Hello everyone, welcome. I recently shared a guest post by my friend Pete who was writing on the subject, what makes characters easier or harder to play. Given the effort he put into writing it in the first place, I thought I would write in response to it. If you like, you can read his thoughts HERE first.
Pete shared a number of fun and interesting anecdotes introducing us to his time playing roleplay games. To be honest, outing a werewolf with a +1 baked potato is not even close to the daftest thing I have ever done in a game (there was a moment in a Marvel RPG where Spider-Man, Hawkeye and Moon Knight needed to get across town fast and none of us had any wheels – so we squeezed into a cab…).
Pete spoke about what helps him engage with a character and, as a result, the game. He talked about creating characters, with backgrounds and motivations. He also talked about creating a character that helps the GM move the story along, and about making outgoing characters to fill silences left by more introverted players. (I am paraphrasing and interpreting intent here). For him, he enjoys playing good orientated characters, rather than villains, as he struggles to put himself in the mindset of a villain. Which is fair enough.
Ages ago, I wrote about what characters we identify with or play. You can read that HERE.
In that post I listed some of my favourite characters, and characters I have played and then tried to draw a conclusion. The conclusion being that there were elements I could identify with in each character, and that I liked outsiders. I’m going to explore that a bit.
It is a cultural thing we have, in the UK and in the US to romanticise the Outsider. The Knight that rides into a village. The lone gunslinger here to clean up the town. The man who dresses up as a bat to fight an evil clown. The Outsider has been part of our identity and our literature for centuries (and I am aware I named only two countries – I suspect other countries could be included but I have only done any research on those two) and we find these stories appealing. The outsider is not part of the system, they are therefore able to change it. But, more than that, in the process of the story, in their process of eliminating the problem/standing up to the system, the Outsider is changed. And here we come to my key point. A Good Story is about change. I am going to list three characters, all of whom I have played.
Marc Specter/Moon Knight.
I played in a marvel game for 2.5 years. I was playing Marc Specter, someone who has had a pretty brutal life, has been a soldier, a merc and wrestler, and is never quite sure if a god is talking to him, or if he is crazy. His story is one of peaks and troughs, and I started the game in one of his many troughs. Marc had lost everything (Again). His fortune. His Health. And Khonshu, his God, no longer spoke to him. At Game Start he was given a Mark 2 Iron Man suit by Tony Stark and offered a second chance. Then the villains showed up and everything went to hell.
His first game, he was beat up by three B List villains. And then by Abomination, and in the chapter 1 finale, he had a complete breakdown fighting the Thinker who had inhabited a robot body. Nothing was going right for him, but fortunately the encounter with the Thinker happened in Stark Tower and I had enough XP to buy an upgrade. And this took the form of an enhanced Powered Armour painted in a fashion that would make Khonshu proud. Things went well for Marc in the game. I was able to be useful in the game, taking down powerful villains much more easily. But I didn’t feel like Moon Knight. I spoke with the GM, and I wrote a background piece. It outlined Khonshu’s History and tied it to the story. The GM liked it and changed a few minor details to make it fit the game. We decided my character was not destined to be a powered armour wearer and that was fine. My character felt Khonshu’s touch when he was in an Atlantean Temple (the background had Khonshu as a god of Atlantis before Egypt). When things hit the fan and the temple collapsed, I disappeared when a statue of Khonshu fell on me. I returned a few nights later, appearing to fly out of the moon, which was full and much larger than it should have been. I landed on the SHIELD Helicarrier in time to have sheild techs strap a booster rocket to me and was sent to the SWORD base in orbit which was under attack. I arrived and found the problem – a terrigen bomb, which had already detonated. One of the new Inhumans was a living portal to another dimension. A portal I was sucked into, which was fortunate as it allowed me to meet Neptune. This started my spiritual story. I was told I needed to make a decision. I was Moon Knight, or Lunar Patriot. I couldn’t be both. As a player, Lunar Patriot (my Power Armour codename) was powerful but not fun to play. In character, Marc realised he was getting another chance to fulfill his destiny. I returned to SWORD base to confront the Bomber, Doc Octopus. However, as I stepped through the portal I began casting aside my armour as a gesture of faith, ultimately arriving on the SWORD command ship wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. That was when I defeated Doc Oc in one dice role by Scaring the living daylights out of him. Khonshu would have been pleased.
In that game I started as an outsider. Through many ups and downs (that scene at SWORD was a major up, but there were several major downs afterwards) we completed the campaign. My big finale was to find out that Khonshu and Marc were one and the same being, and the epilogue had me sitting within my fortress temple watching over the Earth prepared to visit divine wrath on anyone who tried to mess with it.
I currently play a Dwarf called Hadrin Coraldeep in a Dungeons & Dragons game. He is the heir presumptive of the Coraldeep Clan, a Dwarven clan who are relatively young, but have accumulated wealth and influence due to some of their secret practices (My character’s grandfather made a deal with an elemental being, and as a result of the deal, the Corladeeps have elemental allies. A lot of them). I created this character saying he was his Grandfather’s favourite, that he had served time in the Tidebreakers (The Coraldeep Army) and even wrote a few events in his life. I had a character.
At this point I hadn’t decided on a class. Army implies fighter, but it could easily mean ranger, cleric, mage or indeed anything. I had my character and my time as a soldier gave me my character’s value system. Clan first, but those that shed blood with you are your brothers. This was based on the fact that Coraldeeps were sea Dwarves that worked on the Ocean Floor, mining and harvesting. In such a perilous situation you must rely on those beside you. So, I figured Hadrin was probably a bit naive about people, but good in a tight spot. I still hadn’t picked a class. I eventually settled for fighter and we played the first game.
It was a solo game. I was leading a diplomatic mission on behalf of the Coraldeeps to the Blackboulder Dwarven Clan. They were rivals but we were negotiating an alliance and I was delivering a gift. I met the leaders of the Black Boulder, dined with them and was their guest. The next day we watched gladiatorial combats in the arena, and that was when the spy in my entourage delivered our “Gift”
It was in a huge box and looked like a giant crystal. A giant crystal transported in a metal box of salt water. It wasn’t a crystal, it was an egg, which my associate hatched (I had no foreknowledge in character but perhaps an inkling out of character). The egg released an infant Riptide Drake. If that is unfamiliar to you, it is because the GM invented it. He took the statline of the second most powerful dragon he could find and converted it into a water elemental (I call this process Re-Skinning and you can read about it HERE). Basically, a living tidal wave. Dirkheim, the Blackboulder Stronghold, was destroyed. The Baron drowned though I managed to get his wife (who undoubtedly will show up and try to kill me at some point) to safety.
That was our first game. Diplomacy and betrayal, not the ideal forte for a fighter. I didn’t once draw my weapon. But that didn’t matter as I had a character with a background and story to play. I am still playing this game, and it is normal to go for 4 or 5 sessions without combat, but again that is no problem because I have a character and not a statline.
I played a handful of sessions of Vampire: The Dark Ages a while back, which you can read about HERE. I had been watching the latest series of Sherlock and thinking, “Mycroft Holmes is a good template for a Vampire Warlord/Elder. I wonder who he was when he was younger?” And that became the basis for my character creation. I wrote three pages of background story which was approved by the ST (which is covered in part 1 to 3 of the Mycroft Journals Serial) and thus I began making a character sheet. I had a background, a history and I had a story arc in mind for my character. We played the game, and I was roped into sorting out some local problems which turned out to be a fallen angel messing with us, however I justified my character’s involvement because he made a deal with the ruling elder to serve him in order to secure his territory. In essence a feudal agreement with me becoming the Liegeman. When the fallen one was driven off, I was allowed to pursue my own ends, which became a session where I began building my rudimentary spy network, as well as my legion of animal followers.
Bringing all of it together
I said earlier that all of my characters have some quality that I identify with, however small. But for me, at least in recent years, the thing that has got me engaged in a character is having a story to tell. For Moon Knight it was about getting off his backside, stopping feeling sorry for himself and accepting his fate. (Building Khonshu’s religion was fun, particularly when I borrowed a significant amount of money in game to pay for a facebook advert promoting the website “KhonshuLoves.com…) Hadrin, it was about duty to family, even when that puts you into an awful situation (being the one who walked the WMD through the front door, the one who shook the hands of the folks he killed…) and for Mycroft it was “How does a shepherd become one of the most feared warlords the world will never hear about?”
In a game that has scope for characters to pursue their stories, I find that if I can think of a story I want to tell (even if I have had help from the GM/ST/DM) then I can play pretty much whatever character I like. I don’t think questions of good or evil would hinder me. Aside from anything else, few interesting characters are “Evil” because they like “Evil”. They are simply doing what they believe is best for them, as viewed from their perspective.
Pete finished his post with some tips.
I only have one. If your character has a background and you have a story you want to tell, no character will be beyond you and and no game should be a series of combat encounters separated by exposition, shopping and silence.
And one final thing. Not sure I entirely agree with Pete that nailing a Kobold to a Shield, and using it as an arrow cushion (which you keep healed with lay on hands) and as a bonus to your intimidate check, is a Lawful Good action. Lawful, perhaps, depending on your Paladin’s perspective. Good. No.
Anyway, share any tips you have in the comments about playing characters in rpg. All the best!