Saturday 30 March 2019

Quiet roleplaying

Quiet roleplaying, or perhaps slow roleplaying, is something I've been thinking about lately. Often games can move a breakneck speeds, players go from one location to the next, hack up some bad dudes and find the treasure. It's a tried and tested playstyle that works. Some people enjoy gonzo elements, where their world is a little (or a lot) crazy. Some prefer high fantasy with bright shining towers, marauding orc hordes and sky-surfing wizards. Others enjoy a dungeon-running campaign full of tricks and traps.

While I enjoy all of the above, I'm putting forward an argument for quiet, introspective roleplaying. Rather than just being a style of play, it's a genre in itself. Quiet roleplaying focuses far less on combat and more on journeying through environments, uncovering the lost histories of place. It's a session spent around a campfire, allowing characters to bloom in conversation. Monsters may exist, but they are unique and rarely pure evil. They are more likely to guard places of meaning rather than locations filled with treasure. The King of Foxes guards the forest of his ancestors. Magic is low and subtle. No fireballs, but a flicker of flame from a finger. Magic users are a rarity, but they inspire awe.

Quiet roleplaying takes inspiration from celtic folklore. Omens come in threes, a magical item is unique and truly wonderful, swans become maidens.

Players won't be going on quests to save a kingdom. They will be making good with a local god, bringing water to a village in drought, finding a way to exorcise a phantom.

The GM should be asking the players how their characters feel about a given situation. Ask them to add elements to the world. What animals are around? Who do they see on the road?

Here is a list of elements in summary:

- Journeys and environmental hazards
- Introspection - with prompts by the GM
- Little combat
- Human centric
- Low magic
- Celtic folklore
- Exploring history of place
- Low treasure
- Places have meaning outside of the material
- Omens
- Sessions based in a single location
- Wilderness, not palaces
- Monsters are unique and unlikely evil

For some, this play style won't sound like much fun. It's not balls to the wall fantasy, but I think there's a place for the quieter side of roleplaying, the slowplay.


  1. I love this concept! I think you've really hit on an important roleplay style here that gets overlooked in all the noise.

  2. You've summed up Ryutama, a Japanese RPG that was released in English in 2015(?).

    1. I was going to mention Ryuutama as a starting point too. And the English translation was indeed published in 2015.

  3. This is a really lovely post. It describes an urge very close to my heart, the urge to describe the simple joys of life around the table. I want to play out dinners between the party and their allies, describe to them new flavors, new sights that are enjoyed for their own sake.

    I'd just like to be able to fold those moments into a larger campaign where the more typical adventuring happens as well, though I feel that is doomed to fail when so many players are socialized to be ruthless problem solvers.

  4. I'm immensly happy to read this.
    A number of years ago, a new edition of one of my favorite games got published, and I got some old friends and new together to kick off the 'reboot'. {if it matters, it was Traveller 5th Ed.} We played a few sessions, and, as is the way of the world, the band broke up. Move forward a few more years, I get a few folks together for a new, regular game, and { long story, short } two people who played in the earlier group end up present, unexpectedly, by far from unwelcome. They want to play, but don't want to bog down the narrative flow with character generation. I produce their 'old characters' and proceed to verbally fill the gap in space-time in about 10 minutes. They happily join the game, pretty seamlessly, and one of them says; "You never stopped running the game, in your head, did you?" I'm not sure which won out on my face, guilt, or pride. That's what world-building in TTRPGs is, to me, the tales never stop growing, the depth of field just gets better. System, nuts and bolts hardly matter, the dice and charts are just there to resolve the (few) things that cannot be resolved via roleplay and narrative interaction. It's about the joy of tale-spinning, the comradrie around the table, those times the 'real world' falls away and you and your players build legends.

  5. That sounds lovely, I imagine some groupe that are travelling the world to locate lost civilisations, ruins or magical beast, but instead of fighting them they are just cataloguing them like cartographer or a druid looking for some wild fruits and rare spices. (If what I said make any senses, do not mind me I am french)