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Author Topic: [Sudden Light] Protagonist Generation  (Read 2559 times)
Paul S

Posts: 25

« on: June 24, 2006, 08:02:59 AM »

Can improvisational exercises contribute to RPG character generation?  I've seen games, such as Primetime Adventures, encourage group kibitzing for generating individual characters and I've found that process to be particular helpful in a collaborative character generation.  I'd like to focus Sudden Light around group character generation.  As it currently stands, my game design divides the traits of a singular character amongst three players, making it especially important that fruitful and collaborative character generation especially important.

The following mechanics emerged from several class exercises practiced in a class I'm currently taking, "Improvisation and Creative Writing."  One such exercise consisted of passing around an object especially important to a group member, with each person completing the sentence "I see..."  Anther exercise had the writer name a topic and each group member in turn completing the sentence "When I think of (topic the author named), I think of..."

Through the course of these exercises, I was surprised at how often group members would "build" off of previous group contributions in creative and unexpected ways.  For instance, for the object exercise, I passed around my wedding ring.  One group member said "I see your partner."  When my ring came back to me, I said "I see my corpse wearing this ring."  Then, another group member built off of that trajectory and said "I see your grave being robbed."  These images would never have immediately sprung to my mind, but they are incredibly powerful and evocative.

The following is an attempt to weave together improvisational sensibilities with RPG character generation.  The goal of these mechanics is to encourage the generation of unexpected characteristics and descriptive phrases through group collaboration.

Mechanics: Generating the Protagonist

All stories in Sudden Light will concentrate on a singular Protagonist represented by one player.  While the Protagonist will no doubt interact with many other interesting NPC's with rich stories of their own, this game, thematically and mechanically, concentrates on the struggle of a singular individual to free themselves and transcend their limited perspective to be  transformed by a greater revelation.

All three players should collaborate to generate the history, personality, and beliefs of the Protagonist.  While one player will have the sole responsibility of role-playing the Protagonist, each player will have a keen interest in helping to determine what makes the Protagonist tick.

To generate the Protagonist, each player, in turn, should be given a few minutes to think out loud, simply naming qualities, quirks, characteristics, and any other images that springs to mind concerning the their vision of an interesting Protagonist in a setting framed by the Truth, the Lie, and the Machine.  Other players should feel free to ask the brainstormer questions about any of the elements that he or she names, which can very well generate further Aspects of the Protagonist for exploration.  Allow the player each ample opportunity to envision and describe interesting characteristics of the Protagonist.

After all players have had a few minutes to brainstorm, grab a pen and a piece of paper, preferably legal-sized or larger.  The group should agree on the name of the Protagonist, write it on the center of the sheet, and circle it.  Randomly determine who should go first.  This first player should name a quality, person, belief, place, occupation, idea, or anything else which they believe would be especially important to the Protagonist living in the established context.  These qualities are called Aspects.  After writing a word or a descriptive phrase that they believe would be especially important to the Protagonist, the player should circle that Aspect and draw a line that connects both circles.  The player should pass the sheet to her immediate left and the new player should then write another Aspect.  This circled aspect could connect to either the Protagonist's name, or could be connect with the first Aspect.  Eventually, the sheet should be filled with a web of short descriptive words or phrases.

This exercise is meant to stir the imagination and creative juices all players.  Players should blurt out whatever comes to mind as she or her is inspired by previously names qualities.  Players should be urged to name Aspects and pass the page as quickly as possible, allowed no more than a few moments for each player turn.  A player who cannot name an Aspect in more than a few seconds, should say "pass" and allow the next player a chance to contribute. Not every description named will be used and players should feel free name whatever qualities might spring to mind.  If a player is stuck, they should repeat a previously named Aspect and complete the sentence "When you named [the previously named Aspect], I thought of ___________________."

The generation of these Aspects should be allowed to continue for as long as possible, until all players "pass" or there is no more room left on the page.  At the absolute minimum, potential Aspects on the page should not number less than 20-25.

Next, each players should declare what role or sphere of influence they would like to represent in game play.  Available roles are; the Protagonist, the Sublime Guide, and the Mundane Guide.  Each role must have one player and no player can fill more than one role.

After these initial steps are complete, pass the sheet filled with potential Aspects to the first player who  initiated the brainstorming.  If this player is playing the Protagonist, the player should pass the sheet to her immediate left (the Protagonist player does not participate in this step).  This Guide should then "claim" a listed Aspect.  Guides should choose Aspects that they find particularly interesting or intriguing and should make a mark by the Aspect to represent that it is unavailable for selection by the other Guide.  Players should only claim Aspects which they could plausibly associate with either the Truth (for the Sublime Guide) or the Lie (for the Mundane Guide).  This next Guide should choose a listed a Aspect and pass the page to the first Guide.  This process should continue until all Aspects have been claimed.  For best game play, each Guide should, at minimum, have ten claimed Aspects.

The Sublime and Mundane Guides each have 10 points to allocate to any Aspects of their choosing.  The higher the Aspect rating, the more important the Aspect is to the Protagonist.  An Aspect with a rating of 5 might be a young child, a true love, warm memory of a grandparent, a dream job, a secret overwhelming obsession, ect.  An Aspect with a rating of 1 is only vaguely connected to the Protagonist's life, such as passing fad, a friendly business associate, etc.

Guides do not have to allocate any points to a claimed Aspect.  No Aspect may be rated at more than five points, but players may max out any Aspect if they so choose, although hedging all bets on one or two Aspects can be a risky proposition..  On average, Sublime and Mundane Guides will have an average of 3-5 Aspects rated at 2-3 points apiece.

Once this is complete, the Sublime and Mundane Guides should explain how each one of their Aspects relate to the Protagonist and how these Aspects might challenge the Protagonist with Truth (for the Sublime Guide) or how they function to keep the Protagonist tethered to the Lie (for the Mundane Guide).  For example, the Aspect "best friend" might be described as a loyal and caring compatriot who could help the Protagonist become aware the divinity of all human beings or, alternatively, could be described as a drug-dealing lowlife who continually drags the Protagonist to ever deepening levels of degradation.

While the Protagonist character will be represented via Aspects during game play, the Protagonist player only has one trait; Will.  Will is derived from the sum of the single lowest Aspects of the Sublime and Mundane Guide's Aspects.


Questions for Consideration:  How do you imagine these mechanics might work among players you normally game with?  Is the improv. sensibility too strong here, or might many groups you know already be comfortable with such group collaboration?  How might you tweak the mechanics to more fully encourage full group participation?  Are any of the above mechanics for character generation (excluding comments concerning the Truth, the Lie, and the Machine; coming soon!) too vague or confusing?
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