Techniques for Prioritizing Character

Heya, folks.

So recently, I've been playing a lot of games that are, to put it diplomatically, exploring the borderlands between Role Playing Games and Story Games and the other territories round about RPGs. I am increasingly coming across a phenomenon where the mechanics and procedures forward some engaging stories or provoke intriguing moral dilemmas but seem to do this at the expense of the "role playing" experience where one gets inside the character. Some leap right into the story without fleshing out the character with much detail. Others don't seem to have much, as Judson calls it, "mechano-fictional coupling" where the mechanics actually engage the characters in a meaningful way -- most of these games' resources are player resources (Fanmail) instead of character resources (big fat Badassery die pool).

To some extent -- and an extent that varies player to player -- the appreciation of the stories and moral dilemmas of any game depend on identifying or empathizing with the characters involved in them. I'm beginning to find the edge of my preferences, since more than a few times I've felt let down by a game that is banging away on what would be an awesome story but I don't feel any engagement with it because I don't especially care about my character.

So both as a player and as a designer, I am starting to think about techniques to prioritize character, to either support and extend my own engagement with character, or to identify procedures which can be incorporated into games to support and extend other players' engagement with their characters. Here are three that leap immediately to mind:

Draw a Picture! Write a Background! This is a really traditional approach, but not one that I think is useless. Writing up a (short) background or drawing a picture (regardless of one's artistic skills) seems effective in establishing the player-character connection. Physicality is very important to me in my characters, so creating an image (in lines or in words) goes a long way to helping me 'get' my character.

Challenge Player Understanding of Character This is an in-game rather than pre-game thing, one that is probably best displayed in Capes, and that I stole for FLFS. There is a sort of school of roleplaying that tries to treat PC identities as sacrosanct things that only the owning player gets to control, and that works fine when there's other means to support characterization. However, I personally get a lot of mileage out of games which challenge, if not threaten, my understanding of my character's identity. In responding to any such challenge, I am forced to articulate and elaborate on who my character is. Not only does this help me reinforce the character's identity, but it allows me to develop and change it through play. So I like games where you might, for instance, set stakes like "and if you lose, you turn tail and run from the battlefield" and then I get to allocate my resources (character and player) to respond to it one way or another. In doing so, I strengthen my understanding and connection to the character.

Ties to the Setting and Situation I do this thing when I run Dogs in the Vineyard at conventions. I have six half-gen characters that I always use, and they already have their relationships written in (but not the dice assigned). I let the players pick which half-gens they want to play and then I pull the names off of their relationships and swap those names into the names I have on the Town Creation sheet. This works like freaking magic to strongly bind their characters to the situation they are presented with. In a sense, the situation becomes more about the characters, and that means that play that addresses the situation also addresses character. I could easily see a game where characters are at least partially defined by their connections to the setting, and the situations they address are always created from those connections.

What else is there out in the big wide role playing world? What techniques do you use? What mechanics have you found useful?

Comments

  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyOthers don't seem to have much, as Judson calls it, "mechano-fictional coupling" where the mechanics actually engage the characters in a meaningful way -- most of these games' resources are player resources (Fanmail) instead of character resources (big fat Badassery die pool).
    I don't want to derail you too much, Josh, but specifically, MFC is exactly what it sounds like: actual connection between the mechanics in play and the fiction. IIEE is a reasonable example of an MFC paradigm. Engagement with characters is a characteristic thereof, but hardly the whole thing.
    Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyChallenge Player Understanding of Character
    I've experienced this more from fellow players than specifically from mechanics, and it is a really powerful process to develop characters. We just did a startup session for Fading Suns with aspects (a la SoTC) and there was something really useful about making these mechanical statements about a character and then discussing and defending what they meant. I'm curious to see how they'll continue to function as we progress in play, but talking out what exactly certain aspects meant, and where they came from, really put a lot of flesh on the bones really quickly.

    From the Game As Discourse department, a microgame:

    Mark off a tiny whiteboard, small enough to pass around the table into rows, with two small blocks at the end of each row: pays & costs. Everyone get 20 chips and develops a character, and we start play. Conflict resolution works like this: everyone gets a turn at the whiteboard, writing an outcome on a row and putting some chips in "pays" or "costs." Each outcome has to be different, but you can gang up on an outcome (i.e. don't write anything new, just add chips to someone elses.) When it gets back to me, I choose an outcome, and either take the "pays" chips or give the same number of "costs" chips back to the player(s) who put them there. There is some change made to my character depending on if I take a) the most expensive option, b) the biggest payout or c) another option. For instance, character gains a Virtue if I choose A, a Vice if I choose B, or a Memory if a choose C.
    Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyTies to the Setting and Situation
    Nobilis does this in a number of interesting ways: the reverse-of-fiction character creation (PC's have Domains, which become the Domains of their Imperitor, who in the fiction precedes them and imbues them with their Domain), plus the rules embedded in the setting - Rite of Holy Fire for instance. And don't short change Full Light, Full Steam on this count. Situation Engineering gets all it's inputs from characters.
  • edited May 2007
    Hello Josh,

    To me a character is defined by the sum of their past decisions. I have serious trouble imaging a character independent of a situation. I really don't believe in "out of character" decisions. The term "plot driven story" has never made much sense to me. There are characters, they are confronted by situations, they make decisions about those situations, those decisions ARE the characters and the fall out of those decisions is the plot. Period. I can basically assume everything else, motivation, causality, continuity, etc.

    This is really one of the reasons I have a tough, tough time being a player. When I conceive of a character I also conceive of the kind of decisions I want that character to be confronted with and in a game with GM driven antagonism, I can't control that. It's why I LOVE premise front-loaded games like My Life with Master, Dogs in the Vineyard and It Was A Mutual Decision. Because I read it and say, "YES! I want to make decisions about THIS stuff."

    So to add to your list of techniques I'm going to add: Sketchy Concept + Focused Rapid Fire Decisions. It Was A Mutual Decision works like this. At the top of the game you basically have a character who fits a recognizable demographic, a small sketch of friend/family environment and an empathetic foundation for a relationship with the other PC. Then you are forced to make a sequence of rapid fire decisions about those characters which in the beginning are largely off the cuff with little guidance. But by the END of the story you end up with a STRONG STRONG sense of character. Probably the strongest sense of character I've ever really experienced in an RPG.

    But the side effect is that I almost feel like I never really "played" the character. I most definitely "created" the character. In other words I rarely if ever made a decision based on "who the character is" but rather those decisions were made from a kneejerk, heavily emotional, and deeply personal space based on the immediate situation at hand plus the outcome of the previous situations. The character was a hindsight construction based on the sum of those decisions.

    Which frankly is how I prefer to play. But I'm not sure this is exactly what you're talking about but I thought I'd throw it into the pool.

    Jesse

    Edited Note: Your original concern was about how to prioritize character. My answer in a nut shell: Shorten the time between character critical decisions.
  • Actually, Jesse, I suspect you are talking about exactly what I'm trying to avoid: the never-ending torrent of "bangs" which I-the-player respond to but I never quite get "down" into the character and respond from that mental space. I'm looking for the ladder down into the character's cockpit, so to speak, rather than sitting back and using the remote control.

    How does the fast-paced series of critial decisions help you get into the character, rather than just scheme to make his life harder?
  • edited May 2007
    Posted By: JesseTo me a character is defined by the sum of their past decisions. I have serious trouble imaging a character independent of a situation. I really don't believe in "out of character" decisions. The term "plot driven story" has never made much sense to me. There are characters, they are confronted by situations, they make decisions about those situations, those decisions ARE the characters and the fall out of those decisions is the plot. Period. I can basically assume everything else, motivation, causality, continuity, etc.
    Jesse,

    With respect, I'm having trouble not reading this as saying "my experience with role playing doesn't include the phenomenon you're attempting to accentuate." In other words "I don't know what you're talking about."

    I agree with your position insofar as no character is interesting without context, and really useful context to expose the interest of a character is a decision appropriate to that character. But I don't think that a character is only the decisions I make for (or as) my character, or even that the sum of those decisions is the character.

    As a distinguishing point, I'm falling out of love with the scene as "framing, free play, conflict" structure, and I'm less enamored of "scenes" the more strongly they conform to that structure. I feel like the aim of that structure is often to present character-directed decisions in a consistent and frequent way. My experience is that the results don't necessarily expose much about any character in particular, and result in a kind of freight-train story: a chain of equivalent scenes that chugs along irresistibly. And to put a darling game on the block here, I'll specifically hold up PTA as an example. Would you agree that the example is cogent? If so, what are your thoughts, and if not, why not?

    Crossed with JBR, whose concerns are basically the summary of mine.
  • edited May 2007
    Josh,

    Which is perhaps where I can't exactly help you. I really don't understand a character outside of the decisions made relative to a situation. I can imagine a lot of
    color about a character but it's mostly portrait stuff. Clothes, stance, facial expressions, etc. But also you don't strike me as the kind of guy who wants to spend 20 minutes of game time deciding whether your character will drink cider or beer this evening.

    Are you looking for perhaps an intermediate step?

    Something that moves you emotionally from YOU to the CHARACTER and THEN get hit with the emotional situational stuff?

    Jesse
  • Judson,

    I will totally own your assesment. My answer was: Here's how *I* experience and here's how *I* get into that character. And I might very well NOT understand the experience Josh is digging at. I'm becoming increasingly enamored with the "Fight Club" analogy for my own personal preferences. To me a "starting character" is a target outline I've drawn ON MYSELF. I want someone to then hit *ME* as hard and as frequently as possible within that target zone with fists made of fiction. The bruise pattern that forms after the fact is the fully fleshed out and three-dimentional character. And yes, this is just my personal preference and experience.

    This is how I relate to movies and novels. The stuff that hurts me personally, is the stuff I most enjoy.

    Outside of the raw emotion, is something I usually put into the realm of craft and structure. Yes there are lots of and lots of subtle nuances and "character moments" and the like in film and literature that really enhance the harder hitting stuff often later in a story. But I find in an improv environment like an RPG such moments are really hard to do well and have them payoff. Also, without explicit game provided structure, such moments can come to dominate a game such that ALL you have is a string of colorful character moments with no payoff, ever.

    Which is again, why I love a game like It Was A Mutual Decision. It gets people to SHUT THE HELL UP and DO SOMETHING of significance. But I'm willing to entertain the notion that it's overkill. Perhaps there's a wealth of techniques out there yet to be discovered that will allow for a more classical and nuanced story and character structure without providing for "wallowing" in character color (unless this is EXACTLY what you want and enjoy in which case I'm willing to shut up). But it seems to me that the thread topic seems to be, "Yes, I want character decision driven story game-play but not at the cost of the detailing that comes in polished crafted fiction."

    As for PtA, my problem is that I find it moves too slowly. I find myself having to hold back to preserve the expected plotting of a TV show and the various screen presences of the characters.

    I'm beginning to feel like I'm hijacking the thread and I don't want to do that. So if this is going somewhere not appropriate, say so and I'll take it to another thread if need be.

    Jesse
  • Posted By: Jesse
    I'm beginning to feel like I'm hijacking the thread and I don't want to do that. So if this is going somewhere not appropriate, say so and I'll take it to another thread if need be.
    I for one don't think so. I think Josh and I have come to a very similar place over the course of LA Gamers on this issue, and it's really useful to have a different perspective. It casts the thought in higher relief, you know?

    Now, without actually framing it as an argument, you're presenting what I see as false dichotomy: either I can make difficult decisions (or suffer fiction-blows) or I can present "mere color" of my character.

    There's a relationship between how I relate to a well drawn character and how I relate to actual people. In some way, I construct a mental model of the people I know, and it'd be valid to say that the degree to which I can use that mental model to predict that person's responses to things, is the degree to which I know them. In much the same way I get to know the characters I play, and (bizarrely) I'd draw a distinction between predicting their reactions to a situation and playing their role in the situation. (Just to rack up the pedantry notches, I'll relate the distinction in German between the verb weissen (to know (a fact, wisdom)) and kennen (to know (a person)))

    Two consequence of this particular phenomenon that aren't explained by the color/target dichotomy. First, the pleasant experience I had over the weekend, esentially workshopping the characters for an upcoming Fading Suns game. Just talking about our character's aspects, their sources and implications, fleshed those characters out in my mind rapidly, and in ways that just crises wouldn't have revealed. I discovered, for instance, that my spymaster will be just as personable and jovial with someone he's already decided to have killed as anyone else. Arguably, that's color until it's exposed, and I don't see an issue with that per se. But I think it's a significant facet of that character, and not one that might be best exposed by a metaphorical beating.

    Second, there have been very rare experiences where I've know that the actions of a character were out of my hands, and very different from my own reactions. Those flashes are what I think of as immersion, and they're a direct result of developing kennen-style knowledge of the character. And those "where did that come from?" moments, are a result of role-play that I love.
  • Yeah ... I think that there's a lot of stuff getting mushed here:
    1) In-game resources versus metagame resources.
    2) In-character decisions versus in-character posture
    3) Frequency of "bangs"

    I see all of these as totally unrelated to each other. Can you explain to me the relation?

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • Ben,

    Why don't you take a minute to point out where you see those concepts being conflated so that we can fruitfully reply?
  • Posted By: JesseSomething that moves you emotionally from YOU to the CHARACTER and THEN get hit with the emotional situational stuff?
    Jesse, that's it in a nutshell. I'm all for the hard-hitting bang-driven emotional crisis roleplaying. I just feel that a lot of games hit the gas and go screaming off to the horizon before I'm actually in the damn car.

    I also think there's a slight divergence in expectation, here, and I'll relate it to television and movies. In a movie, a character more or less is a collection of decisions, because that's all there is time for in a two-hour film. An actor is acclaimed for his or her ability to actually portray a vibrant character in the spaces between the big crises. On the other hand, a television show takes the much slower route with far more character exposition -- with episodes devoted to developing a character, in fact. There, actors are acclaimed for their consistency and ability to slowly develop a character rather than display it in short, bright flashes. I'm looking for the techniques to produce something closer to television, to get to know the character and to, as Judson mentioned, be able to predict the character's actions.

    Note that the interesting bit is when those predictions are subverted in later play by developments of the story and the application of specifics rather than generalities. Dogs is a fine example of this, with characters being portrayed and developed and then getting to a point where they get fed up or bogged down and then they change. I can't see Primetime Adventures pulling off the same trick as reliably, or without it being the very conscious intention of a player to create that change.
  • Hello!

    I am currently working on raising the fun potential of my adventure, and started to use some unconventional (?) methods.

    Maybe this is too evident, but I give a shot.

    The problem was, that the players didn't know anything about the setting, and I didn't want to give them long lectures. (It would have been to play in the world of Dune without any prior knowledge.) So, my solution was, that no long character concepts were needed at charater generation, only a short archetype wich is to give them a simple "alignment" (for example primitive highlander) and something to base the skills upon. But I didn't want them to play all along with only these skeleton characters, thatswhy I instituted the "fireside tales".

    I help each of the players to write a story from the past of the character. They write the story, and I make sure that they remain true to the setting. And there is an important condition: the story has to revolve around the basic conflict of the character. After the first story is told by the fire, the next one can be of a more intricate conflict of the character. (For example between the known character concept and a new element introduced by the story.)

    It is good, because the players are storytelling, like a GM would (almost) and I have things to grab on and use in the adventure, even in the next session.

    Gabor
  • In the advice I give for tMW, I suggest that for the first half or so of the game, GM's should try and maintain external or setting-based conflict. This allows the players to simply interact as characters. This gives them time to develop an idea of who their character is. Then, after the players begin defining their characters, that's when the GM starts hitting up with all the personal conflict.
  • Okay, throwing RPGs out the window for a moment...
    I would hate to think that who I am is defined by how I react to crisis situations. I had this conversation with a friend the other day, while talking about what makes a character.

    I don't think someone's actions in a crisis are really all that indicative of their personality or who they are. They are often knee-jerk reactions, fight or flight. Just because you freak out during a car crash doesn't mean you're a panicked and tense person. Actions in such situations say more about the situations than the people.

    I know that I see more of myself in dialogue than distress, conversation rather than crisis. You're probably the same.

    So, let's apply this to characters. If Johnny is constantly reacting to gunmen and mob hits on his family and death threats, what does that say about him? It probably says that he can keep calm under pressure and has quick reflexes, otherwise he'd be dead. What does it say about him, quick reflexes and instincts aside? Fuck all.

    It's not till the mob finally goes away and he has time to console the remainder of his family that we get to understand who Johnny is. Up until this point, he's just been a man in distress.
  • I hear you, Joe. "Character" in real life is a matter of a thousand tiny decisions, not a handful of big decisions. At the same time, though, that's... not incredibly entertaining in play. I would think that play alludes to the thousand tiny decisions of life by selecting and prioritizing a few of them, bringing them to the fore as emblematic of the decisions that that character "usually" makes. So maybe a solution is to build in assumptions of similar decisions into the background of such games?
  • Joshua,

    Your question has given me an idea for a new play technique. It's largely based on the structure of movies and TV series, but with a story gaming twist.

    In most movies and TV series, you will have quiet scenes every now and then that set up or reinforce the stakes for the conflicts in the piece. Those at the start establish the main character's relationship with another character or an ideology (love of country, money, political ideal, etc.), while those in the middle of the story serve to remind and reinforce that, yes, the main character does, indeed, still care about these things. These are, form what I understand, similar to and largely analogous to Ron Edwards' concept of Bobs, but Bobs may be different in the details. I haven't read enough about them to say.

    So, at the risk of reinventing Ron's wheel, allow me to suggest the idea of Flag Establishment scenes. These are quiet scenes at the start of a game, or during quiet times, in which players show (rather than telling ;) their characters investment in the flags that are written on the character sheet. A tender moment with a loved one, a philosophical discussion, an act of service for a respected leader or elder, etc. These scenes should not be driven toward conflict, even in cases — like the philosophical argument or, say, a break in conducted at the behest of an esteemed leader — where gamers would normally go to dice (cards, etc.). Instead, just have the character's player, with input from the other players, establish his relationship with one or more flags in a quick (2-3 minutes, tops) but colourful narration. Go once around the table like this, giving everyone the opportunity to establish a connection to what their character is about, then get down to business.

    Then, at appropriate moments — quiet times between conflicts, the start of a new game session in an ongoing game, right before the ramp-up to the climax — one or two characters can indulge in similar scenes to reinforce just what they have in stake in the storyline. Flashbacks can come into play powerfully here.

    A couple of final points.
    1. Keep them quick. Yeah, I already said it, but this can be the thin edge of the wedge to 4 hours of play, 20 minutes of fun if you don't keep strict control on it
    2. While they are aimed at establishing a connection between you and your character, you still need to keep entertaining the other players in mind.
    3. In games that lack explicit flags (yeah, boo hiss, I know), flag establishment scenes could also be used to declare flags to the rest of the group. It's a hack, but it strikes as being as good as anything.
    Like I said at the start, this just came to me after reading this thread, so it is untried. I think it could work, or at least help, though.
  • Just wanted to pop a quick note in this thread and say that what you're talking about maps a lot with "sequels" in fiction writing - Creative Writing 101 says that narratives are often composed of scenes and sequels, where scenes are points of conflict, and sequels are where you show the character's human qualities as they react to the conflicts that have just happened, and decide on their next course of action.

    Novelist Jim Butcher offers a breakdown of each on his LJ at http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/2647.html and http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/2880.html - wanted to throw up the links as grist for the mill, here.
  • Wait a minute though: sure, what John does with a gun in his face is only going to say anything about John if he's a particular kind of extreme: in the deadly calm to psychotic rage area.

    But there's other kinds of significant decisions that aren't pure survival and tell us a whole lot more about a character. Really blunt things like bribe offers, moral dilemmas, choices between beliefs. That kind of thing. Which leads me to:

    Layered Choices Bangs As a GM I try to present my players with tricky decisions for their characters. E.g., "to get what you want, would you rather work really hard, or put an acquaintance in harms way?" And then I set up further choices as the consequences of the earlier choices: "will you put yourself in decided jeopardy to rescue to person you put in danger?" On reflection, I guess those are bangs, with the possible component that there's an evaluation going on in the back of my head about characters based on the decisions they make.
  • Posted By: Linnaeus
    Like I said at the start, this just came to me after reading this thread, so it is untried. I think it could work, or at least help, though.
    Actually, this is quite similar to the way that I run longer-term games. My games tend to have a long, slow build toward the first conflict so that we can determine what's really important to the characters. Often the entire first session of my games won't have a major conflict. (Flag Establishment is also an excellent use for Character Focus scenes in PTA. )

    This also touches on something that came up in our group on Tuesday night. Sometimes, the problem with Flags is that at the beginning of the game, you don't know what you want to explore. Or, more precisely, you could be wrong, and you only discover that fact in play. This is where the inter-town reflection in Dogs and the ability to rewrite Beliefs at any time in Burning Wheel becomes really useful. However, in games without these sort of mechanisms, scenes without conflict that give characters (and I do mean characters) the chance to reflect on what's happened to them can add real weight to the proceedings.

    --Paul
  • Judson, "crisis" does not need to be "gun to the face." In games, "crisis" usually means two things: (a) very big, important stakes on the line, and (b) limited time and resources with which to make a decision. So the mobster offering you a bribe that could pay for your sick child's medical treatment is just as much a crisis as the mobster pointing a gun in your face: it's a moment where everything is on the line and you have to do choose now how to proceed.

    Contrast that with deciding if you want to buy that new video game or take your wife out for a romantic dinner date: only incremental happiness is "on the line" and you can mull over the question for quite some time. It's not a crisis, but in real life our character is determined more by these decisions than crisis situations.
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyJudson, "crisis" does not need to be "gun to the face." In games, "crisis" usually means two things:
    Run me the tiniest line of credit, eh? I was responding to Joe's usage of "crisis."

    A deeper response, though:

    Joe, you were talking about conversation as character exposition. I think that the most you can get out of "John consoles his family" are some flags: specific questions we might have about John as a result of the things he does and says for his family's sake. If John says "I'm not going to let anything happen to you," I want to push him on that. In other words, conversation can tell me a lot about who the character wants to be and who he wants others to believe him to be. But very little about who he actually is.

    Josh, I don't know that the little decisions don't appear in play. 'What's John doing on a Friday night?' 'He's playing Dynasty Warriors 2.' 'Okay, mobsters kink in the door.' You know?
  • Judson,

    Should I agree to disagree, or expand upon my point?

    Because I believe that promises made in earnest and broken in distress say tons about a person still*.

    I can post, if you want, about the character that I most related to ever in my personal gaming history. Who he was was certainly NOT the decisions he was making. Who he was was who he wanted to be. The rest was demons and high school (which are, of course, basically the same thing). It's a character I've posted about on a few topics (my recently-outted high school senior in Sorcerer).


    Also, I agree with Josh's point about crisis being more than "gun in your face". That was just the simplest and most direct version of crisis that I could think of, and I tend not to make my examples that nuanced (on purpose).




    *And, no, not just that they are unreliable.
  • Posted By: joepubBecause I believe that promises made in earnest and broken in distress say tons about a person still*.
    If that's your larger position, I think we can agree to agree.
    Posted By: joepubWho he was was certainly NOT the decisions he was making. Who he was was who he wanted to be.
    I think I know the guy you're talking about. What do you mean by that though?
    Posted By: joepubAlso, I agree with Josh's point about crisis being more than "gun in your face". That was just the simplest and most direct version of crisis that I could think of, and I tend not to make my examples that nuanced (on purpose).
    Can we agree that there's a difference between a gun in your face and a dramatic crisis? Unless the guy with the gun wants you to break your promises, or betray what who you love. And the action movie solution of knocking out the guy kills the dramatic part of the crisis. And in this case, the nuance was important.

    Are we on one page here? Because character-in-(dramatic)-crisis is one thing, and one I understand pretty well. I believe in character in quietude, but I don't know that I understand it well enough to reliably support it. It's easy to do the essentially different cider-or-beer thing that Jesse was talking about. So I'd like to talk more about that part. If your Sorcerer high-schooler can help do that, post at length about him.
  • Grr. post erased.

    Judson, I think we're on the same page.

    Since I'm feeling particularly vain right now, I'd like to talk about a character I had. His name was Jordan, and he was a senior film student. His asshole lawyer father said, "you're joining the track team, and if you get cut I'm not paying your film school tuition". So he unwittingly created the demon Game Face to help him achieve that goal.

    Jordan saw himself as brilliant, innovative, conflicted and empathetic. And yet, throughout the game he acted malicious, condescending, spiteful and secretive. Why the disconnect? For one, he had a demon which made him want to win at all situations... it forced him to try and 'beat' those he talked to. (note: In Sorcerer, demons say a lot about the stresses put on a character, but not the characters themselves). For another, all the innovative in the world wouldn't change the fact that his ex was blackmailing him with cold-hearted indifference toward his emotions.

    Jordan wasn't aggressive. But he was put into a situation where aggression helped, and his inner voice said "take it". What does that say about him? Fuck all, other than that he is smart enough to know when to become something else in order to survive. What else does it tell us? High school is vicious, coming out in a small community takes a lot of strength and toughness, and it's hard to try and integrate yourself into a group of people you've set your identity against all your life.

    The key to understanding Jordan through the game fiction was:
    a.) note where his background and his current choices rail against each other.
    b.) note where his words and actions are at a disconnect.
    c.) note what he says when he lets his guard down.
    d.) note what makes him defensive or volatile.

    Anyone can summon a demon from otherplace that lets them win races and turns them into an aggressive spite engine. That says dick all about who you are, other than that you were in a situation where you were desperate enough to invoke such a beast.


    Now, cider vs beer. I think that you need to understand both motivations and actions in order to get someone. You also need to understand context. If you say "Fe'Thria, Warrior of Etheron. She has a spear. Hit me with an ethical dilemma" then what you get are a series of situations and an understanding of how good Fe'Thria is at using a spear and handling pressure. You won't really see what drives her and keeps her going, beyond instinctual knee-jerk reactions.

    There needs to be both "Fe'Thria does X" and "...because of Y". Now, Y can be implied, or hinted at, but it needs to be there. A series of bangs makes a remarkable fireworks display but a shitty bonfire.

    I think that character shines through best in moments of dialogue and indecision, and weaving these together with action is how one paints a true portrait of a character.
  • Posted By: joepubAnyone can summon a demon from otherplace that lets them win races and turns them into an aggressive spite engine. That says dick all about who you are, other than that you were in a situation where you were desperate enough to invoke such a beast.
    I think that says PLENTY about who the character is. (And isn't that the point of Sorcerer?) That they were desperate enough to invoke such a beast. They didn't have to. They could have been brave enough to persevere without giving in to such a thing (the real-world, non-sorcerous equivalent would be becoming that driven, spiteful person without Demonic help). Or Jordan could defy his father and say "fuck you, I don't need your dirty money, I'll make it on my own." Or give up. Think of Dead Poet's society, where Neal Perry makes a very different choice when confronted by the will of a demanding father that's at odds with his own dreams.

    You always have a choice. So your choices say a lot.

    I do agree that you need to know something about a character before you can give them interesting choices. I'm struggling with that in a D&D game I'm running right now, where the PCs are fairly blank and my shots at highlighting something they care about is pretty hit and miss. I think you can get at this through actual play, but it means a lot of duds before you hit the thing that fires 'em up. Having at least a rough sketch pre-loaded is preferable.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Joel,
    I think that says PLENTY about who the character is. (And isn't that the point of Sorcerer?) That they were desperate enough to invoke such a beast. They didn't have to.
    You just highlighted my point. "That they were desperate enough" isn't really about the character, in my mind. I think it is MORE about the situation.


    I'm officially feeling like a threadjack now, and am going to stop.
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