Roleplay and My Pet Peeves (Or Why I Hate The Monster Credit System)

So, I have a hobby called roleplaying. I like to do table-top roleplay and live roleplay (called LARP).

There are a lot of different terms in roleplay and these cause a bit of a problem of understanding between different groups of roleplayers. The existence of different terms and words feed into how roleplaying itself is perceived, which would be interesting from an external viewpoint but from inside just plays into my pet peeves.

I think the main cause of my having pet peeves about roleplay is that I come from an Arts background so I percieve roleplay very differently to the way other people seem to. To me, roleplay is a collaborative art piece. This is possibly more obvious in play by mail games where it’s essentially a story created by multiple writers. (The exemplar of this would be De Profundis) But roleplay more generally is about immersing yourself in a creative piece, being a part of that creative piece whether you are player, non-player and ref.

This is the point where terms get to be a little restrictive and themselves create a culture of roleplay where there seems to be a notion of ‘how it is done’, which is a problem in any creative project.
Traditionally though, you have players, non-players and refs. The players adopt a specific character for the whole time in which they are in play, the non-players may adopt several in order to flesh out the world in which play is happening and the refs make sure that interaction happens in accordance with the rules.

You can play with the form and these roles may not necessarily apply for all roleplay but I’ll go with that for now. Now, as with any creative collaboration you need to mix things up a little to remain fresh, if someone is only ever a ref or only ever a non-player or only ever a player, they get stale. I firmly believe that when you put in more creatively you get out more as well and that it’s important as artists to maintain levels of creativity for each project you work on. (I admit the fact that I regard my roleplaying as a series of limbering up excercises for my writing may be showing here). This means that the same people should not be refs only, players only, non-players only. Of course, over time and with attempts at each role any artist finding their voice may discover a distinct preference for one particular role – but in order to keep fresh you need to mix it up. I would also say that whilst working with the same artists over and over again you can deepen your practise and grow in confidence with what you are able to create with each other it also means you may well become stale in what creative avenues you’re exploring. It also means that you are not fully understanding or exploring what others are creating, which in turn feeds into your own practice.

I currently play/non-play/ref in a number of different systems or collaborative pieces. In terms of sheer effort, playing and non-playing are almost always going to be easier than reffing as you need to keep a lot of information in your head if nothing else. This of course assumes that refs can’t give more responsibility for world fleshing out and creation to non-players and players – which, depending on the system or type of piece being created is not always the case. Again, in order to keep your understanding of roles fresh, you need to expose yourself to more than one way of doing things and allow creativity to feed into various projects.

The language used within roleplaying groups feeds into the culture of that group, more obviously (to me at any rate) than language affecting culture in any other situation – possibly this is because I’m aware of it rather than being actually true, possibly it’s because language is used imaginatively to create the worlds of the roleplay. When I started out roleplaying I believed that the ref created the world and the players explored it, whilst this may not seem like a particularly limiting idea I then played Baron Munchausen and was made more aware of real collaboration with an intermingling of roles.
When I started out Live Roleplaying the terms in use were player, non-player and ref, this is because I starte dout with an event system that was about story being created within a world. There was a story that the refs had written, events that would happen within the world and there were all the events in the players lives that would play out their own little stories. The difference between player and non-player was often minimal and usually related to planning on their being a death (a non-player would usually die).

I’ve started doing other collaborations. Often the difference between players and non-players are more specific, the language use is interesting here as more commonly the non-players are called ‘monsters’, this is mainly because in order to flesh out the world they are often playinng creatures and things which the players are supposed to kill because they’re monstrous. However, this term downplays the scope and ability of the non-players to flesh out a world, to be give responsibility for relaying information to the players. Eventually it can become part of a cultural understanding that those in ‘monster’ roles are less capable of forwarding plot than refs, should be two-dimensional in nature and are less relevant or fun than those in player roles.

Another term that gets used is ‘Linear’. A term which seems to have changed in use over time within my group of roleplaying friends. About twenty years ago it was a derogatory term for roleplaying collaborations which were fixed in their scope and progressed from set fight with x monster to second set fight with y monster etc.etc. These days it simply means there will be a linear progression of physical bodies from point a to point b which is used as a medium in which to show the collaboration of various different refs and non-players. Given the sheer variance in understanding of what a Linear can be, it seems safe to say that it’s no longer got the derogatory implications it once did. However, language is limiting, by very use of this term older roleplayers continue to have a fixed understanding of what those who roleplay on Linears do.

And now we come to my pet peeve; The Monster Credit System.

In my particular group of Live Roleplayers we play/non-play/ref on Saturdays and Mondays. In order to encourage people to try out each of the roles rather than sticking with one on Saturdays you get a shiney credit each time you ref or non-play which you then use up each time you play. On Mondays you get a point for non-playing and two points for playing which you can then use to make the character you are playing better system-wise. This means that those people who ref on Mondays can’t take up any other role within the collaboration due to the way their collaboration system works.

The sort of culture which is fostered by having this system of rewards was made evident last week when one of the Monday Refs (The Teenage Boy actually) stood up to request that he be given a shiney credit each time he reffed on Monday in order that he might take up another role (playing) on Saturday. What I mean by that is the notion that this is not some collaboration of creativity but that it is inherantly better to play than to non-play. Not only that but that the work-load of a ref should be higher than that of a non-player.

My issue with this system of Monster Credits is that it makes peoples understandings of their roles completely static, it drains creativity from out of the culture of roleplaying because there is a notion of when and where creativity is appropriate and it leads to people having to ask to change their roles within a system rather than it being understood that in order to make the collaboration as a whole better people must change their roles to prevent burn-out. Yes I do believe that in order to be really creative and gain the most enjoyment from this hobby you should put your whole-heart into proceedings and try out all of the different roles in order for you to thoroughly find your roleplay voice. But this current system doesn’t actually foster creative flux it furthers a particular view of what this hobby is.

The idea of Playing is Better than Non-Playing and/or Reffing is why NPC roles become boring two dimensional and essentially predictable. It’s also why there is a massive divide between refs and players leading to the same old storylines again and again since the perceptions it fosters are that reffing is an impossibly hard challenge that shouldn’t be attempted. The whole notion of having this systemitised is something, I believe that destorys the creativity innate to the hobby itself.

And that pisses me off.

It pisses me off even more that I can’t work out a better way for having flexibility in roles and thus continued creativity without risk of burn-out.

4 thoughts on “Roleplay and My Pet Peeves (Or Why I Hate The Monster Credit System)

  1. A grand post. I agree wholeheartedly, and am glad to see some well presented views of the challenges represented by the ‘Monster Credit’ system.

    A small point…

    LURPS didn’t actually use the term ‘linear’ when LARP started. Back in 1989 we just called it LARP. After two or three years of exploring, we were well on the way to reaching the kind of flexible approaches that you describe happening in current LURPS LARP, but then we had the arrival of the Stormhaven problem. This was a system adapted pretty much wholeheartedly from a commercial endeavour operating in Kent. It fixed the roles of refs, monsters and players, and valorised the role of players so that customers were prepared to pay good money to play. A handful of us did endeavour to point out that these inherent structural issues would cause long-term problems, but people were enjoying the short-term pleasures of developing their pcs, so, sooner or later, folk that didn’t like it went elsewhere. It was this fixed game structure that saw the import of the term ‘linear’, later used to differentiate related Saturday games from other LURPS LARP projects like Vampire: The Masquerade, World of Darkness, VIP and Yellow Sign.

    With some thought, and a little luck, no doubt other organisational options can be offered, but they must take account of people who are new to roleplaying, and who often find clear roles and structures helpful for getting a handle on things.

  2. As a general rule I associate linear with a group of people with a particular aim in mind so as a rule they stick to at least that aim if not in one group. A general larp would be much more sandbox and indervidual such as a ‘social’.
    I like to play as I like to see the character’s story unfold and how it interacts with other peoples. I like to ref when I have an idea that works even though I get the FEAR because I like seeing others enjoy it. I don’t mind monstering in the least but tend to feel I don’t bring as much to it as others can as I can’t do emotional, or loud, or confrotations and I fall over words. I play to what I feel I can do better I guess.

  3. I agree that the monster credit system really does create divides and inequalities. When the one off horror LARP was on last term, I heard a number of people saying that they didn’t want to play and weren’t going to monster because this particular event would yield them no credits. It bugged me at the time and continues to do so. How do people expect to develop as roleplayers if they don’t experience the three sides of the coin?

  4. I actually prefer monstering.

    No really.

    I find it a pleasant challenge to take a small, loosely defined role and flesh it out into an insta-character.

    Yes there is a certain pleasure to watching a character develop over time. But think of it this way… When you take a photo, you get an instant snapshot that tells as much of a story as a novel does. That – for me – is the difference between monstering and playing.

    There’s an art to doing both. One is not more worthy than the other. Unless one of them is being done badly. I’ve met (and I would guess played) monster-characters who are more fleshed out, rounded and interesting than some player-characters ever will be.

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