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In and Out of Character

"Players may blunder through dialog with shocking ineptitude, forget the name of the country they are in, or get confused about which side they are on, but once it comes time to roll for initiative they all turn into Sun Tzu."
Shamus Young, author of Twenty Sided

In a Role-Playing Game, players face a conflict. They want improv theater. But they also want to slaughter orcs and grab their loot. When these two objectives collide, realism goes out the window: combat is conducted in Bullet Time.

It takes a split second, in-world, for players to discuss positioning, weapons, defense and the merits of different magical attacks. If we could see it play out, the characters' hands would smear into in an unnatural blur. With uncanny coordination, characters would converge on their weakest opponents and optimally render them lifeless.

In our world, three pizzas and some flat Mountain Dew have been consumed. It's half an hour later, and the Game Master is getting testy.

GMs have theories and techniques to handle this: Gamers did not grow up in a yurt, waking to live-ammo swordplay each dawn with their warlord father. They learned the twisty, but bloodless, art of modern life instead. And often suck at dodgeball. Out-of-band chatter compensates for this.

Compare with Talking Is a Free Action. Not to be confused with Out of Character or Out-of-Character Moment.


Examples:

  • Many Real Life Role Playing Game sessions.
  • Darths & Droids is in part an Affectionate Parody of In and Out of Character. The strip visuals are the in-world personas and settings, but their speech is that of the players. This produces comical, jarring, juxtapositions that gets to the heart of In and Out of Character. See this strip and This one.
    • Pete, who's playing R2-D2, uses this to get around the fact that he took the Mute disadvantage as part of his Min-Maxing. The GM take this in stride, arbitrarily enforcing the rule that he use sound effects to communicate in character just for amusement.
  • The Truth About Bleach lives and breathes this trope, what with the characters being genre savvy actors playing one-dimensional manga characters in a series where the script already is a muddled mess of in-and-out-of-characterisms.
    Ichigo: I know you insulted Chad as well. You said something about him being Mexican when he's clearly Hispanic!! You Racisto Son-of-a-bitcho!!
    Shinji: Listen to you talking. You need to embrace your true self. You're a Vizard.
    Ichigo: Damn straight I'm a wizard!! I'm *eff*ing Dumbledore!!! Why are you still coming to my school, yo!?
    Shinji: What the *eff* is wrong with your character...? Are you sure you read the script for today?
    Ichigo: For the first time ever, yes I did!!
  • In the Journal Comic Today Nothing Happened, GM Brittany kept player discussion to a minimum in this strip by making things happen faster and faster the longer the players discussed their plans. To the players' horror.
  • In the RPG Paranoia and its sequels, the rule is that if the GM asks someone what they're doing and they take longer than three seconds to answer, they stand there and do nothing. Now, report for termination, Citizen; that information was above your security clearance.

    In-character, this is because life in Alpha Complex is supposed to be overwhelmingly confusing all the damn time, doubly so for the type of citizens that players usually portray. Out-of-character, this is because Paranoia gameplay is supposed to be entertaining rather than tactically optimal; the GM is encouraged to reward entertaining players (while still screwing them over) while just plain screwing tacticians (or at least making the NPCs equally merciless in their own tactics).

    Also, a character using out-of-character knowledge is usually considered evidence of spying and therefore treason. This makes Paranoia possibly the only game that has a direct, in-character punishment for metagaming.

    The GM's section of the rulebooks has a hilarious example of gameplay illustrating how this is supposed to work.
    GM: Right. George, one of the guys that was yelling "Ooga-Booga" is running at you with a pointy stick. What do you do?
    George: Um, what?
    GM: Right. Fred, what do you do?
  • Battles in The Gamers are shown entirely in character with no pauses while the characters strategize. In The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, however, this trope is played straight in the battle with the goblins, with both the characters and the goblins pausing as the characters describe their actions. Later battles are done more seriously, although at one point Cass takes advantage of a distraction to rearrange everyone's miniatures.
  • The World of Darkness has a Derangement (mild psychological trauma caused by evil actions) based on this: Vocalisation. Any OOC chatter that isn't about game mechanics is actually spoken aloud by the character. They have to make a save to realise it (if they aren't told) and another one to stop doing it for ten-ish minutes, at which point it starts happening again. It is beautiful.
  • Critical Hit has this in spades, as it's a recording of an actual Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
  • Speaking In and Out of Character is a bit more difficult in many MMORPGs, because the primary means of communication in these games is through text-based chat. Players have found ways to manage it, though. Assuming they even care, which most don't, as there generally isn't any actual penalty for OOC chatter; your medieval knight is perfectly free to exult that despite the Total Party Kill he just caused, at least he has chicken.
    Troper: Messages like this—especially when sent to global or local chat channels—are assumed to be said in-character.
    Troper: [OOC] Players often indicate that they're speaking out-of-character with an "OOC" tag.
    Troper: [Putting the message within brackets or parentheses is also a common method.]

Hybrid Overkill AvoidanceTabletop RPGJunk Rare
Helmets Are Hardly HeroicImageSource/Live-Action FilmsMithril
Hollywood TacticsImageSource/WebcomicsInteractive Narrator

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