Player Ownership

Thursday, 21. October 2010

One of the common topics nowadays is ownership; it comes up in corporate meetings, schools, sports teams, communities, clubs and so on. I am a big believer in the concept of that people who are a part of something will naturally gravitate to be more active with it. They care simply because it becomes their property and likewise a part of them.  This process naturally happens with the players characters. As blood and sweat equity is invested into them, the emotional attachment is virtually impossible to avoid. At this point you’ll virtually always get some role playing out of them as they’re developed. The question is, how do you foster this attachment?  Is there a method of speeding this along?

My suggestion from the beginning is to start building that attachment right away… and the 2 easiest things to work with are Descriptions an idea of their personality. A more difficult one to work on is the  characters background.  This goes back to that sweat equity statement. At that point they might not especially care about them, but they’re invested with some time and effort.  A little there goes a long way.

 In my mind a good character description, is somewhere around 2-3 paragraphs. At this point the avatar in question begins to become a good vivid image, and a consistent image across all of the players minds.  It is concise and something that can be read to newcomers as a description without being long and boorish.  I know some people want to get into it and describe their character on the inside and all that, but really that should be elsewhere if you’re going crazy with it.

Likewise, building the characters personality with at least a hook or 2 is also a good idea. Once you have something defineable acting becomes that much easier and the character really begins to come to life. Like the above description, I recommend just putting together a rough template of how your character behaves and then letting it evolve from there unless you are rather experienced.  Of course, depending on what order things are done… you may establish a background first and then a personality or do it the other way around.. since the background should be tied in somehow with your characters personality.

Character background as mentioned are also a good way of putting some equity into the character.  I mention it as being more difficult because unless your storyteller is doing it randomly for you there is a lot to come up with.  Most likely unless you are very familiar with the setting in question you are going to need some help with this.  As with the above; concise is more useful than crazy.  Family, family history, where the person has come from, significant childhood events and friends, schools perhaps and done.

All of these have at least a little spark of proper ownership to them and will foster at least a hint of attachment.  From there everything just naturally snowballs with a well put together plot, setting and some good support.

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Planescape Torment

Friday, 8. October 2010

Planscape box cover

This is time for a bit of nostalgia here.  The game that got me very interested into some of the additional dungeons and dragons setting was called Planescape: Torment and was released for the PC back in 1999 by Black Isle Studios.  For the time, the game was absolutely magnificent… Planescape settings are very bizarre to say the least and the game does a fabulous job of visualizing these and putting a good audio backing to them.

None of the characters are really traditional in any sort of the way.. your main character is the Nameless One; a mortal who dealt his way into immortality.  The character is rather scarred up and frankly plain ugly (as you can see from the box cover) but has a distinct magnetism to him. Along the way is Morte, a floating skull and Dak’kan, a Githzerai who bargined to serve the nameless one until he died.  Sadly, he was unaware of the circumstances.  There are 7 major player characters in all and each has a good amount of subplot and dialogue that you can use to get better information out of them.

The game has a tremendous amount of talking involved in it and unlike a lot of games at least along the main plot point there isn’t a tremendous number of times you really “need” to fight, which is a great stepping stone for crpg’s.  As for non plot battles, you find yourself getting into dust ups quite regularly if you go out of your way to look for them. (and you should, because there is a lot to see.)  The Wiki here goes into considerably more plot and character details that I won’t bother to repeat.

I haven’t played this in a long time, but I imagine that it will require some tweaking to get to run on Windows 7 and Vista platforms… as it seems most of all the older games do.  The game uses the old Ad&d 2e system, which is of course good and bad at times.  The games resolution isn’t quite as hot as it could be, but all in all everything is very well put together with it and something I highly recommend checking out if you haven’t seen before.

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Consumeables in RPG’s

Friday, 24. September 2010

Adventuring parties in any day and age tend to drag along a substantial amount of equipment. (Hikers just might be the modern day adventuring party now, hah!) The majority of all of this is easily taken care of with a list, carried, worn, stuck into a backpack and drug along. All of this weight is tallied up and if it’s not too much, they player in question can still move.

Most storytellers like to keep track of the essential items as well as major consumables. Damaged gear is always kept track of, as well as ammunition, and most of the time food and water. (At least it should be, starvation and dehydration makes for an interesting if not persistent enemy.) Of particular concern however is spell components, where a variety of weird items are used. Some of them are very mundane, going to the very rare.

I try to keep track of anything thats uncommon or reasonably expensive to the players in question. Likewise it’s generally carried in a pouch or some sort, so losing that can be just as damaging in the short term as losing a book.

What is your threshold and method for keeping track of these?

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Defining games through combat balance and utility

Wednesday, 1. September 2010

We’ve all played games that have absolutely no balance of what classes or characters can do in combat. If the majority of what you do in a game is fight, you will absolutely hate such games if you’re always consistently underpowered. The real problem comes in though, when the characters are equally useless elsewhere, and the game fails to recognize it by describing such a character as weaker. We like to think of games as being somewhat balanced in characters being equivalent in some abstract sum of their abilities.

If what you’re truly working with is a tactical combat game, then everything has to be equal in some form in that arena. What characters lack in brute power need to be made up for in utility or perhaps durability, or mobility. MMO’s are notorious for this (Notice I didn’t say MMORPG, because the latter part is basically nonexistent.) because they’re glorified combat simulators, often in very, very slow motion. D&D is attempting to do that same thing as a holy grail, simply because that’s what the system represents. Bashing things in combat and taking loot. It’s no fun to be useless in such situation.

The lesson taken from that of course, is as mentioned above some sort of abstract balance is required. Balance = fun after all. That’s hardly the case though if it were, scales would be the majority of modern entertainment. Reality of course has no such qualms when it comes to balance. People vary wildly in both their abilities and the sum of their abilities and skills. We simply attempt to recognize talent when we see it, and along with it… lack of talent as well.

If anything coming up for such a formula is incredibly difficult, particularly when you factor in non-combat skills. Is stealth more powerful than medicine? It’s completely abstract. Well developed political and persuasive power is one of the strongest human forces on earth and yet is incredibly difficult to quantify on paper. The best that can be done is purely an abstraction. Pure balance is obviously not the answer.

Therefore what we really need to produce are interesting characters, interactions and situations. Players need to feel useful unless they are playing something that is intentionally useless. Good role playing and planning of situations by storytellers can easily make this happen. Drama is also required, with a lesser or greater extent depending on your style of play. If characters are truly weaker, simply recognize such a fact and work with it.

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The Malignant Creep of Weak Male Characters

Saturday, 24. July 2010

Greg at SynapseRPG brings up an interesting discussion from a number of years ago at Overthinking It as to why strong female characters are bad for women. I’d like to extend the discussion the opposite direction however, the modern trend to make male characters extremely weak.  It’s somewhat interesting that this just tied in the other day to a Sylvester Stallone comment in the LA Times about the fall and decline of the action hero; Something he credits to “Velcro muscles” for making male stars disposable.

I’m not particularly talking about “physically powerful” characters although that seems to be on the decline as well as Stallone commented.  Warriors throughout the ages were physically powerful without being huge as we might thing of a modern body builder.  The additional mass and loss of flexability was a hindrance past a certain point.   They needed power, endurance and speed, with strength coming in lets say 4th.

What I’m talking about in terms of weakness is to portray men more and more as bumbling fools.  Major characters are Homer Simpson and Peter Griffonesque.  They succeed because of lucky circumstances, not through any sort of clever or thought out action.  If by chance they happen to be reasonably intelligent, then they fall to one of the obvious old maxims.   They’re greedy, sexist, womanizing, stupid, lazy or in some cases just flat out psychotic.

I’m not suggesting that male characters don’t have to have weaknesses, simply that they cannot for the sake of good fiction (or society for that matter.) continue to fall upon the same sword over and over.  Give them strengths and weaknesses, as well as virtues and vices.  These are things to work around and overcome, not continue to use the same crutch over and over.

This is setting a horrible example as any sort of role models.  I think it’s as off putting to new players as anything for having assumed characteristics through modern media.  Who wants to save the country when the king and every guy in it are bumbling idiots. (Yeah, we’d conquer it, geez Grey.)  People need something to look up to and strong male figures regardless of their vices are required.  Trouble is there because there is real trouble, and not because idiocy caused it.  Thinking, planning, overcoming or working around weaknesses or perceived weaknesses are the way to victory.

I think a good fresh approach as well as a paradigm shift in the way people are modernly played will be a good draw to new or formerly disinterested players in general. Does anyone else see it this way?

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Player roles within a group

Monday, 5. July 2010

While the storyteller certainly heralds a large amount of the responsibility within a gaming group, the players certainly have theirs as well.  In addition to being able to act and stay within character, they’re also expected to retain whats going on.  Fortunately, this can be divided amongst players, so no one person has to keep notes on everything.

Most groups are going to have one main spokesman. It is even more helpful if the spokesman is the entity in game that is naturally takes charge. The spokesman is primarily a relay for what the group is deciding after discussion about what to do is had, in this regard they act somewhat as leader, and the overall decision maker.  If the group happens to head in different directions for player or tactical purposes, then several spokesmen will be in order. 

One player should also be taking the role of a scribe and perhaps quartermaster as well. As for their first priority, they’re going to keep track of everything that’s acquired since most players hate being cheated out of hard earned treasure. Secondly, they should be trying to keep more detailed notes on the situation in general given the time to do so.  In the overall process it should help keep arguments regarding loot to a minimum, as well as making the character a knowledge base and perhaps the collective memory of the group.

All players should be keeping some sort of cliff notes regarding the current game.  Important names, faces, locations, items and the like should be jotted down someplace handy.  It’s far too easy to forget the above given the natural flow of time, being that they may be unimportant to us as players, but it’s quite likely our characters wouldn’t forget them.  This helps a good deal with role playing and staying on ones character, unless ones character is naturally forgetful. 

In most cases, each group should have also have a cartographer in hostile or confusing areas.  This player is going to do their best at keeping a map of the area the characters have traveled though. Mapping is somewhat of an acquired attribute, so the role might have to be passed around until someone who can do it easily takes the job. This is important because storytellers love making characters make almost snap decisions on where they’re going due to hostile influences.  In this case, knowing where one is going to be essential to prolonged survival.

By subdividing player responsibilities they are able to retain a better scope of whats going on in the gaming world as well as make life easier on themselves. Unless your storyteller is extremely forgiving and willing to remind the players every time they forget, being able to split these roles up makes keeping track of the amount of game knowledge simple without overloading one player. The simpler everything is, the more energy that can be devoted to role playing, and having a good time.

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Memorable Characters

Tuesday, 8. June 2010

Typically when building characters something is wanted to make the beings personality stand out amongst their peers. It makes the persona easier to keep track of by both the storyteller and the GM, gives beginning players something to act up to, helps keep the character separate from the player and adds general depths to the game. Most systems have some sort of an “alignment” model of how a someone would act, but this is hardly complete in itself. Fortunately designing memorable characters can take a little work however it’s not as difficult as one might imagine.

Usually, characters have at least one thing that make them stand out. We’ll call this this the characters “hook” for lack of a better term. Perhaps the character walks with a limp, has a bad eye or just has excellent (or terrible) luck. They might be frisky, shifty, loud, brash, quiet, skeevy or anything in between. This hook gives a basis of how the persona needs to be played, and will essentially be the one word that describes them in a pinch. It’s important to not over do it however; as it can become a crutch and annoyance if used improperly.

Afterwords, one needs to start looking at the additional traits which define a character. Some can be physical, but most of these should be behavorial. They can either tie in with the characters “hook” or be antithetical to them, but should do so in a defining or fun fashion. For example, if your characters hook was “Brash” then also making them loud or boisterous would tie in well. As a contrary point, making them silent around nobility, women or clergy would also be interesting without defeating the character original hook.

Its said that we can also be defined by our vices. Well, characters are people and it would be completely unfair to leave them without some vices as well. I would suggest picking a few to start with and then one can easily build on from there. Again, the idea is to enhance the persona and not completely destroy them. However secret vices always provide great sources of intrigue and drama. (Be wary players, storytellers love to get into this stuff, particularly if you’re into politics or courtly manners.) For our brash character “Gambling” would fit in quite well for a vice, or maybe drinking.

By building off of these 3 points, one should have a good framework to begin establishing a truly in-depth personality. However your game systems alignment works; the “hook”, traits and vices give a good model of how one might behave and act and are easy to build off of for other behaviors. In doing so, we produce memorable characters that are easier to play consistently.

This is simply a framework to get started with, so remember to have fun!

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