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Convincing players to… roleplay.

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One of the biggest issues I have with groups is their willingness to actually engage in social interactions, whether with other NPCs or each other (mostly they're run via messenging services, thus people are more open to characterisation). In Dark Heresy, Deathwatch and such this isn't much of an issue due to there not being much of a an authoritarian structure hanging over the heads of the players directly. Acolytes are usually equals operating amongst themselves, Explorers are expected to advise and speak with the Rogue Trader, Deathwatch Marines are… well, marines, Chaos Heretics are- uhm, well, what do they care when they need each other?

With Only War however, players always seem to be incredinbly reluctent to open their mouths, for fear they'll invoke "NO TALKING!" by an NPC such as a Commissar, a superior officer, or even the Sergeant character. Doing down time this is less of an issue, but I find my players just turning into dice bots whenever they're actually out in the field, especially alongside their fellow regimental soldiers. They don't have this issue in other games and despite my efforts at OOCly encouraging them, nobody really seems to budge. Its not so much they dislike actually roleplaying Guardsmen - they have done soldiers well in the past - but they seem mortified to do it for suffering IC reprocussions. Its realing killing my efforts to actually GM this, as well as my players enjoyment.

Any ideas? How have you got more roleplay into Only War?

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I recommend having your group watch the following three miniseries, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and Generation Kill. It shows U.S. Soldiers and Marines during wartime, as well as the social interaction.

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When your Players' PCs are "in the field" and fighting alongside their regimental brethren, the Players themselves may be acutely aware that anything "obvious" will draw attention directly to them. Without knowing the details of your game style and campaign setting, I'm guessing the Players shut down and adopt the IG stereotype of being just one insignificant squad in an endless sea of squads.

Obviously, you've already attempted to get your Players to understand that not every word out of place or original idea is going to result in a bolt shell to the back of the head, but if your Players are very familiar with and/or are "diehards" of the 40K setting they may be naturally "falling into place" as all Guardsmen are expected to do.

Again, without knowing your play style or the game setting, you might try keeping things mostly at micro rather than macro interaction. Focus more on just the squad, and leave the larger engagements for four to five minutes of narrative. Try to present scenarios in which most of the game play and gaming time centers on the squad, and see if that helps.

EDIT: The Ciaphas Cane novels are not for everyone but, in my opinion, they present a very good example of IG interaction and personality as they can be portrayed in Only War, at the regimental, squad, and individual levels. The commanding officers of the Valhallan 597th expect some individuality, considering the nature of the regiment's origin, and are less inclined to punish their soldiers, unless of course their soldiers really muck things up or tangle with outside organizations. And Ciaphas Cain isn't the stereotypical Commissar, either. He definitely is a political officer first, and a (reluctant but resigned) disciplinarian second.

If you are familiar with these books, try implementing similar scenarios, settings, and themes from them during your own games. Here is a fast and dirty Ciaphas Cain reference source: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/CiaphasCain?from=Main.CiaphasCain

If you're not familiar with these books, I recommend you read For The Emperor. This particular novel will run the entire spectrum of regimental, squad, and individual interactions and themes. Cheeky and creepy in equal measure, not your everyday Grim Dark.

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First off: welcome in Only War! You have just encountered the (IMHO) biggest problem with the game! 

The bigest problem with social interactions in OW is that there are, like, zero encouragement to do it. Actually, the system leans towards the "just shut the f*ck up and do your job" mentality, as social stuff has minimal support in-game and the base setting highly favors combat-oriented characters. For example, out of the 11 Specializations, only two (the Priest and the Ratling) have the Social aptitude. You can safely say that the lack of social interaction in an OW adventure is supposed to be the normal thing. Everything else is just icing on the cake that you should make up on the run.

So yeah, the answer to your problem is not simple at all. You should either soften up the world around the characters so you can have Band of Brothers, but then, you won't play the real, gritty Warhammer 40k, or you can turn down the game difficulty (for example, let the characters fight against average humans with average weapons and average abilities) so the characters must have a break - if you are lucky, they will use it for some social stuff, and not to get super-bored. 

Otherwise, you can do what my gaming group did: just ignore social stuff, and play the "War is hell, and we are the devil!" card: turn up the grimdark to eleven, turn the Guardsmen (all of them) into ruthless bastards, encourage cruelty and show the worst aspects of war in a positive light… And just watch as the PCs make their trip right into the heart of darkness! It has many excellent roleplaying opportunities, and you can miss the awkward social situations entirely. Just ban the Fearless Talent, because it will ruin the concept :)

 

Oh, and a side note: I have a feeling that your PCs are not exactly prepared for social encounters. Like, do any of them have 30+ Fellowship? Or Charm/Deceive Skill(s) at least at Trained (+10) level?  Maybe this is the reason that they avoid social sutff - they simply don't have the abilities to do that properly!

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Arbitrator said:

 

Any ideas? How have you got more roleplay into Only War?

 

 

 

I got my players together to brainstorm about the story I was building:

- we started with the Players homeworld: what did they need to bring the Player's character concept to life.  One Player wanted to play a hunter/trapper near mountains, snow and temperate climate.  The other wanted to part of the security of her family's farm and distillery. I advised the Players that this homeworld was just recently recognized as an Imperial World. That this planet  has a  social class system (Governing Families - founding fathers, "Imperial Citizens" which was specified as retired Imperial guardsman or a family with an active family member in the Imperial Guard, and Non Imperial Citizens - NICs for short). I also told the Players that their Regiment was being built from volunteers as the Departmento Munitorum was collecting the planetarty tithe early.

 

- I asked the Players to build on this with key features and sites that would help build their character concepts. 

 

- each Player had to provide a reason for joining the guard. The trapper and his brother were looking to start a a new as they were NICs and wanted a better chance at living in addition being suspect in some offworlder's hunting accidents.  The other justed wanted adventure and to follow her older brother's footsteps.

 

- both Players were advised that the military tithes were groomed by the founding families and produced a regiment that bears the family name and are not mixed sexes. Two of the families had matriarchs while the other three were patriarchs.

 

- I asked them who would be their ideal comrade.  The hunter would like his older more vicious brother (think Meryl from the tv series Walking Dead). The other chose her maid in waiting.

 

- then we built the regiment and everyone involved wanted to be scout/snipers. Light infantry marksmen with chameleon cloaks, favoured regimental weapons long las and heavy bolter.  They chose the planets apex vermin the "Stalker" (think Borderlands 2) skull impaled by a dagger.

 

 

Introductions:

- the game started with both Players and their future comrades being brought into the planets primary bootcamp training men for the Imperial Tithe. On the parade square where they were asked to wait in front of military kit.  First thing they noticed is that it was going to be a mixed regiment.  Then they noticed that the regiment was multi-classed from NICs to the founding Families. The Drill Instuctor came along and introduced them into the Guard and said he would return in a few minutes and that they should look like guards men/women by the time he got back.  I, as the Storyteller, purposely decided the kits were mixed up and that all those on the parade square would have make the best of what they had or trade with their neighbour. 

 

- in this introduction there was ample opportunities for them to role-play.  The player who is playing the would be adventurer became infatuated/love struck by the Drill Instructor.

 

- in short time the unit was trained on the gear infront of them and then sent off to war.

 

 

Transit:

- they continued their training on board the troop transport.  Where they were placed into their units.

 

- this is where I gave them a chance to get to know the rest of their squad. I made sure that each squad member was fully fleshed out. Mechanically I decided to have three fully fleshed characters aong with the Players with each having a supporting comrade.

 

-the Players decided to be weapon specialists so the first NPC was the Sgt (teen military cadet who had steely eyes and Clint Eastwoods personality) the vox Operator was the sgt's comrade who was also an Operator. The second NPC was the medic who was studying to be a surgeon before signing up, her comrade was another speacialist with a merchant background and quickly became the face man for the squad - incidently he quickly befriended one of the Munitorum Officers. Third NPC was farmer who would recite the Emperor's blessings prior ro each shot (think the sniper from Saving Private Ryan) and his comrade wet nose green recruit.

 

- they got some down time and encountered some of the other regiments also intransit.  Of which one was a vetren tank regiment that had about two squads woth of tank crews and not tanks.  Another Regiment were underhive gang members pressed into service. One of ganger members who was modeled after Lisabeth Salander  tried stike a romantic liaison with the northen hunter Player.  She was rejected but covered it up so well the Player who rejected her was percieved as the best lay in the galaxy.  This became such a tall tale that it caused all sorts of problem for that Player.

 

 

Planet fall/Warzone:

 

- they were dropped into a warzone where Orks were taking the planet and the whole system.  There were three factories belonging to the Adaptus Mechaincus each side had one factory while contesting the one in the middle.

 

- of course the drop went wrong.  The squad had to fend for itself before rejoining the main assault force. Lots of opportunities were presented and taken advantage of.

 

- billeting in the forge  they met another regiment of devout imperial citizens where every man, woman, and child were pressed into service.  The Players became a little concerned that these poor bastards had nothing before being issued eviscerators, and flamers.

 

-  one Player took an impromptu tour of the factory with their Adaptus Mechanicus guide. Lots of role-plaing was done here.

 

- after several long combat patrols where Players were given chances for moment to stand out.  A couple of bad navigation rolls on each patrol earned one of the Player's the moniker "wrongway".

 

- even in later combat the Players and NPCs  interchanged quips, remarks, orders, etc.. based on everything leading up to this.

 

 

SGT

 

-  I made the sgt a cadet from one of the families with a long tradition of supporting the military.  She had that steel gaze look and as I have already mentioned Clint  Eastwood's personality from most of his action films.  I made sure that a lot of the events were foreshadowed so that when the Sgt had to give an order it was somthing that made sense to the Players.  She was also one of the younger character but because of her cadet traing had the most military experience of the squad.  But because of her age she would ask for advice from the squad, secially the hunter who had become the pointman by this point.

 

- also note that we as a group decided that the regiment were skermishers from the get go (before Hammer Of The Emperor) which gave the group a bit more flexibility.

 

 

The Commissars

 

- I made several for the regiment. The two of most importance to the squad was Commissar Rhazer - a grandfatherly moral officer. He was ancient. His old whispery voice shared years of wisdom and soft weight of his authority.  His favourite threat was " I could waste this bolter round and deprive the Emperor a sorry specimen such as yourself, or you can redeem yourself in the penial legion"

 

- his Junuior Commisar Mercy Viscious - always seemingly in the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time. 

 

- neither were present most of the time.

 

 

Soooo… I've rambled on quite a bit.  The long winded point was that it was a group effort.  I involved the Players as much as I dared in building the game. They helped build and name their Platoon that their squad was a part of.  The game was as much  soap opera as it was a war story.  When they weren't busy dodging the next social mishap, they were ducking Ork choppas…  

 

I hope this was of some help  :)

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I have a player that wanted to play a Ratling sniper.  He rolled perfectly on his Demeanors getting "Thief" and such…  Then he decided to re-roll and make a Tech-Priest at which point I forbade it.  He wanted to play a Ratling, he rolled up an excellent one, but I'd rather he rollplay what he wanted than go with a more practical choice of min/maxing "for the squad". 

If you have a problem with them clamming up because of the "Bullet to the Back of the Head" factor, just take the Commissar out of the squad.  Not every squad has one and they're not omnipresent.

Throw something like this in:

You're in your barracks and there's a rousing craps game going on near the back, as Bravo and Delta squads have shown up to socialize.  Several groups of troopers are relaxing, talking, bragging about their sexual conquests back home, and complaining about the chow in the mess hall.  What do you do?

If they actually do something entertaining, go with it.  Roll-play (pun intended) the craps game if they join in.  If they join in one of the conversations, throw in some useful information about the deployment or the Quartermaster. 

Go with the flow until you think the time is right and then have a Trooper enter the barracks and shout "Snap-to! Commissar is coming!"  The craps game is hastily gathered up and most of the Troopers line up at attention with lackluster enthusiasm, like it was simply an annoyance.

Now here's the key.  Have a Jr. Commissar come in, alone, tapping on his dataslate and looking bored or whatever like he's doing chores.  He immediately tells them "At ease…" without looking up from his data slate and have him do a cursory inspection finding a few minor things wrong, which he let's the offending trooper off with a warning.  He gives the entire barracks a once-over look and says "As you were" and leaves.

Then have the Troopers go back to what they were doing, including breaking out the craps game again like it was no big deal.  Routine.

In other words, there's no need unless you want there to be, for the Commissars to be hard-asses.  Doesn't mean they don't/won't do their jobs.  It just means they place maximum importance on Troopers doing their duty to the Emperor on the battlefield and are less concerned with minor infractions as long as they don't interfere with the smooth running and discipline of the post they're stationed to.

Our Commissar for our game (an NPC) has a "Don't make me fix it" attitude.  Know what I'm saying?  He'll fix it if he has to, with Bolt Pistol rounds.  He's just as likely to come down hard on the tattle-tale squealer who interrupted his morning Re-Caff as he is the perpetrator of whatever the crimes were, unless it was a truly grievious infraction.

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I left out something very important.  If you play out the scenario above, what you're doing is telling the players that RolePlay will get them possibly three things.  Information they can use later, Possibly goods/services and/or a Logistics roll, and experience.

Sometimes you have to appeal to the min/maxing phat lewt wh0re in them. If it makes the game more entertaining for everyone, it's worth it.

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Make sure you have handy notes on the Comrades' names and Demeanors.  Make a point of using not only their names, but the PC's names and roleplay the Comrades' Demeanors.

I've found that the only way to get THEM to roleplay more is for ME to roleplay more.  And make it mechanically rewarding to do so.  After they start loosening up and really getting into it, you won't have to "reward" them all the time because they'll be having fun and will forget about it.

I blame video games.  I really do.  We didn't have this problem back in the 80's.

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Its strange, we've found the opposite in OW! We played deathwatch and got hideously bored with just killing the enemy and doing ones duty, the imperial guard add a much more human aspect to it.

call players by their character names, and when they say what they are doing ask them "what about your comrade?"

simply encourage them more in social contexts, reward characterful roleplaying and the like; for example characters that bill themselves as pyromaniacs or pschos tend to break rank in battle and perhaps not do the best thing for the job, but if it makes for good roleplaying dont penalise it. 

it only takes one player to break the ice; my character is a very reluctant soldier, but is a very competent socialiser, and so he interacts with the squad whether they like it or not.

I always think of the guard as more like a bunch of lads that only behave when the segeant is looking.

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Its strange, we've found the opposite in OW! We played deathwatch and got hideously bored with just killing the enemy and doing ones duty, the imperial guard add a much more human aspect to it.

call players by their character names, and when they say what they are doing ask them "what about your comrade?"

simply encourage them more in social contexts, reward characterful roleplaying and the like; for example characters that bill themselves as pyromaniacs or pschos tend to break rank in battle and perhaps not do the best thing for the job, but if it makes for good roleplaying dont penalise it. 

it only takes one player to break the ice; my character is a very reluctant soldier, but is a very competent socialiser, and so he interacts with the squad whether they like it or not.

I always think of the guard as more like a bunch of lads that only behave when the segeant is looking.

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RonFarster said:

call players by their character names, and when they say what they are doing ask them "what about your comrade?"

Sadly, in OW, the answer is usually "Who?". When your character is made from wet WC paper, and you are fighting against hordes of savage mushroom warriors, super-tricky Space Elves, man-shaped tanks and abominable fanatics, a random battlefield prop (the poor Comrade) can disappear from the radar of the players very quickly. Especially with their unqiue ability to "recycle" and their characteristics-less nature. 

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How I got it to happen was rather a blunder on my part. My group for Only War fell apart and reformed with the promise of fighting Dark Eldar. We used the adventure in The Soul Reaver with some slight modifications to get into their classes. I can honestly say that most of my group isn't into RPing but after their time spent at the hands of the Dark Eldar and being betrayed a few times they went from dice machines to grizzled 'You haven't seen what I've seen' guardsmen. I suggest going for the 'WHAT THE ****?!?!?' moments or have a squad member or favored NPC killed/tortured due to actions on the players part. Connect them to their charectors. Lets say storm trooper is afraid of snakes in real life. Find a way to incorporate that so that they start thinking like their player.

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I recommend introducing slow moments such as: furlough passes for down time or guard duty scenes where the characters have to interact with each other or have a hobby or something.  During these slow moments, I'd even recommend picking a random player and having them tell a story about their character's life back home.  Essentially a: "What were you before you became a grunt?" or  "Do you have anyone back home?" or "How'd the Imperium catch you for this crap job?" scene. Heck, if any character's are recent additions or transfers, it's a good initiation into the squad/regiment. A good example of this is seen in nearly every War movie, but I think it was done best in the movie Stripes. Of course it is all dependent on the type of regiment they belong to as well.

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Spazmunke said:

One thing that occurs to me to help roleplay, is elevate the squad to become the LT or CPT command squad and have them start dealing with command level problems.

IME, this is a mistake. Elevating one of them further above the level of their fellows doesn't really make for better roleplay. Most of your roleplay in a game like this comes from among peers in your squad. A Lieutenant/Captain has peers in other platoons/companies and odds are you'll not see such mingling commonly in games unless you like having to deal with hordes of NPCs even more than is typical in OW.

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Spazmunke said:

One thing that occurs to me to help roleplay, is elevate the squad to become the LT or CPT command squad and have them start dealing with command level problems.

This is only good if you want to create an atmosphere of competition and conflict.  Usually having a player character in authority over others is best decided and agreed upon before play begins.  Even then, most role-play concerning rank will involve exercising that authority with the others complying or finding a way to circumvent it.

In the end this usually leads to more trouble than it's worth.

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Spazmunke said:

What I meant was not promoting one of the PCs but instead the whole SQUAD is promoted to be the command squad of an NPC officer.

Once again, IME, being the direct lackeys to an NPC isn't usually all that much fun. In the case of being a command squad you're not really going to be operating independent of your LT/CPT so the PCs are going to lose even the illusion of autonomy that they might otherwise have in an IG game.

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HappyDaze said:

Once again, IME, being the direct lackeys to an NPC isn't usually all that much fun. In the case of being a command squad you're not really going to be operating independent of your LT/CPT so the PCs are going to lose even the illusion of autonomy that they might otherwise have in an IG game.

 

I'm not sure about that--I'd say it would depend on the level of competence of their CO. If the CO's a shlub that'll get everyone killed because of his incompetence, it means for much more role-play, especially if they can't just frag the git from the get go.  Toss in some regimental rivalry drama should they lose their CO, their regiment would be incorporated into the rival's own and it might make for entertaining interactions.

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NeoSamurai said:

HappyDaze said:

 

Once again, IME, being the direct lackeys to an NPC isn't usually all that much fun. In the case of being a command squad you're not really going to be operating independent of your LT/CPT so the PCs are going to lose even the illusion of autonomy that they might otherwise have in an IG game.

 

 

 

I'm not sure about that--I'd say it would depend on the level of competence of their CO. If the CO's a shlub that'll get everyone killed because of his incompetence, it means for much more role-play, especially if they can't just frag the git from the get go.  Toss in some regimental rivalry drama should they lose their CO, their regiment would be incorporated into the rival's own and it might make for entertaining interactions.

But what if the characters are all real guardsmen, with minimal Fellowship and zero Social Skills? I mean, if they haven't done the roleplay stuff so far, then they should have Fellwoship and everything connected to it in the trash bin. In this case, forcing social interactions on them would be pretty counter-productive, wouldn't it?

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AtoMaki said:

NeoSamurai said:

 

HappyDaze said:

 

Once again, IME, being the direct lackeys to an NPC isn't usually all that much fun. In the case of being a command squad you're not really going to be operating independent of your LT/CPT so the PCs are going to lose even the illusion of autonomy that they might otherwise have in an IG game.

 

 

 

I'm not sure about that--I'd say it would depend on the level of competence of their CO. If the CO's a shlub that'll get everyone killed because of his incompetence, it means for much more role-play, especially if they can't just frag the git from the get go.  Toss in some regimental rivalry drama should they lose their CO, their regiment would be incorporated into the rival's own and it might make for entertaining interactions.

 

 

But what if the characters are all real guardsmen, with minimal Fellowship and zero Social Skills? I mean, if they haven't done the roleplay stuff so far, then they should have Fellwoship and everything connected to it in the trash bin. In this case, forcing social interactions on them would be pretty counter-productive, wouldn't it?

What's worse is supposing that they'll automatically be better at leading the unit than the officer in charge, It's possible, but highly unlikely (for the reasons you've mentioned among others). I don't know anybody else, but as a player, I'm going to be annoyed if I'm assigned to a unit led by idiots unless that's specifically what I signed up to play.

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