Monday, October 11, 2010

A Character Focused Game

I mentioned it earlier, but the Greymoore campaign I had been running came to an end recently. In the wake of such a story focused game, I find myself wanting to run something more character focused, more campaign-ie. Honestly, it's been so long for me that I'm not sure I even know how to run a character focused game anymore. Not that characters haven't been important in my games, but they have been games with a defined beginning, middle, and end. They've had a point, known about where it would be from the beginning, where the game would end. Instead, I want more episodic, more string of adventures instead of overarcing metaplot. So, I guess all that is left is to look at where the differences are.

Proactive Characters
The first difference that is gripping me as I am trying to prepare for this is that for a campaign the characters are going to need to be more proactive. While the GM can put situations in front of the players, with the emphasis being on the characters they need to be willing to go forward and grab it. More to the point, if the players want anything for themselves, they also need to be willing to go out for it. This is one of the aspects of the game that can be daunting, the players take more responsibility for a lot more of what is going on. The game becomes a thing of investment, the more they put in the more they get out. However, if players don't put much in, not much can come out. If they don't know they need to, or don't know how, well, then you have complications. I don't think this will be a problem with my group, but your mileage may vary.

Less Reason To Stick Together
Not surprisingly, with the focus being on the characters then the characters have less reason to stick together. With a story focus, you can use events to keep them together, but with character focus the characters themselves need to be willing to stick together. If not, you as the GM need to be able, and willing, to run for the PCs as separate entities. This can mean more restriction on the part of the PCs character creation, and loner types need to be avoided more than in other games. That being said, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, if the GM is prepared for it and the PCs that split off understand that by doing so, they restrict their chances of being on screen.

Story End Does Not Mean Game Over
One of the great things about the character focused game is that a story ending doesn't end the game. This means the GM can think small, think moderate, and think long term at different times. Everything doesn't have to weave together neatly, because they can be different stories. A one shot here, a two shot there, and a three month plot over there is possible. The story of the characters can continue as long as the GM, and the players, are having fun with it without feeling forced into new story after new story.

Long Term Character Development
Perhaps the best thing for a character focused game is the time characters have to develop. Over the course of stories, the players are able to let their characters grow and change. Confront personal beliefs, test them, and have them adapt. This is true for NPCs and NPC relationships as well. The characters in these kind of games can truly  grow, change, and become almost living things. If you let them do it.

I'm sure there are a lot more, but for that I'm going to turn it over to you. What did I miss? What should be considered when doing a character focused game? What tricks have you learned, employed, or thought of that made the game something special?


  1. In my own games I try to encourage proactive playing by putting forward multiple courses that the players have to investigate in order to make an informed choice. In a pinch putting hard choices in front of them forces them to really think like their character and go with their gut. One of the most important aspects I find of getting your players to be proactive is not providing more info then would be realistic and not giving freebies to move the story along. When you make the players work (within reason) in order to understand whats going on they tend to engage more and be more willing to take charge of the campaign.

    keeping the party together when you have vibrant and probably very different characters is tough but what I like to do is try if at all possible to link characters in pairs or triads before the start of the game. whether it be old comrades in arms, distant relations, or employers and employees. that way you dont have five complete strangers.

  2. Good point on the pre-game relationships. Though, those can also develop in game in interesting ways. If you're doing the five strangers, you need a way to get them together and make them join up. A collection of ties, or even just a similar work place, can really help in that regards in getting your game off the ground and going.