Monday, October 11, 2010

Helping your players roleplay a culture

A lot of people focuses on external details of a different culture. Things like the funny clothes, different manners, and different customs. That is hard to do because it involves memorizing details. If you try to simplify things then you wind up with caricatures which can be also unsatisfying.

My opinion is that the heart of having different cultures is that they have different motivations. That what you need to focus on. The High Elves have different concerns from the Grey Elves, who have different concerns than the Mountain Dwarves, who have different concerns from the humans of Imperial Ghinor and so on.

The way I implement this in the backgrounds for player character. Before each campaign I sit down with each player and together we work up a background for their character. The player throws out some ideas and I give her some choices as to how they would work in my setting. We go back and forth until we have a background that both of us are happy with.

The key element is in the choices you give the player. I know the cultures and societies of my setting in detail, the player generally doesn't. The choices are tailored to reflect the origins of the characters. An elf focused on revenge for orcs killing his family is going to look different than a dwarf with the same issues or a human. All of this comes out when developing the background.

Also this processes teaches the player how you implement different cultures. Even they don't pick certain options you give them just the fact you presented them and talked about them teaches the players how that culture works.

Ultimately the reason you put work into this is that because cultures have different motivations they may come in to conflict when they conflict. This conflict is fodder for an adventure which is the heart of tabletop roleplaying games.

I am not too enamored of mechanical rewards for roleplaying. I find that mechanics for roleplaying often lead to unrealistic results as players game the mechanics. The best one I seen are traits systems, like in Pendragon. In effect, they are short concise descriptions of the longer verbal descriptions I talk about above. They help players remember what important to their character.


Telecanter said...

Can you give some examples of the motivations these cultures might have?

FrDave said...

I second the request of a for-instance.

Tim Shorts said...

Having been one that has played in Rob's campaign over way many years and culture plays a huge factor. It provides a depth to his campaign that you don't see very often. They are not just generic elves or dwarves or humans, they all have customs, gods and laws that vary. Sometimes they overlap, but they are still distinct from one another. And since Rob is a historian, he LOVES writing 2000 year histories, developing migration maps, and trade routes. When you make any character there is usually an extensive history to why they are there and why they are the way they are. It is very cool indeed. said...

"I am not too enamored of mechanical rewards for roleplaying. I find that mechanics for roleplaying often lead to unrealistic results as players game the mechanics."

My biggest problem with giving hard rewards for good role playing is that I have found it doesn't really change anyone's way of playing. The good role players will role play even in the absence of a reward, and the players who don't really like role playing won't role play no matter what you dangle as a reward.

Alexis said...

If you could forgive me Bat, only a few days ago I wrote a post about cultural pressure being more important than 'external details of a different culture,' as you call it.

For Telecanter's and FrDave's sake I would encourage reading about it here. It is not my intent to rudely plug my site here, and if it is taken that way, my apologies.

Rob Conley said...

@Alexis plug away :D The more the merrier.