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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: TheTris on November 29, 2005, 04:39:05 AM



Title: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: TheTris on November 29, 2005, 04:39:05 AM
Reviewing most (all?) of the systems I know, character design is approached from what seems like the view of an child looking at the character in question.  My example:

daddy is "Safe, Fat, Bearded"
Uncle Vernon is "Scary, Tall, Loud"
Mikael the Swordsaint is "Good with a sword, Tough, Mysterious"

Although some systems are less obvious, they still largely seem to compromise the character's wholeness by approaching the character as if looking at it from that childlike point of view where you haven't yet realised that everyone else is also a compete person, not just animated and interesting scenery.

Does anyone else draw their self image from concepts like "Bearded" or "Good with swords".  Or even "Good at RPG design"?  One of mine is probably "I'm a nice guy", which sounds innocuous, but drives quite a lot of emergent behaviour.  Another is probably "I'm clever" which is perhaps less 'good' and leads to me being quite aggressive in arguments, if I'm not careful.  I think there are fairly destructive counters to these self beliefs, like "Noone could ever love me".

I don't think the character has to be aware of these...beliefs?

Is there a useful way to begin creating characters from the point of view of an adult looking at that character, so that we realise they are fully formed?  It seems to me that there are great benefits to being able to do this in line with character generation, am I in a minority?

Okay, those are some fairly half formed thoughts which came from a program about a psychoanalyst profiling hitler, and playing with my flatmate's 5 year old kid.  Lets kick those ideas about a bit :-)


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Matt Machell on November 29, 2005, 04:43:10 AM
I reckon there'll be a stampede to point it out, but, have you looked at Burning Wheel?

It's system of Beliefs, Instincts and Traits does exactly what you're looking for, and is built directly into the character generation.

-Matt


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: TheTris on November 29, 2005, 05:20:24 AM
I have indeed looked at Burning Wheel, (actually it was the first thing that sprang to mind when I started this line of thought) and at the moment I think it still seems to address the external manifestations of the character, rather than the rounded character in completeness.

I think a belief of (for instance) "I will rule this city from the iron tower" or "my sister is the first rung on this ladder, climb her" is fully formed and expressed by the character, and it seems beliefs as described in the burning wheel fit this pattern of giving the outside view of the character.

To illustrate this point, I think that a character with those beliefs could have two very different *core*? descriptions which shed light on the actual character more than the beliefs would.

(My family love me) (I work to better the lot of all people) -->

(I'm not worthy of love) (I am the saviour of my race) (I have power and respect) -->

These could both inform the same Burning Wheel beliefs and instincts, but the characters they describe are fundamentally extremely different.  They may both want to rule the city from the iron tower, and may both belief their sister is the first step on the path upwards.  The second may not even realise that he has the doubt, but it will define his more conscious beliefs and the ways he acts on them.

I hope I'm making sense.  I do think the Burning Wheel system of beliefs and instincts is great, but I don't believe it does what I'm talking about.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 29, 2005, 05:25:30 AM
Also worth looking at would be Over the Edge.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: TheTris on November 29, 2005, 05:34:52 AM
I'm curious (and trying to provoke discussion :-)  how does Over the Edge handle this concept of character?


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Victor Gijsbers on November 29, 2005, 05:44:09 AM
I was very much impressed by character creation in Breaking the Ice. A player writes down the favourite colour of his/her character. Using free association, he/she writes down another word, and links it up with the colour. Now the second player takes a turn, and again by free association thinks up a word that is related to either of the previous two. It is written down and connected with one of the other words. And so on, until 13 words have been written down.

Now, for use in the game mechanics, you have to write down explicit traits for your character, using the web of words as inspiration. But the web of words always remains on your character sheet, and I found that it takes on all kinds of meaning while you are playing the game. It's just some words; there are no propositions involved. And that is exactly what makes it deep and rich and a constant source of inspiration: it contains more meaning than you could ever extract from it. For me, at least, it generated a sense of my character being a real person.

We do not think of ourselves in terms of a set of proposition. We know that we are far too rich to be captured in some explicit statements. Yet most roleplaying games do define characters that way. Is this line of thought comparable to yours?


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: TheTris on November 29, 2005, 05:54:51 AM
A cautious yes.

Because I really dig what you could get out of having those words written, sort of providing depth beyond what you have envisioned for your character at the start of play, if I'm reading you right.  And then what I'm trying to define seems to be a system that lets you try to describe a character with a few phrases, but tries to work from a different perspective than games I've seen.

So I think I get what you are saying, and think it's a cool idea, and I do agree that you can't define a whole person with a few phrases.  On the other hand I'd love to have a system where you can define as much as possible with a few phrases, and that gets behind what a child might see "that's an ugly man who gives me sweets and fights bad guys" to what that character might not even know about himself "I get my self worth from being nice to kids, being respected in the community and my skill at the blade"


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Josh Roby on November 29, 2005, 12:16:54 PM
Tris, I think it might be worthwhile for you to distinguish between a character being played and a [/i]character on a sheet[/i].

Equating the character sheet and its traits and stats and whatnot with the character is a very easy and common error, as is the assumption that a character 'springs from' the character sheet, that characters are somehow character stats given motion.  Ideally, it's the other way around -- a character sheet is a shorthand way that we encode a limited portion of what the character is, but the character needs to come first.  The character sheet is based on the character, not the other way around.

All those good, juicy, engaging character traits and beliefs that you're talking about are very possible -- they just don't need to be on the character sheet.  In fact, I'm skeptical of their ability to be encoded in short descriptive phrases and numbers.  They're far more complex, squishy, subjective things, and they're best expressed through roleplay.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Andrew Morris on November 29, 2005, 12:46:21 PM
Have you looked at Dogs in the Vineyard? Because you could quite easily have traits like "I'm a good person" and "I protect my people" and similar ones. One of my current players has the trait "Y'all are supposed to listen to me" and another has "I know I'm not worthy of my position." Sound like what you're looking for?


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: lumpley on November 29, 2005, 01:30:22 PM
I'm going to go Joshua one further and say that your character only ever exists in your head and the heads of your fellow players - in what your group says and does and thinks and feels. The stuff on your "character" sheet isn't about your character at all - it's stuff that you, the real live player, have at your disposal when it comes time to decide how the game's going to go.

In lots of games, the stuff on your "character" sheet is named after stuff that's true of your character - but that's a coincidence or a mnemonic device, there's no genuine connection between them.

(And in lots of games, the stuff on your "character" sheet isn't useful to you when it comes time to decide how the game's going to go - it's empty nothing that happens to be named after stuff that's true of your character. We call those games "poorly designed" or, if you prefer, "crappy.")

This, by the way, is a simple restatement of the so-called Lumpley Principle.

-Vincent
Lookie me! I'm a frickin' PRINciple.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: TheTris on November 30, 2005, 01:34:09 AM
Andrew - yes it does, I'm talking about exactly some of those traits, but explicitly made part of character creation, so all characters have internal motivations.

Joshua/Vincent - I agree with what you are saying, if I'm reading it correctly.  I don't think you can ever have your character written out in full on a piece of paper, if you are playing more than just "Fighter #3".  I do think that this begs the question "Why have character sheets?"  To me it seems that they are a way of helping set down the character you are playing, to help you get to know them and their abilities.

If this is true, and a defined (and well designed) character generation process is desirable in a game, then I can't find a reason why exploring the roots of the character's psyche isn't a good idea.

Scratch that - it does depend on what I want to play.  My first ever character was a pawn.  I can remember his name and class, and some of his abilities, but he didn't really have any character.  I've found roleplaying more satisfying trying to portray characters with character, and I think that's what is driving this suggestion.  IF you are playing a game where you bother writing down your characters externalised beliefs, why not try to suggest where they have come from?


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Victor Gijsbers on November 30, 2005, 01:55:38 AM
All those good, juicy, engaging character traits and beliefs that you're talking about are very possible -- they just don't need to be on the character sheet.  In fact, I'm skeptical of their ability to be encoded in short descriptive phrases and numbers.  They're far more complex, squishy, subjective things, and they're best expressed through roleplay.

I'd say it's the task of a good RPG designer, given that he wants characters in his game to have these kinds of traits and beliefs, to ensure that they do - and a carefully designed character sheet might well be one of the most powerful tools available to her. The strong distinction you postulate between 'character sheet' and 'roleplay' does remind me of the old system versus roleplaying debate, which I'm sure we've all left far behind.

I'm going to go Joshua one further and say that your character only ever exists in your head and the heads of your fellow players - in what your group says and does and thinks and feels. The stuff on your "character" sheet isn't about your character at all - it's stuff that you, the real live player, have at your disposal when it comes time to decide how the game's going to go.

I think this matter is far more subtle than you make it out to be. The lumpley principle ("System is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.") certainly doesn't imply an ontology of characters. This is perhaps not the thread in which we should discuss this, but I'd nevertheless like to give a few counterexamples to your claim.

First, assume that we are playing a mystery game in which one of the player characters has committed a murder. None of the players know, as yet, whom the murderer is. However, each of the character sheets has a hidden part on which it says whether the character is innocent or the murderer. Also, the players have decided, beforehand, that this hidden part of the character sheet will at some point be revealed and is then authoritative with respect to pointing out the murderer. It seems very reasonable to say that it has already been determined which of the characters is the murderer; that it is therefore already fictionally true that one specific character has committed the murder. And yet none of the players knows who the murderer is. This truth about the character is only stated in the sheet. (Yet, because of the agreement, it is a truth about the character.)

Second, assume that you send me a character sheet used in your latest Dogs in the Vineyard game. According to your claims, upon receiving this piece of paper I still know absolutely nothing about your character. (Because the sheet "isn't about your character at all".) But this is simply not true. Given that I know the system of social conventions in which this artifact was produced - and I know this system, because it has been described in detail in a little book I own - I can deduce all kinds of things about the character just by looking at the sheet. There is no way I can have direct access to what was going on in the minds of you and your group - and yet I can get to know your character.

Hence I think it is too simplistic to say that characters only exist in the mind, and have no basis in the material of the character sheet.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Andrew Morris on November 30, 2005, 06:57:27 AM
I'm talking about exactly some of those traits, but explicitly made part of character creation, so all characters have internal motivations.

Okay. I'm not completely sure I'm understanding exactly what it is you're looking for, but I think I'm getting closer. Something with traits like those in Dogs in the Vineyard (http://www.lumpley.com/dogs.html), but with the requirement that they be character motivations? If that's the case, the closest thing I can think of is actually a LARP system still under development by Adam Cierling (WhiteRat (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=983) on these forums). It's called Ends and Means, and characters are made up of Ends (goals) and Means (personality traits, attitudes, and skills). Just because it's designed to be played as a LARP doesn't mean you can't use the system for a table-top game, however). Here are some links for Ends and Means: [Ends and Means] Debut (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=15204.0), [Ends and Means] Werewolves in L.A. (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=15256.0), [Ends and Means] Memorial Day Playtest (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16707.0), [Ends and Means] King Lothian's Court (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16884.0).

Of course, either DitV or Ends and Means could be adapted to your needs by simply making a rule that traits must express personality or motivations or whatever it is that you're looking for exactly.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: lumpley on November 30, 2005, 08:58:25 AM
Joshua/Vincent - I agree with what you are saying, if I'm reading it correctly. I don't think you can ever have your character written out in full on a piece of paper, if you are playing more than just "Fighter #3". I do think that this begs the question "Why have character sheets?" To me it seems that they are a way of helping set down the character you are playing, to help you get to know them and their abilities.

If this is true, and a defined (and well designed) character generation process is desirable in a game, then I can't find a reason why exploring the roots of the character's psyche isn't a good idea.

Scratch that - it does depend on what I want to play. My first ever character was a pawn. I can remember his name and class, and some of his abilities, but he didn't really have any character. I've found roleplaying more satisfying trying to portray characters with character, and I think that's what is driving this suggestion. IF you are playing a game where you bother writing down your characters externalised beliefs, why not try to suggest where they have come from?

Awesome questions.

What's your name, by the way?

Here's where I'm going to zoom in on you: To me it seems that they are a way of helping set down the character you are playing, to help you get to know them and their abilities.

That's half of the answer. That's the half of the answer that, in fact, you don't need a character sheet for. You can do just as well setting down your character and getting to know them with a notebook, or 3x5 cards, or a blog, or sketch paper, or whatever's handy.

The other half of the answer is that your character sheet contains your resources as a player of the game. If your resources as a player of the game aren't super simple, you oughta write them down, in a format that helps you a) find them easily and b) remember how to use them.

Now, historically, lots and lots of games have bobbled this. They've conflated these two in-principle-unrelated processes: imagining a fictional person and establishing a starting position for the player. What you have on your character sheet in those games is all kinds of random crap, some useful some not, some inspiring some not, some simply a record of how you got to the next thing.

So far so good?

[To me:] This is perhaps not the thread in which we should discuss this, but I'd nevertheless like to give a few counterexamples to your claim.
...
Hence I think it is too simplistic to say that characters only exist in the mind, and have no basis in the material of the character sheet.

If my answer to TheTris doesn't make you go "oh, right, I see," then yes, start a new thread.

You say "too simplistic," I say "a necessary starting point."

-Vincent


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Josh Roby on November 30, 2005, 09:30:31 AM
Vincent, while I first read your reply and nodded, I think you're reducing the character sheet to its core function and discarding its other potential uses as an artifact.  You are absolutely correct that character stats, as tools of credibility, relate directly to player power.  Hands down, the character sheet therefore presents a laundry list of player tools.  However, there's nothing to say that the expression of those tools can't also be evocative of the fictional content.  Having five coins to spend on actions and having Master Ninja 5d6 might be functionally the same in terms of how the player can affect the fiction, but the latter can certainly help inform the player (and the other players) about the character and world he's situated in whereas the five coins do not.  It's the difference between playing GURPS Swashbucklers where I have the same exact stats as when I play GURPS Traveller, or playing 7th Sea where I have a stats like Panache and Finesse -- it does lend play a certain feel which cannot be completely overlooked.

I also like making custom character sheets for specific campaigns; when we ran Riverworld I made a character sheet with little pictures of grailstone, ujoj, flint knives, and the like, so that everybody around the table had a similar conception of what these things looked like.  While this has little to do with character design as the OP presented, it is sort of an exagerrated example of the potential evocative quality of content presented on the character sheet.

So: character sheet as list of player tools?  Yes, definitionally.  Character sheet as evocative of character's psyche and fictional world?  Yes, possibly.  Character sheet as exhaustive description of entire character?  No, impossible.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: lumpley on November 30, 2005, 09:48:18 AM
So: character sheet as list of player tools?  Yes, definitionally.  Character sheet as evocative of character's psyche and fictional world?  Yes, possibly.  Character sheet as exhaustive description of entire character?  No, impossible.

Yep. Your "yes, possibly" matches my "in-principle-unrelated."

TheTris is like, "why is the stuff on my character sheet so unrelated to the inner truth of my character?" If you have a better answer than I do, I'm sure he or she would like to hear it. If you're going to argue with me about my answer instead, another thread would be better.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: lumpley on November 30, 2005, 10:03:12 AM
Mm, that was a little sharp, especially since Joshua you did answer.

I still think that a new thread would be a better place for us to hash out whatever differences we have - that kind of hashing won't help TheTris a bit.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Josh Roby on November 30, 2005, 11:29:25 AM
Tris, here's another way to look at it, from my game-in-progress Full Light, Full Steam:

In character generation, the first thing that you do is sit down with your fellow players and talk about the characters you want to play.  Then, with probably half-formed ideas of your characters, the first thing you put down on paper is their Thematic Batteries -- these are sort of the core element of the character, the "what the character is about."  Then you go on and do stats and stuff.  In play, you give yourself penalties and bonuses based on your TBs, and the reward system encourages other players to reference your TBs.  The game has a heavy emphasis on character exploration since so much of play hinges on these three Thematic Batteries.

Here's the thing, though: Thematic Batteries are very flexible, both in terms of options within a frame of player goals as well as in terms of options for those player goals.  Which may not be very clear.  If you sit down and you want to go all hardcore Narrativist with the game, you can load up your character with conflicts waiting to happen in the form of TBs like "Lady Officer," "Closet Homosexual," and "Proving Her Worth As a Soldier." (Or "Nice Guy," "Clever," and "No One Can Love Me.")  However, you could just as easily go Gamist and give your character "Eagle-Eyed," "Champion Pugilist," and "Dangerous."  Whichever tack you take, the system will reinforce those elements of the character throughout play, so if you take "Narrativist" batteries, you'll get narrativist play, and if you take "Gamist" batteries, you'll get gamist play.  Or so the theory goes.

Now, theoretically speaking you could have a Thematic Battery that is really long and detailed about your relationship with your father-figure and your need to prove yourself in light of past failures brought on by your upbringing in this-and-such et cetera, which could really get at the soul of the character that you're seeking, but you don't especially need to.  Still keeping all of that in your head, you can just put down "Proving Her Worth As a Soldier" on the character sheet.  When you actually play you can bring in all the rest of that stuff to express that kernel that you wrote down, in shorthand form, on your character sheet.  It seems to me that the expression of character (or exploration of character) is the thing you're after -- character design and character sheets are tools to produce that expression, but are not the expression itself.

How's that?  Clear as mud?


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Josh Roby on November 30, 2005, 11:36:26 AM
Although some systems are less obvious, they still largely seem to compromise the character's wholeness by approaching the character as if looking at it from that childlike point of view where you haven't yet realised that everyone else is also a compete person, not just animated and interesting scenery.

Oh, in case the above wasn't obvious, that all applies to NPCs, ships, ports, sets, and any other "non-furniture" elements of the fiction.  Their TBs work only slightly differently, but still encourage the same sort of recurrent reference that generates elaboration of the basic themes.  Additionally, storymapping works directly off of the PCs thematic batteries and explicitly creates character foils for the PCs to interact with -- so your Lady Officer character may be confronted with a Moneyed Debutante or the like.  In any case, though, the character sheets generated will still be tools to express the characters, not really expressions of the characters themselves.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: charles ferguson on November 30, 2005, 04:01:16 PM
Hi TheTris

A bunch of interesting points have come up in the thread so far. While they've come from the same starting place they lead in some disparate directions.
I'm not sure which to post on because I don't know which one/s will help answer your question/s.

Can you restate your question or questions to let us know what you most want to discuss?

thx for the meaty topic bTW

cheers charles


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: TheTris on December 01, 2005, 02:35:08 AM
Okay guys, my name is Tris (well, Tristan, but most people say Tris), pleased to meet you all (and slightly awed in some cases) :-D.

What's been said has helped me clarify in my head what sort of thing I'm talking about in more specific terms, so I'll try to clarify...

The thing that really hit me was Vincent pointing out the distinction between imagining a fictional character, and providing a resource for the player to use in play.  Now I believe these two things are related - one of the major resources in many games is surely the fictional character that you imagine - it is a fundamental part of the resources for the player to use when roleplaying.  Still, what he said did really hit me, because it nailed absolutely what I was trying to articulate.

I'm not talking about a source of authority, or (necessarily) a mechanical use.  I am talking about (pretty much exactly) "...a way of helping set down the character you are playing, to help you get to know them..." and I had also envisioned sharing that information with other players to build more focussed and interesting roleplaying.

So here we go:

* There are actually two processes in creating a character for most RPGs.  Imagining your character, and writing down numbers/descriptors on a piece of paper.

* In games I have experienced, the character creation system does not explicitly address what your character's self is built on.  The furthest they tend to go is a statement of the emergent beliefs that come from the internal foundations.

* Some people probably do imagine their character in enough depth that they know about his messiah complex, and build more external character traits on that, just as in my first ever game some people probably had more concept of their character as a person than "he's a thief called Sylphan with a longsword".

* It seems to me that some roleplaying games would benefit from a character creation system that made explicit the foundations of a character's personality.  In this way the characters can be addressed more directly by the scenes that play out, and players can be encouraged to think past the obvious external expressions of a character's self, and down to what really makes them tick.

What I'm looking for example:

In this documentary I mentioned, the psychologist predicted that Hitler would withdraw from public life the worse things went for Germany.  Where Churchill become more visible when things were going badly, to help shore up morale and fighting spirit, the psychologist realised that Hitler had papered over his internal feelings of inadequacy, and drew large amounts of self respect and value from the feelings of adoration and respect from the people.  He was unable to face people who no longer idolised him, and withdrew from public life.

The closest RPG character creation systems that I've experienced would have got to the personalities of these two leaders would be "believes victory is imperative" and "charismatic leader".  Which actually doesn't separate them at all, when actually one of them reacted extremely badly to a given situation, because it challenged the things he drew self value from, and the other just carried on.

So I'm looking for a character generation process that

1) Encourages people to build characters with these foundations
 
2) Makes the foundations available to everyone else playing.

3?) Uses these foundations in any way people can think of that enhances character based roleplaying.

Hopefully that's clearer?

Joshua:  Your Thematic Batteries sound like a great idea, though what I'm looking for here is a way of getting at what is beneath the TBs chosen.  I would be most interested to hear about the reward system for addressing TBs of other players, though it's perhaps not for this thread.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Josh Roby on December 01, 2005, 09:30:41 AM
Yes, Tris -- what we commonly refer to as "Character Generation" is not generating characters, but assigning numerical (or verbal) descriptors to characters that we have usually already 'generated' in our heads.  Historically, character generation rules were a guideline for that process, "rolling up" a random character and elaborating from there, but I'd agree that this is not how it's usually played today.  What you are advocating when you say you want a "character generation system" seems to be more tips, help, and perhaps guidelines on how to design an interesting (and perhaps realistically motivated) fictional person, irregardless of the character stats used to encode them, and to communicate those things to your fellow players so that everybody's on the same page about the character.

As a point of clarification, do you expect this to happen before roleplay begins, or as a continual process both before and during roleplay?  I'd propose to you that roleplaying is this process of communicating the intricacies of your character to the other players.

As for FLFS, Tris, if you want to get at what is "beneath" my examples, then you make that level your thematic batteries -- "Messiah Complex" works perfectly well for a TB.  The point of the matter is, whatever "it" is for you that makes the character tick you put in that slot -- it then allows you to manipulate character actions around it, predicates the content of play on it, and encourages other players to address it.  More on the Reward System is available in this thread: [FLFS] Reward System At Last! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16898.0)


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Adam Cerling on December 01, 2005, 09:39:26 AM
Tris,

Do I understand correctly that you want to see more useful detail on the character sheet, such that – for example – other players could look at Churchill’s character sheet and predict how he would react in the face of mounting opposition?

That seems like it would be an exhaustive amount of detail to provide. How much is enough? New situations crop up all the time that you need to address in new ways. How could you predict every psychological quirk that might possibly have an impact? Moreover -- wouldn’t the game get boring if you could?

An example from Actual Play last night:

I was playing the Pool. In the 50-word story that’s part of character creation, I wrote that I (my character) had been enslaved in my adolescence and forced into pit fighting. I had since escaped that life. But I never described anywhere on my character sheet how I felt toward the mage who had enslaved me. I only had some half-formed, unspoken ideas about my character having bought his freedom.

When the GM surprised me by having my former slave master show up to confront the party, I tossed a surprise right back. The GM had expected me to want to kill the man. Instead I greeted him respectfully and learned what he wanted. He and I reached a cautious compromise between his objectives and mine.

The character sheet didn’t tell me what to do: I had to decide, in the moment, that while I hated the man, I also wasn’t the sort of fellow who keeps a grudge, and therefore I considered my past with him settled the day I bought my freedom.

Would it have helped me if my character sheet had said, “Hates former master,” “Doesn’t keep grudges,” and “Considers his past with his master settled and done”? I would have known exactly how to behave in that situation before it came up. But that wouldn’t have been fun. Everyone would have known just what to expect from me. I would have painting by the numbers – not creating something new. As it was, nobody at the table could have predicted what I'd do, not even me, and it was thrilling.

An alternative:

How would you feel about a game that doesn’t lay out these traits ahead of time, but allows you to write them in after you discover them? In Vincent Baker’s game Dogs in the Vineyard, after you go through a tough challenge where you realize in play that your character is overcompensating for an inferiority complex, you can use the system to add a Trait “Overcompensating for an Inferiority Complex” to the character sheet. This Trait gives you more dice later situations when it crops up.


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: Andrew Morris on December 01, 2005, 11:13:17 AM
Tris, let me just check something. Are you saying you want a system that defines a character by core motivations and/or qualities, and then encourages/forces/rewards in-game actions that stem from those core traits? Possibly in reliable, consistent, and/or predefined ways?


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: M. J. Young on December 01, 2005, 07:31:13 PM
I've a couple of things to add here.

First, if you haven't seen it, Legends of Alyria (http://alyria.blogspot.com/) might be important in this discussion. Character "attributes" don't describe anything specific--force means whether the character is forceful, and not specifically whether that's force of personality or brute strength--and "traits" really have much more the form of values in most cases, such as "values her friends" or "protects his honor".

Second, I want to clarify some of what's been said about character sheets. What the character sheet is (and I think Victor was hinting at this) is an authority which provides support for statements made about the character, either alone or in concert with other authorities. An authority, in our local jargon, means anything to which a player/participant can appeal to give credibility to a statement concerning in-game reality. Thus if the paper says my character has blond hair, I can make that statement and if challenged point to the paper. Similarly, I can use my level, skill, agility, equipment, whatever is relevant, from my paper, together with charts and dice to provide the necessary support to make true the statement, "I hit the orc." I don't hit the orc, and I don't have blond hair, because it's on my character paper; I hit the orc, and I have blond hair, because I said it, and it was accepted as true by the other players. What is on my character paper is not more (nor less) than the authority which allows me to assert what I said and have it accepted.

In this, and contrary, I think, to what I read from Vincent, it does not matter whether the paper is created from the character (most true, I think, in Multiverser (http://www.mjyoung.net/publish/), where character generation amounts to describing yourself or your imagined character within the game stats) or the character from the paper (which I think, from many years of experience, is the case with OAD&D). The character exists only in the shared imagined space; the paper exists only outside it. Whatever the manner in which the two are created, once they exist the paper supports the character by documenting facts about it that might be important to play.

The distinction Vincent makes about the qualities of the character and the tools of the player is useful but confusing. The tools of the player are ultimately qualities of the character, and vice versa, in the sense that each are about what statements the player can credibly make about the shared imagined space while playing that character. The distinction is rather one of degree, in that some information on the character sheet (blond hair) is directly visible within the shared imagined space while other information (forty-eight percent chance to hit) must be processed with other authorities to impact the shared imagined space.

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young


Title: Re: Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old
Post by: TheTris on December 02, 2005, 12:27:30 AM
Joshua:

I'd respectfully disagree, I think.  A defined character generation process doesn't just have to be about the numbers, but can also be an aide in generating a well realised and interesting character.  The 20 questions advocated in some games, for instance, where the other players and the GM ask you questions about your character's personality and history.

And then I'd agree.  The Thematic Batterys, sufficiently constrained, could address what makes a character tick.

WhiteRat:

More detail, not to a huge extent.  And certainly not to exhaustive "when faced with stress above a moderate level he tends to smoke 50% more often, and ring his father, secretly hoping he'll get some good advice" levels.  More pointers.  I think I'm saying "If you note down that your character doesn't like it when people laugh at him, isn't it more interesting to note down the root cause of that, and isn't the root cause a more fundamental part of who that character is?"

Re: Actual play, it would certainly have helped if your character had "Proud that I bought my freedom" as a self-worth thingy (I really need to use a consistant term :-).  This would also mean that there would be no chance of dissonance in the SIS for players who had seen that character act earlier, built an assumption of who he was, and then see him act in a completely opposite fashion, because your imagined root causes (if you had any) were different from theirs.

DiTV - that sounds like an extended form of character generation into play.  And that is the sort of character generation I'm thinking of, although I would prefer a system to do it mainly before play started, to encourage players to "get" their characters.

Andrew:

Not exactly.  I'd say a character generation system that encourages players to think about these foundations, build a character on those foundations, and use them in play.  Many players may already do this, I'd like a system that encourages it.  (and lets other players access those foundations to set up interesting roleplaying).

M.J.Y:

Okay.  I think I understand what you are saying about character sheets.  Let's exclude any talk of authority in this thread if that's okay? (and if people don't think it's fundamentally tied in with the subject).  I want to talk about the generation process that provides players with a route to realising characters in more depth.

Thanks to everyone who's posted - this is all really really interesting :-)