Role-taking vs. Role-making

I’ve been gaming for about 30-ish years now. This has covered a lot of gaming. Highlights:

  • Ben and Phil in high-school taking me through D&D and Mechwarrior (I miss you guys),
  • My all-time favourite/ most intense game: a one-on-one Vampire the Masquerade with Daniel (miss you),
  • Gaming in an actual gaming store after hours (holy crap this was astounding, thanks Justin), and
  • My current group I’ve been playing with for years and love dearly (shout outs to Amy, Amanda, James and Scott).

Gaming has come a long way from its war-gaming origins with its miniatures and its distance and its line of sight. Things are being called roleplaying games that… don‘t feel like them. Especially in computer games there seems to be a difference in what goes into a role playing game. Some examples:

  • Dungeons and Dragons: You pick an archetype, you‘ve got stats, but you can take it wherever you‘d like,
  • Werewolf the Apocalypse: You’re assumed to take the role of a Werewolf, but you can do a lot with that,
  • Dungeon World: You have a series of set roles with set powers and set progression, and
  • Bluebeard’s Bride: You’re an aspect of a victim-lady’s personality

Thinking through I’ve got a sliding scale of RPG ratings: Role-taking vs. Role-making.

In a Role-Taking game, you‘re given a role or a character. You can take that in logical directions, but only in line with what the game designer has as the original conceit. Much more common in computer role-playing games, with fixed and inflexible plots (because you don‘t have someone writing it as you go). All the options for growth are very rigid.

In a Role-Making game, you make up the role using the structure of the game and take it wherever you want. It gears the abilities and statistics for more open play and less strict archetypical roles. Depending on how you build the character, the plot and game can change because you show with your character the things you‘d like to do/ explore/ play.

Dungeons and Dragons: Role Making. Be an ousted prince, a beggar, an outcast drow duel-wielding katana having panther buddied wildcard. The character can be whatever, the system details how you can affect the world. At level one, you probably won‘t be world shattering as a fighter. But you build in the direction you want.

Werewolf the Apocalypse: Role Making. There are power sets (auspice, tribe, breed) that game balance what a starting character is, but the rules let you diversify and the character is whatever you want it to be.

Dungeon World: Role Taking. To get a character, you choose a playbook that has a few explicit powers that suit the role. It tells you who you are, not just what you can do. Looking at Masks as an example: You were a time traveller or you were a science experiment or you were an alien. While you can come up with anything that fits the role, it’s all expressed in a very defined and inflexible way.

Bluebeard’s Bride: Role Taking. You are explicitly an aspect of a lady. Every time you play, you are a part of a lady that Bluebeard will marry and kill. Each game can be a different lady, a different place, and a different exploration; but the role is always the same.

I’m not saying one is less than or more than the other, but I think it’s important when picking a game to play to see how much you can flex and how much the game prescribes. I’m guessing it‘s comparable to a sandbox game versus a linear story game. Maybe?


(Feature image by Christina Wert from Pixabay)