Roll-playing Redux

Almost two years ago, I posted a little rant on the use of the term “Roll-playing“. Yesterday, Gleichman included some debunking of its use as a part of his “Complexity series” (which I’ve been greatly enjoying). Anyway, I went back and read the post and thought that it might be worthy of reposting. It didn’t garner much interest two years ago, but it might now (what with the growth of my readership). So here it is.


Axe to Grind

Roll-playing – now how do you mean that?

It always irritates me when some-one uses the term “Roll-playing”. It is typically used to differentiate games that have a lot of crunch, have a gamist (GNS) agenda, or otherwise fail to fulfill some essential role-playing criteria of whomever is using the term. It is essentially a derisive term and I think it is a disservice to the gaming community for gamers to continue to use it. I mean, we’re all geeks….what do we mean by saying “Roll-play”, that “I’m a better geek than you are?” Jeeze, that’s what we need more of….

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Roll-Playing is a pun on the phrase ‘role-playing’ (as in role-playing game) for when character statistics and rolling dice (especially for combat) become more important than role-playing or telling a story. It generally is used to refer to hack-and-slash games such as Dungeons & Dragons. The use of the phrase “roll-playing” is generally considered to be derogatory, and snobbish.

It is also sometimes called ‘Rule-Playing,’ when the mechanical rules of the game become the most important part of the game.

If confronted with this, some users of the term will add caveats, “Dude, its not for me toSeinfeld say how you ought to play…I’m just describing a style of play that I don’t happen to care for…”. Its like saying “That’s so gay…..not that there’s anything wrong with that…”

Many people use the term seemingly unaware of the negative connotations associated with it (Stephen Chenault attempts to use it as a positive in the forward to the Castles & Crusades Players Hand Book, “Where Rollplaying and Role Playing Meet”). The fact of the matter remains that one would be hard pressed to find many who would stand by the statement, “I prefer Roll-playing over Role-playing”.

The term implies that somehow types of gaming that fall under the nebulous umbrella of Roll-playing don’t quite qualify as Role-playing or are an inferior types of Role-playing. What’s up with that? “I am the Uber-Geek! Behold my d20 and cringe in fear!”

Now, there will be some who think that I’m picking nits and there may be some truth to that. But I’m not just talking about someone knocking specific sub-types of gaming. I am talking about the precision of meaning, however.

What do they (oh, yes I’m talking about them) mean when they use the term “Roll-playing”. If not to be derisive, do they mean “games that use dice”, “games that provide a strong tactical focus”, “games that are rules-heavy”, “games that limit GM fiat”, “games with random-generation of characters, encounters, treasure…”, “games with a heavy combat focus”, “games that resolved social interactions, etc. mechanistically”, etc?

The point of using a buzzword is to make it immediately clear to your reader (or listener) what it is you mean. “Roll-play” doesn’t do that. Not by a long shot. So I wish they’d cut it out.

If you’re one of them…you know those guys who use the term “Roll-play” and don’t mean it in a bad way, please leave a comment that explains what it is that you do mean. And be precise! Who knows, I may be completely off my rocker…

~Adaen of Bridgewater

3 thoughts on “Roll-playing Redux

  1. Rob

    You have to also ask what these people mean by role-play.

    When they say it what they mean, even though they do not realize it, is:

    A game by which every social conflict can be won or lost based on sitting around making any old random crap up and succeeding or failing based purely on whether the DM likes you or not, (i.e. is jealous that you are more clever than he is, is intimidated that he thinks you are more clever than he is and wants your approval, wants to have sex with you, wants to punish you because of some out of game event,) or how lazy the DM is (oh, sod it, you succeed because I can’t be arsed to find the mechanics – oh, sod it, you fail because I can’t be arsed to find the mechanics) or how stupid the DM is (you succeed because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, you fail because I don’t what the hell I’m doing).

    In other words a bunch of crap actors performing improv, socially masturbating over each other and strutting around thinking they are ‘cool’, ‘with it’, ‘underground’ and ‘down with the kids’ when they clearly are not.

    How’s that for roll-play snobbery. Tossers.

  2. Rob

    BTW – That sort of roleplay game I’m describing I like to call ‘A little girl’s tea party.’

    Player 1: ‘I offer Big Teddy a lovely slice of cake.’

    DM: ‘Big Teddy hates your cake. It isn’t lovely at all! You are drained a level through utter shame……and BTW – you look nothing like Brad Pitt!’

    Player 2: ‘I offer Big teddy a lovely cup of tea.’

    DM: ‘Big Teddy likes your cup of tea, you made it just right! 1000 Experience points! You gain a teaspoon+6 and 20,000 sugar lumps……..can I touch your bottom now. You promised.’


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