Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In-Game Player Roles: Caller, Mapper…Chronicler?

Early incarnations of Dungeons & Dragons suggested some players in the group assume additional duties beyond running their characters, roles designated the “caller” and “mapper.” While these responsibilities seem appropriate in a more rules-centric game given their administrative, in-game nature, a third role, that of the adventure “chronicler,” might serve to record in one style or another the group’s encounters and accomplishments for future reference and retelling.

Caller & Mapper

The Moldvay edition of the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules states:
“One player should be chosen to tell the DM about the plans and actions of the party. This player is the caller. The players may tell the DM what their characters are doing, but the game runs more smoothly when the caller relays the information.”
“One player should draw a map of the dungeon as it is explored. this player is called the mapper…. Maps are drawn to help players visualize the area their characters are exploring and provide a record of sections of a dungeon they have already explored.”

These player roles serve administrative purposes during the game, notably to act as a liaison between the group of players and the gamemaster and to record in map form where the characters explore and what they encounter there, primarily for in-game reference. I vaguely recall using these roles in my earliest D&D experiences; we didn’t always use them, and, beyond dungeon delving-style gameplay, these jobs don’t always have relevance. I have foggy impressions that, when we did use them in those early days exploring D&D, the caller was the role every player wanted, since it seemed like the boss-leader position in the party, and the mapper was the less desirable, bookkeeping job. I certainly didn’t use them in other roleplaying games, and not in later D&D games after my exposure to games less concerned with in-game administration than with running exciting adventures with varying rule sets in different settings.

Both duties embody concepts quite opposite to the styles of gaming I favor today. The caller seems obsolete for a gamemaster who prefers each player to describe his character’s actions (even after conferring with the group) and invites everyone at the table to contribute to rendering maps when the situation calls for them. Perhaps their primary goal was to provide structure to those unfamiliar with roleplaying games whose first experiences came from dungeon-delving adventures with large parties of characters.


My past gaming escapades have frequently spawned another unofficial player role more relevant to the overall roleplaying game experience, that of a “chronicler” of sorts. This player steps forward and records the adventure’s events in some form or another.

In its most basic role, a chronicler keeps a few basic notes on what occurs during a scenario: the set-up premise or introduction, key events and the characters’ role in them, the climactic resolution of the adventure, and any follow-up materials. Sometimes these take the form of simple notes, other times the chronicler artfully crafts it into an in-universe account to reflect the nature of the campaign. These more elaborate retellings sometimes evolve into a character journal, a natural development for those who enjoy crafting elaborate background stories for the characters.

I freely admit that, counter to my lifelong love of reading, writing, and game designing, and my other aspirations as a writer, I’ve never really possessed the urge to chronicle my infrequent experiences as a player, either for a group’s adventures or my own character’s exploits. Perhaps this stems from my more frequent role as gamemaster, responsible for creating and an adventure and, true to my nature as a game designer and writer, often transcribing my scenario materials into a form suitable for eventual publication.

In several campaigns -- most notably long-running Star Wars D6, Cyberpunk 2020, and Space 1889 games over the years -- one player usually kept a record of interesting quotations from characters, mostly humorous ones or those from key moments in the game. Few make any sense to those outside the game group; few have much relevance to me so many years later, even when I search my memory to put everything in context. But at the time, and for a while afterward, they were pleasant and humorous reminders of what the characters encountered and how they reacted throughout long campaigns.

One player was quite a gifted artist and created renderings of characters, villains, locations, and in-game scenes when she found the inspiration, time, and energy. I still have some copies of these sketches, and they remain a more vivid memento of our adventures than any list of humorous quotations or even a written account of our escapades. She illustrated a few climactic scenes from several adventures in montages, and gave visual life to the players’ heroes and non-player characters encountered. (I later hired her as a freelance artist when I edited The Official Star Wars Adventure Journal for West End Games and gave her motivation and a venue for her artistic talents.)

These various chronicler efforts serve not only to keep track, in an administrative way, of what the characters do and where they go, but act as mementos of the adventure for the players, reminding them how they spent their four hours gaming and serving as a springboard for the inevitable future retelling of what their characters accomplished.

Future Inspirations

My inspiration for a “chronicler” player role comes not only from my past gaming experiences but from my development of several future gaming projects.

In developing a solitaire wargame of sorts, I was faced with the solo gamer’s conundrum of investing an hour or two in solo gaming pursuits and have nothing really to show for it other than their own fleeting enjoyment and satisfaction. Solitaire gamers don’t even have a shared experience with others (though some quite nicely offer accounts of their solo exploits in online blogs). The nature of the game as a historical wargame presented me with a readymade solution in the form of a military patrol logbook, a chronicle of sorts of my activity throughout the game; each “day” in the game the player notes his activities as if recording it as part of his military duties, ending with an in-universe record of his exploits.

The roleplaying game project on my desk -- one of several, though my brain is inspired and thus motivated to develop this one -- hearkens back to a time when D&D was new in a somewhat old school renaissance way, yet one generally geared for a younger audience with a different game engine. Since it’s tapping into that Moldvay-edition D&D atmosphere, I thought I might offer some in-game incentive (such as bonus experience or some other character perk) for a player who, by their own actions or in the guise of their hero, takes on the role of the group’s chronicler, noting their accomplishments in whatever form seems viable. I’m still toying with this one, since it has implications within the game rules, but it’s something I’d like to explore.