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Character Personal Assessment

Started by M. J. Young, October 05, 2002, 03:30:10 AM

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M. J. Young

Quote from: In the Observable Probability thread Chris a.k.a. BankueiNot quite going as far as a myth, but a standard is that players know everything that their character is capable of doing. One of the uses of questioning it, is that few people have done so, and said, "What can we do otherwise? What other doors open?"
He sparked my recollection of another facet of this matter--something I addressed http://www.gamingoutpost.com/content/index.cfm?action=article&articleid=601&login=">in this article at Gaming Outpost some time back: should the player have complete knowledge of his character's abilities and background?

It seems to me that there are a lot of ways to bring things into play that would enhance a game while surprising a player. A character could have learned some skill in childhood now long forgotten (horseback riding is a good example) or have a knack for something he's never done before (sometimes people have this for games). From a different perspective, he might not know that he's related to someone important, particularly if it's a local importance--if his great grandfather was a hero in this tiny kingdom and he is recognized by his family name.

In that thread, we were discussing whether players should know their precise chance of success in any or every situation; but here, what I'd like to explore is to what degree they should and should not know the details of their own history and abilities?

As I observe in my article, I know the strengths and weaknesses of some of my characters with much greater precision than I know my own. I have often thought myself good at things at which I later decided I was not so good, and hopefully as often discovered that I was a lot better at some things than I imagined.

I remember an interview with Freeman Dyson (yes, that Freeman Dyson) in which he was asked whether when growing up he wondered why he was so smart. His answer was no, he wondered why everyone else was so stupid. My experience is different. It never occurred to me that I was smart--I didn't know my IQ was even above average until I was out of college several years. It is said that geniuses often fail to see their own genius--Isaac Newton expected his greatest contribution would be in theology, Arthur Conan-Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes, and the inventor of the safety pin sold the rights for a very small sum in order to continue his legal battles of the theft of his "great" invention, a specialized sewing machine needle he believed had been stolen by the textile industry. So why should our characters, or even their players, have such perfect knowledge of their own abilities?

I'm not completely certain how to make it work otherwise (although the article gave some ideas), but I'm interested in your take on it.

--M. J. Young

contracycle

I think there is one major difference: in some stories the audience may know that the main characters bears the royal birthmark and is the lost scion of the true king before the main character does; hence full player knowledge may be relevant in a sense other than accurate sim of their subjective experience.  Furthermore there are power issues involving currency - ruling that a character has an unkown ability may add, or remove, currency to or from a character unilaterally.  This might not be acceptable to the player.  It contains the same danger, IMO, as a dramatic switch of setting or direction, which may no longer be the game that the player was interested in playing.
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damion

Some games, like GURPS and Hero(?) have something like this.  Usually it takes the form of of a nebulous 'advantage worth X points, to be decided later'.  Generaly it's some sort of unassigned currency thing,  that will be firmed up later.
I'm not sure if you can do this in Hero Wars, although from the little I know of it, I think it would incredibly cool.

Nuff examples.  I think there is a difference between knowing one's own abilities and know one's own experiances. One generally knows what abilities one has, although look  Here for a 'counter argument'.  

I'm saying people will generally know what experiances they've had (barring amnesia, repression, that sorta thing) but as you pointed out, they may not know the true impact of what they've done.  Pretty easy to work this into a game. Have charachters do something, then have them find out an alternate interpretation later. Actually, this is pretty common, just usually the 'later surprise' is bad :).
James

talysman

Quote from: contracycleI think there is one major difference: in some stories the audience may know that the main characters bears the royal birthmark and is the lost scion of the true king before the main character does; hence full player knowledge may be relevant in a sense other than accurate sim of their subjective experience.  Furthermore there are power issues involving currency - ruling that a character has an unkown ability may add, or remove, currency to or from a character unilaterally.  This might not be acceptable to the player.  It contains the same danger, IMO, as a dramatic switch of setting or direction, which may no longer be the game that the player was interested in playing.

the use of the word "currency" triggered a weird idea in my brain.

suppose you were playing a "lost scion of the true king" game. suppose the players design ordinary or adventurous characters, then you establish a special currency ("story points"?) and tell the players "there will be a lost scion, a knightly champion, etc." and set out how many points these will cost? thus, the players know what could happen, but don't know whose player it will happen to... because they have to earn the points to purchase that plot event.

actually, I guess I have been toying with event-driven rpg ideas for a while, but I just never applied the concept to characters lacking knowledge of their past (or future) before.
John Laviolette
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Andrew Martin

Quote from: M. J. YoungSo why should our characters, or even their players, have such perfect knowledge of their own abilities?

I'd think that perfect knowledge of the character's abilities is appropriate in some settings, for example, future and SF settings. For most other settings, it would be inappropriate; a fuzzy knowledge is better. And for some settings, no knowledge at all is even better! For example, a amnesiac character is better roleplayed with a blank character sheet (eg my Tabula Rasa system), to help get the player in the right mood.

I also think that's its a good idea to be able to change character details in play, or even be able to have other characters/players change one's character (with permission); for example, adding in contacts, relationships, phobias and other troubles.
Andrew Martin

Le Joueur

Quote from: damionSome games, like GURPS and Hero(?) have something like this.  Usually it takes the form of of a nebulous 'advantage worth X points, to be decided later'.  Generally it's some sort of unassigned currency thing that will be firmed up later....
I haven't seen these games recently, but the 'nebulous' advantage idea was hardly treated if at all (hence nebulous).  Has this changed at all?

Quote from: contracycleI think there is one major difference: in some stories the audience may know that the main characters bears the royal birthmark and is the lost scion of the true king before the main character does; hence full player knowledge may be relevant in a sense other than accurate sim of their subjective experience.

Furthermore there are power issues involving currency - ruling that a character has an unknown ability may add, or remove, currency to or from a character unilaterally.  This might not be acceptable to the player.

It contains the same danger, IMO, as a dramatic switch of setting or direction, which may no longer be the game that the player was interested in playing.
I think both of these examples suffer from an unexpected need for continuous management of the 'currency' of efficacy.  The continuous stress some games put on this idea is frequently misplaced.  The only game where I can think of that this 'currency' is appropriately represented in a continuing fashion, would be Mike and Ralph's Universalis (I think) where there is recognition that a character (or prop or whatever) has value by its relevance to the narrative, rather than 'currency' based on it's global efficacy.

Contracycle is really close to the problem; except I think he's confusing what he calls 'currency' (that sounds like a continuing measure of global character efficacy) and relevance to the narrative (a game that a player senses is irrelevant is no longer interesting).  In my experience these arise from two different ways of playing but result in quite similar feelings.

I think these 'unknown aspects of character' are very important yet difficult to handle.  The most important part is not depriving the player of what they like in a game and that varies from player to player.  Some players are interested in discovering what secret of these 'unknown aspects' (then it becomes a feature of the narrative).  Others may like the deus ex machina effect of an 'unknown aspect' coming into play when most needed.  And so on and so on.

I want to take a moment and say something about the idea of 'unknown aspects' as a feature of the narrative.  Technically, I think most games almost require unknown aspects of one sort or another to make them interesting.  I divide these into Suspense and Mystiques.  Suspense is the that breathless moment of anticipation before something is revealed.  A Mystique is something somebody doesn't know, but will want to.  The way this is relevant to the topic is how we've been talking about a Mystique inherent to the character and unknown to the player.  Scattershot makes these Mystiques an explicit component of play, so much so, that a player may even have a Mystique for their character only they know, that even the gamemaster doesn't know (possibly the most important reason to formalize the Technique).

As far as Andrew's "fuzzy knowledge" of the content of one's own character, we thought that that was not a feature directly linked any genre (for example Luke Skywalker had no idea of his aptitude with The Force and that's "future and SF").  We decided to formalize Design-in-Play practices so that players can start with a self-chosen degree of 'fuzziness' without treading too heavily on the concepts of formalized, continuing measures of character efficacy (called 'currency' by Contracycle).

There are a lot of ways of handling complete and incomplete knowledge of one's own character.  I think it is important to note that no single method is appropriate to all players or play styles.  We identify situations where the player knows of 'unknown features' of their character (that the character doesn't know) as being an important indicator of Referential or higher level or sharing.  This also happens when play is inherently Self-Conscious.  Neither of these suggest personal character aspects being kept from the player (but they don't restrict the possibility, but do require special arrangements).  Players who desire a Mystique about their character that they don't know about as a feature of the narrative are frequently attracted to Avatar or sometimes Swashbuckler play.  It can be handled by other Approaches, but only if carefully arranged in advance.

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

Andrew Martin

Quote from: Le JoueurAs far as Andrew's "fuzzy knowledge" of the content of one's own character, we thought that that was not a feature directly linked any genre (for example Luke Skywalker had no idea of his aptitude with The Force and that's "future and SF").  We decided to formalize Design-in-Play practices so that players can start with a self-chosen degree of 'fuzziness' without treading too heavily on the concepts of formalized, continuing measures of character efficacy (called 'currency' by Contracycle).

Sorry, I meant hard SF settings (like GURPS Transhuman Space, hard SF novels like those by Asimov, Bova, Kim Stanley Robinson and so on), not space opera settings! :)

For games with a setting like Star Wars, fuzzy knowledge, and design in play is far more appropriate. "Luke, I am your father" sounds just like interuption from another player to the Luke PC. :) It's a good example of the kind of play I'd expect in a game where players have the powers of a GM.


Edit: Added this.
This same discussion can also refer to NPCs, settings and locations, tools, vehicles and so on. It's not just limited to PCs.
Andrew Martin