Friday, February 24, 2012

Trying to Flesh Out Characters from both sides of the Screen

GMs and players both like to have a group of realistic, well-thought-out characters. For a lot of people, all the numbers on the character sheet are pretty much meaningless next to the person they've created and the stories that person will be involved in. Some folks, of course, are all about the stats and the kicking of the most ass, but for most, the sweet spot is somewhere in between. Like many GMs, I want to encourage my players to flesh out their characters. Their doing so gives me hooks for stories that revolve around the players, can give the group cohesion, and creates an emotional attachment between player and character.

I GM games a lot more than I get to play in them, so when I do play, I still sorta have my GM hat on. It's just cocked to the side. I try to create meaningful characters, but to have it actually work, the ideas behind them have to be communicated to the GM, and also a bit to the other players. I'm trying to come up with things that will help the people on both sides of the screen, to help players play the characters they want, and to help GMs incorporate player ideas into their games. Most importantly, these ideas need to be easy to use. No "Character Backstory" essays, no exhaustive lists of questions.

I suppose the best way to illustrate this is to just post the thinking points, and dig into them as we go.

Aspirations - What does your character want for himself? What do you as the player want for him?
These two things can be different. My buddy Matt ran a World of Darkness game in which we all played graduate students at some ivy league university. I decided my character was a neo-pagan who really, REALLY wanted to be a sorcerer or wizard or something. Matt nodded and said, "Okay, so like maybe he could start out as like a Hedge Mage and maybe Awaken later on?"
"No, he really has no power, and will probably never get any. He can learn a lot of occult knowledge, but he doesn't have the spark, and I'm okay if he never does."
I can be a dick to my own characters.

Spotlight Scenes - Describe a possible scene in the game in which your character would play a critical role.
Obviously the player shouldn't get too specific, but I think a lot of us have heroic scenes in our minds when we create characters, and everyone wins if we can actually have those scenes. As another example, Luc is soon to begin a Weird War 2 game, and I'm hoping for two scenes: The first is a rousing "St. Crispin's Day" style speech that my character can deliver to a bunch of RĂ©sistance fighters before a major battle. The second is a speedboat chase on the Seine, right through Paris, my character manning the wheel while my wife's character opens up on our Nazi pursuers with his assault rifle.

Inter-Character Relations - Describe a positive relationship or interaction you have with another Player-Character. Describe a negative one. Consider a few others you might have outside the group.
I like to have the party be a group that already exists, rather than, "You all meet in a tavern." This point sort of pushes a little harder for specifics than I like in the beginning of a campaign, but it at least makes the players think about the other members of the group. The interactions don't have to be anything profound. Perhaps Stuart the Strong really likes going down to the gambling hall and playing dice with Errol the Quick, except when Errol drinks too much, cheats, and starts a fight.
What's important is that the characters already have a place in the world.

These are rough ideas at the moment. I'm always open for critiques and verbal abuse (and other sorts of abuse, but we should work that out ahead of time). Contribute your thoughts! This also goes for those of you who aren't gamers, but are following this because, "Oh, Conor started a blog! How cute, let's all give him some support!" Just think of it as collaborating on a novel. That will never be read.


  1. Figuring out what your PC wants for herself is the single most important thing you can do to help your GM. Nothing drives me nuts more than forcing motivations on the characters.

    I like your list. I need the players to do some paperwork at the start of the next game anyway, so I think I'll have them fill out a short questionnaire.

  2. Hey, a MexInjun with aspirations to own a small fleet of tug-boats sounds like some decent character development if ya ask me. Granted ol' R.B. Sanchez never had a "love interest" but he was deeply invested in his dreams...tug-boating dreams. His small biz was gonna be listed in the book under, "Sherpa of the Sea"
    For what it's worth, I think I made it apparent that he found cross-dressing hilarious. That's kind of an emotion. Certainly part of his character.
    Im gonna go research St. Crispin's Day and the Seine now.

  3. Just Youtube Henry V for the St. Crispin's Day speech. Probably more eloquent than whatever was really said.