The Roles We Play

I discuss the latest with our RPG crew, and talk about roles in role-playing.

So there we were – a few weeks’ trek underground underneath the Silverstep mountains. We were on a mission to free a town of kobolds from their goblin and drow oppressors, mostly for our illustrious leader Jope’s prestige[1. It was his character arc quest.]. We didn’t have the firepower to take on an entire town of bad guys, so we were making our way across a massive chasm to seek an audience with a kobold elder and start an uprising. The direct route to the city, a thin bridge guarded by towers, was of no use to us. My character (a ranger named Rainor) had a pet half-celestial wolf (Rainin). Due to some shenanagins with interdimensional portals, my wolf had spent many years in the Elysium Fields, hunting celestial stags, even though he was only lost for a few minutes in my timeline. A pegasus is a celestial horse, more or less. A half-celestial wolf is a very large wolf with healing spells and the unusual ability to fly (sans wings).

To cross this chasm, we ¬†had to use Rainin to shuttle people across. We had to be quick because patrols were already on the prowl. We had gotten our fearless warrior-leader Jope (Andrew’s character) and our new cleric (Tim’s character) across. I was next with our mage-thief Switch (Paul’s character) waiting behind, literally invisible but with only a limited amount of protection. When Rainin and I were halfway across the chasm, some plucky drow had spotted the giant wolf and pinged us with a blazing light. In the dark depths of the goblin city, an illuminated¬†flying wolf and rider was no less spectacular than a firework. Did I risk heading towards our leader and spoil the whole plan? Or our mage and risk both of us dying? I had two further options. The chasm rose at one end to some kind of bluff – the whole ascent allegedly the flight of an ancient and mountain-shaping dragon who, as it so happens, might have been sleeping at the bottom of the chasm. Up and away, or down into the inky depths? The party were panicking. We were split over a chasm, low on resources and truly outnumbered. So I plunged – down, deep down – hoping my betraying light would be swallowed up by the darkness. And hoping that I myself would not be swallowed as well.

And that was the end of the session. Dave (our DM) was off globetrotting for a few months so we had to leave it on that almost literal cliffhanger. We still wanted our gaming fix, so Paul offered to run a short campaign. Same general rules, same game world, although many leagues away. Dave’s campaign was the Kingmaker series, and Paul volunteered to run Serpent’s Skull, a campaign where we started off shipwrecked on a mysterious island. This new campaign gave us an opportunity to try out some new characters.

Rainor is your classic ranger: a bow master with an eagle’s eye, an innate ability to track and a dour disposition. When role-playing him, I tend to keep him a man of few words and demand straight-forward action. He curses the ridiculous situations his party members get into. When the chips are down, he will make a heroic stand but not charge headlong into danger.

My character for Serpent’s Skull is Vick, a young, precocious female alchemist. She is an optimistic experimenter with a hidden, intelligent guile. Her simultaneous strength and flaw is her willingness to take any suggestion as a plan for action because in her twisty intellect she can justify almost anything. The general advice for people going alchemist is to utilise their Jekyl & Hyde-style mutagen power and at a pinch become the party’s tank. This didn’t quite match the character I wanted, so I’m trying a custom approach. Instead of turning into some She-Hulk with mutagens, she adopts lightning speed and agility [2. I haven’t thought of a cool description for this. Any sort of reptilian transformation seems weird, and anything cat-like makes her seem like a furry, neither of which I want.] which makes the most of her rapier. In battle she moves fast and uses her intellect and general utility belt of potions to twist the direction of battle. I expect to be quite the pain for the DM.

Vick is covering a few roles in the party: She’s the obvious craftsperson and party buff-caster. Due to the other guys’ choices, she’s also the Charisma monkey. This ends up making her incredibly dextrous, intelligent and fairly charming, but weak, frail and a little unwise.

Andrew was the main tank in Kingmaker, striding into battle and hitting things with swords. In Serpent’s Skull he’s taken a pygmy witch doctor called Mogumbo (?). He has a mini triceratops and a bunch of spells. Andrew’s been playing him nicely with a pidgin-English voice. Technically my character Vick is the leader of this party, although I think Andrew naturally fits the leader role so Mogumbo sometimes takes the lead.

Tim had our second tank in Kingmaker, in the form of a gruff dwarf cleric. In Serpent’s Skull he was going to make something akin to a monk, but ended up with a half-orc barbarian, making him the definite tank in this game. He’s playing him with the expected monosyllabic grunts, but with a nice twist of being a protector and straight-shooter when it comes to non-violent matters.

Paul had Switch the thief-mage in Kingmaker, making him the utility spellcaster. Our witch was our combat spellcaster, but Switch has stepped up to the role with less conventional spells that have often saved the day. This usually means some frantic searching of spell lists in the midst of combat, but it’s worthwhile. In Serpent’s Skull, he’s the DM so he has to deal with our malarkey. Apart from some campaign teething problems, he’s jumped into that role just fine.

I find it interesting that even though RPGs are mostly combat-oriented, but with a change of character, players will adopt different personas. We’re not big into role-playing but we have our moments. As a player I’m always cracking jokes and being a little silly, although I always choose characters that don’t fit that mould. I try to play Rainor straight and I’m unsure if intentional brevity gets picked up as character or me just being useless. So far with Vick my voice is just that little higher and I feel a different vibe. I need to be quicker with my wits, but I get to be cheerful and encouraging. No sarcastic jokes though. I might have to play a loveable rogue next time.

In the meantime I’ve been playing LA Noire. I’ve tried to adopt the righteous, clean-cut persona that I thought the main character was. But time and again I’ve tried to stop a hostage situation by disarming a thug and end up killing them. Or running over a fumble-footed granny in my impatience to get to the next crime scene. It’d be nice to have a video game that allowed you to take on roles and play them out, even possibly to the detriment of the game’s plot, intentions or game mechanics.




2 thoughts on “The Roles We Play”

  1. Well, Serpent’s Skull is set on a tropical Island and has a snake theme in the artwork – it’s pretty much a given that there will be Yuan-ti at some point. A snakey “swiftness of the cobra” theme to the mutagen works: it gives your character a reason to be exploring this particular part of Golarion, if she is into herpetology. Perhaps an alchemical interest in exotic poisons, too.

  2. It’s interesting to read about a player’s character concept and compare it to one’s own impressions as part of the game. We didn’t really go for much of a formal set of introductions when we started up our characters, and even if we did I’m glad to say I think all our characters have grown a lot since then.
    To my mind all the characters have become much more sure of themselves, Rainor shows a watchfulness where there was a hesitancy, Switch forges ahead more trusting to her skills and prepared exit strategy and Jope displays a personal investment in the Kingdom and party’s welfare as well as his original drive for glory.
    That’s the view from my chair at any rate – I’m looking forward to see how we go as the stakes are raised in the second half of our story.

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