The Forge Forums

General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: contracycle on November 05, 2011, 06:47:39 AM

Title: character intros
Post by: contracycle on November 05, 2011, 06:47:39 AM
Per Kyle's request, a little discussion on the character intro vignettes I used.

So, as mentioned, this was inspired by the problem that players often "lose visualisation", as it were, of the PC's of their fellows.  They may all pay close attention to the GM's narration of surroundings and so on, but players seldom describe their characters as they appear to others.  Sometimes this results in people more or less forgetting what other characters look like, what their specifics are, sometimes even their names.

These varied quite a bit in how much detail they contained and how long they went on.  Examples ranged from the brief, something like "You see so and so sitting in the lotus position, wearing a tabard with such and such a sigil, meditating, in a temple" to mini-scenes, of, say, a major confrontation between child and parent with dialogue and the whole shebang.  Players had explicit authorial rights to create stuff for these scenes, which is potentially problematic if that's not usually withing the permissable range, but I didn't have much difficulty.

I used a whole series of these to portray a Verbena character ins a Mage game.  I wanted him to come across as fairly bloody and physical, although that wasn't necessarily something that came up in play a lot.  So I could show him making animal sacrifices and the like in forest glades, similar sorts of things.  This worked well I felt in conveying the identity and persinality of the character to everyone.  It;s a good opportunity for players to bring the back-story of their characters into view of the other players.

The only real difficulty I encountered is that the demand to come up with such a vignette for every session ran into some buffers.  Not everyone found it easy to do so after the initial inspiraiton wore off, myself included.  So sometimes it was more of an invitation to do one if they had one, rather than an insistence that they had to.

Title: Re: character intros
Post by: Kyle Van Pelt on November 05, 2011, 08:06:54 AM
Very cool.

I'm excited about possibly implementing this in my game Kamui by setting up a "Title Sequence" sort of opening, where, upon starting a session, the DM and players describe scenes that not only personify their characters briefly and succinctly, but also set the mood and concepts of the game as a whole. By introducing scenes in the opening where characters are fighting and unleashing flashy powers, it can both set them up to be badasses and set the tone of the game as one involving lots of flashy, over-the-top combat.

I can see how doing this every time with a new scene would become tiring, so maybe you could just update your character's intro scene whenever something plot related occurred (like if my character's brother had died during play, my character could have an extra second or two in the scene where he's clutching his brother's amulet or something).

This gives me all sorts of cool ideas, mainly because in Kamui, when you introduce scenes, different scenes have ways to gain EXP when implemented. For instance: if I set up a Montage scene where my character was training for a big fight, I would be given 60 seconds of real time to describe the montage. For every little sub-scene in the montage, I gain EXP to use toward the improvement my character is making (in this case, his fighting skills). Setting up an intro scene that gives you a little EXP to spend is a very concise way to have a little back story and reward, as opposed to writing a 10-page background that (in most cases) gets more or less ignored.

Thanks for the example, contra. This is cool stuff.

Title: Re: character intros
Post by: David Berg on November 05, 2011, 11:03:54 AM
Whenever I remember, at the beginning of a session of Delve, after we re-establish where the characters are, I ask everybody what they look like right now.  This refreshes the physical basics ("Oh, I forgot your guy had red hair!") and also reminds us what they've just been through ("Y'know, we've been in a hurry since that last fight, so we're probably still covered with Orc blood").

So, that's an option if a group wants a little taste, but doesn't want to commit the time and attention that Gareth's method requires.

Another idea: character intros based on the previous session.  I've had this weird experience in Primetime Adventures with foreshadowing.  We'll finish a session, then go around the table and contribute "next time on _" shots.  I always think hard on these and try to come up with a really provocative visual and situation.  When I succeed, I'm then left thinking, "So how am I gonna make that happen next session?"  But then I forget before the next session.  If it was written down, though, it might be a pretty cool way for me to start the next session.  It might remind of what I was thinking last time and help everyone connect the dots from then to now.

Title: Re: character intros
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 10, 2011, 07:41:37 AM

Because my recent foray into the text record of my old Champions experiences, I'm having a lot of flashbacks to the role-playing of those days. I remember that when I visited other groups or joined them for play, I was often amazed that players barely knew anything about anyone else's characters. In my games, and in Randy's (in which I was a player), all of us were so committed to Marvel Avengers style soap opera (later taken to 11 in the X-Men) that knowing about every character, and following his or her various colorful travails, was a serious factor in wanting to play at all. By comparison, when sitting in with the other groups, I had the impression that each character was armored, anesthetized, and receiving input from the environment indirectly, as if the GM were some kind of satellite transmitter telling them "what they see" instead of looking around them directly (and at one another).

Looking back on how we did it differently, the one thing that really jumps out is that depiction of one's character is not an individual task. As GM, I'd open a scene with a given character doing something that I thought he or she might be doing ... She-Dragon reading Teen Beat, or polishing her shins with a buff cloth, or at the moment of hanging up the phone after a conversation with her parents. In such play, Mike (the player) would typically instantly internalize it, for example, in order, emitting a girlish squeal, pantomiming perhaps, or making a face of exasperation, then going on to have the character look around (eliciting information from me about what was there, who was there, what happens) and do whatever he thought she would do next.

Players did that for my NPCs all the time, too, even for villains, especially "reaction shots" for their facial expressions or particularly enjoyable narrations for their rolled actions. Most importantly, players did it for one another. I've been thinking about this for a while, that "play my character" often relies heavily on knowing that someone else totally gets how to play your character (i.e. appreciates how you do it, or would like to do it) and can provide their take on it very productively, often in such an interlaced way between the two of you that no one really knows how it started. That insight directly informed my design of narration mechanics in Trollbabe.

I'm bringing it up because it's one step beyond the "intro" technique being discussed here, and also to ask, Kyle, have you ever seen anything like this in play?

Best, Ron

Title: Re: character intros
Post by: Ethan K. on November 10, 2011, 11:12:54 AM
I think that this shared conception of narrative authority is one of the biggest challenges that groups and players conditioned to traditional GM-fiat games. Because these borders are often unspecified by mechanics and rules, they become internalized by players and taken-for-granted; I've found that even in games oriented towards Story Now and player narrative control these classic power dynamics will manifest themselves.

One of the clearest examples I can think of comes from an Apocalypse World game I played in this previous summer. I can't remember exactly what the conflict was, but I believe one of the characters was under a degree of mental duress from the Psychic Maelstrom; the MC was being loose and 'literary' with his descriptions and it left the player under a similar amount of confusion as they attempted to get a handle on the situation. I was chiming in with details I thought were potent and colorful, and the player turns to me and says something like, "Can you please lay? I'm trying to understand what's going on and need it straight from the MC."

The second piece comes from this last Sunday, when I ran an introductory game of Lacuna, Part 1 for a few friends. One's been along with me for a lot of Story Games and had a good handle on narrative control, but another was primarily versed in GM-centered DnD. The less-experienced player('s character) is interrogating a suspect and succeeds on her roll. I ask her what the suspect tells her, and she states that he gives up who sent him, etc. I ask her again, "What does the suspect tell you?" She's frustrated, squints, and then realizes what she's being asked. She's clearly daunted.

I would love to have my players freely and colorfully add to the narrative, to step beyond the confines of their narrative borders; they're often better at building the details than I am. But how does one take them there? Do you think I was too blunt, to just hand the plot to the character in the second piece? Can the social contract be addressed prior to the game if most participants aren't even aware of it?

Title: Re: character intros
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 10, 2011, 01:25:34 PM
Hi Ethan,

With pre-emptive apologies for laying a reading assignment on you and running, I offer Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship (, for some useful vocabulary. It's about who gets to say what, and apparently the content opened a lot of doors for a lot of people in the five years since I first posted it. I hope it helps.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: character intros
Post by: contracycle on November 10, 2011, 01:33:21 PM
Well I shall restrain myself, but Ethan, it annoys me when people assume that playing this way is a result of conditioning rather than choice.  From my perspective, the player authorship elements were potentially disruptive, and it was a risky thing to do.

I completely recognise Ron's descriptions of the other games he encountered; I've never really the kind of thing he describes his group doing naturally.  Some people are clearly quite happy with characters as little more than ciphers, although I don't go that far.  I did find, though, that establishing an idea, an expectation, of something that could be perhaps described as an audience's gaze did lead to more conciousness of and interest in the portrayal of characters - how they looked, how they behaved, how they dressed etc.  Which was useful in reinforcing the shared imagination, in bringing out setting and colour and so on, a specifically visual aesthetic.  It benefitted the games without actually stepping into the realm of player authorship, and I had no interest (and have none still) in going there.

Title: Re: character intros
Post by: Ethan K. on November 11, 2011, 08:38:31 AM
Thanks for the reading, Ron! I've tried to make up for coming late to these forums, but it always helps to have a specific piece given to me.

Contra: You make a good point; I assumed the gaze of the players is conditioned, not chosen. I'll do more reading and thinking before I attempt to disentangle authorship and gaze here.

Title: Re: character intros
Post by: Kyle Van Pelt on November 14, 2011, 01:51:30 PM
Oh man, I missed a lot of conversation while I was gone.

I'm bringing it up because it's one step beyond the "intro" technique being discussed here, and also to ask, Kyle, have you ever seen anything like this in play?

In short, yes, although not to the degree you describe. When I GM Shadowrun, the players will set up their contacts and define their personalities. However, when it comes time to play the NPC interaction, I usually have another player roleplay the NPC. This player doesn't control the NPC forever, but just for that particular scene, and most often when players see how those NPCs are, they'll jump in next time to play that NPC and do their rendition of them. So, while it's a particular player's contact, everyone else gets a chance to roleplay them. It works out well, and usually increases the amount of overall participation in the game.

Also, since the NPC is pre-defined by the player who made him, usually there's no toes stepped on or wildly inaccurate character development. Granted, the group I usually play with is used to this, but I should state that I didn't start this style of NPC interaction in the group, a player did. It just caught on.

Now, comparing this to another group that I used to GM, they didn't do this at all, and were actually caught off guard anytime the narration ball was in their court. They assumed that narration was GM property alone. However, one of my "house rules" is that whenever you score a critical hit (or Over-Deadly Damage, or what-have-you) you can describe what happens. They would play it safe at first, until a new player grabbed hold of the concept and ran with it, even introducing new characters and locations because of critical hit narration. Then everyone got into it, much to my delight, as narrating every single thing is a chore for a DM who really enjoys player participation.

As far as a game that promotes group handling of a character, no, I've really not seen one, and I've never had rules for it formalized in any of my games either. I hope that accurately answers the question, Ron.

As far as the rest of the thread, I'll look at the linked posts later, as it looks pretty interesting, then provide what little feedback I can.