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Behind the Lines: Let Me Tell You About My Character (#37) - The White Wolf LiveJournal Community
Much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Behind the Lines: Let Me Tell You About My Character (#37)
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.
14 comments or Leave a comment
nerdwerds From: nerdwerds Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Thirty-seven?! In a row?
kmagefyre From: kmagefyre Date: January 22nd, 2009 11:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Including me?!


/the number is etched in to my brain by lasers.
nerdwerds From: nerdwerds Date: January 22nd, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Okay, so... the number is 37.
I don't know why you even bothered commenting with that.
kmagefyre From: kmagefyre Date: January 22nd, 2009 12:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Watch more Kevin Smith movies. :)
nerdwerds From: nerdwerds Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I own that Kevin Smith movie.
You're attempt at correcting my non-verbatim quote is in reality a non-verbatim quote, and the the total number of cocks his girlfriend has sucked including his own is *drumroll* 37! and I have never heard anybody misquote the film as 36, hence I don't know why you even bothered commenting with that.
Unless you like killing jokes?
cernunnos From: cernunnos Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ugg. To both continue and end this horrible derail, Veronica initially said "something like 36"

To which Dante said "36!? Including me?"

Then she said nothing.

Then he said "37!!"

Edited at 2009-01-22 03:03 pm (UTC)
nerdwerds From: nerdwerds Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I know! To which Dante then turns to a customer and says "My girlfriend sucked 37 cocks!" and the customer says "In a row?"

I wasn't going for a literal quote of the movie, I was just trying to be funny, but if you have some nincompoop trying to correct the joke and doing it wrong then it just isn't funny anymore.

Also, if you have to explain the joke, it just isn't funny. End of fucking story.
corone From: corone Date: January 22nd, 2009 12:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
It is a great shame many gamers create their character without real reference to the others.
I can guarentee that if you ran a big crossover WoD game, with everyone playing a different creature from the various WW games, you would get this exchange
"My Werewolf goes into a killing rage against Vampires"
"So he has an animosity?"
"No he has to kill every one that he sees on sight, he goes berserk, he can't help it."
"Dude, did you not hear this was a crossover game? One of the other PCs will have a Vampire character."
"Yeah but you'll make it work, you're the GM."
(at this point I set fire to the character sheet)

I'd also offer that one of the top ten GM rules is 'Let your players love their characters'. Even if you have to allow a couple of extra points or tweak the campaign a little, let them have a character they really want to play.

That way, no matter how rubbish your game, they will usually come back for more, just to play that character! :-) Although, more seriously a character is a player's only creative input into the campaign (bar playing the game) so letting them indulge that creativity can only expand the game.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 22nd, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I highly agree with you.

I suggest the WW guys discuss the topic of the player's creation of their characters, taking into context of the GM, the other players, and the premise of the Story. I would be really interested to hear how other groups play-style works (or doesn't work) for them.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 22nd, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Character lovin'

Agreed also ("me too!")

I would also be interested to see a discussion about the XP structure and character growth/development over the course of a Chronicle. While the core and genre books provide guidelines, they don't really cover why, e.g. 3 per story is a good amount, and what development rate this would encourage in a long-term game.

Possibly/especially this could be done in context of what's a good starting range of XP for the characters for running a game of X-type (X=action-adventure, mystery, "you're doomed"-horror, etc.) Also, perhaps some anecdotal stuff from various developers who run games, do you generally stick to the starting template, or experienced characters (~35 XP), or what?
From: eskemp Date: January 23rd, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Character lovin'

Interesting ideas. Also, the amount of XP/story should also rely on how often you play... a meta conceit, of course. I'll take that into account!
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 22nd, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Conflict creates great characters. What would Harry Potter be if Lord Voldemort never came into his life? What would happen to Luke Skywalker if his step-parents lived?

Something has to happen to motivate the character into greatness. A happy character is a boring character.

So without a metaplot, the GM really has to create a great conflict for the characters. If the GM avoids creating conflict, than the player must step up and create a character story with conflict. A character needs a reason to act.

The most exciting characters grow-up and change over time. I think this is what makes the Harry Potter books so exciting. Harry actually grows up.

However, rpgs are moving away from characters growing up, and that is a sad state for games. Innocents provided an opportunity for characters to grow-up.

At the end of the day, conflict is far more important than game stats.
From: eskemp Date: January 23rd, 2009 06:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure I agree that rpgs move away from characters growing up; that's always been an area of player interest that exists somewhat independent of mechanics in many areas.

Certainly I agree that adversity and conflict are required, though. A solid character sheet is made up of story hooks — your contacts, your past experiences, your enemies.
nafda From: nafda Date: January 26th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC) (Link)
It's more like turning into a format of "villian of the week"

Which is then drawn out to a year just to make the storyline last.
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