In theory, one of the major draws of tabletop roleplaying games is the opportunity to create alternate personas. Through gaming, we can be anything we want to explore – shining knights, daring rogues, dastardly villains. We can be anything, do anything.
So why, I have to wonder, are there traits that all of my characters share? I think, for me, it’s that no matter how much I try to step outside myself, there are certain things which are so central to my self-concept that I am categorically unwilling to abandon them, or which are so habituated that it is difficult to set them aside, even temporarily, even in pretend-land. Whether this is true for others or not, I’m unsure, but I find it interesting to trace those traits.
The first thing I noticed came up in my larp experiences. Something central to an interconnected live-action roleplay world is the character tie – the connections between characters that, in sum, create the feel of a real social world. From these ties arise loyalties and conflicts alike, and one thing I can say is that I have never betrayed a primary tie. At times, events in games have compelled me to sacrifice lesser ties to preserve greater loyalties, but even to the profound detriment of my characters, I have been unable to betray my allies.
The second thing came up in my current tabletop game. It’s not that big a surprise, but I never really paid any attention to it until it became glaringly obvious by contrast with my current gaming circle. One of the recurring themes seems to be which of the other players can piss off NPCs faster. One did it by being calmly superior to everyone he encountered; one did it by being an absolutely uncompromising asshole determined to subject everyone to his particular brand of justice; and the third has done it by attempting to proselytize about the Unconquered Sun. And I have walked the line between silent and polite.
It reminds me of a scene in Issola, by Steven Brust, where Lady Teldra tells Vlad that he’s skilled in the arts of courtesy. “Appropriate action means to advance your own goals, without unintentional harm to anyone else.” I’m not the most polite person, and I enjoy playing smartass characters. But I have always played those characters with GMs that I know well enough to know exactly how far I can push without going too far.
So it seems that loyalty and politeness are either so central or so practiced that I can’t slough them off without severe cognitive dissonance. Which tells me something about myself. It says that those aspects of my personality are important to my self-image and I am generally unwilling to sacrifice them on the altar to entertainment.
This information is highly valuable as I work to improve myself and draw my image of myself and my actual behavior closer together. It tells me about the boundaries I have set for myself. And as I continue to play, now that I know I can find these pieces of myself in my characters, I will continue to look for them.
And I will look for these pieces in the characters of the people I play with, as well. I will watch for the traits that my friends cannot step away from, and that will begin to show me how applicable this idea is outside of my own tendencies. I expect to discuss this in future posts, though I’m unsure how much description I’ll give of people other than me, in the interest of avoiding betraying trust or being rude.