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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » Game Masters

Subject: Player expectations -generational thing? rss

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Mick Noda
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I hadn't GMed or played an RPG since 1992 but recently picked up the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu mainly out of a sense of nostalgia. Some board game players at my FLGS expressed interest in trying it out so I agreed to run a game. All of the players are in their 20s (I'm in my late 40s) and most had only played CRPGs and MMOs. The two that had played pen and paper RPGs were used to newer systems like FFG's Star Wars RPG and Pathfinder.

The session started out decently but I could soon tell that they weren't used to the slower pace and investigative style of Call of Cthulhu.

Things took a turn when some in-character role-playing was called for as one of the players was trying to get information from a reluctant witness. Rather than role-playing, he simply stated "I want to use my persuade skill to get the information." When I encouraged him to act in character, he got somewhat upset. He said, "why do I have to do that? You didn't make so-and-so go do bench pressed when she had to make a strength check and you didn't make so-and-so try to jimmy the lock to the bathroom in before you let him roll to pick a lock. Why do I have to act before I can use my skill?"

The conversation went back and forth a bit and he did raise some legit points. The best point was that his character was built to be a slick, charismatic smooth talker whereas the player was decidedly not. He said he found the idea of acting in front of others to be stressful and in no way fun and would rather make a different character or not play at all if role-playing was going to be a necessity. The other players tended to support his position.

We ended up playing through the session in a detached style that relied on skill rolls and not acting in character.

Is this the norm now? is it the effect of growing up with CRPGs and having a greater sense of detachment? I'm not overly bothered by it but if players would rather do something more akin to a tactical battle system in an RPG setting, I don't think Cthulhu is the best system to be running.

Thoughts?
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M. B. Downey
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SDRobot wrote:
I hadn't GMed or played an RPG since 1992 but recently picked up the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu mainly out of a sense of nostalgia. Some board game players at my FLGS expressed interest in trying it out so I agreed to run a game. All of the players are in their 20s (I'm in my late 40s) and most had only played CRPGs and MMOs. The two that had played pen and paper RPGs were used to newer systems like FFG's Star Wars RPG and Pathfinder.

The session started out decently but I could soon tell that they weren't used to the slower pace and investigative style of Call of Cthulhu.

Things took a turn when some in-character role-playing was called for as one of the players was trying to get information from a reluctant witness. Rather than role-playing, he simply stated "I want to use my persuade skill to get the information." When I encouraged him to act in character, he got somewhat upset. He said, "why do I have to do that? You didn't make so-and-so go do bench pressed when she had to make a strength check and you didn't make so-and-so try to jimmy the lock to the bathroom in before you let him roll to pick a lock. Why do I have to act before I can use my skill?"

The conversation went back and forth a bit and he did raise some legit points. The best point was that his character was built to be a slick, charismatic smooth talker whereas the player was decidedly not. He said he found the idea of acting in front of others to be stressful and in no way fun and would rather make a different character or not play at all if role-playing was going to be a necessity. The other players tended to support his position.

We ended up playing through the session in a detached style that relied on skill rolls and not acting in character.

Is this the norm now? is it the effect of growing up with CRPGs and having a greater sense of detachment? I'm not overly bothered by it but if players would rather do something more akin to a tactical battle system in an RPG setting, I don't think Cthulhu is the best system to be running.

Thoughts?


Definitely not a generational thing, the type of players you describe have existed since RPGs began.
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No I don't think this generational, just a person-by-person preference.

Like you I GM'ed/played "back in the day" (80s-90s) and always acted in character, as did every other member of my original group.

Fast forward to a few years ago when I joined a new group after a long hiatus from gaming. I was amazed that only one other player and myself spoke in character, with at least one other player steadfastly refusing to use any other description for the PC other than "my character". The point of my story: all the players were generally my age (40+), except one guy in his mid 20s. He was the other person besides me to role play in the first person. Two different generations but that's how each of us learned to play, so that's what we were comfortable with. The other guys, while being self-described grognards, just never did it that way.

So, I think it all just comes down to player preference and your player has a very valid point... he's there to have fun and for him, acting isn't fun.
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Paul Unwin
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I'd like to hear you talk about the fair points you think he raised and what your answer to his question would have been.

This is not a generational thing. I'm your age and I played RPGs in the 80s and 90s. I wouldn't say I'm heavily into CRPGs. Frankly, you sounds like every older person who has ever complained about a younger generation. I have long held a view similar to this player's, and I don't see it as a negative one.

I think there's a middle ground. If you weren't planning to punish him for bad roleplaying, or you were willing to work with him or accept description, and get input from others at the table, I bet you could have gotten a good thing going. Edit: In not saying you weren't those things. I don't know either way.

You said you were playing out of a sense of nostalgia. I hope you've learned that that's not a great approach to take.
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Mark Wilson
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Ironic. Gun to my head, I'd actually guess that current-day players are MORE inclined to roleplay. Reason being - I realize we're not all D&D players on this site - but the biggest (by far) recent influx of tabletop RPG players has been from Critical Role, which is ridiculously heavy on RP elements. Many whose intro to the hobby was that show would bristle at more mechanical crawls and scenarios.

That's anecdotal as well, though, so yes, the truest answer is that players on both ends of that spectrum have always existed.
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Eric Jome
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Role playing games are not acting in live theater. Inviting people to act if they want to is fine, but requiring it is overreaching. Third person description should always be sufficient.
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While players using other skills aren’t forced to pass any real world tests they do need to describe their actions well enough for the GM to evaluate them. In the case of things like bluff or persuade they ought to at least say what they’re bluff is. If they are trying to convince someone they are a noble, they don’t have to speak in first person and claim to be the noble but they should say “I try to convince him I’m a noble. Without that bit of info, I don't see how the GM can really determine the results of the check.
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Fred M
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That's an interesting one. In the VoIP and real life games, I'm used to play the character. I must say however that I do indeed at times find it stressful to some degree to accomplish that. I often found myself in the position that what my character said and did was not what I had conceived for him. It didn't really reflect his stats as well.
In the play by forum games I play in, this is usually not so much of a problem - there is far more time to come up with the right words (even though they do not always entail the desired reactions).

The quality of most GMs I've played with was that they brought the NPCs to life. In general I think it adds to the quality of a game if players are encouraged to play their characters rather than just make a stat reference in a given situation. If it is forced on each and every player it is questionable though, in my opinion.
On the other hand if the GM is the only one that plays the characters out that feels equally weird.
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Mike D.
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SDRobot wrote:
Rather than role-playing, he simply stated "I want to use my persuade skill to get the information."

The question I have is if he'd have roll played it would you have made him still roll?

Edit: My point is it is, and has been since there were skills in RPGs a "chicken or the egg" kind of thing.
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Ron
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SDRobot wrote:
Is this the norm now?

This totally depends on the guys you play with - and on the system. My group is more the "acting" type, and usually, social encounters (non-combat) are more or less acted and played out. Interestingly, when we played Pathfinder for three years, this seemed to vanish and most of the time, die rolls were the way to go. We're now playing Star Wars (FFG), and suddenly, it's back all over again.

So, if the system supports it, it's much easier. I daresay, CoC is a system that would totally support it, so IMHO it's the group and their preferred style to play. I prefer it the other way.
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Phil Dutré
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I think it is one of the issues that have plagued roleplaying games ever since 1974. The games are designed around ‘playing a character’, with some actions well-defined by rules (combat, magic), and other actions less so (e.g. persuasion, all sorts of inter-personal ‘soft skills’).

I’m also in favour of playing ‘in character’, but that indeed often disadvantages those players who have invested in those soft skills. Depending on the gm’s style, soft skills might get overlooked that way, leaving the players dissatisfied. A player who has invested heavily in combat or magic will get to play a better character over time, but a player who has invested in soft skills might not experience that same level of advancement. It of course depends on the rule system you use. But if a system has rules for all sorts of soft skills, I feel they should be honoured by the GM. If a system only has rules for combat, then it is easier and more accepted to make decisions based on other things.

So, my solution is to have a player speak ‘in character’, to determine a bonus or penalty on top of his base skill level, and I do something similar for combat and magic skills as well (although I don't ask players to do push-ups, but players are free to make arguments why they think they might deserve a bonus (they might get a penalty instead ;-)).

At the heart of the matter lies the question whether you can play someone who is stronger/smarter than you are as a real person (everyone will answer yes), but also someone who is weaker/dumber than you are (debatable). When making decisions based on real-person stats rather than character stats, this becomes a very fuzzy issue.

Funny anecdote: I’ve experienced the reverse in the one and only Larp session I ever participated in. When dealing with a merchant/umpire trying to buy a magic ingredient, I tried to haggle in-character to get a cheaper price, but the only answer I got was ‘The rules say this thing costs x gold, so that’s what you’ll have to pay’. So the ‘combat-types’ could act out as they wanted, but the ‘intellectuals’ had to abide by prescribed rules. Bummer.

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Daniel Rodriguez
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I went through a number of different thoughts on this issue and finally concluded that there are people who want to role play and there are people who want to play a role playing game. I like to role play, I like to narrate what I'm doing and what my thought process is. I like to narratively interpret the dice. Now, I don't do it all of the time but it's something I enjoy. There are a good number of my players that don't care for this. They are shy, it's not their thing, they have a hard time imagining things...there are any number of reasons and they are all valid. We are all trying to have fun and my definition of fun certainly isn't the only one out there. SO what I try to do is help narrate for them! It isn't necessary to have a huge dialog, I just need to get an idea of what they want to do. I'll say "So, [your character] is going to [brief narrative description of what I understood], right?" And I'll get a nod or a yes and then I'll set up the dice roll. With some players I'll intentionally "misunderstand" knowing that they will then correct me with more details that they were reluctant to share at first. It helps melt the ice. And in the end, even the shyest players have a chance to participate in the story telling and the world building.
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Clark Timmins
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Really early games didn't have Skills (or anything really like them) so players had to roleplay almost everything except combat.

Later games added Skills but largely they were "hard" Skills and players still had to roleplay most soft (social/interpersonal) Skills.

From about 2000 on, many game systems incorporated broad Skills that covered almost every aspect of the game, including Skills for things like diplomacy, persuasion, intimidation, etc. At that point, players didn't have to roleplay these things because they were resolved with a die roll.

I believe the modern trend is to back off a bit from the "Skill for everything" approach and let the games be more fluid/roleplay oriented.

However, it's a hard sell to force a player to roleplay a situation when their character has "a Skill for that" and they can just roll to determine success.

Maybe it depends on what type of system the player first learned or was most familiar with? If the OP's player came from a long background of just rolling Skills, perhaps they thought it was a bit off to sidestep that mechanic in favor of roleplay?

This gets into a sort of meta-min/max approach. If my character is superb at intimidation, then clearly I want to just roll for success. If my character is awful at intimidation, perhaps I, the player, want to roleplay it and see if I can't do better.

In the OP case, it seems like the player sort of realized their own interpersonal abilities weren't that strong and/or they were not keen on publicly displaying said abilities (many roleplayers are, strangely, introverts) - but their character had a defined Skill with tolerable+ performance level. So, why not just roll it and move on? Perhaps if their character had a horrific score in the appropriate Skill they might have been more inclined to try and do it via roleplay?
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Paul Unwin
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ctimmins wrote:
Really early games didn't have Skills (or anything really like them) so players had to roleplay almost everything except combat.

Later games added Skills but largely they were "hard" Skills and players still had to roleplay most soft (social/interpersonal) Skills.

And this is exactly what led to more and more skills being "mechanized": perfectly reasonable players who felt that if a die roll could handle some complicated things that they personally didn't have the capability to do (like fighting or casting spells), why couldn't a die roll handle other such things. It really doesn't have a lot to do with not wanting or not being able to roleplay, but with getting permission from the rules that, despite one's personal limitations, one's character can still be accomplished.

And by and large I think that's a proper way to look at it. Having rules for things doesn't prevent people from roleplaying or describing things, but lacking those rules and requiring roleplaying or description in order to accomplish them is, ultimately, not all that fair.
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William Hostman
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Clark, your timeline is off...

RuneQuest had 4 social skills (Orate, Read/write native, Read/Write Foreign, Speak; only orate not a clade of choices), and a bunch of other non-combat skills in the 1978 to 1980 versions.

Classic Traveller in 1977 had Bribery, Forgery, Administration, Streetwise, and Leader.

By the 1980's, most games had some social skills, the exceptions being notable: T&T, D&D, and Palladium. MegaTraveller expanded the social skills from CT, RQ3 had way more social skills than RQ2, many "heartbreakers" were D&D with skills and having some form of social skills. Including Star Frontiers and Conan, from TSR. AD&D added NWP's and 2E made them core; included in 1E OA are Etiquette, Poetry, and Tea Ceremony.

In the 90's almost all games I've seen had some in their current editions. Exception being Palladium, T&T, and the so-called "3D Roleplay" - which was GW mislabelling to expand their minis games. It got me to buy 40K...
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OP:

On one hand, your player's concern is valid. People play to have fun, and for some people, hamming it up or playing in character is not fun. All well and good.

On the other hand, your desire to have people ham it up is also valid, because that makes it more fun for you.

There is one critical difference between asking someone to bench press versus asking someone to say something in character: a player randomly bench pressing probably doesn't significantly increase the enjoyment of everyone at the table, whereas a player immersively participating in a storytelling activity does increase everyone's enjoyment. It's a hobby that draws from an oral storytelling tradition, after all, and if someone doesn't want to engage with that then they might be in the wrong hobby.

Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer. You and your players will have to work something out that everyone can live with, or some players (or you!) will have to leave the group.
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Phil Dutré
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ctimmins wrote:

From about 2000 on, many game systems incorporated broad Skills that covered almost every aspect of the game, including Skills for things like diplomacy, persuasion, intimidation, etc. At that point, players didn't have to roleplay these things because they were resolved with a die roll.


I would put that mark 10 years earlier. Skill-based systems (also listing soft skills) were already well developed in the 80s. I would say by 1990 everyone was doing it :-)
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philip.dutre wrote:
ctimmins wrote:

From about 2000 on, many game systems incorporated broad Skills that covered almost every aspect of the game, including Skills for things like diplomacy, persuasion, intimidation, etc. At that point, players didn't have to roleplay these things because they were resolved with a die roll.


I would put that mark 10 years earlier. Skill-based systems (also listing soft skills) were already well developed in the 80s. I would say by 1990 everyone was doing it :-)
As I noted above, Palladium STILL doesn't; no reaction rolls, no social skills (Orate is to be heard, not to influence, for example.)

Several others, mostly OSR games, also don't do social.

OTOH, Dallas tRPG was combat-less. In 1980... Social rules are all it has.

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Roger
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Is this the norm now? No. See 1.
is it the effect of growing up with CRPGs and having a greater sense of detachment? No. See 1.
1. This was normal for me both as player and GM back in my high school days Oct 1980- May 1982. Some people just want to roll dice for the outcome. Others will act out the scene. As back then as of today, it depends on my mood. Sometimes I let the player roll other times I ask for additional ham.
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Brian M
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dysjunct wrote:
OP:

On one hand, your player's concern is valid. People play to have fun, and for some people, hamming it up or playing in character is not fun. All well and good.

On the other hand, your desire to have people ham it up is also valid, because that makes it more fun for you.

There is one critical difference between asking someone to bench press versus asking someone to say something in character: a player randomly bench pressing probably doesn't significantly increase the enjoyment of everyone at the table, whereas a player immersively participating in a storytelling activity does increase everyone's enjoyment. It's a hobby that draws from an oral storytelling tradition, after all, and if someone doesn't want to engage with that then they might be in the wrong hobby.

Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer. You and your players will have to work something out that everyone can live with, or some players (or you!) will have to leave the group.


There's at least one other critical difference; you all sat down to play a game where a central part of the game is talking with other people, and one where lifting heavy objects it generally not a part of the game.

Well, excepting people who have to bring gigantic stacks of RPGs to every session.

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Paul Unwin
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aramis wrote:
OTOH, Dallas tRPG was combat-less. In 1980... Social rules are all it has.

And it was a spectacular failure by all accounts, though I gather from Wikipedia that some of the mechanics were "novel." I wonder if it required anyone to "roleplay" as the original poster thinks of it.

While, as mentioned, I don't share the OP's disconcertion at the kind of play they describe (despite our other similarities), they and I might agree on some things. I don't like it, for instance, when a player just says "I roll Perception," or even "I look around to see what I can find. [rolls dice] 21 Perception." Instead, I've taken to doing what I think Dungeon World encourages, which is not rolling until the fiction "triggers" a roll. More to the point, I, as GM, decide when a roll is warranted, though I don't ask for "roleplaying," just "playing," and if a player is eager to use (or not use) a specific skill, I try to help them apply it. I'm careful not to make them jump through hoops just to get to use the character they have in mind, but I do ask that we, as a table, generate some specific fiction. And I try to require no more knowledge about, say, diplomacy, than I do about, say, necromancy.
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Mick Noda
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Just to clarify. I wasn't pushing the player to ham it up and give us all a soliloquy. Once he said he had no interest in acting in character, I was fine with it but I did ask for him to try to give some specifics. I'd ask things along the lines of "OK, you you want to convince them to give you information. How are you going to do this? Is there anything you can say that you think might convince them?" When that didn't work, I'd walk it back a but further. "Do you want to bribe them? Threaten them? Try to establish some sort of rapport?" If you can come up with something, it'll grant you a bonus die.

In the end, we went with this very general approach where he'd just say "I threaten them" or "I try to charm them." and then he'd roll.
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Fred M
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I can imagine that some of this is wanted by the game designer.
For players which are shyer than the norm or have their personal issues to play their characters, the possibility to substitute for by a third person description and/or a dice roll may be a relief. In the end, this could be seen as a way to get more people attracted to hobby.

Perhaps encourage the player to at least describe a bit what their characters are doing. Instead of just rolling for perception it could be worthwhile to describe how this is carried out. Perhaps something like "Ragnar searches the table and the floor for any hidden switches or trapdoors." is something feasible.
Or instead of just rolling for persuasion it could go like this: "Orginard tries to get the attention of the officer by doing xy".
From such a descriptive way it is actually only a small step to a first person statement.
Maybe do some brainstorming session before playing with situations like that to get everyone in the right mood.
I have my share of difficulties to get into character sometimes. Someone who had experience with improv once told me that there are certain techniques one could learn that help with that issue.
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DisapprovalRobot wrote:
Just to clarify. I wasn't pushing the player to ham it up and give us all a soliloquy. Once he said he had no interest in acting in character, I was fine with it but I did ask for him to try to give some specifics. I'd ask things along the lines of "OK, you you want to convince them to give you information. How are you going to do this? Is there anything you can say that you think might convince them?" When that didn't work, I'd walk it back a but further. "Do you want to bribe them? Threaten them? Try to establish some sort of rapport?" If you can come up with something, it'll grant you a bonus die.

Thanks for clarifying. I'd still be interested in your thoughts on the "but thieves don't have to describe how they pick the lock" perspective.

As much as I see the point of an incentive like a bonus die, I think it causes a problem, which is that it gives the GM a disincentive to make things easier for the player. But, then, if the GM's goal is to get the player to act in a certain way to a certain (even very low) degree, that disincentive is already there.

Not to armchair GM too much, but I think I'd approach this by just giving the player a couple of options and being open to others. "This person is impressed by people who seem like they can do him favors, and he's also likes to impress people by showing off what he knows. So, you can roll Bluff or Intimidate to get him to offer you the information, or you can roll Diplomacy or Insight to keep him talking and steer his ego toward what you want. Or anything else you want to try."

I think I'd probably also take a step back and ask this player if there was any situation or stakes for which he would be eager to speak in character or narrate his actions?

DisapprovalRobot wrote:
In the end, we went with this very general approach where he'd just say "I threaten them" or "I try to charm them." and then he'd roll.

Which I hope saved time and moved things along to a point where the players felt more engaged.
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Rob Doupe
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enduran wrote:

And this is exactly what led to more and more skills being "mechanized": perfectly reasonable players who felt that if a die roll could handle some complicated things that they personally didn't have the capability to do (like fighting or casting spells), why couldn't a die roll handle other such things. It really doesn't have a lot to do with not wanting or not being able to roleplay, but with getting permission from the rules that, despite one's personal limitations, one's character can still be accomplished.

And by and large I think that's a proper way to look at it. Having rules for things doesn't prevent people from roleplaying or describing things, but lacking those rules and requiring roleplaying or description in order to accomplish them is, ultimately, not all that fair.


This line of reasoning is never entirely convincing to me. These concerns about roleplaying are typically brought up by players who are socially introverted, but enjoy tactics and number-crunching. However, what if you, as a player, are not very good at tactics, but you want to place a PC who is a tactical mastermind? Or you have trouble doing investigation and solving mysteries, but want to run a master detective? Should the assault on a keep or the investigation of a murder be resolved with a single die roll?

As others have noted upthread, the hobby seems to be attracting different sorts of players, who expect sessions to be like Critical Role and other theatrical streaming games. Maybe these newer gamers will be perfectly confident roleplaying trying to persuade a guard to let them in the castle gates, but have no confidence (or interest in) figuring out how to sneak over the walls and dispatch the city watch at their posts. Maybe they'll want to roleplay the conversation, and roll a dice for the tactical plan.

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