Too many times I'm reminded that I have about zero original ideas, in the sense that my ideas have been had before and have been better expressed, and therefore it is a great counter-incentive to write anything, since it would be better to just point to those other who have written better.
However, today, that reminder has moved me to write. The reminder were this two (first and second) articles from look, robot (A blog I can't stop recommending to any role-game-player). They are smart and fun reminders of that, while role-playing games are supposedly about role-playing (duh) characters, they are not a theater exercise.
A couple times, after I proposed to prepare a campaign, I was turned down with sentences similar like these:
- Ars Magica? Come on, if I were a wizard in Ars Magica I would never go on adventure. I would stay in my laboratory, studying magic and becoming an archmage to be studied by newer generations of wizards
- Call of Cthulhu? Come on, any investigator in a Lovecraft story would immediately look for a cozy corner in a room, get into fetal position and wait to die as quickly and painlessly as possible.
And it is true, of course.
If we were them.
Grant Howitt, the author of those articles, makes a good point I would like to have made when answered like that: you are not the character. The character needs to have some emotions, some goals of its own, of course, otherwise is just a proxy of your whims and the rest of players can't play as if your character was a wizard or an investigator because it's just you, the person they are friends with. But the character needs not to be played as if it was really real, but as a vessel for you to go in a story, test everything (the story, your character, the other players' characters...)
If you read those articles (and then keep following his links to previous articles, honestly, if you aren't you are depriving yourself of very funny and very well though articles) you'll understand why the answer that came to my mind was so under-everything: "Ok, then don't role-play a wizard. Role-play a wizard servant/friend/whatever who is willing to go on adventure as a favor for a wizard because he wants to help him or make him owe the character you're going to play with.
When we see a terror movie we always know they character shouldn't open the door or get out of the car or whatever Really Bad Idea just started doing, and of course any sane person would react like we tell the character to. Stay put, stay safe. But if that character follows our instructions, if it acts as if it was a real person, it's going to stay put, do nothing, and then the camera has better places to look to. For instance, to a character who opens the fucking door.
It's difficult to walk that middle path of acting as a character but only as long as it doesn't get in the story, and Howitt warns about the two extremes. To my taste he just doesn't warn enough about the player-proxy problem, and it's equally important.
Besides that, he seems to be against the "I want to do things by myself" thing, and that's something I don't agree with. In one campaign I'm playing, directed by Daniel Hernández, the player with the mysterious character went to do something by himself, and something that felt natural for the character to do and that made the story advance at the same time. Of course it end up making problems in a way we didn't foresee - another character assumed the mysterious one was doing something against the crew's interests and, by herself, went to rat his location to a just-met guy who was looking for the mysterious one in exchange for gold. After all, if he was against the crew, it's hit before get hit. Of course, the just-met NPC was a villain, arch-enemy of the mysterious one, and the resulting fight had to be improvised by Daniel - big in improvisation, anyway.
On the other hand, I played once with other people, one of which was constantly bragging about how experienced he was role-playing (at that time I had been playing and directing for about sixteen years, so a few more than him, actually), and who insisted that the party had to be together absolutely at all times. When he kept insisting that the six of us should be together while he asked for rooms at the inn and then the six of us go together to make sure the horses were taken care of, it was awkward for both the characters and the story.
The point being, sometimes both the story and the players are going to improve if it's natural for your character to do something by itself.
Maybe the thing is that role-playing games are less about role-play and more about group storytelling. Sure, some are tasked more with role-playing the main characters of the story and other is with the villains and seconds and knowing about the things the players' characters don't know, but in the end it's a story being told, a mix of a novel because we're all comfortably seated, a movie and a comic because we want to describe scenes and images that could get weird by being described in pure words - sometimes the action in The Dresden Files gets weird because it's too detailed
I do agree - and a lot - with what Howitt says about separating the character from yourself. Of course I like my doreen character in Daniel's Fifty Fathoms campaign, he's stubbornly loyal and doesn't let another character to fight alone if he can prevent it, not even the real ass-kicker of the party, and thought that has brought him near death a few times already, he's not going to stop doing it. It makes as much sense for he to fight along the ass-kicker as does for the heroic ass-kicker to try to prevent the risk of the others through his own skin, and already has made some interesting in-play scenes.
It's a lot more fun than to play a wizard who never wants to get outside his laboratory.
Real life is lived carefully - well, there's more carefulness on some of us and less on others - but role-playing games are about telling stories that could but most probably wouldn't be realistic. Interesting, fun, reckless, dangerous... but decidedly not safe.
That's why we tell stories and play these games.