Late late, like a white rabbit holding a watch. Things happen, don't they? Quite a lot of that around here of late... but eh, that's hardly newsworthy.
So let's talk about something else. Let's talk about characters.
The roleplaying game is an interesting beast. It produces war stories, and to some extent war heroes. To some extent those stories are universal; to some extent they are absolutely context-related, the Platonic ideal of "you had to be there." The more complicated the context, the more you have to explain to your listener to get across why this particular dice roll, or this one witty quip, utterly electrified the group around you. Now to some extent, that's one of the advantages of not just a shared system, but also a shared world setting. People already understand the context. It's one thing to tell your fantastic Vampire: The Requiem war story to people who also play the game — it's a little trickier to get the gist of it succinctly to gamers who don't know the World of Darkness. And explaining the whole of it to people who don't play at all? Yeah. It can be tricky. It's only complicated by the fact that really great characters don't exist in a vacuum. I mentioned Romeo and Juliet last time. You can sum up Romeo rather easily, but try getting what makes his story great without explaining his father, his best friend, his hated rival. Good characters come with a lot of ties to other characters, and that makes establishing context even more tricky.
But I'm not here to talk about swapping stories at conventions or bookstores, exactly, though the example is instructive. You see, there's an authorial and developmental aspect to this, too. After all, one of our primary goals is to relate to you the story of a character in such a fashion that you can find it interesting and useful. We need to provide sufficient context that a character make sense, but not so much that the reader's eyes glaze over. And — here is the tricky part — good character design on our end means creating characters that make sense in a different context, specifically whatever situation and environment you folks may choose to throw them into. They should be able to drop into a chronicle, bringing whatever makes them interesting in the first place with them without overwriting the Storyteller and players' own creations.
This is a tall order. It requires some measure of passion on our part, writing about the kind of characters we find particularly interesting, but not buying into our own hype. Get too enamored of how strong and clever you want a vampiric prince to appear, and you essentially eliminate reasons or opportunities for readers to use him. Consider the trap that some novice authors (and Storytellers) fall into — the trap of "would never." Think of a Hierarch who "would never" fall for the wiles of a seductive character — in the attempt to try and portray her as resolute and full of integrity, you both are outright saying "there is no point trying" to the player of a seductive character, and you are giving her no reason to participate in a certain sub-classification of storyline. How much more interesting is it to say that the Hierarch is incredibly resistant to such an approach, and then to consider what sort of character might indeed have success in seducing her? Absolutes close doors. I'll admit I wrote some absolutes myself in my day, but I honestly think that leaving some wiggle room without being wishy-washy makes characters more real.
Good characters make people want to use them. Really good characters encourage people to use them well. You can see how we erred on the side of the absolute and the "overwrite your chronicle" in the previous incarnation of the World of Darkness, and you can probably also see how we were more sensitive to characters inhabiting your context and less inclined to have them bring context of their own for a while. But of course, really strong characters do have to bring some context with them. What good is a feared serial killer if he doesn't bring a legend, or a vendetta that might cry out to target a character in your chronicle?
With the absence of metaplot, creating characters has been a matter of taking snapshots and profiles, and prettying them up for self-insertion. It's not about creating characters that will change the world no matter what your players do. It's about creating characters that will tempt you to invite them into your games, and that will spark actions by their very presence. Now, metaplot was a great way of establishing just how frightening or resourceful one of our little guys could be, but without that we have to rely all the more on just plain good writing. The Night Horrors semi-series is a big example of us giving that a shot: trying to lead by example, to create icons and archetypes with fully realized forms. Giving you people you want to interact with, that you can drop into a chronicle and watch the sparks fly.
It's always going to be a tricky bit of business; after all, "interesting" and "provocative" are not exactly objective descriptors. But it's our job; characters we create are a utility (asuming they're usable at all), and with any luck they'll be fun to read about to boot. And as challenges go, it's always a rewarding one.