Shining Dodecahedron

One geek's views on role-playing and games in general.

This place is all about discussing paper-and-pencil roleplaying games. I'm Jay, and I run this joint, but that doesn't make me smarter than you. This will all work best if I say things, and you say what you think about them, lather, rinse, repeat. With luck we can all understand the hobby a little better. If you have a topic that you would like me to start a thread about, post a comment here. If you've got something to say about characters (my ongoing topic du jour), post a comment here.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

How characters are conceived

Judd said:

Generally, the GM says, "Here is the game's concept."
The player says, "Here's what I'd like to play."
And then you are off to the races, seeing what is important in the character's back story, what kind of characters they create, their angle on the original idea."

This brings up a great point: how do players arrive at characters to play? And more importantly, how do systems make the process easy or hard?

My current game is a hybrid space opera/wuxia game played in the Hero System. Lyle, the GM put forth this idea for a gameto us, told us how many points to use and cut us loose. We ended up with three characters, each from a different genre: Mike made a pilot/gambler who fits the mold of heroic-human-level space opera characters. Henry made a Kung Fu fighter on the level of Bruce Lee--touch human guy with some exrtaordinary fighting. I made a full-on wuxia character inspired by House of Flying Daggers. Mike had trouble thinking what to do with all of his points. Henry's character eased in right at the limit. I was scrounging for points. We all understood the game to be different and made characters at different power levels as a result. The Hero System leaves all of the character scoping and details up to the GM and players to work out. And it often doesn't work. It's an extreme case because the system allows for so much diversity of character.

The opposite extreme is something like White Wolf's World of Darkness. Your choices in making a character are extremely limited depending on the game that the group chooses. If the GM wants to play a Werewolf game, players have a very narrow scope of characters to choose from.

I used to think that the WoD way was bad and the Hero way was good. But I've come to appreciate that sometimes having a lot of choices as a player is a bad thing. A coherent game needs direction, and limiting the types of characters that can participate in the story is a decent way to get some. Not the only way by any meansm but a good way.

Look at something like Dogs in the Vineyard. On the surface its a game with a very limited range of characters, but the diversity of individual dogs seems quite wide. Sure, they're all dogs, but they can have a variety of backgrounds, motivations, levels of faith, on and on.

Sometimes limiting the scope of players leads to unhappy gamers. Particuarly if the GM doesn't tell the players before hand that he has something specific in mind for the gameand the characters that they come up with don't fit his vision. Much badness to be had there.

Are there other techniques that folks have experienced that games use to guide the selection of characters? Is this something that you feel works better when provided by the game or when it's worked out between the GM and players?


Anonymous Judd said...

I think a narrow focus is a happier game, not so narrow that the players feel stifled but narrow enough that the characters are all from the same damned story.

Having the GM or the group that comes up with the game's slant, list a series of book and movie influences tends to help this process along, I find. If its a published setting, having the players just page through the book, look at the pictures and read through some of the text can be good too.

I find the best characters are inspired by that odd sentence about an NPC that they can be related to or a picture in the book. Quite a few really kick-ass PC's I've GMed for have come from a new player looking through the book, seeing a picture and saying, "I want to play that guy!" Then we figure out how the system allows us to make that.

Friday, May 13, 2005 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason Leigh said...

Jay asks...

Is this something that you feel works better when provided by the game or when it's worked out between the GM and players?

In my experience, if the gaming group is otherwise funcitonal with complimentary creative-agendas, working it out between the players and GM is fine.

Otherwise, the game needs to provide significant guidance.

I tend to prefer systems that suggest (or demand) group situation and character creation sessions, where everyone involved gets a say in everything going on.


"Oh, it's you...

Saturday, May 14, 2005 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

Im with you about everyone getting together to figure stuff out, Jason (and welcome, by the way).

However, I have also found that having help from the rules is a big bonus regardless.

Judd's comments about people using a picture or a sentence in the book is something that I see all the time. The problem comes, IMHO, when the game give an overwhelming amount of detail and the creativity of the players gets drowned in it.

Saturday, May 14, 2005 2:18:00 PM  

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