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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 169 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Three kinds of character creation  (Read 11240 times)
lumpley
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« on: January 03, 2006, 01:01:05 PM »

Me, Meg and Emily. We're like, hey, I know, let's make characters for each of our games in development, see how they each work. So we did. All three were fun and interesting, and the differences between them struck me as theory-meat.

First: Shooting the Moon
Shooting the Moon is Emily's sequel to Breaking the Ice. Two players' characters are rivals for the love of the third's. I was like, oh man oh man oh man, can we do Dangerous Liasons? and Emily was like, sure thing, and I was like, oh sweet oh man oh man.

You create all three characters together, as a group, taking turns. First the beloved: you take turns giving her (or him, but in our game it was her) desirable qualities. Our beloved was beautiful, wealthy, popular, jaded, lettered, and I forget what the other one was. Then you take those qualities and for three of them you name a synonym and an antonym. So we took "lettered" and wrote down "educated" and "ignorant"; "popular" and wrote down "sought after" and "loner"; "jaded" and wrote down "cynical" and "sweet."

From those six words, synonyms and antonyms, you build the suitors. I was suitor one, Meg was suitor two. I went first, choosing "sought after" - so Meg got "loner." Meg went next, choosing "educated" - so I got "ignorant." Emily went last, and I was like, give me sweet! Give me sweet! Which she did, saying that she was going to anyway - so Meg got "cynical."

Then you give each of the suitors' qualities a "but." Again, you take turns, choosing one for suitor one, one for suitor two. I forget who chose which for whom, but we ended up with suitor one: sought after but wary, ignorant but not foolish, sweet but cunning; suitor two: loner but gracious, educated but I forget what, cynical but generous.

You give the beloved a dream and an obstacle - ours's dream was to become known for herself as a patron of art and literature; her obstacle was her father. You give each suitor a person, a place, and a thing - suitor one's were his brother, his family's hunting estate, and his pistols (matched deuling pistols of his uncle's, actually, his uncle took one look at him and was like, kid, you're going to need these). I forget suitor two's. And finally you give each suitor something that he can sacrifice for effectiveness - suitor one's was his brother's trust.

And then at last you choose "what's the win?" and "why now?" We chose: whoever has sex with our beloved wins, and our beloved had just had her 18th birthday and so is now marriageable.

Second: Making a Tree
Making a Tree is a game I'm making. You play funny, human little robots who make things. The game opens with the PCs all setting out together from the center of the world to go to the end of the world, to see if they can find a solution to the Big Problem.

Quite unlike Emily's game, but like most of the games you've ever played, you make Making a Tree characters all isolated from one another, rolling dice and writing down numbers and things on your character sheet. The G.M. (it has a G.M.) doesn't even make a character! So we have only Meg's and Emily's characters to talk about.

Characters get parts and purpose. All characters get five mandatory parts - spring, bellows, hands, eyes, beauty - and one mandatory purpose - making things - plus additional parts and purposes. As many more parts as you want, up to three more purposes. Then you roll dice according to this arcane procedure to get dice to assign to your parts, and you assign dice to your purposes so that they add up to d18.

Meg made a funny, human little robot whose purposes were making things and carrying things, and who had a drawer. Emily made a funny, human little robot whose purposes were making things and climbing, and who had like wheels and grapple arms and stuff.

The last step is to have your character make something. Emily's character made a ladder - but we decided to try out the muse rules, which let you make wicked cool things, and Emily's character made not only a ladder but a ladder sidekick - a whole person, with hands, eyes, spring, bellows and beauty all his own, plus telescoping ladder parts and hooks for hooking on and things, whose purpose was making things, being climbed, and climbing. Meg's character was not (we decided) inspired by the beauty of any muse, so he made a shouting thing, and it was only a shouting thing: for parts it had a handle, a switch and a speaker, and for purpose it had shouting and being easy to carry.

Both Meg and Emily, unprompted and spontaneously, drew their characters, so I AM WIN!

Third: 1001 Nights
1001 Nights is Meg's game, "a game of exotic storytelling." The characters are all people in the sultan's court - the master of the hunt, the food taster, the chief eunuch, the wives, the slaves, the perfumer, whoever else. The deal is that the sultan is a suspicious, tempermental bastard, and the court is all surface graciousness with backstabbing, intrigue, malice, and - primarily - envy underneath. To stay sane and to get at one another, the courtiers tell stories, casting one another in starring roles. Like, I'm the sultan's chief cook, I might say "this is the story of the two brothers and the shoe. Perfumer [Meg], you play the part of the older brother; Falconer [Emily], you play the part of the shoe. Right, so one day, the younger brother brought the older brother a shoe to fix..." Details of how our stories go give us resources we use to win our petty ambitions and not get our heads cut off by the sultan.

You create your character by choosing a role - chief cook, perfumer, falconer - then giving yourself descriptors, one for each sense. My chief cook was tall and severe, with a booming voice, he smelled like his spices but chewed preserved lemon rinds all the time, and he shoved people around when he gave them orders. Like that.

Then you say what your character envies about each of the other characters. My character envied Meg's perfumer's many lovers, and Emily's falconer's weapons.

That's it!

Theory-meat
Obviously there's some stuff to notice about who gets to make up what about whom. In Emily's game, Meg imposed "ignorant" on my character, nothing I can say or do to prevent it. In my game, nobody imposes nothing on nobody. In Meg's game, I get to say that my guy's envious of Meg's guy's lovers - but is that just a misperception on his part? Could be. Interesting, but not so much theoretically interesting.

So let's say that we've got three things. Thing one: the fictional person you're going to play in the game. This is the beloved, the suitors, the little robots, the courtiers themselves, as they exist in the fiction we're creating, not in the real world at all.

Thing two: the fictional situation in which the fictional people are, the contact they're in and the pressure they're under. This is "these two men are trying to get into this woman's pants," "these two robots set out from the center of the world to go to the end of the world, to find an answer to the Big Problem," and "the cook, the falconer and the perfumer are locked together in the sultan's court."

Thing three: the non-fictional resources you use, as a player of the game. Dice, numbers, and traits-used-formally. (Traits-used-formally: I say out loud to Meg and Emily, "here's my head chef, munching his preserved lemons." Does something in the real world happen because I mentioned him chewing preserved lemons? Do I pick up a die, or does a coin change hands, or do I put a tick-mark next to the words on my character sheet? If so, it's a trait-used-formally, that's what I'm talking about with thing three.)

But look how very different our three character creations were, in terms of those three things!

Em's Shooting the Moon: in character creation, we 1) make up our fictional people, including (relatively) lots and lots about who they are, where they come from, and how they think; 2) establish just wherein they're romantically compatible and incompatible with one another, creating suitors who complement the beloved in interesting ways; and 3) name the resources we have as players - but without setting up our resources beyond that (my "ignorant" is worth a die, same as Meg's "educated," same as anybody's anything).

My Making a Tree: in character creation, we 1) barely make up anything about our fictional people, just a sketch of their material person; 2) establish nothing about their situation, because it's given to us whole by me the designer; and 3) go crazy with our player resources. Parts and purpose are all about what dice you get to roll, and when.

Meg's 1001 Nights: in character creation, we 1) make up a sketch of our fictional people, with an eye toward personality quirks and habits we can adopt as their players; 2) establish just a couple of key details about their situation, namely what my guy wants to take away from your guy to have for himself, and vice versa; and 3) establish nothing about our player resources at all! (This last is just fine: every player starts with the exact same resources in $5 poker too.)

At the end of each character creation, we had all three things in place. But which of the three things and how much we established during character creation varied a lot, according to character creation's role in each game's larger design.

-Vincent
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2006, 02:24:12 PM »

So to paraphrase, you came out the other end with character, situation, and resources.  Which is great and very functional; what about more mainstream games where the emphasis is on resources in the hopes that they express a character, with the situation often wholly determined by the GM, without the other players aware of what it will be, and the situation bearing no formal relation to the characters and resources the players came up with?  Certainly making situation creation a collaborative effort is nice, making it public knowledge prior to character generation is also nice (a little less nice?), but is situation creation an intrinsic part of character creation?  Or are you properly talking about three things: character creation, situation creation, and resource creation?
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lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2006, 02:32:26 PM »

"...but is situation creation an intrinsic part of character creation?"

What a strange question! Character creation is an intrinsic part of situation creation, rather. It's not a situation until the characters exist in it.

But yeah, I'm talking about three distinct things, which we gamers and game designers habitually conflate.

-Vincent
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2006, 02:43:24 PM »

The conflation arises out of the fact that these three things are most effective when they are tightly related, however.  Characters are more interesting when they're engaged in the situation and have resources with which they can affect and comment on it.  Perhaps these three things go into a bigger box like "Game Creation" or more lucidly, "Game Set Up"?
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lumpley
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« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2006, 02:52:34 PM »

The conflation arises out of the fact that these three things are most effective when they are tightly related, however. Characters are more interesting when they're engaged in the situation and have resources with which they can affect and comment on it. Perhaps these three things go into a bigger box like "Game Creation" or more lucidly, "Game Set Up"?

Well, you're clearly right about them being better together, wherever the conflation comes from.

I want to expand a bit on my slapped-out reply above, taking my own medicine:

Making up fictional people is an intrinsic part of making up a fictional situation. Establishing the players' starting resources is an in-principle unrelated thing that also has to happen to set up the game. In fact - see Universalis - establishing the players' starting resources is the only one that in principle has to happen before the game starts proper.

-Vincent
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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2006, 03:06:09 PM »

In fact - see Universalis - establishing the players' starting resources is the only one that in principle has to happen before the game starts proper.

Is 'starting resources' here synonymous with 'the system as it pertains to the first stages of the game'?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2006, 06:20:38 AM »

Victor: yes.

To get even more abstract on everyone, "character creation" is best regarded as positioning oneself, you the real person, relative to the gears, bells, & whistles of the agreed-upon reward system.

Every debate about problems in character creation, whether it's a matter of how much back-story is too much or not enough, or of min-maxing point distribution, or who-knows-what, is a manifestation of getting this abstract point bollixed up.

Best,
Ron
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lumpley
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« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2006, 06:34:51 AM »

In fact - see Universalis - establishing the players' starting resources is the only one that in principle has to happen before the game starts proper.

Is 'starting resources' here synonymous with 'the system as it pertains to the first stages of the game'?

Synonymous, not exactly. The system is a bunch of procedures. The players' starting resources aren't procedures, they're stuff - well, like, take Monopoly.

Monopoly's system is just its rules: roll to move, buy property, develop property, pay rent, draw cards, do not pass go, all its rules. Monopoly's players' resources are the position of their pawns on the board, the money in front of them, and the properties they own (including their developments). So Monopoly's players' starting resources are 1) your pawn's position on go, and 2) your initial cash, the same for everybody; you start with no property.

Compare Dogs in the Vineyard. Dogs' system is its rules, plus some procedures you have to invent for yourself, like how to start and end scenes. Dogs' players' resources are the dice they have on their character sheets, with each die having slightly different significance according to what stat, what trait, what relationship, what belonging it's attached to. So in Dogs, when you name your traits and relationships and assign all your dice, what you're doing is establishing your starting position as a player, the resources you have at your disposal as a player when the game begins. Same as counting out your starting cash in Monopoly, or setting up all your pieces in Chess, or buying your starting chips in poker.

Make sense?

(I hope everyone can see that Ron says yes and I say no, but we go on to agree fully with one another.)

-Vincent
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