By the way…#3 – Body language in RPGs

(“By the way…” is a new kind of posts which might or might be not referring to Burning Opera, but it’s always about RPGs. I hope you’ll enjoy it too!)

Introduction: this are only personal opinions and ideas. You can agree to disagree and such. I’m up for constructive constructive criticism, not trolling or offense. Be kind, please.

Body language in RPGs

Today I want to talk about body language in table-top RPG. What’s body language? What’s mimic? It’s expressing concepts, things, or emotions without using speech or any verbal medium. Moving, acting, interacting, mimicking, keeping in contact: these are all body languages.

Body language is (in my opinion) mostly worth to be put in game rules because of straightforwardness and expressiveness.

  • straightforwardness: it’s what happens when you avoid a lot of useless informations by going straight to the point. When we have to set up a situation during a game session, we tend to start describing the ambient, the player’s status, the PNGs and so on. Still, if we try to avoid all that chatting and use different methods of expression we would be able to stick the players right in their common imaginary space. How does it work? By telegraphing your informations.

“Telegraphing is the name for all techniques for distributing and coordinating information between participants in a role-playing game in order to keep the interpretations of the shared fiction consistent. Needless to say, there are many, many different ways of doing this, but as we dabble in Jeepform, we focus on techniques that preserve the flow, and tries to involve meta information or meta discussions as little as possible.”

There’s a good example of this in the Jeepform’s Dictionary, which tell exactly this:

A situation where avoiding the second of meta information is better is when you want to give flowers to your date, and the only available physical prop is a pen; hand the pen over while saying “I wanted to give you red roses, but they only had white”. Interestingly, the pen can be handed over, smelled, be put in a cup and broken, just like a real rose.

This simple yet amazing way of interacting, leads players right in the situation. Many Jeep games do use this kind of tools, starting from the Upgrade! with great success.

  • expressiveness:  when you can convey emotions from one player to another, from character to player and vice versa.

“Bleed is experienced by a player when her thoughts and feelings are influenced by those of her character, or vice versa. With increasing bleed, the border between player and character becomes more and more transparent. It makes sense to think of the degree of bleed as a measure of how separated different levels of play (actual/inner/meta) are.” -by the Dictionary of Jeepform

“You can’t escape empathy!” -by Jason Morningstar’s “Tabletop Design Principles”

It’s easy when you keep in eye and physical contact to convey emotion with other people. There’s something magical happening when we sit around a table or we stand in the same place that happens, a chemistry.

Why don’t we use it, then? Because sometimes this is considered a limit of the players or  game itself, keeping us closed in ourselves, interacting passively through the “description->action” flow of events. Breaking up these implicit rules, especially in games which are not so crunchy or combat-oriented would really give a new ‘taste’ to the game. With Burning Opera for example, the presence of the players in the same physical space is fundamental: I tried playing via web-cam hangout, but there was no magic in it. We didn’t felt each other close enough to get in each other shoes.

Conclusion: I don’t know what you think but, I’d include body language and mimic in my games (I’ve already did it, actually) due to just these two points. Why don’t you try, too?

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