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A Framework for Roleplaying in Amtgard
[04/24/2009] [jewishjedi]

Roleplaying does not work in Amtgard. There are many people in our game that say we are not a LARP. They generally spout off some nonsense about our combat system and call us an ‘action sport’, whatever that is. I say we are not a LARP because we have no system within which we can roleplay. With the exception of one vague paragraph about personas that more or less lets you be anything, we have no rules that apply to it. Games like NERO and the venerated D&D are roleplaying games at their core because of the rules of roleplaying that they have. While all this may disturb the flurbiest amongst us, fear not, for I also feel that we have a framework for roleplay buried deep within some of sacred documents.

With in our game, roleplay is often used as an excuse to power game unhindered. Back before the 7.x rulebooks and the standardization they brought us, many people would create their own pet classes. These tended to be highly over-powered and based their uberness on roleplay reasoning. ‘My class is like this because these are god given powers’ or ‘I’m the son of the half-dragon drow lich queen.’ The problem with this is that they never gave themselves restriction upon their actions that could balance out their powers. There were no lists of actions that they had to do to favor their deity and no repercussions for not doing so. With enough bullshitting, one can use roleplay to justify almost anything.

Roleplay within the confines of Amtgard also seems to lack a common man. We can’t all be dragons or werewolves or vampires, or even the less powerful, but probably more common, bastard son of the king come to reap their mother’s vengeance upon their ass of a father. The fact is, that most people in a historical setting (and like a fantastical one too) were farmers or craftsmen. Very few people, if any, take this route in our game. Those that stumbled into ‘adventuring’ back then fell into it by accident. You might have the medieval husband who killed his wife when he found her cheating on him and was told to go on crusade to absolve his sin, or the gambler who joined up with his lord’s militia to relieve his debts. Either way, they were common folk who had adventuring forced upon them. They didn’t choose it.

All this being said, I feel we have a framework to roleplay already in our game’s documentation. It’s not in the rulebook. One has to dig a little bit deeper than that. It exists in our corporas and contracts. The award and titling system that makes Amtgard different from games like Dagorhir and Belegarth (with whom we share a combat system) are a large part of what gives us this framework. Lords should follow orders from their liege duke, for example. A common untitled person would defer to the lord of their land. While I’m sure there are some groups out there with a large amount of lord title holders, there are still fewer dukes and archdukes in the game than lords and masters, and thus the ‘common’ man is restored.

The contracts between groups and the Burling Lands or their sponsoring kingdom also give rise to large roleplaying possibilities. They set up a network of towns and cities, shires and duchies that in many ways resembles the medieval feudal system. Here in Maryland, my park, the Bitter Coast, is the last stalwart bastion loyal to the Mighty Kingdom of Goldenvale. We our the Griffon’s foot soldiers outnumbered by and surround by her renegade children of the Crystal Groves! Or, at least we could be if players down here would work together to explore this deep wealth of roleplay possibilities.

This could add back into the game the ‘accidental’ nature of adventuring. Joe the farmer, outraged at the king’s new highway being built through his fields, starts an uprising against him. Or, Joe gets drafted into his lord’s militia to fight off the heathen peoples from the next barony over. By using this framework, players would be given a route for creative energies and would hopefully be less likely to put that energy into power gaming the like of the ‘necromancer’ or ‘doppleganger/changeling’ classes that are played in some eastern parks. In the long run, using things that we already have can add a structure that might make roleplay work in Amtgard. All we have to do is stop being lazy and give it a try.

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