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Thursday, January 1, 2015

How do we connect with character's in RPG's

IN my last post you might have notice I included a video-Log-Pod-Cast thingy of myself and some players running through some very random character generation.

The process and the video got me thinking about Characters and our connections to them.
There are very few things in Role playing games that will effect the style and general tenor of play more than how connected to their character each player is.
If a player does not give a shit about their character, they will make bad decisions and look for trouble in a way no one ever really would.

I look at it as the characters in the RPG became allot like the you avatar in a Grand Theft Auto game. Naturally you'll yoke a guy out of his car and shoot him, because the  consequences are nil and you honestly don't care about the avatar you're controlling. If the cops come and  shoot you, you re-spawn, poof, new avatar lets go do it again. Having disposable characters gives a player with the desire to do so an open invitation to troll the game world.

As Gm's we have tools to deal with this kind of thing. First and foremost if a player is not interested in the flavor of game your going to run, don't have them back. That may sound harsh , but some  players have one idea about what an RPG should be like while others might have totally different ideas all together. That's fine, in fact it's one of my favorite parts of the hobby, the circus tent of RPG's is big enough for everyone. However just because there is room in the tent does not mean I have to have the clown at my table.

OK....Beheaded clown .. details details


The more subtle method would be to advance an olive leaf and ask the player what they would need for them to care about their character a bit more. The answer might surprise you, it could be a simple, "I really would rather have this or that option but the game rules say I can't."  As the GM you can fix that. Or it might be  "I have not been able to go into my back story at all like I wanted." The Gm can fix that as well. That's another great thing about RPG's the GM has a great deal of ability to fix things, by giving players options and working with the  players to assure they have some character hook to latch onto.

Giving a bit here and there is well worth having invested players. Invested players will bring more to the table each and every time you play, further more they wont go do stupid things simply to see the consequences, they will want the characters to continue on. The players will want to play out their character's story.

It is in this way that I find my current project AAIE is at the start at least, irrevocably broken. The game asks of the players to invest in a character that they have very little control over the content of. A character that might be completely borked right out of the gate. For many RPG gamers I can understand how this would be counter intuitive or even worse off putting. 

If the player is a min-maxer by nature or even remotely hung up on having a statistically viable character I can understand them hating a random character to the point where they want to see the  poor SOB dead. It's the same way I know some people would never roll an AD&D character with the "3D6 in order," technique, and why some folks hate the  idea of a DCC style character funnel. The whole game can if allowed to, devolve into that kid you used to game with who would show up to the game with a binder of 30 first edition characters all named Carl.


In my case there is a turning point, and this is where I think AAIE shines even beyond some more well realized and less gimmicky games. There is a moment when the character clicks, (for me it was when My character hit 2nd level and then got his arm snapped backwards by a trapped door.) 
That character I rolled up randomly, a human warrior with  a solid 1 third of his stats at the minimum possible value, and  puff ball like lesions all over his body due to a mutation, that guy is a survivor. 

I set an animated paper bull un-fire, I rode a giant wooden wasp, I critical hit a snot-filled dragonet with a fire poker and  took it's damn eye out! I don't want him to die because he has already survived more than he should have. I want to earn more skills, I want to get trained in an actual weapon, I want to see what this character can become. All the time realizing I am always one roll away from getting my head caved in. Just typing this I started thinking about what happens when I retire him? Should I make him an NPC? What if the next roll I take is a fumble and he dies some horrid death?
You see, now that I have given a shit, I wont stop He's my character now.)

Bringing me at last to this bit of perhaps hyperbolic Game Therory:

  • An RPG system is only as strong as the connections it creates between the player and his or her character.


Some games try to create the connection and do it on the front end. There are ways to attempt to get the  players invested quickly, like D&D is trying to do with it's back grounds, a game like Champions having a very detailed character creation wherein a player can almost always get exactly what they want. Different still is a game like Sorcerer where the  relationship between the characters humanity and the needs of his or her demon make for instantly interesting dynamics. I think this is a wiser road to travel, simply because I think invested players are more attentive players. 

Games such as D&D or AD&D and more recently Numenera rely on the adventures the characters go on to get the players hooked in. Yes in basic D&D  all first level fighters are generally the same statistically but by the time the character hits third level, the  player is generally hooked, that's their fighter now, "Don't mess with Sir Peckshred! HE will Mess Yo UP!" 
In those games the player has to get the player / character connection on the tail end. It requires a bit of patients, GM finesse, and willingness to find the  character though it's deeds. Though I think that creating  player investment right away is  the best practice, I also think that connecting through play creates even stronger bonds between character and player once everything starts to click.

A system that promotes player investment in their characters is going to  be a system that has more involved, attentive players. A game that completely ignores is or worse yet askew it (as I feel my own game AAIE does at first) will at best require more time and effort to yield invested players, and at worst devolve into a parade of faceless, sophomoric crash test dummies trying to shit in the  beer steins at every inn the GM describes.