Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Deconstructing Characters

When I started this blog it was full of all kinds of mopery about how my gaming life was ended essentially and I was sad. Eventually I got tired of moping and turned to writing about gaming. You see I was one of those people who started all manner of writing projects but finished very few of them. I had notebooks full of half remembered scrawls of ideas

The wife called me on my bullshit as she always does. She challenged me to get my writing out where people could see it and let them tell me if it was any good. I don't think she had a blog in mind. In fact she was frequently annoyed when blogging delayed her nightly foot rub (yes I rub her feet, it's cheaper than flowers and can lead to all sorts of mutually enjoyable activities.

Anyway I reactivated my blog and it had a meager few hits. On the one hand I was still writing for myself. On the other hand if you only write for yourself you'll never know whether you're any good. The feedback I got suggested I was 'meh.'

I decided to be a better writer. I remembered the words of Will Wheaton: you have to do a lot of work at anything before you're any good and a lot of your work is going to suck. I put up a schedule. I tried to find my audience and shared like crazy. I wrote consistently and haven't missed a posting in a while because 1) It helped me discipline myself as a writer and 2) It helped me build an audience.

I've enjoyed the comments and critiques I received. I get a charge every time someone comments on my posts. I want to keep that feeling happening. Maybe it's ego and maybe it's wanting to be good at something and take a chance by exposing yourself to criticism and yes, abuse.

Anyway this inspired the following:

Characters do not always have a clear idea of their own stats. Sometimes this is played for comedic effect. Look at the Muppets, for example. Fozzie Bear thinks he's a great comedian, Miss Piggy thinks she's a great singer and seductress. Sometimes it can be used for dramatic effect: think about super heroes having their origin. Peter Parker didn't think he had a chance against those hooligans especially after reeling from that nasty spider bite. Pa Kent had nearly had a stroke after the tractor rolled over his three year old ...  leaving him unharmed. Little Clark didn't take it too calmly either despite the wheels feeling sort of like SHiatsu massage.

Basically the player's character can either be better at something or worse at something than he thinks. Being better might be due to anything from amnesia ('Evidently at some point I learned to play the piano.') to getting some new prototype cyberware that works MUCH better then normal to having a shitty self image (or maybe the player just didn't read the player's guide well.) I'm not going to dwell on this too much. I don't think there's a player out there who will complain if you suddenly bump up their stats or let them fly. It's characters who are worse at something than their players expect that's going to take some justifying. Why would a player put up with that?

Some players might like playing a delusional nutcase. Having an inflated idea of your abilities can lead to all kinds of hijinks and play merry Hell with your party members. It can also be taken too far. Dumping a load of oil from your car on a friend might be funny once. Disarming a bomb is a lousy way to find out you don't have demolitions skill. It's a lousy way to learn you can't sprint too.

On the other hand a referee could have fun with the reason your abilities are inflated in your perception. Maybe in Traveller terms you have a few levels of Jack of All Trades. Maybe In Risus terms you have more than the usual number of Lucky Shots or Questing dice. So you'd unconsciously fall back on these abilities and think that your more formal training carried you through. On the upside both mechanics would let you pull off a near miracle in a number of enterprises. On the downside well, lucky does run out.

In more occult or magic oriented games perhaps the character has an undiscovered magic item or even a guardian spirit. The guardian or token could work minor miracles convincing him he's the best swordsman in the realm ... until it departs for some reason and he has to rely on his wits. I'd like to point out that nothing causes consternation faster in a party, any party than hearing one of their members has to rely on his wits. You might want to give the deprived character a bonus to experience if he succeeds.

Another possibility is that the weakened stats are caused by a local condition. Sunspots, radio interference, low manna take your pick. The character is weakened in some way but when he finds and removes (or escapes) the cause he'll be fine.

The referee can also invoke 'there's always someone better than you' principle. Sure your space mercs are a terror. But now you're fighting guys with tech a hundred years ahead of yours. What to do? Or your ripped super hero is transported to a high gravity world where he is merely (barely?) average.

As a final thought players don't have to like everything you do to them at face value. Any game or story has a certain amount of screwing with characters' heads. There should be a payoff at the end because games tend to be a little fairer than life (at least mine were.) Overcoming a problem should garner some advantage for players