Guidance – Roleplaying 101: Scripted Roleplaying and Improv Roleplaying

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about the roleplaying spotlight.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women, merely players.”
~William Shakespear, As You Like It [Act II, Scene 5]

Ooh, this is going to be SO much fun, because typically when one talks about roleplaying in games like Pathfinder, one talks about roleplaying versus rollplaying. (I did an article on that topic myself, in fact.)

In my experience as a Pathfinder player and a GM, I’ve noticed that there are three types of Pathfinder players when it comes to roleplaying. First, you have your nones. These are the people who just aren’t comfortable with roleplaying, or who (for their own reasons) refuse to roleplay at the table. We’re not talking about those types of roleplayers today, because frankly you’re not going to get someone to roleplay with you if they’re not willing and comfortable in doing so.

Instead, we’re going to talk about the other types of roleplayers. I’m going to call them the scripts and the improvs.

Scripts vs. Improvs

So before we get started, let’s talk about the difference between Scripts and Improvs. We’ll talk about the Improvs first, because that’s the type that you’re more likely going to know about.

First, let’s talk about what Scripts and Improves have in common. Both are masters of building personalities and characters. They spend much time creating that personality and invest plenty of energy into making that character interesting to them at the table. Both are great roleplayers, and typically awesome people to have at your table.

So, what makes them different and what makes them the same? Well, scripts pick a character personality and cement that personality in stone. They want to see how their characters will react in a variety of different situation, but that personality doesn’t change significantly throughout play. These are your Gokus, your Monkey D. Luffeys, your Odysseuses, your Arragorns, and more. These are characters you like and enjoy, and typically you learn to expect how they’ll react in a variety of different situations. Script characters are great for people learning to roleplay for the first time, and they’re even better for less serious games. They are personalities that are easier to adopt because they tend to consist of a number of strange quirks and personality traits, maybe a memorable line or two as well.

Improvs are a bit different. These players tend to make very loose characters, and grow those characters with development over time. Soured personalities warm up to folks and bitter folk gain a new outlook on life. These are often players who want their character’s world views to grow and change based upon the things they experience; the best and the worse. They typically care more about where their characters are growing rather then who they’ve been, and their players are more open to change then the players of scripts are.

So, before you ask me which is better to roleplay as, my answer is simple: it depends on you, your party, and the story that you find yourself in. I will say that the majority of players that I’ve encountered in society play tend to be scripts (let’s say 85%), while the numbers are pretty much 50/50 for home games. Personally, I favor scripts in Society play too, as PFS tends to be episodic, which is easier to handle as a script as opposed to an improv. In every home game that I play in, however, my characters are improvs. They typically have very loose personalities, and I enjoy figuring out how they’ll react in a given situation and grow from their experiences.

The Importance of Team Storytelling

One of the most difficult things for script players to deal with is team storytelling, surprisingly. Team storytelling is essentially the idea that the players work together to add to one another’s RP without necessarily needing checks or rolls to do so. For example, this is the brothers whose players add in lore for each other as appropriate. Team storytelling requires a LOT of trust on all player’s fronts, and it also requires a willingness to not necessarily have everything go according to your wants and desires. Its challenging because it requires you to take the only thing in the game that you have control over (your character) and give small pieces of that control to your fellow players. Overall, a person who uses an improv strategy of roleplaying is likely going to feel more conntected with their character because they’ve been with that character through the ups and downs. They’ve watched her grow and change into the person she is, and her willingness to share that character with people she trusts ultimately builds the trust between those players and further drives home that the story is something the PCs build together, rather than each having their own corners of the sandbox.

I’m going to end this article with a brief story that happened at our local convention yesterday. I was playing Ihan Blakros-Ichihara, my teen kitsune detective, in Blakros Connection. At the start of the campaign, I was making buddy buddy with the museum’s curator, Nigel, telling everyone about how I go to the museum all the time to borrow books and enjoy the exhibits. (Ihan’s primary character traits are that he loves learning and is hyper excitable all the time.) So eventually, Nigel asked us what the rest of the party was doing there, and my friend Brian, who is playing a kitsune fighter named Otami, immediately pipes up. “The Blakros Museum paid the Pathfinder Society to send me along to chaperone Ihan.”

“Whaaaaaa!” Ihan cried, “I don’t need a chaperone, I’m 17! I’m–…wait, no. No, that’s probably fair.”

And so for the rest of the game, Otami was Ihan’s chaperone, to the point where Ihan invited him to spend the nights that happened in this multipart adventure in his family-funded flat. (Ihan had slumber parties with him where he would read really hard words out of various ancient lexicons and define them to Otami, that is.) Our strange relationship began to grow, such as when I spouted out the idea to use a primal magic zone we were standing in to attack a swarm, which Otami did by casting a dancing lights spell that triggered a massive explosion of fire that burned the swarm to dust.

Eventually, we found ourselves in a place where we could basically wish for anything we wanted, as long as it was a spell effect of 7th-level or lower. Our method of reaching this place left us all fatigued, and while Ihan didn’t mind being tired, he knew that it would affect Otami’s fighting performance. So he used his only wish-like effect to try and restore Otami’s spry youthfulness again to remove the fatigue. But I rolled so high on my check, my GM allowed me to add a little “rider” in on the effect. Ihan totally restored Otami’s youthful energy (as per lesser restoration). Too well, in fact, as the spell left him a mere 17 years old (as per youthful appearance). Brian took it in stride, and Ihan had a teenage kitsune best friend for 8 whole minutes!

Why eight minutes? Well, I messed with a memory thing, which specifically had the effect of showing us one of Otami’s childhood memories. So Brian asked our GM if the occurrence could cause the youthful appearance spell to adjust. The GM said sure, and so for the rest of our stay in the wish-land, Otami appeared as he did in that memory—a mere 11 years of age!

The ward had become the chaperone, and the chaperone the ward! (Except, you know, Otami was still a 6th-level badass fighter.)

It was one of the most fun scenarios I’ve ever played in society, and that scene (and many others) wouldn’t have happened if Brian, myself, and others at our table didn’t allow one another to have a little bit of liberty with our characters. It made for one of the best scenarios I’ve ever played in, one that I won’t be forgetting soon!

For now, that’s all I have to say on improv roleplayers versus script roleplayers. What do you think? What type of roleplaying do you usually do, and which is easier for you? Have you ever thought about being an improv roleplayer? Leave your answers and comments below, and keep checking back at the Know Direction Network for plenty of exciting new articles! Take care.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC.

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