Monday, January 20, 2014

What Choice Can Reveal About A Character

Sorry this is late. Long weekend's usually mix up my schedule and while my intention had been to get this up so it'd go up on midnight on Monday, only Monday is a day off so I kinda forgot...Embarrassing I know, but what happened.

Anyhow, over the weekend I finally got around to playing Tell Tale Games' The Walking Dead season 1. Why is this game relevant at all to a table top game decision? Well, because like many games have tried to pull off lately The Walking Dead advertises that it is a game where players make choices and those players shape the game. Unlike most other games though, even when you pull back the curtain and see where the illusion lies those choices do still have meaning.

Choices Reveal Two Things
This works because a choice, when set up right, reveals two things about the character making the choice. First, it shows how they want events to go forward. This is the obvious reveal that is going on. Does Jax save Garen or leave him hanging on the ledge while everyone runs to safety? Does Katarina actually go through with assassinating the King of Demacia to save her sister's life or does she not? Does Teemo sacrifice his favorite dart gun to get the job done or hold on to it and accept the challenge that comes with that?

The second part of the choice is what it reveals about the person who is making the choice. Both in making the choice and their reason for making the choice matter in this regard. Maybe Jax saves Garen because he won't leave anyone behind or because he owes Garen his life and is repaying the debt. On the other hand, maybe Jax leaves Garen behind because Garen killed a friend of his and Jax knows this. Whatever way this goes we get a deep reveal about Jax's character, and as the game progresses and the story continues we will learn more about him and get to watch him grow.

For A Character Based Story
The thing about this is it only works in character based stories. The events can matter and be important, but this second aspect of the choices only matters if enough of the story is about the characters that their relationships can carry the game. This is partially why a lot of people are upset about Mass Effect's choices ultimately didnt mean much in the end but are still in love with the characters - especially their Shepard and the ending that Shepard deserved. Event wise nothing you do matters. Choice wise though you can have very different relationships and a very different Shepard. My Shepard was an idealist who by the end of the games just wanted to put all the violence behind them and live out the rest of their dies on the fringes of the galaxy in peace. A friend of mine's Shepard was a violent warrior who would sacrifice anything in order to win. Both of our Shepards were very different people, but we both loved our version of the character.

In a Table Top game this means either having players who care about their characters and watching them grow and change based on the events of the game. You can bring this about with how you emphasize things in games, but that can take some time. Essentially, if your players are just focused on progressing through events as a series of puzzles and gameplay segments that need to be beaten then this won't really add much to your game. With players who do value those things though, and this can help add enriching detail to the game.

Shaping The Choice
The trick is for choices to matter but not necessarily have a right answer. Someone going back to save a life is important, yes, but leaving them to die should also be valid. Some groups will balk at this choice, especially when it is a PC left vulnerable. Many PC groups will lose the entire group trying to save one person thinking that that is the only right choice and that it is unfair to have a PC's life hang in the balance. Many GMs will make those situations easily winnable because they don't want to leave a PC out to die.

I'm not going to say either is right or wrong, but there are times when those choices can arise naturally and there isn't really anything you can do as GM aside from arbitrate the results. However, you can make these choices with NPCs. Just make the death of the NPC costly in some way - but not debilitatingly so - and then give them the choice.

We'll talk more about shaping choices later in the week. For now just think what the choices your players are making say about how they want the story to go and what it reveals about their character. The second is the most important one.

1 comment:

  1. I was expecting this to be about choices made in character creation, but was pleasantly surprised to find it was about choices made in-game.

    I'm looking forward to what you have to say about shaping choices.