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Patrick Zoch
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A question suggested by

Michael Ink
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How do you get your group to role play emotional themes sincerely?

Original phrasing of suggested question for context:

How do you prevent emotional themes like love, relationships, loss (of favorite rare equipment, circle of life), coming of age, predjudice, etc. from becoming too silly, upsetting, or contentious in a role play game? If your answer would be "find the right group", how do you find these players?

To rephrase, how do you get players to play out a more emotional scene somewhat sincerely? In general, these would be games played with good friends in a comfortable setting but mostly they want D&D min/maxing and dungeon crawling.



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Alexandre Santos
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To me this has always depended on the audience. If people are ready for it it's much easier.

I find that RPGs which focus on a single issue are easier to pull it off, as people understand what is the intent from the get go (Montsegur 1244, Dogs in the Vineyard, Trollbabe)
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Alain Curato
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The best way, IMHO, is trial, error and sincerity.

Find a group, have them play something, see if they do it seriously (at least part of the time). If yes, offer a heavier game in terms of emotions. Make it clear from the get-go that you expect and reward good roleplay. Players who quote books and old movies should be better at this; those who quote new movies are probably less ready, but might still be good.

If they want loot and experience, tell them that good rp will get them these.

If they are not serious at all, just stick with Paranoia.
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Bruce McGeorge
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First, there's the upfront work. When I pitch something to the group, I make sure to address the tone of the campaign and what kind of things characters might do. In general, I know that they are find with "serious" campaigns. Emotional? Maybe if it's a small part of the game.

At the table, it's up to me as the GM to set the tone that I want the players to follow.

Problems... I have one player who won't bite. He's not going to ruin the mood, but if you give him scenery to chew, it's a no-go. In our current D&D game, I believe the GM is setting up the end of the campaign. He's given us story hooks to hint at happy endings or tragic defeats. My character is getting married (yeah, yeah, it still hasn't happened yet; we haven't played in a long time). This player was given a similar opportunity and wanted nothing to do with it. What can you do?

Also, our schedule and geography are issues. We're good friends who meet once a month. I've lately noticed that we're less chatty between sessions (e-mail, etc...). When we do get together, it's not always conducive to a tight session of Dogs In the Vineyard where we're trying to save a community from Hell. If, say, we met once a week for a few hours, that would be more of a possibility.
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Gordy Crozier
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Agree on the set player expectations.

I run a therapeutic RPG group in work and part of our thing is being upfront on the fact that yes we run a fun session, but we'll also run one that needs to be taken seriously. At times if I want to talk about those emotions, I set the GM screen down and we'll talk about it before we carry on which sometimes primes them for "This is a serious section please take it seriously"
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I expect them to handle emotional themes in a true Howardian way...With revenge.





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Quote:

How do you get your group to role play emotional themes sincerely?

Normally from playing up players reactions, observe their behavior then go hook them. It is no different then creating awe with descriptions or dread with 2 inch figures...
Quote:

How do you prevent emotional themes like love, relationships, loss (of favorite rare equipment, circle of life), coming of age, prejudice, etc. from becoming too silly, upsetting, or contentious in a role play game? If your answer would be "find the right group", how do you find these players?
You don't. Love is silly, people laugh at funerals and most characters are some weird, bat shit crazy folk that don't do normal.
Quote:

To rephrase, how do you get players to play out a more emotional scene somewhat sincerely? In general, these would be games played with good friends in a comfortable setting but mostly they want D&D min/maxing and dungeon crawling.
Dungeon crawling is the opposite of feeling fueled role play. People can get emotional with any system, but some systems actually cover those interactions, they come with mechanical advantages & disadvantages. If the game has a LOVE stat, clearly the players will take that into account or be weak in that field...

If your goal is to give them a different experience, change is always uncomfortable...


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Harry Lee
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In my experience, there's a couple of things to keep in mind when comes to creating the opportunity for sincere, earnest depictions of that kind of stuff. First, I agree that a lot of the work is in choosing the right game and then finding players who are already interested in the experience that game offers. Also, I think it's important to keep in mind that a game is still a time when you are gathered with your friends, and that it's not realistic (or maybe even desirable) for it to feel like a solemn ritual - there should still be space for laughter, commentary, breaks in the tension, etc.
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Mark Wilson
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As a player, I find the players will match your sincerity (or lack thereof), so it's on you to establish how to approach certain scenes. As a GM, I frankly find it trickier, because you can't invoke certain roleplaying trends in players without it seeming forced.
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Eric Jome
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I never have. Not to my satisfaction at any rate.

I often wonder if an escapist medium steeped in heroic motifs is the kind of place people want to play through cathartic drama. Especially in an era where oceans of high quality experiences are to be surfed in the entertainment media.
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Geoffrey Burrell
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One person usually takes the lead and then everyone else feeds off of it.
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Brian M
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Well, I'd normally figure that for most people if they weren't into roleplaying emotional scenes/situations they wouldn't be interested in RPGs in the first place.

But, for the dungeon crawl type crowd (or if there's a particular situation that a player isn't interesting in being emotionally involved in)...eh, I wouldn't. If that's not somebody's cup of tea, I don't see much value in forcing it.
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cosine wrote:
I never have. Not to my satisfaction at any rate.

I often wonder if an escapist medium steeped in heroic motifs is the kind of place people want to play through cathartic drama. Especially in an era where oceans of high quality experiences are to be surfed in the entertainment media.

I would say that because of the era and what's going on in entertainment more games should go that way. RPG is a permeable medium, in lots of levels it's still assembling parts from other mediums.

Also emotion is at the heart of heroic motifs.
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So stop your cheap comment, 'Cause we know what we feel...
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I don't. When it happens (which is very rare) it's because it emerges from play as part of the group experience during the session. Not because it's something I've tried to create. I guess I'm saying I have no idea how to do it, but I've seen it happen a few times.
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shiva666 wrote:
Also emotion is at the heart of heroic motifs.


Ambition, revenge, righteousness, anger, or grief perhaps. But forgiveness? Reconciliation? Love?

Jason overthrows Pelias. This is a not uncommon RPG experience. But Jason and Medea is much less so.
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Michael Ink
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There is some good advice so far! Personally, the farthest I have gone with this is to push a love interest into a D&D game and then they just abandoned them in search of fortune or running Apocalypse World. With AW, my buddies immediately interpreted the moves in the darkest way possible and played as terrible nihilists killing any NPC that confronted them. An example of the dark interpretation of the moves with the extended playbook child-thing, the move that allows them to eat a possession someone owns to gain Hx with them, turned into the Child-thing eating NPCs controlled by the Brainer to eventually level up. Basically the pair were constantly kidnapping suspect NPCs while the Child-thing ate them. Perhaps I should have disallowed that but they were clearly having trouble connecting to the system so I was not sure what to do.

Any suggestions for the future? Any suggestions on game systems that might do this better?
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Eric Jome
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Inkwan wrote:
Any suggestions for the future? Any suggestions on game systems that might do this better?


Dogs in the Vineyard
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Eric Jome
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cosine wrote:
But Jason and Medea is much less so.


Theseus and Ariadne is more common but still an unsatisfying expression to me.

Mind you, I'd love to play a game where relationships mattered. I try to do that. It's just not very successful in my experience,
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Hans Messersmith
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I guess my answer is first "find the right group", so I need to tell you how I found the players, and the answer to that is that I was lucky.

* Lucky to move to Southern Ontario, which is a role-playing game (and just general gaming) paradise. Just about any kind of game can be played around here; you'll find the players if you look.

* Lucky to move to Ontario right at a moment (2004) when there was a great fervor for new games that produced, or at least didn't get in the way of, such experiences.

* Lucky to be looking for such games right when social media was flourishing, and websites like Meetup could help you find like minded folks.

* Lucky to be an active, gregarious person always looking for new people to play games with, through conventions, meetups, etc.

Put all that luck together, and I find myself in a situation where if I want to play/run a serious game with serious emotions of the sort you mention, I can find 3-5 other folks to do it with and be confident it will be sincere and not silly. I have a network.

As I said, that probably is not helpful at all.

Here is an observation from my experience. People dislike what they dislike in RPGs. However, people can like things they have never tried before. So there is a difference between a group of players that has just never tried a game that has emotional themes, and a group of players who has tried it and disliked it. The first can be swayed to give it a try, and you might get lucky, but the 2nd...nothing will sway them.

Here are a couple of games that in my experience "ease in" to the kind of emotional themes you mention while still allowing for a lot what people are used to:

* Masks: A New Generation - this is a game about teen superheroes, and it makes the kind of angst, emotion, infatuation, etc. that teenagers experience easy. But its also superheroes, so action!

* Dust Devils - as a one-shot Western game, nothing I have played generates serious drama, but at the same time, its a Western.

EDIT: here is a follow-up observation, like I haven't talked enough already. I have seen strong emotion well up in a game spontaneously, moments where things "get real" in the game, even a dungeon crawl. In my experience, for people who have never had that happen before there are at least two different common responses:
1) the players ENGAGE. Their eyes are opened to something new and interesting. They push forward on it, and are very excited by it.
2) the players WITHDRAW. They joke, they diffuse the tension, they divert, etc.

If you keep your eyes open for the people who engage, over time you can put together a group of engaging players. Engaging players are much less frequent than withdrawing players. I don't mean "withdrawing" as a criticism, people should have their fun however they want. There is nothing wrong with just wanting some low emotional load action from your role-playing.
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Paul Unwin
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I tend not to want or encourage my players to play emotional themes. When I do, I handle it the way I handle most things these days: I give the players a much narrative control as possible. That way, if emotional situations come up for a character, it's because the player wants them to come up. If they want those situations to come up, then they will want to play them sincerely, because why sabotage something you yourself want to come up?

At no point do I want the actual player to get emotional, or actually feel what the character is feeling. I would prefer that they be detached so they can focus on playing well. If they themselves are distraught, surprised, afraid, angry, overjoyed or anything else, I would not expect them to play their character's version of that response particularly well.
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cosine wrote:
shiva666 wrote:
Also emotion is at the heart of heroic motifs.


Ambition, revenge, righteousness, anger, or grief perhaps. But forgiveness? Reconciliation? Love?

Jason overthrows Pelias. This is a not uncommon RPG experience. But Jason and Medea is much less so.

The prince rescues the damsel from a dragon?...fantasy is not my thing. But isn't Dante's quest one of love? search for inner peace and forgiveness?
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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pdzoch wrote:
... mostly they want D&D min/maxing and dungeon crawling.

It sounds like a disconnect between what you want and what they want. That's never good news. You've got to give them what they want if you expect fun gaming sessions.

If *you're* not having fun, then a different (or at least additional) group is called for. I don't know how to find them, sorry, as I tend not to want too many emotions in my gaming entertainment beyond stressful fear, hopefully followed by elation.
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If a serious game with heavy emotional content is wanted, I do think you have to find the right group to get the role playing effects you desired. It is not everyone's cup of tea, but there are those who enjoy that type of game. My daughter's drama majors were such a group.

Otherwise, you can not force a group to role play in a way they do not want to -- it is their game, too. However, l do believe that emotion heavy themes can be role played in any group if allowed to happen organically (on their own). Just present the situation in the game and let them respond to it in their own way. You may be surprised. It helps if the DM's tone sets the mood. But if they do not treat it with great emotion, do not be disappointed. My only caution would be to avoid presenting a grave or touchy subject which would be highly offensive if not treated seriously.

My current group is all to often combat focused with a kill them first attitude to most encounters. Monty Python jokes and silliness are standard table fare. Currently they are in the midst of an adventure laden with racial tensions between several groups that are on the verge of turning violent. They can not fight EVERONE, so they have demonstrated extraordinary care, respect, and diplomacy in dealing with the various groups. Even displaying some empathy. Meanwhile, the joke answers about the situation and snide comments about the challenge still occur at the table out of character. "Kill them all" has been uttered more than once, but actual discussions about real solutions have driven the role play decisions that were consistent with the gravity of the situation. So far, they have like the change of tone. "It's different, but I am enjoying it" is what they've told me. I could not run multiple games like this. It would be too much for them. Especially when they eventually ask, "I will get to kill something in this game though, right?"
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pdzoch wrote:
Original phrasing of suggested question for context:

How do you prevent emotional themes like love, relationships, loss (of favorite rare equipment, circle of life), coming of age, predjudice, etc. from becoming too silly, upsetting, or contentious in a role play game? If your answer would be "find the right group", how do you find these players?

To rephrase, how do you get players to play out a more emotional scene somewhat sincerely? In general, these would be games played with good friends in a comfortable setting but mostly they want D&D min/maxing and dungeon crawling.


What I am wondering about is how do you get to these themes anyway? If a player is not into these things, then why would they be in a loving relationship Why would their PC be coming of age?

With that in mind, I think there are two possible questions here. The first is, how do you get D&D players to play a game built about "emotional themes." The second is, how do you get D&D players to play out an emotional scene?

If it is getting them to play such a game, don't. I mean you can ask, but if they are not interested then they are not going to be. Very few RPG players would want to do that and I certainly have no interest in player or running one.

If the issue is how to get them to play out a potential scene in an otherwise normal RPG experience, then that become easier. First of all, the players are making the decisions, so most of these things will not be coming up. For those that would come up, I think it would not be that problematic if you are focused on the right thing with the right emotion.

For example, the two obvious ones are going to be the loss of favorite equipment or prejudice. A PC is not going to be attached to a piece of equipment unless that player is attached to the equipment. If the player is attached to the equipment, then they will have an emotional reaction to its loss. When that happens, simply have them channel it into the game.

If a PC is a dwarf and is being discriminated against by elves, be a bit antagonistic against the dwarf. Make it difficult for the dwarf PC to do something. Try to frustrate the player. Then ask the player who he would feel in this situation.

I have had plenty of games where something that was setting appropriate would happen to the PC and the player would play out the scene or scenes in an emotionally appropriate manner. I didn't have to prompt them. Of course, these are usually emotions related to things like anger.

I will also say, that such instances, while played out, are a bit muted. They are not dismissive of the loss of that sword, but they are not going to play it up either.

So overall, try to connect whatever you are after to things that the player wants and cares about. If not, then you won't get a reaction.
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Michael Ink
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Oh, to be clear, I meant playing emotion in the part of the character, not on the players.

I would be happy enough if my players cared more about story and invested in it more and less about character buffs and their possible feats at the next level.
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