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The TopCat Manifesto
or "What I like to rant about and why"

Hi there. You may've seen me yelling and screaming on the ShadowRN mailing
list about various subjects. My name is Bob Ooton and my email name is
TopCat. TopCat was my first ever Shadowrun character and my favorite, but
that isn't what this is about. I am writing this so that everyone who seeks
my opinion on a subject can get it easily. So...on with the ranting.

Credentials: In case you were wondering "Who the hell is this guy and why
should I care about what he says?" I feel I should at least tell a bit about
myself. I'm 23 years old, live in Springfield, IL (US, of course), and am a
writer-wannabe. I have spent the greater part of my life playing various
roleplaying games, but have only been playing SR seriously for a little over
a year now. Why should my opinion on SR matter if I'm such a newbie to the
game? Because I am a number-cruncher/rules-lawyer of sickening proportions.
I master games within a month, often less, then learn to tone down from
there, eventually creating balance and happiness all around. I have also
done a bit of acting and have been a serious roleplayer for years. I've
crunched SR down to it's most basic level and found it wanting in some
areas. It is these areas that I often rant about and shall describe in this
posting.

1. Magic vs. Cyberware: Which is "better"?
Well, for overall effectiveness magic whales all over tech. Even
Cybertechnology or shadowtech level tech. For the average combat scene,
magic and tech are about equal, with tech having a slight edge due to better
average speed. If you crunch the numbers you'll find certain things to be
true and they will confirm that magic is indeed more effective than
cyberware.

The first of these is essence. Cyberware costs essence which can _never_ be
regained, spells cost no essence. The next is karma, which spells cost and
cyberware doesn't, but the cost is so small as to hardly be worth
mentioning. The next is nuyen. Cyberware eats nuyen like trolls eat
twinkies. Spells are VERY cheap comparatively. Next, the time it takes to
learn a spell is nowhere near as long as it takes to heal from surgery for
new cyberware. Next, spells aren't illegal or detectable (unless in use and
they can still be masked). Much cyberware is illegal and is always
detectable. Cyberware can break. Spells can't. You will die if you get
too much cyberware. Too many spells never killed a magician. With magic
you can always achieve an equal, better, and/or safer effect than you can
with cyberware.

Now, where I REALLY get ranting on this subject is when someone dares to say
that magic is better because it can be roleplayed. I'll get into this
later, but I'll end this with saying that neither is better when it comes to
roleplaying and many people are confused as to what roleplaying actually is.

2. Roleplaying
Ok, I couldn't wait to rant about it, so here goes. Roleplaying is some
things and isn't some things, I'll babble for a while on the subject and
it'll be up to you to figure out what I mean.

Roleplaying is the responsibility of the player. If the player doesn't
actually play a role, then he's just rolling dice. Roleplaying is not
automatic for certain types of characters. Just because a character is a
magician, he isn't necessarily roleplayed. Just because he's got a cool
background doesn't mean he's roleplayed. Just because a character is a mage
doesn't mean he's being roleplayed. Magic is not roleplaying. Cyberware is
not roleplaying. Guns are not roleplaying. Combat is not, in itself,
roleplaying, but it can contain elements thereof. Die rolls are not, in
themselves, roleplaying, but can help it along. Roleplaying's most deadly
enemy is the stereotype, which many players are willing to paste all over
another while blatantly adhering to one themselves (I'll hit on this subject
next).

So what the hell is roleplaying if it isn't all that stuff? It is playing a
role, go figure. Roleplaying is acting, though not necessarily on the same
scale. Roleplaying is actually making a person out of the sheet of numbers
in front of you. Whether that sheet holds the numbers of a street samurai,
mercenary, decker, mage, shaman, physad, or whatever doesn't matter IN THE
SLIGHTEST BIT to the actual roleplaying of that character. Good numbers
does not a character make. It makes for a high power level and lots of dice
rolling instead of actual thought (I'll get into this sometime after the
stereotype rant). Bad numbers don't make a character either. They just
make for lower power and less dice when called for. If the character only
represents numbers to the player, then he isn't roleplayed. If the
character represents something just that side of real, with emotions and
opinions and talents and personality and those are all used in some way
throughout the course of a game, then that player is ROLEPLAYING! (waits
for the "Amens" from the crowd, before resuming rant)

Hopefully that got a point across.

3. Stereotypes
I HATE 'EM! If I ever hear anything like "All samurai are bloodthirsty
mountains of machinery with bad attitudes" again, I'll scream again. And I
know I'll hear it again because a shitload of people still haven't figured
it out yet, so I know I'll scream again. Anyways, the stereotyping of
characters is what leads to mediocre roleplaying. Some players force
stereotypes on themselves. The "I shall not kill" players are just as
guilty of settling into a stereotype as the "kill everything" players are.
Is either a better roleplayer for it? Nope. They just grabbed a tired old
convention of the genre and decided to beat the dead horse again in the name of roleplaying.

Now, in all fairness, almost all roles have been done in one way or another
so it isn't all that easy to actually come up with something fresh and new
without seeming insane, which has been done as well. But all that's really
being touched upon here is a small part of the role. If the only character
concept is "I don't like to kill" or "I like to kill very much" then you've
got a one-dimensional character, which isn't enough for roleplaying. It
makes it for die rolling, but like I said I'll get to that later. It takes
dozens of dimensions to flesh out a character to the point where he is
actually fully roleplayed. This shouldn't be expected of anyone, but any
effort in this direction is better than no effort at all. Should a player
actually roleplay himself to the fullest, then sit back and enjoy watching
him, maybe even ask what he's doing and try it yourself.

So I guess what I was saying there is there are hundreds of questions you
can ask yourself about situations pertaining to your character, he may
answer some one way and others another. Find the answers to questions from
the character's point of view and just keep asking more. Sooner or later
you'll find a roleplayable character in there with a complete personality.
Often the character will end up a shade off of your own personality which is
fine, because it is easiest to play something you're familiar with and you
know you'll get it right more often than not.

4. DICE
I hate them too. Now, they do have their place (character has a
cybertechnology skill of 8, but player wouldn't know shit about it) and can
speed up a lot of nasty situations, but if at all possible try not to use
them and play things out. You'll get more interested in the game because
your mind will actually be working instead of your hand just grabbing and
rolling more dice at every situation. If the character needs is in a social
situation and has an etiquette skill of 4, don't make him roll every time he
reaches for a fork at dinner or meets an executive in the corp, just let him
coast through those rolls. Talk to him about it, play out the situation,
but don't roll dice unless absolutely necessary. Likewise if the player
lacks the appropriate etiquette skill, then mention to him that he feels
awkward and others are noticing. If the player has a firearms BR of 4, I
think he'd know how to clean a pistol, don't make him roll, it's a waste of
time. If a character has a skill at around 10 but the player knows nothing
about it, you may want to get them a book of some sort so they can at least
know the basics, it's worth the effort all around.

Minimizing die rolls and maximizing actual interaction will aid roleplay and
be more fun to all involved. Only use them when needed.

Well, this is the current status of the TopCat Manifesto. I'll be adding to
it regularly as I remember some of my favorite topics in greater detail. In
case you were wondering how you'd know if the TCM was updated or not, don't
worry, I plan on posting it every couple months for everyone's viewing
pleasure. If viewing it doesn't please you, then set up a kill-file or just
remember to delete any whopping huge post with the subject of "TopCat's
Manifesto". We'll all be happier.

This isn't a post made to be debated, this is my view on things. Whether
you think I'm wrong or not is your concern, not mine, and I encourage you to
write your own to express your views on these and similar subjects. In
doing so I think we can lessen the amount of repeat mail on the list and
increase our understanding of how others play Shadowrun. I hope to add a
section on realistic gaming versus unrealistic gaming (and the
benefits/detriments of each) in the near future.

Thanks for reading. See ya on the list.



"I was thinking of the immortal words
of Socrates, who said: I drank what?"
-- Real Genius
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