The Last Character Creation Question

edited May 2011 in Story Games
A not-at-all-hippie-story-gamer was talking with me about the Mythender character she made. She was telling me about stuff that wasn't in the write-up, about how she likes to make characters with amnesia and other things so that the GM has some leverage to make her life "interesting."

It hit me like a rock: My last question in character creation will now be Why does playing this character interest you? As in, that's a question with room on the sheet for the answer, not just a "let it dance around your head" question.

Now, I don't know if making that explicit is a good or bad thing. Testing will show. However, I'm sure folks have opinions! What do you think of this idea?

- Ryan

Comments

  • Ideally the answer is "everything, thats why I wrote it down..." but you are asking the player to prioritize for the GM's benefit, or?
  • Special snowflake opinions!

    I am a discover-in-play kind of guy, so I think my answer would pretty much always be the same: to find out what happens to them.

    Putting that question at the end ... I dunno, it feels like it's asking the player to engage their critical faculties and decide whether they approve of the character they've made. That's not something that would be useful to me.
  • When you try to explain why you've made an artistic choice you will frequently offer the first rationalization that occurs to you (because the emotional and logical parts of your brain don't interact very well) even if it isn't the "real" reason. However, once you make a statement you are very reluctant to back away from it (I just wrote a blog post about this) and will tailor your future behavior to conform to your statement. So getting people to answer this question may encourage them to lock them into a flat conception of the character that they'll ultimately find unsatisfying because they're playing to the rationalization rather than the emotional connection.
  • I think that needs to be the first question, the question (or similar prompt) that guides the other decisions.
  • One of the biggest and best things to happen to my gaming was the day I thought to myself: "Why do I, the player sitting here at the table, want to play this character? What kind of fun am I looking to have with it?"

    The moment I started asking myself that was the moment that I stopped making characters that I just didn't enjoy playing. If I'm in a talkative mood, I won't enjoy playing a taciturn character; if I'm in the mood to do a lot of creative reasoning and analysis, playing a dumb character won't work for me; if I'm interested in getting into weird situations and having to scramble to get out of them, I'm best off making a daring, impulsive character; basically, whatever it is I want to do for the next couple of months had damn well better be something that my character concept will let me do, or I'm screwing myself over.

    But should that be on my character sheet? No, I don't think so. Partly because of what johnzo and Dan Maruschak mention above: writing it down tends to ossify things, and I'm finding that I enjoy developing new interests and exploring new opportunities during play. And partly because it's an answer that helps me but doesn't necessarily help anyone else at the table. If I say "I want my character to build an elaborate architecture of lies about every part of his life, until it becomes so complicated that it collapses on him and he's forced to admit terrible things to himself and his loved ones," that's great...but that's something that I should be doing, not you. It's on me to invent those lies and to make the underlying truths interesting and significant. When we start playing, we're all going to be pushing and pulling on the story, and everyone will have more on their mind than what my goals are: it's just easier if I keep track of my own goals and respond to what you do in the game, and you keep track of your own goals and respond to what I do in the game. If we need to co-ordinate our actions, we can talk about it when the need comes up.
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinIt hit me like a rock: My last question in character creation will now beWhy does playing this character interest you?
    That's interesting.

    When people design horror scenarios, my last question is: does this creep you out? Failing that, does it excite you, so that you can't wait to tell the horror to someone? If not, think again.

    So I wonder if "Does it interest you?" is strong enough. I mean, lots of things interest me. Is there an opportunity to tailor the question specifically for Mythender characters? I don't imagine Mythender games are about characters that people are interested in.

    I like the free-floating question idea.
  • In the Solar System my last question in character creation is: when we start play, is your character on the move or will I get to fuck his cozy little life to pieces? Basically, the question is whether the player wants to write his own Kicker or not; it's a given that the character's routines, whatever they are, will be shattered by the events, so the only question is whether the player wants to do the honors.
  • edited May 2011
    This is a tiny sample size but I played a Shadowrun hack with 8 long time Shadowrun players that asked "Why do you want to play this character?" and although people loved the hack, they hated this question (and any question that was meta or prescriptive) and ignored it. But I don't think they are the audience for Mythender.
  • I'd think it needs to be constrained a little more. Right now it invites answers that aren't really compatible with Mythender: "To see them negotiate the delicate political intrigues that lay around the myths." "To embrace myth" (That's more or less supported, but maybe not intended? I haven't played Mythender in a while).

    This may be the wrong answer for some people, but I want the game to tell me why I should be interested in playing my characters. Stuff like "to find out what happens," "to explore a fictional history," even "to fit into the GM's plot."
  • edited May 2011
    My gut reaction: great question to ask, terrible phrasing to ask it with. I guess it depends on how much "point of the game" orientation the player's already received at that point, though. If there are plenty of prior constraints to work within, maybe the broad "why interested?" works.

    If you're specifically addressing the question from the player who digs amnesia, perhaps, "What types of trouble do you envision hitting this character? Rank top 3 in order: family, past deeds, violence, manipulation, bad luck, romantic, curse, etc."
  • edited May 2011
    Thanks for the thoughts!

    What I didn't make clear: this was a question for any game, not just Mythender.
    Posted By: sageRight now it invites answers that aren't really compatible with Mythender: "To see them negotiate the delicate political intrigues that lay around the myths." "To embrace myth" (That's more or less supported, but maybe not intended? I haven't played Mythender in a while).
    I suppose if the answer is something incompatible to the game, that would be a flag that the game they're playing won't be fun? (With respect to Mythender, there's missing text that should help correct that, but I was also making something generic for any game.)

    It was actually because said person made a character who had amnesia, because she likes to give the GM the tools to make her life interesting -- my response was "huh, I don't know if I would have picked up on that running this game."
    Posted By: stefoidIdeally the answer is "everything, thats why I wrote it down..."
    I find many games are laundry lists of tools and options. Not all of those are interesting, but they're what you needed to write down because the game told you to. So, no, I don't find everything I write down in a game to be the reason I give a fuck about that character. :) I don't necessarily care that my wheelman in Leverage has a d10 Hitter. I care that he's on the run from the Yakuza...and will be using that d10 Hitter to deal with a Yakuza hitsquad when the appear. Now, some games are leaner and more focused, so that everything on the sheet is what interests you -- like, say, Primetime Adventures. (And PTA already asks this question when asking what your character's Issue is.)
    Posted By: Dan MaruschakSo getting people to answer this question may encourage them to lock them into a flat conception of the character that they'll ultimately find unsatisfying because they're playing to the rationalization rather than the emotional connection.
    That's an interesting point. Could possibly be something dealt with by re-asking the question, or asking a slightly different question, at milestones. While I would take the opportunity to use what I wrote down as a platform to later tilt, I can see that some people would feel they're stuck into whatever they write until someone gives them training wheels (in the form of mechanics or advice) to upend that.
    Posted By: sageThis may be the wrong answer for some people, but I want the game to tellmewhy I should be interested in playing my characters. Stuff like "to find out what happens," "to explore a fictional history," even "to fit into the GM's plot."
    When I create a text that learns how to read the minds of a human being, I hope you'll playtest it. :) A game can give broad, supporting strokes, but that doesn't mean a human being in a moment in time has a specific (or even contrary) idea. Mythender isn't a game about amnesiacs, but it's not a game against that either. So, to say "I want to play a godkilling machine...that doesn't remember her past." helps me out.
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenIn theSolar Systemmy last question in character creation is: when we start play, is your character on the move or will I get to fuck his cozy little life to pieces?
    Sure, but that's character situation, not player interest.
    Posted By: GrahamSo I wonder if "Does it interest you?" is strong enough.
    I'm not asking "does," I'm asking "why." Not yes-no. So it's not the same as your questions. However, that it could be read as such in worth noting.
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteAnd partly because it's an answer that helpsmebut doesn't necessarily help anyone else at the table.
    I'll be honest, I think that's weird. Because if I know you want X, I am all about -- as a GM or player -- playing to that. To use very loaded language: it makes it sound like you are playing with people who don't give a fuck about your character. In your example, you know what I'd do at the table? Believe your lies. Because you're telling me that that's what you're looking for.

    - Ryan
  • I think I'm getting something different from her response, and from several others in this thread. Her answer says "I'm playing this character to have the GM reach out and pull me into things." Amnesia is a convenient way to do that, sure, but the exciting thing is being integrated into something the GM has planned (at least in my reading of her comments - "GM has some leverage to make" being the key bit to me).

    Is Mythender a game that does that? I don't know. But some games don't support that. PTA would be a harder fit for that. Not for an amnesiac per se, but for sitting down and expecting someone else's leverage to make things interesting. Fiasco, too, maybe. If you go through setup with the idea you'll just find out stuff from other's ideas in play, the game is at least weaker.

    From her comments I'm getting a general statement of why she wants to play games, not just that character: a variant of "find out what happens" the relies heavily on the GM's plan. Some games will work with that, some won't, so I'd like to get that information from the game. Is Mythender a game where we make characters that the GM has leverage into to fill in details and tie to her plan? I don't know.

    The sweet spot for these kind of questions comes with exploring the overlap between what you want and what the game wants. Take Johnzo for example: he wants to play to find out what happens. AW is a game the explicitly matches that, so interesting questions there would relate to what bits of "what happens" are interesting. Does he want to know what happens in a emotional, character-exploration sense? In a close social network sense? In a global, change the world sense?
  • edited May 2011
    Posted By: sageIs Mythender a game that does that? I don't know. But some games don't support that. PTA would be a harder fit for that.
    Are you going out of scope of the OP? I'm not talking about how to choose the game for you. I'm talking about within a given game. And I'm getting a "this is a different post" vibe from your response.

    - Ryan
  • That's cool, your thread. I'm just wondering about the disconnect between "Why does playing this character interest you?" and "What does this game do?"
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinI'll be honest, I think that's weird. Because if I know you want X, I am all about -- as a GM or player -- playing to that. To use very loaded language: it makes it sound like you are playing with people who don't give a fuck about your character.
    Oh, no, not at all; I must have explained my point badly.

    What I was trying to say is, the amount of playing to my desires that I want you to do is going to happen anyway, organically, by virtue of the fact that I am going to be pushing for that while we are playing. I don't need you to come into the game trying to balance my desires on top of the giant stack of other things that you're already trying to keep in your head; instead, I'm going to be taking responsibility for that myself and making you part of the loop during our actual game. In fact, I'll be trying to adjust things to make it easy for both of us to get what we want out of the game, so as to accommodate your desires, too. If we need to step out of character and talk about what we're doing, we'll do that; if we need to change our focus to squeeze the most fun out of what we're doing, we'll do that; whatever the situation calls for, we'll go with.

    Maybe that's what I'm really getting at: this is supposed to be a two-way street, a process by which we both are going to give a fuck about each other's characters (and by extension, give a fuck about what we both think is fun to do in the game). But me putting "Why this character interests me" on the sheet doesn't tell me what'll interest you about it, it's just me dropping what I want on you and you having to deal with it in a vacuum. At best, such a statement would only be an opening position, anyway: it wouldn't account for what you're pushing for and how I'll respond to that, it wouldn't account for what the other characters are like or what the system is like, and it probably wouldn't be that helpful in the long run. It's better if I'm telling you all the time what I want through all the tools I have at my disposal so you can play to it in the moment, because then what I tell you can be influenced properly by what YOU want, and what's happening at that particular moment.

    So, to reiterate, it's a great question for me to ask myself: I ask it for every game I play in, and it's always helpful to me. But putting it on the character sheet and making you read it won't particularly improve what we do together, because we already have better ways of doing that.


    ...man, I don't know if I did a better job of expressing myself this time, or not. I feel like I just said the same thing over again in almost exactly the same way. :(
  • Why does playing this character interest you?
    The great thing about the question is... you can use it to check whether you need to do anything
    in-particular to make the player happy. If their answer is something the game will provide automatically,
    you can direct your effort where it's needed.

    I know one player who just wants to be a dwarf with an axe.
    If he's sitting there at the table, silent, with a sheet that says he's a dwarf with an axe--
    he's happy basking in that. Awesome. One less thing to think about.
  • Posted By: sageI'm just wondering about the disconnect between "Why does playing this character interest you?" and "What does this game do?"
    *nod* Yeah, different thread. An interesting one, though. But doing "two threads one cup" doesn't help either thread. :D
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteAt best, such a statement would only be an opening position, anyway
    To me, that's a selling point. I don't want to "play before we play," but I like knowing the platforms.
    Posted By: Accounting for Tastemaking you read it
    Ah! Okay, that's not the point. I've seen experiments where people asked a question "to just think about" yields weaker results than "write the answer down." The answer first and foremost entirely for the person writing it, so they're articulating to themselves what they want. You're seeing a different intended audience. Interesting.

    - Ryan
  • edited May 2011
    Posted By: Ryan MacklinAh! Okay, that's not the point. I've seen experiments where people asked a question "to just think about" yields weaker results than "write the answer down." The answer first and foremost entirely for the person writing it, so they're articulating to themselves what they want. You're seeing a different intended audience. Interesting.
    Yeah, I figure if it's just for me, then why am I writing it down? The other things I write on my character sheet are either for me to reference during the game (skills or equipment or whatever), or for someone else to read. But this is something that I'm not going to refer back to; once I've learned to articulate what I want, I will do exactly that throughout the game -- articulating what I'm interested in and pursuing it -- without any need to look back at my sheet and say "Oh yeah, that's what I wanted to do." It's like the line on the sheet that says "Player Name": I already know what my own name is, I'm not going to write it down if I'm the only one who's going to be looking at it.

    So in a hypothetical situation where someone's just figuring out this whole "why am I interested in playing this character?" thing, putting it on the character sheet does at least one good thing and one potentially bad thing. The good thing is that it tells them this is an important thing for you to do, which it absolutely is. The potentially bad thing is that it locks them into thinking that, oh shit, it's on my character sheet, now I'm stuck with it. If someone thought it would be awesome to play a character continually tempted by the Dark Side when all they knew is they were playing a newbie in the Jedi Academy, they might be fooled into thinking they'll have to keep playing to that even though it's four sessions in and the Dark Side has been shown to be a bunch of asshats and what they really want to do is have awesome team-ups with the other characters where they fly X-Wings and talk about their families.

    For better or worse (maybe mostly worse), writing something on a character sheet is different from just writing it down in your notes or on the back of a napkin. It's crazy how many games have rules about when, or even IF, you can change what's on your sheet; maybe you can only do it between sessions, or you have to pay XP or plot points or step back something else for it, or you have to justify the change to the GM. So maybe there's a middle ground where you can get the benefits without the drawbacks -- like a worksheet or something that people use to make their characters where they have to write an answer to that question, but then at the end of character creation they fill out their final character sheet without that answer anywhere on it. Solid advice (e.g., "What you want as a player can and should change as the game progresses: here are some things you should be thinking about when you're playing...") would also help, I think.
  • I think the question needs to be narrower to produce useful results. Even just adding 'one' -- as in 'what is one thing that interests you about playing this character?' -- makes it a lot more palatable to me, and also mitigates what Dan said about forcing a player to answer a totalizing question and then possibly making them feel trapped by their answer.

    Personally I am reminded of the questions the MC jots down as part of the first session of Apocalypse World -- open ended questions that they 'wonder about' and that play may eventually produce answers for. This is the sort of phrasing and answer I would hope to get out of your chargen question: a specific, open-ended thing that the player wonders about, relating to their character.
  • edited May 2011
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteYeah, I figure if it's just for me, then why am I writing it down?
    I played in a fantastic parlor larp of Snow White. The character questionnaire demanded to be filled out, and had ten questions for each role. I played the Queen, and it had questions like "Why did you not kill the hunter when you discovered his betrayal?"

    That I was forced to write them down unlocked a whole new avenue in design. I had a concrete answer for play -- and it was interesting because there was no cross-consulting. I _knew_ why something was true about my character. And I played a damned awesome Queen. I credit that questionnaire for that.

    That's the same thing I'm looking to bring to this. If you don't actually articulate you, you may not actually know it. And you may surprise yourself by doing so.

    However, I do recognize that's a different sort of question.
    Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorI think the question needs to be narrower to produce useful results.
    Maybe. Or it's having a narrowed-down answer is a perferred play style. I don't think this is a uniform statement. I _do_ this it's a Story-Games mentality statement. (One that I happen to subscribe to.)

    - Ryan
  • Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorEven just adding 'one' -- as in 'what is one thing that interests you about playing this character?' -- makes it a lot more palatable to me
    Wanted to respond to this separately: I like that. Sold.

    - Ryan
  • edited May 2011
    Posted By: Ryan MacklinIf you don't actually articulate you, you may not actually know it. And you may surprise yourself by doing so.

    However, I do recognize that's a different sort of question.
    Well, yeah...but the important bit is the articulating-to-yourself-what-you-want part, not the writing-it-down part, right? Writing it down is just training wheels until you get in the habit of doing it automatically.

    And I've got no objection at all to making "What is it that I want out of playing this game?" the first question that players have to answer. Like I said, it's a fantastic thing to do, I'm a huge fan of it. I'm just thinking that there has to be a way to get the benefits of doing that without the drawbacks of putting it on the character sheet (making it "official" in a way that I suspect it shouldn't be).
  • Posted By: Accounting for TasteWell, yeah...but the important bit is the articulating-to-yourself-what-you-want part, not the writing-it-down part, right? Writing it down is just training wheels until you get in the habit of doing it automatically.
    I think there's a real psychological effect in writing things down. Inside your head, ideas can easily be jumbled and indistinct (even if they seem very well defined to you from the vantage point inside your head with them). When you write them down they seem to take on a more "official" status, even when you know you're the one who wrote it down (I'm extrapolating from what psychologists have found in related areas). Writing them down in public probably has the strongest effect, but even writing something down and sticking it in an envelope probably has an effect on the person writing. Like subatomic particles, you can't probe ideas without potentially affecting those ideas. It's not "just training wheels" to make something nebulous into something concrete. It has a psychological impact that is (either directly or indirectly) part of a game's system (in the broad Forge sense of the word "system").
  • edited May 2011
    Okay, so then how much bang for the buck do you get in this specific instance from writing down this specific desire?

    I mean, what I want in a game is going to evolve and change as I encounter what everyone else is doing. If all I'm doing is documenting my initial position before play starts, is that going to be more beneficial (because I took the time to make a concrete statement and got the benefits of doing that) or less (because now I've prejudiced myself into valuing that initial position over the collaborative input of the other players)? Do I need to keep going back and re-writing newer and newer versions of my answer so that it always reflects what I'm actually pursuing? Should I be more focused on doing that than I am on actually playing the game? Does it really belong on my character sheet?

    My gut says no. If I can get myself to the point where I can articulate my own goals to myself in a clear, unambiguous way and act on them (and articulate them to others as the need arises), then the extra "oomph" of writing it down isn't all that amazing, and comes bundled with some potentially hefty costs. Writing it down once, not on the character sheet, before character generation even begins...yeah, I could see that, it's a nice way of introducing/reinforcing the practice and I can see how it might help without bringing in too much extra baggage. Especially if it's coupled with advice about how to re-evaluate your goals as a player over time (like doing a "game biopsy" by the fourth session, where everyone evaluates what they are and aren't satisfied with when it comes to their characters and how everyone else at the table is reacting to them), to remind players to keep thinking about what they want as the game moves forward.
  • So once I was playing 3:16, and my dude's reputation was "crazy grenade-loving bastard". He also enjoyed radium gum. It didn't take much more than the "Whoops, dropped my grenades, think I lost one. Was it armed? I guess we'll find out soon, heh!" comment on the drop-shop entry scene to sell that reputation to everyone.

    Now, on this mission, it turned out the brass had assigned us a documentary maker to tag along, with orders to not only keep him safe but do what he said, giving him the effective rank of a Lieutenant. Our sergeant was considering who to assign to make sure he didn't get killed, took one look at my character, and assigned somebody else.

    At that point I realized, "How awesome would be it if his reputation were largely an act, just to get out of responsibility? Pretty awesome, that's how!" That, in fact, became a defining aspect of the character for the rest of that game. And it was something I had no clue about at character creation.

    So it's not a bad question to ask, but it's definitely one that, in my experience, actual play can significantly change the answer to. Which is something to consider, that writing it down might set it a bit more in stone, and then make you miss an golden opportunity for it to change later. (It's still very helpful for both player and GM to have it thought about and discussed beforehand, though!)
  • I'm interested to see how this tests. this sort of direct player to GM communication sounds interesting. i'm not sure how accurate people will actually be at estimating their own desires but i'm not sure it matters. Will jaded player's feel pandered too?

    Throw science at the wall and see what sticks!
  • So, based on this thread (and thank you all), I've been convinced that as a codified, written question, it's not hot.

    However, it has reminded me that GM advice sections for character creation are a good idea, and this should be something in that advice, about talking & making sure everyone understands what's wanted out of the characters and play in general.

    Y'all rock. Thanks for the responses. \m/

    - Ryan
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