Role play vs roll play

One of the comparisons I’ve made between D&D 4th edition and Pathfinder for a while is that Pathfinder tends to be more conducive to role playing and 4e tends to be more conducive to roll playing.

What is the difference?

Role playing = The focus is on the story and the interaction between PCs and NPCs in order to advance the story in some way. This behavior is ideally done through verbal exchanges and does not involve rolling any dice. This can occur in combat or out of combat but is generally more associated with out of combat since combat tends to drive behavior towards…

Roll playing = The focus is on the game mechanics and applying specific rules to the resolution of a challenge or obstacle. This can occur in combat or out of combat but is generally more associated with combat. “Roll playing” obviously derives from the ubiquitous game mechanic of resolving something through rolling various dice.

One reason 4e has a reputation of being more “roll” than “role” play is because of the richness of the tactical options available in 4e when compared to Pathfinder. Just the sheer availability of combat goodness tends to encourage play to migrate towards combat.

So, all of that is to lead up to discussing our 4e game session last week, which was almost entirely a session of role playing. We had just leveled up to 21st level, which meant we were moving from paragon to epic level. That, of course, meant we had just completed a major story arc and had to set up a new story arc, travel a long way, do some shopping, talk to some powerful NPCs, etc.

And I enjoyed the heck out of it.

It is possible that others at the table may not have enjoyed it as much as I did. I hope not, but I suspect that to be the case.

Still, I was quite happy to see that role playing is really not much different in 4e than in PF when the opportunity presents itself. I suspect our next session is going to be quite combat heavy though…


7 thoughts on “Role play vs roll play

  1. I really don’t see a difference between PF and 4e when it comes to Role Playing, it all comes down to the story the DM is telling. In my game, I think we focus more on combat for 2 reasons.

    1 – Because of my own faults as a DM in the past. In the past I have started too many games and never finished them. With my 4e game, I vowed to myself I would finish a campaign, right to the end. To do this, I crafted the entire story from 1st level to 30th, to make myself not get bored or distracted. This had a side effect of making my game a bit railroad-y. Since I plotted the entire story-line out ahead of time, it has limited the choices of the players.

    2 – I feel some of the players are not interested in role playing to the same degree as others. 2 of the 5 players never gave me a character background. The last game session, I even gave one of them an opportunity to, but he declined. That is fine, it just means he wont ever be in the spotlight, and perhaps he prefers it that way. During the entire run of my game, he has played 3 different characters, and they have basically the same persona, again that is not an issue, that’s the type of game he likes to play. I am the facilitator, he likes to play characters that beat on things, that’s the story I’ll give him.

    I had a great time my last game session as well. It was totally unscripted and not where I had planned to take the game. I have missed this sort of gaming and had a blast. Just because 4e does not have rules so players can take Profession: Rat Catcher doesn’t mean you cannot role-play one. 4e was created in hopes of making combat balanced, so no one would feel useless when the the fecal matter hits the rotary blades. To that end they removed skills that if a player took too many of them, they would be gimped in a combat situation. If you want to be a blacksmith, go for it, make yourself a cigar lighter, but you are not required to spend character resources to do it. Just role-play it out.


  2. Rae, I don’t really see your approach as “railroading”. You have run the entire campaign as a specific quest where the party is answering to higher powers. I’ve never felt like my character was forced into something he wouldn’t otherwise do, I just felt like he was in a position where the best choice was pretty obvious.

    I admit I had gotten fairly lackadaisical about role playing Kataar, and because of the nature of his character concept, I have deliberately allowed him to sort of lurk in the background while negotiations are underway.

    I felt sorta bad about Kataar taking a more direct role in negotiations with the Drow Priestess, but there were several reasons I did it.

    1. Kataar has his own agenda. He had a score to settle with the slavers, and he was determined that he was going to wrap his chain around the head slaver’s neck. That’s why I rather pointedly ignored the off-camera input from one of the other players. His comments may have been tactically sound and might even have been closer to what you wanted, but at that moment in the game, Kataar didn’t really care about much other than settling a score.
    2. Kataar is setting himself up as Zhae-Lok’s right-hand enforcer. He likes the idea of being that close to a potential emperor, and he is angling for his own future. In doing so he wants to show Zhae-Lok that he is loyal, trustworthy, willing to be the “bad cop” who does Zhae-Lok’s dirty work, and very, very dangerous.
    3. Kataar was trying to repay the Drow Priestess’s daughter for her relationship with Kataana, Kataar’s sister. He truly wanted to keep her out of danger as much as possible, and set her up as a power in a new Drow order. Kataana needs powerful friends too.
    4. Kataar felt that Zhae-Lok was approaching the Drow Priestess from an angle the Drow Priestess would not respect. Perhaps he was wrong, but that’s just how he saw it. He wanted the Drow Priestess to see and hear one thing, and one thing only. That thing was “There will be a new order. You have a chance to be part of that new order, but that means following Zhae-Lok. Doing so will increase your power and security. This is your chance also to settle any scores you might have with others in the Cabal.”

    All of those combined to cause Kataar to decide to step in directly instead of letting the more silver-tongued party members do the talking. So he did. When Zhae-Lok appeared to be OK with Kataar taking the lead, Kataar simply assumed that it was his deal to make or break, and he pursued his own agenda, an agenda he believed was totally compatible with Zhae-Lok’s goals.

    Now, having said all of that, as you know from Kataar’s backstory and concept, revenge against the slavers was a major part of his motivation for adventuring. Now he feels that he has fulfilled that goal. That actually could have some impact on his choice of weapon. The reason Kataar uses a spiked chain is because the spiked chain symbolizes, to him, his escape from enslavement. Now that he’s destroyed the head of the slaver guild, he might well decide that he no longer needs that association. I’ll have to think about that.

    I think what you saw last weekend was more of how I usually act in games. I hope it was OK. πŸ™‚

  3. 1. Just to clarify, Jubal Khaine the Half-Orc was NOT the head of the Golden Shade Trading Co., he was just the head of the Zerushaddai operation. It has been a LONG time since we discussed this, but before the group left for the moon, they were told that Kilestra Sorrowing was behind Golden Shade. See her entry here:

    2. thus his middle name, “No Witnesses” πŸ™‚

    3. Unfortunately, that was not Niami’s goal. Think of her as the oppressed child who wants to run away and see the world, but forces around her keep imprisoning her, be that her mother, or her mother’s enemies. He mother would love nothing better than for her to make a power grab, so of course Niami doesn’t want that sort of power. I’m not sure how insightful Kataar is, that is for you to decide if he could pick up on this or not.

    4. I guess that all depends on what her motives are.

    5. I guess you’ll need to keep that chain for a bit longer πŸ™‚

    As for me being OK with your gaming style, I’ll muddle through πŸ˜‰

    I actually prefer players who think through situations, they often get rewarded. Often times I give plot information and it gets ignored by the players. When I was younger this used to bother me, I even made an adventure once where everything was not what it seemed, and a bit of investigation would have shown that to be true, but the players ignored it like I thought they would and “things got worse for them”. As I’ve gotten older, I realize I need to cater to my players, not force them to cater to me. As the DM, I my job is to entertain the players, while having fun doing it. I will dangle a carrot, but if it is not wanted, then we move on.

  4. Kataar knows that he hasn’t taken care of the whole slaver empire. But he took out a pretty high-ranking member, freed a bunch of slaves and crippled the organization. Sure, he’d LIKE to completely eradicate slavery on the planet, but as far as satiating his need for revenge, he feels taking out the cabal’s slavers is sufficient to do so. Revenge is no longer one of his primary motivations is all I’m saying. Now he’s more thinking about Zhae-Lok’s new world order and how he fits into it.

    No, Kataar would be totally nonplussed and befuddled if he even entertained the notion that Niami didn’t want power. Niami would have to explain that to Kataar. Kataar thinks he’s doing Niami a favor.

    I know that you’ve been dangling a lot of carrots. I’ve been deliberately playing Kataar as not really caring that much about such things. Intelligence is not a primary attribute and as I view him, he’s not really a complex person who contemplates the complexities of plot and counterplot. He recognizes his own intellectual limitations and is more than willing to let Zhae-Lok and/or Arinah deal with all the complexities of plot or moral quandaries. In many ways Kataar really does see himself as a sort of guided missile. Give him a target and he’s happy. When the fighting is done, he mostly just wants to kick back, eat a hearty dinner, smoke a big stinky cigar and engage in a little extra-curricular activiity with the opposite sex.

    I should pay more attention to the intricacies of your campaign though. You’ve done a ton of work and I haven’t been a good player at least in regard to exploring all the work you’ve done.

  5. Oh, and the spiked chain has become such a key element of Kataar’s character and (I suppose) legend, that he will probably keep using it. It’s a pretty fun weapon, even if dual bastard swords would out-damage it significantly…

    His concept from a pure mechanical concept would work better with one bastard sword with the same enchantment as his chain, and one with the “farbond spellblade” enchantment so he can throw it when he needs to make a ranged attack.

    Then he could multi-class and pick up something cool. πŸ™‚

  6. Guess I’m a little late to this party!

    It’s good to know that you both enjoyed that session. I realize I hijacked epic tier fairly quickly and took the entire group places that even I wasn’t particularly ready to go. I was very worried, I thought at least one and maybe two of the other players were not at all enjoying that type of game play. Had Kataar not joined in, in and out of character, I would have probably dropped the whole thing fairly quickly.

    I am very grateful for Kataar’s choice to become the ultimate enforcer of ZL’s rule. In character it really makes sense; I imagine those two constantly discussing how best to slice up an enemy or how to tackle a horde of monsters. Out of character, it helps me tremendously to have more experienced players nudging me in more useful directions. I’ve never really even thought of playing a character with the type of power and influence that we presumably have now in epic tier. And with just my limited experience in gaming in general it’s nice to have other, smarter people around. Also, I’m still not great at thinking outside the game mechanics.

    Thinking back, I think I should have started by concentrating on ending the slave trade, and then used that as a motivation to gain more power. It would have been a more natural flow, rather than simply just announcing the first place we go that I’m here to take over the world (Empire).

    In the next session, where again trying to get more information would have helped us a great deal, I purposefully went against that instinct as we forged ahead into a battle that we didn’t understand. Kataar did the same, in fact on a couple of occasions we were both very unsure as to who to even attack. But I think we both went into the session thinking we needed to not take over with role playing again.

  7. ZL, I’ve only played a few campaigns where my character(s) were legendary god-like figures who could literally tell nations what to do.

    It is fun. But it really ramps up the role play demands. Also it tends to call the attention of gods, demons and devils. It puts a burden on the GM to run that sort of campaign, everything that the party does has wide-ranging impact.

    I like what Raevhen is doing now with the kidnapping of Kataar’s sister and the attempt by the illusionist to weasel his way into the party.

    Now, to be clear, Kataar doesn’t like it at all. In fact it is driving Kataar to distraction. He’s not very good at solving problems that can’t be solved with his chain or his daggers. I am having to stretch as a role player to deal with this too. That’s why you see me sometimes rolling intelligence or wisdom checks when I can’t make up my mind what Kataar would actually do and so leave it up to the dice. So far that has resulted in Kataar attacking the illusionist (fruitlessly since it was an illusion, duh), NOT attacking him, and then tearing a door off its hinges in the ship in his rage…

    I like being stretched. Combat for Kataar is really just an exercise in application of tactics. He’s gonna do his damage. Role playing him under these circumstances is making me actually have to THINK. πŸ™‚

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