Thursday, May 10, 2012

Character Creation Risks: A PC that doesn't, or won't, fit

Hey-ho, sorry for not doing the expected posts but I spent an entire day (until 10pm, no less) at a course on Tuesday and a proper, full day (with following exhaustion) on Wednesday. I will be doing a post soon enough on the last Pathfinder game and at some point will also write up some ideas on how to get a working party but for now I'm going to talk about the tricky nature of creating a character that is a) cool; b) liked by the other players (if not PCs); and c) will actually let you do what you want to do.

That latter part is actually quite tricky indeed.

Over the years I've seen many accidental design clashes where one aspect of the character denies the player's ability to do what they wanted to do.

One player designed a character to eventually become the ship's captain and give him the personality of a highly chaotic, smarter-than-he-acts, guy who seems quite crazy, unfocused and unpredictable.

Another player wanted to play an investigative, exploratory game and create a hideous Nosferatu who would've had to hide in Obfuscate during many of the other character's social encounters and whose primary focus was on talking to his contacts on the phone and spying on the enemy vampires in Obfuscate. A neat character concept, but when I challenged the player by asking: "But what would you do during the sessions?" the player was stumped because unless the other players created similar characters, everything he'd do would be in downtimes.

We're all guilty of it.

In part, I think it's because of a few assumptions we make as players which is, namely, that being a player is easy. It's effortless (or should be) and if we really wanted to spend time thinking about the game, especially about the mechanics of it, or how it works or doesn't work, then we'd be Storytellers and Game Masters. The reasons for this assumption varies from a desire to let the actual Game Master have more control over their work, to the possibility that our efforts will be meaningless due to the type of Game Master or other players we have to deal with, to the fact that for many of us it's a plug-and-play hobby.

Heck, sometimes just throwing some dots on the sheet and coming up with a personality works brilliantly. The party has a strange alchemy where they all get along (or don't, in equally entertaining fashion) and the character we built just works for us. Sometimes, if the character doesn't work the way we intended, that can be equally fantastic as we explore new sides of the world or the game that we didn't know existed. That sense of surprise and adventure can be absolutely great.

The trouble comes when we have our hearts set on something and then paint ourselves into a corner. Or when the character's entire make up has them completely uninspired by the plots, the hooks, the NPCs, the PCs, and everything else, and thus digs in its heels and bogs the game down.

Some players have the knack of tweaking their character to make it fit with their desires if at first it doesn't work. Others wouldn't dream of tweaking their characters once they've been played and are determined to be 'true to character'. Others try to tweak, but find that the character has a mind of its own (much as author's sometimes find) and that the character keeps reverting to type.

So, sure, you can ditch the character and try again, but what are some ways to get around the hazards on the first try?

Well, ask yourself some essential questions to either generate a character, or ask them once the character has already BEEN generated:

1. What is this game about and what are its genre conventions and demands on characters?

2. What do I want to do in that sort of game? What parts of it interest me? What doesn't?

3. What is everyone else doing and what niche do I want? This is easier in Pathfinder than in World of Darkness, but no less significant. There's nothing worse than having nothing to do because everyone else can do it better.

4. Is this niche something I can actually explore in this game? Being a mounted fighter won't help much in an Underdark campaign.

5. What kind of person would somewhat fit all of these answers? Or, alternatively with an already created character: Can this character's personality, goals, motivations, and skills mesh with these answers?

6. And most importantly, if it doesn't, what will the effects be and am I all good with that? Will the other players and the Game Master be okay with that? How can I work around any sticking points?

So, going with that Nosferatu idea:

1. The game is a defined milieu. There's abominations lurking in the shadows, strange tainted reservoirs that have utterly eroded most vampire's humanity / sanity, and stranger things are afoot. There's a palpable sense of mystery here and the Nosferatu fits in with that paranoia and conspiracy vibe, though it favors that over the more exploratory elements.

2. The tainted vampires belong to a previous LARP game ran (mostly NPCs but also some old PCs) so there's an interest in what they're doing now that this character very much suits. The player has also been keen on investigative games, recently, and this character works well with that. It's also kind of an oWoD Nosferatu vibe (information gatherer) rather than a nWoD one, but that really works here too.

3. Who knows, but this is where it starts to bog down. The other players would need to play rather particular characters, and show an interest in spying on the other vampires, in order for this character to get much mileage during the sessions.

4. It's certainly possible to explore it, though there may be resistance from other PCs, and certainly will be resistance here during the occasions when the other PCs talk to the NPCs. It may become frustrating to constantly twiddle your thumbs and be silent when they deal with humans. There may be ways around this, depending on the type of deformities, and because the thicker atmosphere has strained the masquerade enough that people are pointedly trying to maintain it just to retain faith in the world.

5. Yes, so long as there are other things that he can do during the socialising with humans bits.

6. It would be worth checking with the other players, and ensuring their characters don't clash entirely with that, because if they're mostly planning on surfing from party to party and staying in the light surrounded by people, then this could be a problem. There's certainly ways around the sticking point, such as if he poked around their places looking for clues and reading their appointment books using sleight of hand while the person spoke to the others. The Nosferatu's player would also have to accept not being able to speak, or perhaps tweaking the deformities so that while they ARE still grossly deformed, it's in a very human way.

So there you have it. A few questions and some extra fore-thought and a lot of issues can be easily dealt with in the creation stage. After all, almost any concept can be used with a bit of work so long as the right motives are in place.

Hell, I'm playing a prissy noblewoman shlocking around Ustalav with a tiefling and a paladin, but she has a sorcerer bloodline ability that prevents her shoes from getting dirty; she's more intelligent than she acts; and her curiosity is one of her biggest drives which keeps leading her to do things she wouldn't otherwise do. Without the right motives, there'd be a good chance I'd spend all the time sitting on my horse calling out encouragement and casting spells from the road (and twiddling my thumbs). So where there's a will, there's a way.

What advice do you guys have?


  1. This has never happened to me... oh, hi, dead Cecilia.

  2. Ouch! Yeah, though she really emphasised what Silent Hill was about in a very genre blind, don't-go-out-there way.