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Character design from the eyes of a 5 year old

Started by TheTris, November 29, 2005, 07:39:05 AM

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Quote from: Joshua BishopRoby on November 30, 2005, 12:30:31 PM
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.



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.


Josh Roby

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?
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Josh Roby

Quote from: TheTris on November 29, 2005, 07:39:05 AMAlthough 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.
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charles ferguson

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


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.
My real name is Tristan

Josh Roby

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!
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Adam Cerling


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.
Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.

Andrew Morris

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?
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M. J. Young

I've a couple of things to add here.

First, if you haven't seen it, Legends of Alyria 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, 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



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.


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.


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).


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 :-)

My real name is Tristan