Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How Saying "Yes" Can Make You a Better Roleplayer by Mike Fatum

When most people think of roleplaying, they're either thinking of something we shouldn't be talking about on this blog, or the type of tabletop gaming that uses the dice pictured above. Tabletop gaming and the word "roleplaying" are so synonymous now that they're often interchangeable, and most of the tabletop conventions I go to over the year are referred to by fans simply as roleplaying conventions. Over the past few months, I've seen quite a few articles that set out to teach fans how to be better roleplayers around the table. This one, in particular, has been making the rounds, and it's a great article full of awesome points about being present in the experience so you and your friends can have more fun. (A lesson I fully admit I still need to learn.) But today I want to talk about how I learned what I think is the most important lesson when it comes to roleplaying: Saying "Yes."

In the late nineties, during my time in middle school, there were two things that were increasing steadily in popularity: The internet, and professional wrestling. These two pop culture juggernauts rose together in a way that would intertwine them for the rest of their lives, and almost no form of pop culture today has both embraced and hated the internet the way pro wrestling has. At the time of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Attitude Era, fan sites began to pop up all over the internet. Some of them posted results of the previous evening's matches. Some of them tried to be the new wave of the "dirt sheets" - small magazines that used to be sold in supermarkets that would give the inner, non-storyline scoop on what was going on in the wrestling world. And some began the phenomenon known as E-wrestling.

And this is exactly what most of their websites looked like. Geocities!

E-wrestling was an online wrestling simulator that worked very differently from fantasy football. Just like in the real world of pro wrestling, results weren't based on how good you were in the ring, but how charismatic you were outside of it. The wrestlers would post roleplays every week, and the person running the federation would decide who had done the best roleplay and award them the win. These roleplays ranged from in-ring promos, in the lower quality federations, to multi-page essay-like stories detailing in depth storylines of each wrestler's life in the higher quality ones. To a young man who had always wanted to roleplay but never really known what it was, they were a god send. My wrestler, Vengeance, was a multi-time World Champion within a year, and I spent the next ten years going from federation to federation (running them was a lot of work, and they would often close as soon as they opened) building a group of friends that I still talk to today.

It was thanks to my long-time nemesis, Couillard, that I learned a very valuable lesson I try (and sometimes fail) to continue teaching and using to this day. Couillard was a wrestler and owner of the Destron Wrestling Federation, the federation where I probably spent the majority of my time as Vengeance. The fed stayed alive as long as it did because the person running it kept rotating every six months or so. On his third time stepping back into charge of the place, Couillard posted a list of things he liked to see in his wrestler's roleplays. And one of them was this:

"I hate it when one wrestler does something to another, and the response is, "Well that didn't happen!" It's like when one guy blows up your car, and you say, 'That was someone else's car! Hur hur hur' That's just stupid. Don't do it."

"See, my car is black. This car is clearly very dark grey."

I'm paraphrasing, but that rule has stuck with me ever since. It's the same as an old rule of improvisational acting. The scene, the rule goes, will always go better if you say "Yes and," instead of "No, but." The same is true for roleplaying, whether it's tabletop, LARP, or online wrestling. When you're roleplaying, you're building a world together. The best way to do that effectively is to build off all of the other players ideas. It's very easy (don't I know it), to reject something someone does because you don't think it's a good idea. This leads to a lot of "that was someone else's car! hur hur hur" situations. But instead, if someone offers you an idea and not only accept it, but build off it, suddenly you're working together to create a great story.

A great example of this comes from the final rendition of the Destron Wrestling Federation. We had decided to start over, with all new characters, and I brought out a guy named John Paladin. Paladin was a spoiled brat and a former child star who had no business being in a ring. But to make him a great villain, I said that he owned the network the DWF's television show was airing on. This lead to a great, month long feud between Paladin and Couillard's character of Donny Mac, who was running things at the time. Now Couillard could have looked at that part of my character's bio and said "No, you can't do that." But by saying "Yes", he created a fantastic storyline that ended in Paladin's downfall. Or would have, had the federation not shut down.

Another, more tabletop example is one of my favorites. We were playing in a public game at Borders, which meant anyone who wanted could sit down at the table. An eight year old joined us one day, who had no idea what was going on or what he should do. Our DM at the time asked him about his character. The kid responded with the one thing he could think to describe: His character's pet dragon. Now, a pet dragon is not something any D&D character should have. Talk about a game breaker. I've met many GMs over the years that would snap at the kid that this was stupid. But not this guy - he just handed the kid a box of dragon minis and asked him to pick one. And he spent the rest of the session making it work. Saying "Yes, and" probably made that kid a life-long roleplayer, where as saying "No, but" might have led him away from the hobby forever.

I shall call him, "Smoky."

Next time you're sitting around a table, try and take the time to listen to each idea that's given to you, no matter where it comes from, and see if you can build on it rather than shooting it down. It's an easy thing to do, and it makes everyone's time at the table a thousand times better.

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