A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Of forming characters

I have been an avid role player ever since I met this geek during my first year of university studies in Oulu, fell madly in love, moved to live together with him and continued my existence in a bliss of playing role playing games and board games, studying, reading, watching sci-fi films and tv-shows, learning to paint miniatures and much, much more. I've since left most of this behind me, along with the geek - now my role playing games have moved on to the communication devices provided to us by the interwebs, my board game sessions are few and far between each other, I've switched studying into teaching and I seldom watch tv, but all in all, a very generous part of my life has been affected by games and gaming.

One of the most enjoyable things to me about role playing games is the making up of a character and as I'm hopefully soon going to embark on another quest in that direction, I thought about sharing my thoughts about the process I so dearly love, and maybe describe some of the characters from my past lives.

First of all, it is completely possible to make a character completely at random. Or, in a similar setting, to take up a character designed by someone else, bring something of your own into her if you so wish, and start playing. I've made several characters like this and even though I've not always been totally happy with the results, it remains one of my favourite ways to build a character. Usually it involves a set of tables and throwing of the dice - the results are then recorded on a sheet of paper, which represents the character in the game and includes things such as their abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and general characteristics, depending on the game. One of my first characters (second, in fact) was Stern Severine, whom I created into the cruel world of WH40K. Stern ended up being a human male from a Shrine World with high Ballistics Skill and the occupation of a guardsman. These things were all randomly generated from several different character creation tables in a rules book. 

Stern ended up being something of a country potato, with a love for alcohol, he was only allowed to drink in honour of someone's birthday (luckily, it's someone's birthday everyday) and a deep, brotherly attachment to his autogun. I did not finish the game in question with Stern, as I came to be bored with the way I could advance his skills eventually - and so I created another character, with an IDEA behind her. That character, created on the same system, also took some randomly generated numbers with her, but she retained the high Ballistics score, took a bit more into Intelligence than Stern had had and with a considerably high Willpower score became an Imperial Psyker, with mind controlling powers. I loved Xanthia dearly from the moment she strolled into my head and her backstory became much more complex than Stern's had been - born in Gunmetal city to pretty normal parents, it came as a bit of a shock to her family when her psychic powers manifested along with her puberty - she was shipped off to the Emperor's Seat with the Black Ships, where she alienated herself from basically every other human being or otherwise - she arrived to Terra and was assigned a brutal teacher after her success in the elimination process for Psykers and fell in love with the teacher's kindly assistant, whose recurrence later in the game caused her deep emotional trouble. She developed much more nicely than Stern had and even saw some personality and other changes, or growth, during play.

Sometimes, I've also created characters whom the GM has had a certain idea for, but myself, not so much - and the result has been equally entertaining in the end. For an anime game of BESM I once created a character in unison with the GM in order to fill in the party leader's role. Kadis was a bit of a rough sketch in the beginning, having few specific personality traits or game hooks to rely on, apart from her mind controlling powers, slight delusions of grandeur (from being a petty noble and the leading investigator) and weird, easily distractible mind set (from seeing her long-lost husband around every corner). I recently found an old background I had written for Kadis, which stated among other things that she was from a slightly better-off merchant family, who married into the nobility and joined a secret society in order to track down her husband, who had disappeared shortly after their wedding. In the beginning I was rather timid in playing with her, but in the course of the game she developed her personality and backstory a bit more (if not her skills and abilities) and in the end I could play as her quite fluently whenever the opportunity arose. Her backstory evolved into having been pregnant with a baby girl when her husband went missing, prompting her to go looking for him and eventually finding his remains in some distant part of the world where he had unsuccessfully tried to complete a mission from the self-same secret society Kadis joined to find him. This event messed up with Kadis' head some, and caused her to passive-actively block some of her more unwelcome memories, which then again led into her seeing her late-husband everywhere, believing him to be still alive. All in all, a great character to have lived with.

My idea of what Kadis might have looked like, slightly younger though. Can't remember where I got the picture, not my work, if find credits, will credit the appropriate artist.

I suppose one of the most difficult types of characters to create are the ones you need to those one-off, quick, not-too-descriptive indie storytelling games, where you decide maybe three things about your character and then start to formulate a story with your fellow players. I usually require a short (or long) time to mull the character in my head, come to grips with her personality, quirks and the like, before I can start actively make decisions on her behalf. Before I've managed to do that, I'm most often making decisions as myself, but with the make-believe assumption that the character is making them. 

It is not too rare to see me create characters who are almost, but not quite entirely, the complete opposite of me - a macho, gun-ho male, whose idea in life is to drink, wrestle and get laid. A bit similar to Stern, and somewhat similar to some of my dwarf characters in the more high fantasy settings, actually. Such as the dwarf character I've played in ADD, whose love for sneaking around and having lots of pockets are only paralleled by his love of chopping the heads off of things with his axe. Characters like these are enjoyable because I get to ponder things which I rarely ponder as myself. I get to be the powerful person who protects everyone. Or the sly bastard who tries to pocket away most of the loot for herself. Or the sensual witch who uses her sexuality as a weapon as adeptly as her spells or her sickle. It is a great fun to play such a character, interact with the other characters and see how events unfold. And this, in my opinion, is one the greatest aspects of role playing games. They present you the ability to explore those sides of yourself that you either don't have at all or don't show to the rest of the world when you are playing this game we call Life as yourself.

On the other side of the same coin there are naturally those characters who hit a bit closer to home. With maybe slightly bigger breasts added. Or pointier ears. With them the joy comes from the ease of play - the choices you make are similar to choices you would yourself make, you do not need to think everything over from the point of view of the character, and you can play with the attitude I myself usually incorporate the most whenever playing video games - you can be a nice person and help those around you. One of the best characters falling into this category from my repertoire is Boo. Boo is a half-orc male (well, maybe not so close to home), who has always loved the rhythm so much, that he became a bard even though his peers gave him the name 'Boo' by shouting it at him during his early performances. He also has a pet rat called Minsc, which is just because the game allows such things. Boo likes hammers and clonking together of heads and he also likes Sir Thyrkills Thormson, whose great adventures he is privileged to follow and recount in his own, oratory kind of way. He is always there to drum his friends out of trouble, giving them a +2 bonus to everything (one more level and its +3! yay!) from damage to attack score and the rest of the time he just follows quietly along with Sir Thyrkills and Appokar and Eyrien and Jared and others, who didn't die in the last dungeon and any new acquaintances they might acquire due to old acquaintances dying in the last dungeon. Boo is as (in)active in the group as I myself would be in distinguished company, but he wants to help as much as he can, as I would, and he usually resorts to doing the thing he does best, as I would do and concentrating on help and support more than on the offensive. Actually, Boo was first supposed to be a bit more offensive, but after we as a pair witnessed some of the heroics of our friendly neighbourhood paladin and fighter-dwarf, we decided to move on to the support side and hand out Cure Light or Moderate spells whenever they were needed. Because we're a Bard and Bards can do that, too.

After having spent most of my time as a player, I took a leap of great courage and landed myself in the spotlight as the GM, too. And the characters I've created as a GM have been of great variety as well, ranging from country scribes with an acorn for the brain (hey, it was a mouse, ed. note) to battle-ship battle-team commanders with a sapphire-blue power armor and a hammer to match. Some of them have remained as the quick, one-off characters with only a weird accent and an even weirder name to account for their existence, but some have been as fully developed as any character I would have created for a game myself. As such, I tend to love them as I would my own, which is something too bad from the players' point of view, who are actually supposed to be in the spotlight. Sometimes I try to love everyone equally, or at least love my own characters more privately, but sometimes I make a blind, smoking hot Companion figure with the name of Lucius and keep on thinking of ways to make him appear in the game more... Up till now I haven't received many negative comments about my characters as a GM, although I've noticed that the more I plan ahead for the session the more I tend to railroad (i.e. guide in the direction I want them to go) the players and the less I plan, the more improvising and creativity I allow for my players. So I usually opt for the latter, although the former can be just as entertaining.

So, to sum up. Characters. They're a lot of fun. I sincerely recommend them to everyone.

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