Do I really need to tell you how to play “pretend”? You’ve only been doing it since you were about two year old…but role playing games are a bit different. While they are just as collaborative as when you were kids (some of you still are, you’ve just got two digits in your age), the structure of some RPGs require a different approach to how you play your character.

There’s a lot of theories of role playing game design, GNS, Threefold Model, Big Model, Turku (or as English-speakers might call it “immersive”)…throw all that out and ask yourself this question, “Why are you playing?”

The answer should, in part, be “to have fun with friends”, but I’ve found that’s not always the case. There’s plenty of folks who view tabletop gaming and LARPing a more social form of acting practice. Game long enough and you’ll get one of these players. They’re in character the whole time. They lift their hand or some other signature to let you know when they are out of character. It’s like dealing with Christian Bale on set. They’re great players while the game is ongoing, but I’ve found they aren’t into the socializing aspect as much. (This, admittedly, could just be my experience…but there’s been a bunch of them that have crossed my path.) Really — LARP is probably going to be more of a draw.

Others want to just socialize of beer and pretzels — a board game, computer game, movie night would be just as enjoyable. In the middle you’ve got folks who like to do problem solving and tactical exercises (here be “gronards”), and others like the storytelling aspect. The latter are even happy when they aren’t the center of attention; they want to be entertained by the story and other characters, as much as anything.

Which of these you are is going to shape your interactions with the other players and their characters. If you’re an “immersive” player (the actor) in a group of the latter folks, they’re going to love how well developed your characters are, and hate how much you try to hog the limelight. If you’re a beer and pretzels guy, you probably just aren’t going to be as into the game as the other types.

This is okay.

However, the GM is going to have to balance the group members’ goals for what they get out of the game. If you’ve got a bunch of B&P players, this is easy. Short one-shots, a few different, rules-light games will fit the bill. If you are the sort that likes character or plot-driven storytelling, you’ll want to find the balance of how immersive you want to be. Our group tends to slide in and out of character, and can often find themselves on the sideline for a while as the story necessarily focuses on one character or another. There’s no one “right” way to play. Rather, it’s about managing your expectations of what the group will be and how you want to interact.