Is camaraderie in role-playing games [RPGs] important? My recent experiences have led me to the conclusion that it’s more important than I thought. One would think it would be obvious that it’s important; after all, isn’t the point of playing games to have fun and isn’t enjoying other people’s company fun?
Sure. But, it seems that I’ve just taken it for granted, never realizing that it’s something with a tremendous level of variance. The more I think about it, the more I realize highlights of role-playing have often come during scenes of player camaraderie. And, that camaraderie is not a given just because the activity is a social one engaged in with friends.
I’m not much of a fan of combat in RPGs. It’s often gratuitous and slow. My favorite combats fall into one of two categories. The first is when there’s a clear objective that furthers the story affected by the results of the combat. The second is trying to survive overwhelming force.
I just played an online session of the Legend of the Five Rings [L5R] living campaign Heroes of Rokugan [HoR]. And, I realized something when I was explaining my experience to family. Combat is the best way to form camaraderie among players. I may have met one or more of the other players at Gen Con some year, but I can’t put names to faces even now. This particular adventure didn’t do anything significant to bond my character to the group. Being entirely social, mostly intrigue, the characters never needed to coalesce as a party.
Challenging combat creates dependence. The historically common style of playing fantasy RPGs – dungeoncrawling – excels at creating a tight, cohesive party. Individual interests are sublimated to party needs. Individuals vs. groups in RPGs – a subject that I should expand upon in a future post.
Then, I realized that none of my recent house campaigns have seen much in the way of camaraderie. Last year’s Gen Con saw me ramp up the amount of HoR I played, which was the likely cause of my getting to know other players from other regions in the US. I recall specific instances from the last two Gen Cons where I felt a bond between players in HoR games.
Not to say HoR lends itself greatly to camaraderie – lots of unknown players to be thrown into a group with, players have individual goals, and little emphasis on combat. Which, I suppose, makes it interesting that I have found it as much there as in any of the house games I’ve recently played in.
It’s not like my house campaigns are combat poor. The fourth edition D&D campaign was pretty much only combat. I chalk it up to just how lethal combat in L5R is, where even a seemingly minor combat scene can eviscerate a character. In my house games, combat is more of an inevitable “victory” measured by how many resources needed to be expended. That allows for selfish play, whether showing off or just not having the back of another character.