When you start a campaign there are things that you can do for the sake of roleplaying and there are things that you do for the same of the game. Every decision you make will fall into one of these two groups. When you do something for the sake of roleplaying you are often removing obstacles created by rules that can impede or otherwise reduce the opportunities for players to roleplay their character by interacting between one another or the campaign world. When something is done for the sake of the game it’s the reverse many times. You are sacrificing chances for roleplaying by following rules or adding them on in a way that is logical when it comes to the game itself, but maybe not for how the characters into act with it or one another.
So what do you do to balance all of this? I have a few thoughts.
For the Sake of the Game – Lingua Franca
You’ve done it. You’ve made an entire list of all the languages in your campaign. Oh, man. You’ve made the languages themselves. This is going to be so great. You’re going to have so much depth in your campaign. Your players are going to be so excited and awed by the work you’ve done. Everyone will speak their own language and they’ll find their way to one another and what a wonderful roleplaying opportunity this will…no. Lemme stop you right there. It won’t. It’ll be a game of guess what I’m trying to say and it will be terrible. Your players will be grumpy as hell by the end of it and all your careful worldbuilding will be ignored or forgot. Worse, it might just tank your game. Sacrifice this golden calf for the sake of the game and move on.
For the Sake of Roleplaying – Task Resolution
Okay, your players are gonna get +2 to reaction rolls because they are popular in this town and another +3 because they are on the king’s business and…and…nope. It doesn’t matter. The bonuses stacking up are going to result in a good outcome pretty much regardless of the die roll. Don’t roll it. Roleplay it. Now there is a caveat to this. Some players are not great at coming up with dialogue on the fly and rely on the skills of their character to do the things they want to do. When in an instance like this you flip the script: You sacrifice the chance to roleplay an action for a die roll. Why? Because otherwise you’re just screwing with your player and making it unfun for them. Don’t do that.
For the Sake of the Game – You Met in a Tavern
It’s a trope I know. But seriously, unless your players are 100% on board and so are you – and I mean 100%. You all know what’s going on and accept. Otherwise, the players should create backstories where the PCs know one another, are familiar with at least some of their capabilities, and ideally have history that spans more than a few months. I’m not saying you need to have a Tavern episode to make this work, but rather you need your players to be flexible enough that they can accept they had a Tavern episode off screen and then move on.
For the Sake of Roleplaying – “Good” Flaws
“I want to take Berserk, Bloodlust, and Bully!” -some hack player.
“How about no?” -some tired GM
Seriously. Just don’t. Even if you really really want to. Those sorts of traits make it hard to run a game much less roleplay it with other players because unless everyone is on the same train it’s going to be hard on the PCs eventually. That’s why it’s a good idea to run your concept past your GM and then do it again after you have chosen your disadvantages for your character. And if you’re a next-level player run it past your fellows too. You’re not there to compete with the other players – let them help you and you do the same.
For the Sake of the Game – Coordinated Teams
Roleplaying games like GURPS can be very tactical. That is, you can get a load of information about the combat you’re in by sheer dint of being the combat you’re in. You have a birds eye view of what’s going on, the GM is explaining actions of NPCs, you know precisely when it’s your turn, you can coordinate with other players on actions, and so on. That can cause suspension of disbelief for some gamers, but it’s what’s best to keep the game going. If no one is aware of the actions others are taking it’s going to create chaos at best and a TPK at worst. I know this one is one of the things that are hotly contested, but honestly I’ve tried it the other way a few times and it just makes things harder. Let your PCs act as a team – it’ll engender cooperation in other parts of the campaign. I promise.
For the Sake of Roleplaying – In Character Actions
“But that’s what my character would do!” is the clarion call of the gamer who really is into roleplaying their character or are trying to BS the GM and/or fellow players. Most folks know what to do with the latter, but what about the former? Taking an action that makes sense for roleplaying reasons can sometimes conflict with what the game, GM, and/or players want. For example, taking repeated Do Nothing actions in a combat might irk your fellow gamers, but it’s a valid choice for some characters. This can lead to strife within the game, but in the end if your player is trying to act out his character’s choices don’t punish them for it. They’re just trying to have fun in their own way.
Picking Over the Bones
As usual I Have Things To Say™ about gaming, gamemastering, and playing the gaming itself. I’m sure there are other things that I’ve forgotten but these are the big six as far as I’m concerned. These are hard won lessons that have resulted in lost players, broken up gaming groups, and arguments carried on deep into the night. Learn from my mistakes. Be a better player. Be a better GM. Build a better campaign.