Posted by: Sean | January 30, 2009

Theme Week Virtues: Commitment, or; How to Abuse the ‹Blockquote› command like a pro.

“I’m funny because I commit. C-O-M-M-I-T-T-T-T-T-Tea. I also do funny rants.” – Dr. Cox, Scrubs, “My Fishbowl”.

Mommacow writes to us to say:

An RP virtue that y’all might want to address (and might be able to name better than I can) would be something along the lines of “consistency”. Being willing to stay with your character even for something that’s really annoying and/or causes OOC inconvenience. (A lot of people seem to want to be “nice” at the expense of story…understandable, but great fun to watch when they DON’T do that.) It’s hard to explain, but I love it when I see it.

And she’s right on almost1 everything. Because first, we can name it better: This is properly called ‘commitment’. You ‘commit’ to your character, even when it creates problems.

This is an excellent virtue in role-playing, and I have to admit, one I personally struggle with. But it may not quite be for the reason Mommacow thinks…

See, story is an odd thing. Being incredibly committed to a character can actually kill a storyline. I’m pretty sure anyone who’s ever played in a tabletop role-playing game would know of some sort of variant of the following exchange:

Game master: And so the quest is set before you. This must be done, the fate of the world depending upon it, and only you can deliver. Players, your responses?
Onerisa: I swear my loyalty to the King and promise results.
Twonkan: I go white from fear and pray for guidance.
Threesto: I call the King rude names and suggest he enjoys sexual liaisons with water-fowl.
GM: ... what?
Threesto: After that I overturn every potted plant in the room and storm out, before going to my local post-office and mailing the King a duck and a pair of fuzzy handcuffs.
Twonkan: (OOC) How do you use fuzzy handcuffs on a duck?
Threesto: It’s clearly in my background that Threesto is a refugee from the Treydonian Empire. The King is responsible for his people’s exile; he hates the bastards. Second of all, we’re being sent against the Fo-Urnna Dragonstrong; and Threesto owes them a life-debt.
Onerisa: (OOC) They have to be very small cuffs.
GM: But… but… fate of the world! Only people!
Threesto: Nevertheless…

Now, that’s an extreme example, and it’s pretty fair to say the game master should probably have plotted around Threesto a bit better. (Also, that Threesto needs counselling.) But the basic structure is something nearly every game master has encountered; usually because a player can’t see a reason his character would be involved in a plot.

As a veteran of this style of role-play, I’ve built up an aversion to being too stubborn about my character. Play has to happen, I continue to tell myself. But I am wrong. I know it. Because the fact is: Committing does in the end create better stories. How?

First, it’s a true sign of character. Arguments and disagreements, difficulties, and unwillingness to go with the flow signal values, beliefs and morals for a character. Even if they’re horrible ones (let’s say a healer who refuses to resurrect a particular character in a dungeon because they believe their race are an abomination) they do a much better job of making your character real than going with the flow will. It’s memorable and powerful.

Second, it can be a surprise. Especially with a nice character, that moment when suddenly they refuse to be nice any more and instead create a problem can be genuinely shocking. That’s always a nice thing to pull off, and it’s worth doing that if you can.

Third, however, and most importantly, it creates conflict.

And to quote Eric Burns: Conflict is a good thing.

What can I say? He’s right. Conflict is always good. When everyone’s going along with the flow, when it’s all smiles? That’s when role-play is at its most boring. Tension is good. Tension creates drama. It can also create comedy. Whatever it is, when characters don’t get along perfectly well, when there are disagreements, when there are stakes on the line…

That’s when the best scenes happen.

And all that depends upon commitment. Without being willing to stick to your character’s guns when the going gets tough, conflict is impotent. Those kind of scenes can’t happen.

Commitment is, indeed, a very worthwhile virtue.

1. Why almost? Because my one reservation is OOC problems. Unlike in stories, conflict in a guild or other group is bad. It gets in the way of stories. It can blur the line between IC and OOC. When it starts arguments, it’s time to lay off and either talk it out in an OOC chat, or compromise. No story is worth losing friendships, guys.


  1. I wish some of the people I used to RP with on Moon Guard would read this post and take it to heart.

    Several decided at some point that their characters would be sarcastic and stubborn to the point of causing arguments and hurting feelings – and then hiding behind the excuse that “It’s RP! It’s all in-character! What’s the problem?”

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