Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Player vs. Character

Before you ask, the title is written correctly, and yes, I do mean you vs. your character. See, playing a character in a game is a lot harder than it may seem at first. There are all sorts of lines that get crossed all the time in games where a character is technically broken. Acts in a way the character probably shouldn't. Sometimes these things are frowned upon, looked at negatively, and sometimes they're just accepted as par for the course. That being said, to get the most out of your character, and the game you're in you are going to (probably) at least want to know the things to look out for.

Now, despite that opening paragraph, some of this stuff is just small things that can also happen you want to be aware of for your own enjoyment. Patterns of repetition that can be hard to escape from. So in short, today we're talking about You vs. your characters and ways to help make them separate.

Familiarity Breeds Repetition
Everyone has a favorite kind of character to play, something that we get immense enjoyment out of. For some it's the magic users, people with options and power that is gained through knowledge and study. Others prefer the "beat sticks" characters that are very capable on the battlefield. Personally I prefer rogues, tackling problems with cunning and planning instead of raw power. As I said, everyone has a favorite type, and it is probably one of the things they will play the most, or go to the most often when just being given a chance to play.

Those things however large they are, are not the only way that people will regularly come back to playing the same characters, or variations on them, over and over again. Gender, ethnicity, birthday, and general backgrounds are all things that a lot of people will repeat over and over again. I'm particularly guilty of this myself, in the 15+ years I've been role playing, I have made a grand total of 4 characters who were not Irish (when the option of being Irish was presented to me), and of those 4, three of them were deliberate attempts on my part to not play an Irish or otherwise Celtic character.

Now, if you are having fun playing these things repeatedly that is fine. However, I'm a firm believer that, especially in gaming, variety is the spice of life. If nothing else by playing outside of your comfort zone on occasion you will broaden your abilities as a player. At the very least, it may give you a new perspective to bring back to the type of character that you enjoy playing. So, if you find yourself constantly playing characters that follow similar construction, shake it up a little here or there. Who knows, maybe your real favorite is waiting to be discovered.

Player Knowledge vs. Character Knowledge
This is a bigger way that people will blur the lines of their characters. Now, I want to be clear here that when I say Player Knowledge I'm not talking about OOC vs IC information. Like OOC you know that Bob is going to backstab you, so IC you are wary. That is meta-gaming, and is a form of cheating. No, what I am talking about is actual knowledge and insight into facts and skills that a player may have that a character doesn't.

It happens quite often, and mostly by accident. A player is playing their character who has never picked up a gun for the very first time. Now the player knows how easy it is, they go shooting every few weeks to months with some friends. So they explain it to the GM, and it goes off quite smoothly, even in a critical situation. This is a fairly minor example, but it is something to look at. Would the character have that knowledge? Do you remember the first time you held a gun? They're not overly complex by any means, but they're also not labeled either. I know one of the first times I was given a gun I accidentally hit the slide release and the gun fell apart in my hands.

More extreme, and obvious, versions of this are when it comes to skills that need actual practice. Medical knowledge, computer knowledge and things of that nature. A player who is in real life an engineering major, suddenly has their college drop out character take actions based on things they know. Stuff like that is what I am talking about

Now, as I said above, sometimes this is ok. However, sometimes it slides without anyone knowing it when you shouldn't be doing it. A character in a Fantasy world where magic works and the most technologically advanced thing is a forge shouldn't be doing the math out to figure out how to make a stone boat float. That level of knowledge just doesn't exist.

Essentially, keep in mind what skills are on your character's sheet, and what you had happen in their background. There are a lot of little bits of information we pick up in our lives, that are perfectly fine to recycle into your characters as common knowledge. Little facts that don't warrant the skill, but are still there. However, you also need to keep in mind your characters background. That person who was raised on the street fighting for their life, probably didn't pick up all that much random stuff that didn't deal with fighting or keeping them a live a bit longer. While that person who grew up reading all the time in a giant library very likely DID pick up lots of trivial knowledge.

Trying to keep your knowledge out of your character is hard, but it can pay off huge in the end. Everyone slips up on it, so don't stress too much on it,but make the attempt. Stripping some of your knowledge from your character will make it come up with all sorts of different responses to problems you might never have thought of. It can also help increase the fun, and share the spot light with other players around the table.

I am not a Tactical Genius
But my character is...

The last thing I want to talk about in this today is something I touched on in an earlier entry. It is the inverse of what is mentioned above, and deals with things where your character is better off in a certain skill than you are, or could ever hope to be. Fact is, there aren't all that many tactical geniuses with a specialization in medieval warfare in the world, but there are lots of them in gaming. The same goes for world-class computer hackers, surgeons, and detectives.

So how do you deal with it when your character has more knowledge than you? Well, first off before you make this kind of character make sure your GM isn't going to be judging or penalizing actions taken based on their view of how sound the idea is in the field. If they are, you probably don't want to do it. Either way, ask if you can get some advice on occasion in exchange for a roll.

The roll for information is probably the best way to handle it in general. GMs are trying to express a lot of information in just words. Information that is being expressed with visuals, sounds, and text in game. Not to mention, your GM is also (probably) not a Tactical genius, and so isn't going to explain the truly important things that your character may need. So why not ask for a roll for some ideas on things? Or just a "With my Battle 4, and a roll of 25, can I come up with a somewhat decent plan?"

In a larger game you want to be more careful with this kind of character. The GM may not have the time to help, or the inclination with all the other players they have to deal with. So talk to your GM about it before going forward, especially if there are 7 or more people in your game.

Final Notes
Role Playing is a wonderful way to escape and de-stress after the stuff you deal with in your daily life. A time to leave behind all your concerns and inhabit someone else for a little while. Part of the way this escape can work wonderfully for you, is to challenge yourself. Set things up so that your character is strong in areas you are weak, weak where you are strong, and go with it. Do not try to play it so that you make up for their weakness and mechanics help where you are weak.

Shaking things up and playing different character types will help increase your enjoyment of the old favorites when you go back to them. Experimenting with different ethnicities, genders, ages, and all those other little details that make a person can also be a fun way to help gain perspective or just more enjoyment out of a game too.

Happy Gaming.

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