Character & Player Knowledge

Monday, 31. May 2010

One of the more difficult aspects of role playing is keeping character and player knowledge separate. The player and avatar both have different spheres of knowledge, and there is often overlap between the 2 of them. Of perhaps more important however, is the knowledge that is separate. There is a great sense of attachment most players have to their characters, and they’ll do the best they can to keep them in one piece. Even if it means utilizing knowledge the character doesn’t have. This is where a good storyteller should step in, but if the player is doing a good job role-playing, they won’t have to. Two situations come up to mind specifically.

Player knows but character doesn’t:

Self preservation for characters is natural, as players become quite attached to them. However, there is a separation of knowledge that exists between the 2, and is quite important to good role-playing. Most involved and interested players tend to look into the world they’re playing in, in detail. This gives the players a tendency to know more about the world they’re playing in than the character might actually know. The finer part of acting in this case is having your character behave as if they don’t.

Character knows, but player doesn’t:

Another interesting situation, is one where the character knows something, or should know something that the player is not aware of. There are innumerable facets of life that would be impossible for an outside observer to know without specifically being told. In this case, the responsibility lies with both the storytellers, and the player in question. It’s a judgement call of the storyteller in this situation, but obvious facts should be pointed out to the player, and less obvious ones should be told depending on the characters line of inquiry.

There is obviously a fine line on this deciding as to what is, and what should be known. This is something that needs to be discussed with your storyteller, and advice given as needed. It’s more work, but all in all the results feed into a much more dramatic, and realistic game.

Do your best to keep knowledge separated, and your game will be a far more entertaining ride.

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Character Sketches

Friday, 28. May 2010

For some of us, it helps to have a visible picture of what we’re trying to look at.   Unfortunately, not all of us are particularly artistically inclined (myself included.)

Here is an interesting little resource thats been around for a while that allows you to put together template drawings in effort to flesh out what a character looks like.  It’s been around for quite some time now (I seem to recall the v1 edition being around at least 10 years ago.)

Your mileage may vary, but it’s another useful resource if you don’t have a pocket artist.

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Character Descriptions

Thursday, 27. May 2010

Any existing character in the storytellers world needs to be described in order for the players to get a feel for them. This includes the storytellers characters and the players characters. There is somewhat of a format to make this process simpler, and it’s based off of what people actually look at. There is a fine line between detail and too detailed for most people, and the tolerance varies depending upon who is reading it. Typically a couple of paragraphs are enough to get most details taken care of.

Typically upon noticing someone for the first time an impression is made of that person. This is made of the characters general composition, so starting there is a good place. A general impression of what the characters is wearing, the characters posture and general demeanor is useful here. General physical characteristics such as height, weight, and hair color and style all fit into this impression. Scent and sound are also important here, assuming the characters are close enough to notice it. A character with a slight scent of fine perfume will be immediately received differently than one that reeks of body odor. The character may creek as they move, or scrap their feet on the ground. All of which are important descriptors.

Immediately after that, one tends to notice a persons face. The eyes are a good place to work from, what color are they? Do they have anything interesting about them, such as bloodshot, or maybe a different iris. From there facial features are important, maybe the character has a double chin, or they gaunt and skeletal. Other distinguishing features should be taken into account from there such as scars, tattoo’s and jewelry. Scars and tattoos may represent experience, while jewelry is obviously tied into wealth or possibly the aristocracy. Perhaps the characters skin has an unhealthy tinge, or glistens.

After all this, a more inclusive look at the character is useful. Examples would be finer details about the characters attire, what they might be carrying that’s not immediately obvious, habits that would be noticeable, but only after a little while. Maybe the character shifts their weight a particular fashion, or perhaps the have a number of hidden weapons that aren’t immediately obvious. Their clothing may shift in color or texture, or be oddly unmoving depending on how it’s affixed.

Using this method, you can produce layers of details about characters depending on how much interaction they have. You can simply read down the character description, with the most obvious features being first, and the others possibly be revealed in time as need be. More importantly, people with a shorter attention span can read just the short notes on the character, and get a good feeling for them.

The goal is to produce living, breathing characters without boring anyone.

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Thematic Music – Bach, Toccata & Fugue

Tuesday, 25. May 2010

Some contrast from the previous weeks.

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Gaming Options

Monday, 24. May 2010

With all of the mediums available now a days, pencil and paper gaming doesn’t necessarily have to be tabletop anymore. There are several good options for gaming, most of which are online. The standard is tabletop gaming however some of the additional options are chat programs, email and forum games and Lie Action Role Play (LARP). We’ll cover a few of them more in depth below.

The standard method of role playing is table top games. All of the players are gathered around a table where the game information is; maps, character sheets, dice and the like. The storyteller is off typically to one end behind a game screen for privacy. This is typically the preferred method, but not always available due to having to get everyone on nearly the same schedule for a game.

One of the simplest methods of gaming is simply via email. The storyteller will get with any associated players to characters, and run the game purely via mails. Characters give inputs in between the storyteller’s emails, and the storyteller takes the inputs uses them as the characters actions. This is perhaps the simplest method to keep a game running though different schedules. The downsides are that email games can be dreadfully slow waiting between all the character responses and players might not have as much control over their characters as the might like.

Another method of gaming is using internet forums setup for a game. The forums are usually private or at least semi private, and run very similar to the email method. The players respond after storyteller posts for their responses, and the storyteller adapts and runs as per a standard game. The disadvantages are similar to the email games, with slow (although perhaps not as slow) response times, and perhaps slightly less control over their character as tabletop gaming. Depending on the forum privacy there may be additional chatter on the game thread as well.

The more complicated method of running games online is to use a chat program, such as IRC with an available dice roller or Openrpg. These 2 are merely listed do to there availability. There are other excellent programs available as well. The latter simulates a tabletop game, with proper character sheets, a built in dice roller, and map and drawing board for the storyteller to work with. Add in a voice chat client such as Ventrilo or Teamspeak and you have a very respectable setup. The downsides are program instability at times, and requiring scheduling to actually play games.

Live action role play consists of acting out scenes, costumes and some combat with padded weapons. The acting and scenes are a true test of ones acting ability if done correctly. There are varying rule sets for handling combat variables such as armor, weapon strength, character experience and the like. Beyond that, the author cannot comment other than to say it’s out there.

As plainly seen, there are a number of choices available for running a game depending on energy level, time, space and ability to coordinate a group of people. Live games such as tabletop require scheduling and space to pull off effectively. Online games are easier to fit in, but lose some of the personal interaction as well as jokes that occur with actual contact. All have various advantages and disadvantages, so it’s merely a matter of picking one that fits well into your life and time.

There are plenty of options available for gaming, now get out there and role-play.

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Storyteller readiness

Thursday, 20. May 2010

As mentioned previously, the storyteller or equivalent that is running your game has a tremendous task to undertake. There is usually a main storyline or theme they want the players to somewhat follow, but they also need to be able to deal with any “veers in the road” the main characters might take. Some are much better able to deal with improvisation than others. Fortunately, that’s merely a bonus and not a requirement. There are a couple of things a storyteller can do to make their task easier, however good at winging it they might be.

First, it is to have a good idea of where your characters are going to be headed. The main storyline or theme is key in this, and in their travels. The storyline needs to be well enough developed to where you can see where the characters are headed a least a couple of gaming sessions into the future. This forces you to develop your non player character and story depth, and helps anticipate any “leaps” around obstacles players might take. It also gives you a pretty good idea of what the players are actually up against, and what resources your antagonists will be able to levy against them.

The next major point to work on would be to develop some side storylines you anticipate that the characters may or may not take. Typically side storylines relate around character development and advancement, but can also be opportunities the characters make take on their journey. For instance, if your characters are in hunters in the pursuit of a vampire; what ones would pass up the opportunity ease the suffering of a diseased town, or assist in the destruction of a werewolf along the way. Perhaps the characters decide a priests help would be very useful; but in order for the characters to get this assistance, they need to help the priest first. Another opportunity might be the characters wishing to further the training before engaging such a great enemy. Whatever the case, it is prudent to be prepared for logical veers in the path the characters may take along the way.

Characters tend to span large areas in their adventure, but in most cases at least they’re somewhat localized to their goals. The more you can develop these areas the less you’ll have to come up with on the fly. Some suggestions would be a good description of the varying landscapes, local towns, castles, points of adventure (dungeons and the like), local events and happenings that may take place during the time they’re in the area. This is paramount the flow of both to the main storyline, but also the unexpected paths protagonists tend to take.

Right along with the areas of adventure, there is bound to be large numbers of additional characters the players will encounter. A good storyteller should also have notes on major characters the players are likely to encounter, as well as many minor ones as you can spare. Major NPC notes are crucial, as they will be referred upon constantly for combat, skills and otherwise. Minor ones typically need much less role playing on part of the story teller, but its still a good idea to have some sort of template or notes to give a general idea of that character in question.

These above notes will make the sometimes overwhelming task of being a storyteller much simpler. With more information available, the simpler it is to improvise dealing with players heading off in their own inspired directions. The less energy the storyteller expends on trivial matters, the more they’ll have to use on the truly important matters to the game and storyline.

In short the more organized the storyteller, the easier time they’ll have running a game.

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Thematic Music – Hammerfall, Templars of Steel

Tuesday, 18. May 2010

Hammerfall, Templars of Steel
If you’re not into metal I’ll simply apologize for listing this in advance; It fits in well with the sword and sorcery theme however.

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Who’s that storyteller?

Monday, 17. May 2010

Most modern games have a player than develops the story and the general world that the other characters exist in. This players name depends on the system, but among them are storyteller, game master (GM), dungeon master (DM) and referee. As one might imagine, the storyteller has a significant amount of work cut out for them no matter the game system. The job is part writer, part narrator, part actor, and significant amounts of improvisation. All of this needs to be done without being a direct enemy to the players, but rather an enabler of their actions.

A large portion of the job is writing. The storyteller needs to develop or at least apply a completely separate world for the characters to exist in. Often this is completely made up made up although sometimes historical world. The storyteller is also expected to develop plotlines and story arcs for the characters to follow within the given setting. This can encompass a vast number of situations but you can tie the majority to character advancement, exploration, romance, and combat.

The storyteller is also expected to play the role of the narrator. All the situations players encounter need to be animated as well as the path the characters take described. This includes the major elements; scenes, settings, combat, how characters are feeling. It also includes the more mundane. How long does it take to travel from a point to a point? Does anything important happen during the journey that needs to be explained, or can it be skipped to keep to the real meat of the storyline?

In addition to all of the above, the storyteller is expected to play the roles of any characters that the players aren’t handling. This is a very large portion of any game world. Any major characters the players encounter, as well as minor ones such as innkeepers, merchant, guards, courtesans and nearly anything you think of have to have their role rapidly assumed while playing the storyteller. It’s essentially as if you have many masks that are sitting next to you that you switch through characters as the players need information.

Furthermore, you have to be ready to improvise at the drop if a hat. Some storytellers are good at this, some are not so much. Players often do the unpredictable and wander off following their own completely unexpected directions. A good storyteller has to be able to improvise and deal with this until they have time in the future to plan on where the storyline is headed. This also has to be done without ramming the characters continually back onto the main path of the story. Obviously, this can generate story arcs in itself. If the characters are supposed to be somewhere to help someone and they’re not, they’re going to have to deal with the consequences sooner or later. Maybe they’ll need to rescue a character down the road. Player improvisation is something that is best treated as an opportunity, not a problem.

In short, the storytellers task is often a time consuming, difficult job. You have to provide the overall guide and direction to the players without being a direct enemy. The job is potentially the most rewarding; you see an entire world advance and develop as more and more time is spent within it. This is in addition to providing hours and hours of entertainment to a good group of people.

As a storyteller, you produce the setting and world the characters exist in, without being an antagonist.

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Facebook, Twitter

Friday, 14. May 2010

So very true!

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What is Role playing?

Thursday, 13. May 2010

Taken straight out of

Main Entry: role–play
Pronunciation: \ˈrōl-ˌplā, -ˈplā\
Function: verb
Date: 1949
transitive verb
1 : to act out the role of
2 : to represent in action
intransitive verb
: to play a role

I think in the purest sense though, you can really condense the nonsense down to one word – Acting. All of the players and the storyteller are acting out the roles of the assigned or played characters. This includes a number of things; knowing the characters personality, tendencies, abilities, history and more. These characters may be similar to the players, or completely different depending upon the character and setting. You knowing them as a player are rather important to being able to act properly as the character in question.

One of the hardest things in my experience to get correctly is that the character being played or acted often has a very different personality or outlook than the player. This is understandable; our characters often end up living vastly different lives, and may or may not have a lot more to deal with. For a simple example; if the character is a soldier doing work on the outer fringes of space, they may be generally respectable, very observant and have tinges of paranoia based on requirements of the job. The first 2 are fairly simple; be respectful when possible and pay close attention to your environment. The third however is a bit more difficult; is someone always out to get you? (Even when they’re clearly not) Your character thinks so, even though you may not as a player..

Another major source forming how your character behaves is their abilities. Character abilities are sometimes a little bit of a hassle to get familiar with depending upon the setting. After all, not many of us are brilliant scientists, powerful wizards or skilled knights. You need to be familiar with what your character is good at, and how good they are at it. For a sample in the above examples; can they figure out a given problem? Can they make something disappear? How many knaves can they fight at once, and still come out on top? These are very important questions, and ones your storyteller should be able to help you with. Likewise but equally important, you have to be familiar with what your character is “not” good at.

Most of the time, your character is going to have some history to them. What were they doing before they got to their current job or state? Who and where is their family? Have they had any major life altering experiences? All of these are going to have a major effect on shaping who the character is. For instance; a character that recently made their way into nobility or knighthood would likely have a much different perspective than one who had been born into it. After all, the one had to earn their privileges, the other was given them.

All of these above are major factors in shaping the characters you’re playing. Keep in mind how your character would behave based on their personality, abilities and history and you’ll be in good hands. Once you get the basic habits of the character down, you can begin going more in depth with personality quirks like accents and the like.

Just remember; its acting, not playing and you’ll be well on the right path.

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