Equipment costs and Advancement

Thursday, 6. January 2011

Yes, this stuff is very expensive for good reason! (Flickr / Laenulfean)

Looking through some posts today, Red has an interesting one on the price of plate mail and why it may or may not be expensive.  The point of interest seems to be the change in prices from Basic through 3e, and then a huge drop coming into 4e.  I will argue in this case that it’s not the time, expense and rarity of the material that determines cost in this case, but rather how much player advancement is affected by it.. and how much it is factored into the characters base level of effectiveness.
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WotC Character Builder: Missed opportunity?

Thursday, 4. November 2010

Critical Hits has an interesting article up on the new updates to the D&D WotC character builder. Allow me to say that before I begin that I’m not even really a 4th edition player. I still like third, although I do own the books for 4e.. the changes really don’t interest me. (3rd has its own problems, but that’s another article.) Some of these changes really strike me as anti business. I won’t recap the entire argument but just add a few of my thoughts here. There is a lot of meat in the comments (probably more than the original article), so make sure to take a look at them as well.

I’m well aware of what Wizards is trying to do here.. that is create a secondary recurring revenue to their main income stream of selling books and games. It’s really a solid strategy for any business, particularly if your secondary brings a lot of value. Value of course, is the issue. Because of that, I believe that the implementation of it is piss poor and a turnoff to owning the game itself. Now, they have done some good things, encounters is a good simple way of spreading game play but it could be magnified with some proper effort.
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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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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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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 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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