Rituals in Roleplaying

2008 September 8
by Stupid Ranger

This weekend, Dante & I helped celebrated our niece’s first birthday! Let me tell you, watching a 1-year-old make a huge mess of her little “for me to destroy” birthday cake is pretty darn entertaining.

And as I’m sitting here, grasping for straws for something to write, I am thinking back fondly of the “adult” cake (and how oh-so-tasty it was), and I begin to consider how ritualized the birthday party is. In our family, there’s the socializing time, generally including food, followed by presents, then cake. It’s a very specific pattern of events that occurs every time, no matter who is celebrating a birthday.

And now to the point… All this reminiscing of birthday party rituals has lead me to consider ritual patterns in roleplaying.

In terms of mechanics, there are patterns of behavior governing actions. For instance, initiative to determine order of combat, actions taken in order. It’s the same pattern that is followed every time there is combat.

In-character rituals are a little harder to identify as they are generally subjective. One that comes to mind stems from both parts of our last big campaign. Various characters had their rituals to follow whenever the party arrived in a new town. Nathanial, the goblin-turned-human paladin of Horus-Re, would visit the local temple and clean it. Batloaf, the Rock bard extraordinaire, would scope out the population of available women and select his partner(s) for the evening; I won’t share with you the specifics of this ritual so-as to keep this post family friendly.

My character, Ari, didn’t really have any specific pattern of behavior to follow when arriving in town. I realize after the fact that this is one of the components of roleplaying that I neglected with this character. I was vaguely uneasy when reaching a new town as it seemed that most other characters had something to do, and Ari didn’t really have a ritual to follow. In a fluff-heavy group, not having something fluffy to do made it a little less fun.

It’s easy to say that the solution in this case would be to find something to do, but that may be difficult to accomplish, depending on the character’s personality. So, unsatisfyingly, I don’t really have an answer for this. But I would recommend that if you are involved in a fluffy campaign, take some extra time between sessions to consider your backstory (because it’s a fluffy campaign and I know you have a backstory). Is there something there that your character could use to fill those empty hours in town? Maybe you could write letters home or update your adventuring journal: these two options don’t require much (if any) in-game time but they can give you a ritual to complete. Plus, it leaves an opening for you to write that letter/journal entry between sessions as a character-building exercise; what would your character have to say about that crazy old oracle you visited?

As a player, if you’re having difficulty involving your character, try working with the other players to see if you might find something your characters can do together. Or maybe your DM can offer some insight on what your character could be doing or what areas of town that might be of interest.

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