Building a good gaming environment

Friday, 25. June 2010

Almost anyone that’s gamed before has done it in some less than ideal conditions. Cramped rooms, poor (or no) environmental control, bad seating, no table space, inability to see the storyteller, constant distractions, no drinks or food, the list goes on.  While some of these are unable to be dealt with, the majority of them can with a little bit of ingenuity on the hosts part. Granted, they’re not “all” the hosts duty, and one might recommend they enlist their players to assist.  After all everyone is in this together to have a good time correct?

These first 3 are something everyone should be able to deal with in some fashion or another. They also have some of the largest contributions, so I would recommend prioritizing them if possible.

Interruptions / Distractions: A major concern in my humble opinion. Find a place with some privacy. Breaking up the game flow kills any established feeling or tension that might be developing. This is especially important with new gamers who might feel silly or out of place acting without outside influences watching. If Fido or Kittens can’t stay off the table or be silent, they need to go somewhere as well. As with theater or cinema cell phones need to be put on silent or vibrate.

Food and Refreshments: As the entire purpose of gaming is to stay entertained and have some fun, this takes a 2nd. Mountain Dew and Cheetos come to mind for a lot of people, but one might recommend going beyond that. Some selection of beverages and food helps out a lot. Preparation ahead of time is useful, as is delivery in the case one is unable to do such. As these 2 are typically portable, this is definitely not entirely the hosts job. Good players will coordinate and chip in here.

Storyteller and Player Visibility: As the vast majority of communication happens non verbally, don’t count this out. It’s important to be able to see the storyteller, as well as seeing the other players. This definitely enhances the drama and mood within the game, it allows good acting of nonverbal queues, such as as lying or nervousness. With good role players, it’s also a good method of communicating in a sneaky fashion.

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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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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 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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What is Role playing?

Thursday, 13. May 2010

Taken straight out of 

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/role%20playing

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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