Friday, 18 November 2016

Do RPGs Build Character?

I am a big believer in building character. I think that there is great virtue in forcing yourself to become accomplished at things. There are certain things in life - learning another language; learning how to cook or make pottery or fight; familiarizing yourself with canonical works of literature and philosophy, and so on - which are important to do not just because they are good and useful in their own right, but also because they teach you focus and self-discipline and concentration and mental or physical toughness and persistence and all other kinds of things which your grandfather probably deemed important.

It is good to be the type of person who can say: If I am set a difficult task, I can force myself to do it because I have done even more difficult things before, by choice, so fuck you.

How do RPGs feature in this? What does being a DM teach you? If you were a grandfather or grandmother, what would you say to an 11 year old as you sat there wagging your finger at him and explaining the virtues bestowed upon somebody who regularly DMs a campaign?

Discipline. You learn the value of spending time working hard on doing things which may not even have any sort of pay-off (many of the maps and other things you create will not end up being used at all), and you will often receive barely any thanks for your effort if at all.

Preparation. You will have to be ready for each session. You will have to have prepared and planned materials, of course, but you will also have to learn how to mentally prepare yourself to be on top of your game. This is more difficult than it sounds.

Thoughtfulness and consideration. You will have to think about other people - what they might enjoy, what they might not. You will have to take account of whether other people are enjoying themselves during each session.

Confidence. You will have to be in charge, the centre of attention, the one who steps into the breach, the one who guides and leads when guidance and leadership are necessary.

Decisiveness. You will have to make decisions. There will be many times during a game where you will be called upon to make a decision. You won't be satisfied with the options available to you, because you have been taken by surprise by events. But you will have to decide anyway.

RPGs are fun, but fun things can also improve you. How else does playing RPGs make people better?


  1. Christ.

    If you are such a "big believer in building character" then why are you still such a fag and a crybaby.

    Just because Zak tells you to be a fag and a crybaby you really shouldn't try so hard.

  2. Excellent. I had a little bet with myself I would get a comment from you on this post. Now I owe myself a bottle of Glenfarclas 25 year old. Cheers.

    1. That degree of foresight should earn you a can of cheap Polish lager and a fistful of wrinkled monkey nuts left over from Halloween.

      Keep the Glenfarclas for when P Stuart publishes his Gawain translation.

  3. @ Paul:


    @ Noisms:

    So it would appear running RPGs (DMing/GMing) had the potential to build character. What about playing RPGs? I know more than a couple players who have played for years and rarely if never run a game.

    1. I think playing has the potential to help with working together as a team, both in the game as characters and outside of the game as crafting a fun story and a good time. That said, many players don't quite reach this on their own and generally do focus on their own fun.

      That said, I think that being a player after being a GM has its benefits. It can be a great break from the prep and duties of being the master of ceremonies. It also can humble you a bit and bring you the perspective of being the player and not in control. Sometimes, when you're always the GM and never the player, there can be a sort of... bewilderment? I suppose, with how the players may handle the game you present to them. Sometimes it's good to be on the other side of the screen and really remind you of what being a player is like. Reminds you of the fun you have, the duty you have as a GM, and really drives home that all GMs and players are really just the same folks looking to game.

      It's like in the food industry, when you have a cook that has sort of had it with the guests and becomes argumentative with any critique a customer makes. They lose sight of the passion and pride of being a cook and can slowly slip in quality. It's why sometimes, I like to go out to dinner and remind myself why we do what we do. Sometimes you get amazing service and it makes you strive to be like that. Other times, you get shit service and you see what can become of you.

      So I'd say that being a player gives a GM peace, clarity, and refuels their drive to DM.

  4. I would say quick wits; the ability to quickly adapt and improvise.

    And Paul Barry is a coward.

  5. Clearly posting on other people's blogs doesn't build character... :/

    Problem solving is certainly one aspect (of playing).


  6. The character building part of most RPG's is usually in the first section of the rule book after the introduction. ;)

  7. I feel like a lot of the potential for character building depends upon the table community - the DM and/or playgroup can inspire these qualities (cooperativity, trust, communal decision-making, delegation, mutual respect, critical thinking, plan development, improvisation, acting, perspective-taking, and so on), but they are not necessarily inherent in the game.

  8. As Dani writes, a lot (but not all) can depend on the group at the table. Even with "bad" tables/players, you learn patience.

    More generally, I'd add that RPG's provide a framework to engage with the "real" world. All of the literary and historical echoes and allusions in RPGs are invitations to dig deeper into the source material.

  9. "Do they," is the wrong question. The right question is, "*can* they"?

    RPGs are tools. They *can* build character, but you have to use them right. I can use a hammer to build a house or to kill a child molester like Paul Barry. I can run games that challenge players or I can run games that strong arm the players into acquiescing to my stilted and myopic worldview (Hello, "The Watch"!).

    I've got one thing to your list, which is great by the way. Really. Top notch listing you did there, believe me. Just great. But I'd add math skills to the equation (heh). Figuring out the odds of something, even if it's just intuitively, is a valuable skill that most people just don't practice regularly enough. I've got a hundred YouTube videos where I can prove that people stink at risk/reward calcs, and D&D can help improve that.

    1. I agree with you on both points - some people take part in activities that *should* build character, yet it seems to have no effect... and I also agree that it's good for quick math and odds estimation.

      Heck, if we had something that could build character in every one, it would be the biggest educational discovery of the century, nay millenium!


  10. RPGs helped me get out of my shell and made me not afraid to speak out in public. It also teaches improvisation, both as DM and player. The dynamics of a group that keeps together for years also teach anyone about, well, people and relationships in general. When it stops being "just another hobby" and really becomes your passion, whatever it is, if you invest time and energy in the activity, it will make you grow as a person.

    Also, it's a safe way to learn about failure. Failing as a DM, failing as a good player, both teach you humility and whatever it is that you lack which made you fail.

    Sure, at the end of the day it's just a game. But what isn't?

    La vida es un sueño, yadda yadda.

  11. I have noticed, both in myself and others, that when a player plays a character for an extended period of time, they can pick up attitudes and approaches to social interaction from their characters. I expect this is because the game liberates you to explore aspects of your personality that might otherwise be repressed.

    This can be both good and bad. I believe I learned a lot of leadership skills by roleplaying a character that had good leadership skills. But I have also seen players indulge their own depravity because "its just a game", and I have seen those attitudes stick.

    There is a reason roleplay simulation is used as a teaching tool, and cognitive dissonance is a real thing. We need to be conscious of how we play.