A couple of days ago I wrote about and got some very interesting comments about how this is relevant to games.
On the Story Games forum they talk about Improv Theatre and how drama and story is made up of those things which are unusual or out of character as long as there is context and justification.
Meserach writes: “The story in which the otherwise devoted nun kills a baby for no reason at all other than the shock value? Sucks. The story in which the otherwise devoted nun kills a baby, but surrouding material gives us some insight into why? That could be a good story.”
Mark W writes: “In my experience, some people have this notion of character that really doesn’t extend much beyond the “pick two keywords and play them out no matter what” style.”
Like, say, “Lawful Evil” or “CareGiver/Curmudgeon” (because I might as well piss off the D&D folk as well as the White Wolf folk in order to get the most hate mail).
In the WatchTower game there are things happening in the background that I want the players to start moving forward. We’ve just started the creation of the B-Team, named so because they’re the second wave of heroes for WT-NY. After this, the players will make more characters (in a few weeks time), but this time playing the part of the conspirators behind the scenes. It’ll be an interesting roleplaying challenge for some and also an opportunity to add justfication to the actions which have gone before. That will mean giving away some of the plot, but the plot has to be player driven.
I remember back more than a decade to an Ars Magica game I ran in Dragonslayers. At one point we had 11 players and half of them had two characters. And one in particular, played by John D, was given an artifact that when activated would give him the power of a Tenth of Hell. The activation was an old curse which, in order to enact, he had to gather the right hands of thirteen friends. The character did this, betraying thirteen comrades and escaping suspicion due to John’s silver tongue and then decided not to enact the curse after all. Too risky apparently. These were the actions of an ostensibly good but perhaps selfish or power hungry character. His character’s arrogance was that his comrades (grogs, companions, other wizards) were beneath his contempt and he used them. When it came to the ultimate justification of the character, his courage failed. This was a bigger, badder thing than he. And he feared to raise up what he could not put down. It made his evil actions which were out of character all the more tragic when it was made apparent that his primary trait was cowardice. I loved it. It actually made the story. I do feel a bit sorry for the one armed bowman previously known as “the best archer in all of Christendom”. Them’s the breaks.
Creating the story is what makes roleplaying interesting. It’s a way for the players (and by that I include the GM) to build a shared world and interact within it. If people in that world are two dimensional, good roleplayers try to make them 3D, simply because it creates a more rich experience for themselves (and incidentally everyone else).
The hard part from a character perspective is that bedding in period where you’ve created some stats on a piece of paper, came up with a backstory and an idea for a personality and now you’re starting to become that person.
Often, and this has been my experience with writing characters as much as with playing, the character takes a direction that you didn’t expect. Sometimes this is because of events and sometimes it’s because you didn’t have a strong enough idea for the character in the first place.
Sometimes this means that you end up with a character that is no fun to play any more, or at least is limited in what he does because he’s now constrained by his personality and his previous actions. I think this happened to a couple of characters in the original WatchTower campaign. One of them (Ivory) bowed out and left, the other (Atomic III) turned rogue (and Gav had lots of fun in that session).
I think this is where troupe play can be really beneficial, especially if you introduce it early on. In a situation where everyone has one character, you experience both the world and that character through a single perspective. Having two or three perspectives on the world then allows you to shape your characters better.
It could be argued that we only have one perspective on the world, but I I think that’s a flawed argument. We’re talking about a shared world that only exists on paper and in imagination. We’ve experienced our world for many years and we have a lot of accumulated knowledge that we don’t consciously access. In the shared world, which we might only experience for a few hours each week, having multiple perspectives allows us to get a better understanding of that world and thus provide a similar ‘accumulated knowledge’ for each of our characters.
By the same token, some of the greatest stories are about people who broke from the norm. Bilbo, Frodo, Alice. That’s why the phrase “unlikely hero” is now a clichÃ©. There’s room I guess for “likely heroes” but where’s the interest. Conan is an unlikely hero because he’s a criminal. Luke Skywalker because he’s a farmhand. Han Solo because he’s a smuggler.
Perhaps then there is room for stories about unlikely anti-heroes/villains?
Read “The Heroes Journey”… Bilbo, Conan, Luke Skywalker… template heroes I’m afraid. Cliche since Jesus Christ and Herculas. As for the Lord of the Rings being a rip off of Norse Mythology… well what else do I need to say! 🙂
Well, exactly Mark. The Unlikely Hero is a clichÃ©. People who are brave, strong, honourable, powerful, respected and popular are not “heroic” when they do their day job. Read my earlier posting on Heroic thought. Heroes are made of ordinary people. This posting is therefore more a criticism of anyone who would shout out “poor roleplaying” when in their mind another player makes his character perform actions which are “out of character”.
In other words: What would you think would be out of character for me?
(other than “being nice”, “being polite” and “thinking of others”)
I wasn’t completely clear what your point was in the original post. I agree. I expanded on this on my own website (here)
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