and paper, but not as a scholar if you don’t have the skill in real life. If you want to be fair to your player you should do what ensures most of the fun for him and that is definitely NOT talking very much. If he/she plays a hunter or a mercenary or a tacit(!) scholar with no rethoric skills he will be more satisfied.

Your rethoric skilled player with low ML in rethoric and oratory should roll for rethoric/oratory/intrigue before any action involving this skills. He maybe should roll it visible to all other players. Then he could act like his roll was, if he achieved a MF, then he could put in a slight mistake, if achieving a CS he could act as in real life. If he plays like his roll in your opinion, he gains a development roll for the applicable skill. If things go well your player will have fun with his character despite his low level in rethoric and he will learn ingame very quickly.

If you try to use this system with your player priest, you should grant some hints during his “speech” like “you should adress the lord with ‘Sire’ ”. But it is very very difficult to guide a calm player to an eloquent speaker. See above what I would do….

Marduk23's picture

In my campaign I certainly require the oratory/rhetoric rolls, but I also 'require' a modicum of role-play as well. Basically my players have the following options (and I've really never been disappointed by their behavior with it):

1) They attempt to role-play and then roll the appropriate skill.
2) They do not attempt to role-play and then roll the appropriate skill.

Players experienced with my GM style *always* choose the first option, as role-playing through an encounter/discussion/what-have-you opens up all kinds of possibilities. Most importantly the real-world consequence of actually discovering information you didn't know before. :-) Players that _don't_ choose the role-play option merely make their roll and then I, possibly passive-aggressively (lol), simply let them know the simple result (e.g. "He agrees to help." or "They seem impressed."). Whereas if they DO role-play the person they are speaking with may (gasp!) respond to actual questions that come up, let information spill, or use information the player gives them to actually suggest new options. After all, that is what people do.

In addition, if they attempt option-1 I let the roll stand with no modifiers. Even a poor role-play performance can still allow an exchange of information that could be useful to both myself and the players.

In addition, if they do a good job (are clever, or do a better job of role-playing that I expected from them) I may give a special +5 to +10 bonus to their roll.

On the other hand, if they choose the 2nd option, I always reserve the right to impose a minor (-5) EML penalty. If I don't impose the penalty then I generally invoke the passive-aggressive penalty... in one case a player of mine wanted to tell the story of their adventures to a local tavern keeper to earn a discount. He didn't want to 'go through the trouble' of role-playing so I let him roll normally. Later that night the constable showed up asking about his story - especially since the tavern keeper was alarmed at method the party used to get their last pay-check! The player complained that he 'wouldn't have told that part of the story!'... and I responded that "you told me that you wanted to explain what you did last night. Perhaps next time you should tell him yourself, so I don't have to guess 'what you meant'." He is now a great role-player - a result well worth the glares I received for a few hours. ;-D

This also has the side-benefit of both encouraging them to improve their role-play skills *and* put development into their skill. After all, a GREAT role-play performance with a MF (or worse) on the roll can still exchange needed information... it's just that their character may have emphasized wrong words or misspoke at an inopportune time.

Terisonen's picture

This kind of discussion has been remade and remade for long, and it will continue as long as Role Playing will be here. If player is bright in his Role playing or have a brilliant idea, give him a bonus to his skill, or if it will enhance the scenario you have to state that he has succeded, even if it means cheating... Interest in role playing is to tell good tales, and above all, to have fun.

kjetilkverndokken's picture

Well, it is the character sheet that is the character - so in any instance when a PC wants to change something in the narrative, they roll the dice - but also have to play out the scene - to the best of their abilities.
I would only give + or - to this type of roll, depending on how hard the NPC s to negotiate with - not based on the Players skill.
A player that is a good talker, should be able to bumble about if he plays a character that is not a good talker.

pokep's picture

. . . is that it's like Running. The player says where, but the character sheet and the dice determine how fast (or how many times he trips). At most the player can suggest a route - for better or worse.

Some players like to act out their character's every word, some like to just say, "I blackmail him over that pony affair." That's a matter of gaming style, and doesn't earn a penalty or reward with me. Again, the analogy with movement - some like to play with their miniatures and map out every shrub on the battlefield, some just point towards the table and say, "Move me over by the window." Neither gets a reward or penalty for enjoying the game in a particular way.