characterization is hard - spinoff from worldbuilding thread

edited September 2011 in Story Games
My game concentrates on character building over world building. The idea is that given a general premise covering the general types of things the characters will be doing in the game, and how, and a vague setting, the players create this fantastic cast of characters and the GM wings the story in response to the motivations and goals that drive the characters.

This is all well and good, except for the bolded part. Its easier said than done. What I have so far are the types of characterization I would like the players to come up with, what they represent and why they are important, and multiple examples of each. Although not available for download, Ive also come up with a playable canned scenario with pre-generated PCs and NPCs as a complete "this is how I see it" example.

However, even assuming the players understand what the game requires, there is no guarentee they can come up with something good on the spot. BE CREATIVE NOW! is a little like the 'and then magic happens' part of a process diagram. Some players might revel in that kind of thing (like me), while a lot of others will be saying "this is taking for ages, and I cant think of anything!"

I leave the option for the player to fill the "characterization" in as they go along, but because it dosnt have as much direct impact on the play as say, a trait that you can use, it tends to get left at the station.

I have more to say, but Id be interested in peoples thoughts about this. I guess its a kind of general thing for RPGs but because my game is tagreting characterization so specifically, its a big issue.

Comments

  • Steve,

    You're betraying something very specific about your design goals with this sentence:

    "...the players create this fantastic cast of characters and the GM wings the story in response to the motivations and goals that drive the characters"

    It would be possible to facilitate creation of fantastical characters with chargen mechanics like Dirty Secrets, where players write down bits of character detail on index cards and pass them around, so every player has some input into every character. Ophite has similar mechanics. Trad games that have you roll on tables to generate background details and starting advantages are the same. Simply create a structure where players are asked to add specific kinds of details. "Now, add a detail that makes the character sympathetic, and pass the card." "Now, add a detail that makes the character more exotic or fantastical, and pass the card."

    But you don't want that. You specifically say you want the GM to facilitate an arc for the characters that delivers on their embedded motivations and goals. You want a cast of characters that's compelling because their goals and motivations foreshadow the story to come. So you need players to have characters with goals they care about and that the GM understands, not cut up characters made from contributions across all of the players.

    Potentially the solution is just a specific script for the player to follow, like the questionnaires in Dread, but aimed at making the characters fantastical and integrated as a "cast".

    "Pick one of your stats and make it a 10. And tell everyone about your unique fantastical expression of ability related to that stat."
    "One of you lusts after another. Which one, and what are you planning to do about it?"
    "One of you thinks you can do something better than another. Who? And what?"
    "One of you had an otherworldly or primal upbringing. Tell everyone about it."
    "One of you died and returned from the dead. How so?"

    Maybe you have more of these than you need, on cards, and a group turns them over one by one until they've used a certain number of them, as a way of making it random, so the formula for the cast of characters is a little different from game to game.

    Paul
  • Connect the characters to the setting.
    Connect the characters to each other!

    Bam, Apocalypse World. I mean, bam, fantastic characters.
  • It's a situation I can relate to. I really dig BW for its emphasis on character development (especially compared to my previous diet of games) and internal struggle, but this doesn't seem to be what my players hunger for, so a lot of the related awards sit on the shelf. They assume a heroic, 'defeat the adventure' mindset and they're ready to go.

    Is characterization in any way mechanically relevant to your game?

    Somebody clever once said the purpose of rules in RPGs is to make people play differently than they would otherwise. Every now and again I get a bee in my bonnet about the idea of how deeply hierarchical medieval society was, about how being a 'masterless man' could even be insulting, and want to somehow enact this and bring it into the game. But I think it's pretty clear that unless this is mechanically enforced or rewarded it would go over with about as much enthusiasm as if I'd asked them all to learn Turkish accents for our Anatolia campaign.

    I suppose the 'fruitful void' (I may be bastardizing this term) can be used to enact just about anything, as long as everyone is like-minded. But when the players aren't, then you need additional structure.

    I think Paul's on the right track. I got a lot more success with having the players create interesting relationships when I stopped asking them to pay for them and just did it Mouse Guard style - describe a Friend, an Enemy, an Ally and a Rival.

    Huh, just had a neat idea for an experiment. Rather than making characters, the characters are entirely defined by their relationship dynamics (with one another, and with important NPCs). The first two of Paul's questions are along these lines.

    (Now I'm just free-associating.) Be interesting to give these dynamics mechanical teeth - so you might be the Scapegoat in a Scapegoating dynamic with one or more members of the party, and this takes a certain series of actions to nullify (e.g. get your Blamers to admin three fears, or whatever), with wee checkboxes and all. Then it becomes gamist fun centered around characterization.
  • Posted By: FuseboyHuh, just had a neat idea for an experiment. Rather than making characters, the characters are entirely defined by their relationship dynamics (with one another, and with important NPCs). The first two of Paul's questions are along these lines.
    Which largely describes how Fiasco creates characters.

    (In other words, this has proven to be a fairly effective technique.)

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • I came to 'motivations' backwards. Motivations effectively means characterization for my game. My game revolves around players announcing long and short term goals for their characters and pursuing them, and the game responds to that by changing from story phase to challenge phase when they are advancing close on those goals. If they achieve their goals, they get points.

    So it is the goals that are mechanically relevant.

    But I found I needed the motivation definition stage first because asking the players just to come up with their initial long term goals free of any context at all was almost impossible. Naturally motivations lead to goals... But I didnt eliminate the problem, I only lessened it a bit.

    All: A questionnaire does was my first thought too. It would have to be pretty general as my game is somewhat generic, at least as far as action-themed games go.

    Paul: You understand where Im coming form. Although the characters dont need to be fantastical, so much as just fantastic as in 'really great'.

    Fuseboy: yes, that is the experience Im having

    All: character relationships represent two important sub-categories. I have two base type which are 'drivers' and 'complicators'. i.e. of the 5 categories, each should be a driver or a complicator:

    beliefs: Ideas and convictions that the character is prone to act on. These tell stands for -­‐-­‐ What type of person they are.
    desires: An urge characters are likely to go out of their way to satisfy. Primarily drivers.
    issues: Something that emotionally troubles the character such that, in some situations, they may be driven to irrational plans or inexplicable (for them) behavior. Emotional complications.
    influences: Relationship, social bond or situation that is likely to effect the character’s behavior. Drivers and complications.
    dispositions: Attitude towards another PC that is likely to affect interactions with that character in a way th will drive or complicate things for your character.
  • Posted By: stefoidI leave the option for the player to fill the "characterization" in as they go along, but because it dosnt have as much direct impact on the play as say, a trait that you can use, it tends to get left at the station.
    In my experience characterization have a lot more impact than the traits. The traits are merely a mechanical facet of characterization, and exist merely to inspire it and feed it and give it direction. Use the traits to build up under the players making choices, and characterization is on.

    EXAMPLE:
    John builds himself a warrior. The warrior "Canon" can fight. And so the game commences ...

    Scene 1:
    GM: Canon is attacked by children, throwing rocks at him. What does he do?
    John: Canon roars at them, trying to frighten them off.
    GM: They persist. Some of them runs at you, with rocks, trying to hit you. Do you react as warrior?
    John: Shit man! Canon knock them down.
    GM: They are no match for you. One of them fall on a rock, splitting his skull open. The rest attacks in a fury! There's a lot of them, and they have you cornered. There's a chance they may overwhelm you. What do you do?
    John: Canon draws his sword, and kills anyone coming near!
    GM: He hacks them down, but they keep coming, until all is down. In the end the ground is littered with children corpses. There's blood everywhere. Your sword is red. Your arms too. And your face is dripping with childrens blood ...
    (GM indicates the scene is over)

    Scene 2:
    GM: The same night. You dream of children eating you, while you are alive and awake, and then you jump up in bed, wide awake, dripping with sweat. Canon sit in his bed, in darkness. He can feel his sword with his fingers, besides him in bed, like a cold companion. What does Canon do, or think, or say to himself?
    John: ...
    (the scene continues)

    ___________________________________
    The example is extreme, so don't think I propagate going to such extremes in any game or scene. My point is that you need to think consequences of actions, and throw them at the character. That is extremely helpful for the player, and makes identifying with the character quite easy. Characterization springs easy from identifying with the character, in role-playing games. It's all a matter of making choices, taking action, and facing the consequences.

    Good luck!
  • Fuseboy understands what I was saying - traits, being mechanical, are easily picked up as you go along because the player reaches for a mechanical lever and if it isnt there, they say 'oh, Ill add a trait..." or whatever mechanical thing exists in your game.

    characterization that isnt directly mechanical can be ignored by players who dont consciously focus on it. it dosnt have this kind of mechanical reminder.

    I havent played Smallville but Im aware that in that game characterization is directly mechanical. I attack you using my love for my girlfriend. You cant do anything without bringing it into play, therefore you are unlikely to ignore it.

    Thats not for my game though.
  • Which largely describes how Fiasco creates characters. -Seth Ben-Ezra
    Very cool.
  • One thing that I found that helps is every time someone frames a scene (normally the GM in games with a GM), is to think "why am I here, what do I want right now?" Like, not in terms of some mysterious future goal that may or may not happen, or something I wrote on my character sheet four months ago, but something immediate, something pressing.
  • Posted By: stefoidI havent played Smallville but Im aware that in that game characterization is directly mechanical. I attack you using mylove for my girlfriend. You cant do anything without bringing it into play, therefore you are unlikely to ignore it.

    Thats not for my game though.
    Smallville is definitely towards the extreme edge of mechanical characterization. Not that there's no learnings there. Your core skills could still be "Sword Fighting" or "Bad Ass Barbarian" or whatever DOES fit your game, with things like "I Love My Family Above All" or "Honor Before Death" as secondary traits that boost or modify (or complicate) the primary objective action based traits.

    Are you familiar with any FATE games? Or HeroQuest? These, and I'm sure there are others, work more this way. Characterization looms large (especially in Fate) even though Aspects aren't the core skills and abilities you roll when facing challenges.

    How are your "drivers" and "complications mechanically relevant? And what really differentiates Desire and Issue and Belief? What's the difference between relationships and dispositions (if the answer is only one is NPCs one is PCs, then what makes them different that these need to be separate categories?)
  • edited September 2011
    edit: xposted re: Smallville.
    Posted By: stefoidMy game concentrates on character building over world building. The idea is that given a general premise covering the general types of things the characters will be doing in the game, and how, and a vague setting,the players create this fantastic cast of charactersand the GM wings the story in response to the motivations and goals that drive the characters.
    ...
    I leave the option for the player to fill the "characterization" in as they go along, but because it dosnt have as much direct impact on the play as say, a trait that you can use, it tends to get left at the station.
    Um, system matters?

    If your game is about characterization, why isn't your system about characterization?

    The fact that you've accepted that second paragraph as truth (traits rather than characterization will have much more direct impact on play) seems to be at the heart of your problem.

    If traits are what a player can use in play, then yes, as you've said, that's what the player will focus on.

    If you want the player to focus on characterization, then put characterization at the center of the game.

    At the very least, I would suggest stopping your development for a moment, grab Smallville, play it, and see how it addresses the issues you're looking at. Because it addresses those head on. When a design issue has been addressed with great success, you owe it to yourself as a designer to deeply experience that successful implementation if you know you are struggling with something similar.

    Otherwise, you're doing the equivilant of handing larp players paintball guns and a generous hitpoint system and then wondering why they keep wanting to shoot the NPCs instead of talking to them.

    You're wanting one thing to be important, but you're giving them the tools to handle something else.

    If you give someone planks and nails and hammers to work with, they're much more likely to build a birdhouse than a portrait. If you want them to make portraits, you give them paint and canvas and brushes and maybe even a lesson in portraiture.
  • I think parts of this thread might be talking past me.

    I mean, I think I know what characterization is. I think. But I don't think that's how stefoid has been using it. So let's see if we can all get on the same page.

    What I think "characterization" is: Demonstration of a character's nature. Often demonstrated in the face of conflict, but not always. It's the activity by an actor or a player that reveals the character to the audience. The existence of that character and his nature are well presupposed by this point.

    How I think stefoid is using it: Determination and creation of a character's nature. How is the character built? How are the pieces of his psyche generated and fitted together in a whole? What are his motivations, setting aside the question of how his motivations are manifested.


    I'm not sure I've got stefoid's usage correct, so hopefully he can let me know. Or if we wants to tell me I'm being petty and pedantic about this and to get the hell out of his thread, that's fine too.



    Cheers,
    Roger
  • Posted By: JDCorleyOne thing that I found that helps is every time someone frames a scene (normally the GM in games with a GM), is to think "why am I here, what do I wantright now?" Like, not in terms of some mysterious future goal that may or may not happen, or something I wrote on my character sheet four months ago, but something immediate, something pressing.
    Yo mean a short-term goal as opposed to long-term goals.
  • Posted By: RogerI think parts of this thread might be talking past me.

    I mean, I think I know what characterization is. I think. But I don't think that's how stefoid has been using it. So let's see if we can all get on the same page.

    What I think "characterization" is: Demonstration of a character's nature. Often demonstrated in the face of conflict, but not always. It's the activity by an actor or a player that reveals the character to the audience. The existence of that character and his nature are well presupposed by this point.

    How I think stefoid is using it: Determination and creation of a character's nature. How is the character built? How are the pieces of his psyche generated and fitted together in a whole? What are his motivations, setting aside the question of how his motivations are manifested.

    I'm not sure I've got stefoid's usage correct, so hopefully he can let me know. Or if we wants to tell me I'm being petty and pedantic about this and to get the hell out of his thread, that's fine too.

    Cheers,
    Roger
    Roger, youre right.
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidedit: xposted re: Smallville.
    Posted By: stefoidMy game concentrates on character building over world building. The idea is that given a general premise covering the general types of things the characters will be doing in the game, and how, and a vague setting,the players create this fantastic cast of charactersand the GM wings the story in response to the motivations and goals that drive the characters.
    ...
    I leave the option for the player to fill the "characterization" in as they go along, but because it dosnt have as much direct impact on the play as say, a trait that you can use, it tends to get left at the station.
    Um, system matters?

    If your game is about characterization, why isn't your system about characterization?

    The fact that you've accepted that second paragraph as truth (traits rather than characterization will have much more direct impact on play) seems to be at the heart of your problem.

    If traits are what a player can use in play, then yes, as you've said, that's what the player will focus on.

    If you want the player to focus on characterization, then put characterization at the center of the game.

    At the very least, I would suggest stopping your development for a moment, grab Smallville, play it, and see how it addresses the issues you're looking at. Because it addresses those head on. When a design issue has been addressed with great success, you owe it to yourself as a designer to deeply experience that successful implementation if you know you are struggling with something similar.

    Otherwise, you're doing the equivilant of handing larp players paintball guns and a generous hitpoint system and then wondering why they keep wanting to shoot the NPCs instead of talking to them.

    You're wanting one thing to be important, but you're giving them the tools to handle something else.

    If you give someone planks and nails and hammers to work with, they're much more likely to build a birdhouse than a portrait. If you want them to make portraits, you give them paint and canvas and brushes and maybe even a lesson in portraiture.

    I agree. Characterization is important, but not to the extent that it is the most important thing, as it is in Smallville. It needs some form of support without getting the most support - goals (both long and short term) get the most support. In fact the game is structured into two phases of play that switch based on goal-related activity.
  • Posted By: stefoidYo mean a short-term goal as opposed to long-term goals.
    Possibly, so long as the scene can end with me decisively NOT achieving the goal. Maybe that's the distinguishing feature. The answer to my drive is going to come right now.
  • Posted By: stefoidI agree. Characterization is important, but not to the extent that it isthemost important thing, as it is in Smallville. It needs some form of support without getting the most support - goals (both long and short term) get the most support. In fact the game is structured into two phases of play that switch based on goal-related activity.
    A quibble. In Smallville, it's not characterization that is most important. It's relationships. That's why you have relationships showing up both on the relationship map and on the character sheet. Of secondary importance is values, which is why that's the other thing on your sheet that you roll. Characterization is, I think, a bit broader than those things.

    So characterization is important. And goals are important.

    And traits are unimportant. But players focus on them because they're the tools at hand.

    So why are the traits there, if they're unimportant?

    Why not have just characterization and goals? Who you are is important. And who you are is how you go about accomplishing what you want.

    If traits are unimportant, take them out.

    You're asking for radical results. You want people to ignore traits and focus entirely on characterization and goals.

    So you need radical design. Remove everything except characterization and goals from your system.

    I think Lady Blackbird might be looked at as an example of a game where only characterization and goals are present in the system. Perhaps there is inspiration there.

    If you put a bunch of people in a room and you ratchet up the tension, the people will argue. And maybe someone will get hurt.

    If you put a bunch of people and a loaded gun in a room and you ratchet up the tension, the people will argue. And the chances that someone will get hurt and perhaps even die increase dramatically.

    As the designer, you're putting people in a room. You're ratcheting up the tension. And you're either providing or not providing the gun. Don't put the gun there if you don't want it to get used.

    Don't put traits on a character sheet if you want players to ignore them in favor of something else (especially if it's something that's not on the sheet).
  • edited September 2011
    Posted By: stefoidI agree. Characterization is important, but not to the extent that it is the most important thing, as it is in Smallville. It needs some form of support without getting the most support - goals (both long and short term) get the most support. In fact the game is structured into two phases of play that switch based on goal-related activity.
    What is most important? Going to your initial point:
    My game concentrates on character building over world building. The idea is that given a general premise covering the general types of things the characters will be doing in the game, and how, and a vague setting, the players create this fantastic cast of characters and the GM wings the story in response to the motivations and goals that drive the characters.
    Character building over world building. So types of things they'll be doing. Fantastic cast. GM wings the story in response to motivations and goals. It sounds to me that motivations and goals is the most critical thing. And you said Roger is right in that your usage of motivation is the pieces of a character that come together to form motivation. So, I'm unclear on how characterization is not the most important thing. Either, there are missing pieces, or there's a disconnect in the design as you've presented it.

    You've said that motivation is the tricky part. In fiction character motivation is usually build from a combination of: personality, history, outlook/personal philosophy, and desire. History can often lead to trouble since players can spend time on this that never comes up in play.

    The risk of making goals the most important, as I see it, is if it's every achieved, the character has no reason to exist. That might not be a problem (look at The Shadw of Yesterday for an example of characters reaching the end of their story and being forced out of play).
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidA quibble. In Smallville, it's not characterization that is most important. It's relationships. That's why you have relationships showing up both on the relationship map and on the character sheet. Of secondary importance is values, which is why that's the other thing on your sheet that you roll. Characterization is, I think, a bit broader than those things.
    OK, cool. To be specific, the rules of my game support motivations of various types and thats what Im calling characterization. Perhaps I should just use the term Motivations then. Obviously the player can bring other types of characterization to the table, but the game doesnt require them. Motivations are required because they lead to goals, and they complicate things. Drivers and complicators.
    Posted By: Alvin FrewerYou've said that motivation is the tricky part. In fiction character motivation is usually build from a combination of: personality, history, outlook/personal philosophy, and desire. History can often lead to trouble since players can spend time on this that never comes up in play.
    Exactly.
    Posted By: Alvin FrewerThe risk of making goals the most important, as I see it, is if it's every achieved, the character has no reason to exist. That might not be a problem (look at The Shadw of Yesterday for an example of characters reaching the end of their story and being forced out of play).
    Im OK with that. Better to have a great game and then move onto something else than something average that drags on... And I think goals are very important for having a great game.

    Rob: I used the term traits because its something people are familiar with. My game uses Plays in the appropriate phase (when advancing close on a goal) which are very specific things that the character can achieve. Different from traits, but still, they exist. I dont think its the problem that traits/plays etc.. obscure coming up with characterizationy type things. Just that because they are such an obvious lever that there is no problem with players coming up with them, either in advance or on demand. I dont think they are mutually exclusive.

    Thing about Lady Blackbird is that the motivations/relationships/goals/characterization is already handed to you, isnt it? Theres nothing hard about that, you just pick up and play. But if I gave you the generic version of the rules to Lady Blackbird and said 'make some great characters and play', I think the players would be in the same boat as with my game - "but how? help me to do that!"
  • Thanks for your response, stefoid.

    Okay, so, building characters.

    I'm going to bust out the Big Model terminology, because I think it's particularly enlightening with respect to this sort of issue.

    We've got the classic five elements of exploration: character, setting, color, situation, and system. Nothing radical here.

    I think a lot of the conversation so far has meandered its way down to Situation, and the approach of exalting Situation.

    Under such an approach, both Characters and Setting is essentially subservient to Situation, serving only to make Situation possible.

    But Setting is still an important piece, here; important enough that I don't think there's any general way to strictly consider only Character and what's important in Character to drive Situation.

    In one Setting, it may be very important to know a Character's age, gender, skin colour, etc, in order to get to Situation. In another Setting, it may be completely superfluous.

    Now, all that applies very specifically to the special case of aiming the game at Situation. If your game really is aimed at Character and doesn't really care about Situation per se, then you've got quite a different set of challenges. But it's hard for me to say at this point if that's actually the case.



    Anyway, not sure if that sheds any light or not, but hopefully it does.
  • edited September 2011
    Well, let me give you an example of a pre-made character from my Black Sun canned sceanrio for this game. My issue is thats its hard to come up with this kind of stuff. I need a some kind of process I think, to help the player produce this stuff, and do it within a reasonable timeframe.

    Name: Sergeant John Shaw

    Concept:
    A Military man through and through, Shaw is a career soldier in his thirties. He has a tough and wiry build, and an intense and military bearing at all times. He possesses a remarkable ‘natural’ resistance to supernatural effects for some reason.

    History:
    His adored father was MIA during WWI when John was fifteen. He tried to enlist but was rejected as too young, and by the time he was old enough to join up, the war was over. His dedication allowed him to quickly rise to the rank of sergeant but he resisted any further promotion. Some years went by before he was transferred to MI6 where he could expect to see some action. He proved to be a dependable, if not very creative agent. He was transferred to the Bureau after an incident while on assignment in Rome involving a nest of creatures – he was the only known survivor. Testing by the Bureau revealed his unusual ability.

    Motivations:
    Beliefs:
    Conviction: The occult is evil and dangerous and is best left alone.
    Prejudice: The armed services are no place for a women.

    Desire:
    Action: Longs to fight for his country

    Issues:
    Death: The death or abandonment of a comrade affects him deeply

    Influences:
    Duty: His duty is to King and country and the chain of command.
    Family: He has a wife and a young son, aged 7, that mean the world to him.

    Disposition: (attitude towards some other PCs)
    Disdain for Mouataz: Lazy, disrespectful and not to be relied on.
    Distrust for Rainer: He is a German and a flake. What is he doing here?

    Long Term Goal:
    To earn a Victoria Cross.

    Body: 4, Soul 4

    Proficiencies:
    Soldier 5, Supernormal abilities 3

    Plays:
    +3 Resist any kind of magical or supernatural effect
    +1 Unleash a burst of withering automatic fire
    +1 Fire an automatic weapon in short controlled bursts at a single target
    +1 Shoot a pistol rapidly and accurately, even while moving or diving
    +1 Rapidly identify and make use of the best available cover
    +1 Sprint down low while darting abruptly from side to side to avoid fire
    +1 Block a melee attack efficiently with an elbow or knee check
    +1 Silently dispatch an opponent with a surprise knife attack
    +1 Advance silently through cover, weapon at the ready
  • I guess my first question before getting into this is: How much of the setting is handed to the players? Do they know the time frame, the country, the supernaturally stuff, etc etc beforehand?
  • The game that comes to mind is Wushu, which never gets much love in these parts. Characters all get stats ranging from 3-5 (representing how many dice you roll) and a flaw that is always 1.
    The conventional way to make characters is to describe their abilities: Sharpshooter 5, Climb like a monkey 4, Hack security systems 3.
    The more fun way, in my experience, is to make the stats according to motivation thus: Avenge my father's murder 5, Battle a worthy foe 4, Sword for hire 3.

    I dunno, but if you handed me the character sheet you just posted, I would skip to the proficiencies and plays and assume that this character is all about fighting head-to-head mystical battles with guns... and that's it, really. The top part of the sheet feels pretty fluffy because I don't see how it connects to the mechanics at all. It doesn't seem a lot different than a new WoD character sheet, with its vice, virtue, personality type, etc.
  • edited September 2011
    Posted By: RogerI guess my first question before getting into this is: How much of the setting is handed to the players? Do they know the time frame, the country, the supernaturally stuff, etc etc beforehand?
    There is a little setting info, a premise that is stated in a particular way, and an initial situation which will be framed something like a cliff-hanger. The premise is up to the group/GM to come up with as one of the first things. For instance the premise to my canned scenario is "The characters are trying to win the war against the Axis using the secrets of the supernatural.” the premise is the main tool to inform character creation so that the characters are relevant and effective for the game that is about to be played.

    Click the link for the rules for more info: download rules link
    Posted By: DannyKI dunno, but if you handed me the character sheet you just posted, I would skip to the proficiencies and plays and assume that this character is all about fighting head-to-head mystical battles with guns... and that's it, really. The top part of the sheet feels pretty fluffy because I don't see how it connects to the mechanics at all. It doesn't seem a lot different than a new WoD character sheet, with its vice, virtue, personality type, etc.
    Havent played Wushu. This character is all about fighting head to head mystical battles with guns -- during challenge phase. Those plays can be used in challenge phase which becomes active when a character is advancing closely on a goal. The motivations are there to drive goal-setting, both short and long term ( a character can have multiple at any given time).

    During Story phase, however, plays arent used. There is no conflict resolution mechanic available in story phase. During story phase, a player will be concentrating on decision-making, and the GM will be concentrating on consequences of that decision making. So motivations ideally affect decision making so that decisions arent made in a characterization-less vacuum, solely based on sociopathic-level pragmatism.
    Posted By: DannyKThe conventional way to make characters is to describe their abilities: Sharpshooter 5, Climb like a monkey 4, Hack security systems 3.
    The more fun way, in my experience, is to make the stats according to motivation thus: Avenge my father's murder 5, Battle a worthy foe 4, Sword for hire 3.
    I can totally see that would work for some games, in directly tying characterisation to mechanical levers, but my game uses plays. Its a goal-oriented, action-based game and my conflict resolution system, using plays, is as slick as greased owl shit. If that leaves my with characterization/motivations that are only indirectly tied to mechanic levers, then so be it. But its a problem I still hope to alleviate as much as I can -- the part where you skip straight to the proficiencies and plays.
  • It’s not hard to make up motivations, it’s easy:
    The human mind automatically seeks explanations, tells stories, fills in blanks, assigns motivations.

    Many experts say this is true, such as early 20th Century Russian film theory (‘Battleship Potempkin’ is often cited as an example: a image of a baby carriage rolling down stairs/ juxtaposed with a woman covering her face with her hands = the audience concluding that the carriage crashed, even though this is never shown onscreen.)

    EVEN IF you juxtapose two UNRELATED images, an audience will look for a relation between them, making-up a relation which Did Not Exist, Before They Invented It.

    1. A man drinks whiskey at night, laughing.

    2. The man is in a baseball uniform in daylight, and he strikes out.

    Is it really hard to invent a cause and effect relationship? A little story about how drunkenness lost the game.

    1. A man is in a baseball uniform in daylight, and he strikes out.

    2. The man drinks whiskey at night, laughing.

    Maybe he's drowning his sorrow? Maybe he bet against his own team, and is celebrating.
    Different character.

    ‘The One Ring’ has a pretty lame relationship mechanic, and it works GREAT.

    During character creation, each player has to pick another character to be their characters’ Fellowship buddy. If the other character’s [some fucking stat I can’t remember Hope? Heart? Fatigue? Shadow? Hit Points?!] goes below a certain level, your character also takes a penalty to [some fucking stat I don’t remember. The same one? A different one?].

    The fact that I don’t care about the stat— makes it all the more amazing that the mechanic succeeded at creating character motivations.

    The Hobbit picked my Forest Guy, and she Invented the explanation that she cared about me because we were both vegetable thieves.

    I picked the City Guy, and invented the explanation that a Forest Guy would feel obliged to look out for the helpless city wimp, in the woods.

    The Elf Ranger picked the Hobbit, because he figured a snobby elf forest ranger would consider hobbits just another type of animal in their jurisdiction, like rabbits and deer.

    I don’t remember who the City Guy picked... you go ahead and pick the Forest Guy, Hobbit, or Elf; based on whatever motive jumps into your head.
    Or randomly select another character, and THEN seek a motive afterward. I say he picks the Elf because even a rural elf is closest thing available, to fellow sophisticated city person.


    By the way, I think you’re on the right track, by allowing players to leave the motive blank; until they think of a motive. It can be hard to think, under time pressure.
    But I would also suggest giving that character a −1 penalty to [something], until they fill in the blank. Just to keep the player from ignoring the blank spot.

    Maybe I'm stating the obvious. It appears to me that every post in this thread is largely unanimous on the issue.
    Even the original post. Except maybe the word 'vague' says you aren't giving players clear enough images to juxtapose? Or maybe the word 'fantastic' says you are looking for some extra-special motives, beyond the obvious stuff I've described?
  • edited September 2011
    I'm gonna go close-read the Fellowship rules for One Ring.
    Here it is:
    "A player-hero recovers one point of Hope at the end of a session if his Fellowship focus wasn't wounded, or otherwise harmed during play, and is in the same location as them.
    A character gains one point of Shadow at the end of the session if his Fellowship focus was wounded, or three points if the focus was killed.
    ....If a player spends a Hope point to get an Attribute bonus to accomplish an action that can be considered to directly protect or favour his Fellowship focus and succeeds, he immediately recovers the Hope point he just spent.
    [Adventurer's Book, p. 106, emphasis mine]

    Also, if I were City Guy, I'd pick the hobbit because Forest Guy and I have too much natural tension, and the elf is too otherworldly for me. Hobbits aren't weird or scary. And I'm assuming City Guy = Barding and Forest Guy = Woodman, so my Barding could have been to Bree, and seen hobbits there, and maybe feels about them sort of how Sam Gamgee feels about elves. That is, he's kind of a fanboy. Extra entertainment could be had by the Barding making a point of why he thinks hobbits are so great, possibly via private monologue or a quick aside to the Elf.
  • Posted By: Todd LIt’s not hard to make up motivations, it’s easy:
    The human mind automatically seeks explanations, tells stories, fills in blanks, assigns motivations.
    An imaginative seed. I use a random seed at the start of each story phase to help out the GM. I definitely need something to kickstart the players imagination.
    Posted By: Todd LMaybe I'm stating the obvious. It appears to me that every post in this thread is largely unanimous on the issue.
    Even the original post. Except maybe the word 'vague' says you aren't giving players clear enough images to juxtapose? Or maybe the word 'fantastic' says you are looking for some extra-special motives, beyond the obvious stuff I've described?
    Give me an example of 'images' that would fire imagination for these:

    beliefs: Ideas and convictions that the character is prone to act on. These tell stands for -­‐-­‐ What type of person they are.
    desires: An urge characters are likely to go out of their way to satisfy. Primarily drivers.
    issues: Something that emotionally troubles the character such that, in some situations, they may be driven to irrational plans or inexplicable (for them) behavior. Emotional complications.
    influences: Relationship, social bond or situation that is likely to effect the character’s behavior. Drivers and complications.
    dispositions: Attitude towards another PC that is likely to affect interactions with that character in a way th will drive or complicate things for your character
  • Steven,

    Looking at that character writeup. I see a list of motivation statements. But I don't see any reason why I should care about them or do anything with them.

    I look at the plays. I'm +3 to resist supernatural. And I'm +1 to be a badass soldier (which I think you could sum up in 1 statement rather than a list of 8 details).

    But there's lots more things on there. They don't seem to really effect anything. What does it matter how I feel about Moutaz or Ranier? Why does it matter that I'm sexist? Ho does death or abandonment affect me deeply - does it affect my dice? What do my duty and family matter?

    I think there are too many things in that character description and not enough of them matter.

    Basically, it looks like you've statted up a Dwarf for a D&D campaign (resistance and combat), but you're telling me that what really matters are all the background details.

    I want to see those background details have some mechanical punch.

    I want to see:
    Conviction: The occult is evil and dangerous and is best left alone. Resist supernatural +3
    Death: The death or abandonment of a comrade affects him deeply. -1 when affected by these. (Or, perhaps, +1 when seeking vengance or regrouping.)
    Duty: His duty is to King and country and the chain of command. +2 when following orders despite his reservations.
    Family: He has a wife and a young son, aged 7, that mean the world to him. +1 when saving his family.

    Then you're making those things important, rather than
    +1 Block a melee attack efficiently with an elbow or knee check
    +1 Silently dispatch an opponent with a surprise knife attack

    If you want it to be important WHY he's knifing someone, then WHY he's knifing someone should be how he gets a bonus. Not just because he's good at knifing people.

    If motivations are the most important things, then they should be at the heart of the mechanics.
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidBut there's lots more things on there. They don't seem to really effect anything. What does it matter how I feel about Moutaz or Ranier? Why does it matter that I'm sexist? Ho does death or abandonment affect me deeply - does it affect my dice? What do my duty and family matter?
    Rob. the primary reasons for Motivations are to drive and complicate. The first means to drive goal setting. The second means to make things more interesting. You get points when you set and achieve goals (engage driving motives). You get get points when you narrate motives affecting your characters decision making process (engage complicating motives). Obviously some motives could drive and complicate.

    Thats not direct mechanical punch in the way you give an example, however. I like your idea for that direct linkages, but my reservation is that some kinds of motivations dont work well that way, and that also that such bonuses only apply during challenge phase.
  • Posted By: stefoidI like your idea for that direct linkages, but my reservation is that some kinds of motivations dont work well that way, and that also that such bonuses only apply during challenge phase.
    Well, I don't understand what you mean by a challenge phase, because I don't know enough about how you structure your game to know what that means or why it's a problem.

    But I'd like to see some examples of motivations that don't work well as elements that directly impact actions in play.

    I would posit that it's very possible that the things you would list may be poorly positioned motives that aren't really going to drive things and be interesting to dwell on anyway.

    Maybe part of the problem is that you're encouraging people to create abstract, passive motivations like "Family: He has a wife and a young son, aged 7, that mean the world to him." that are mostly reactionary, rather than stating things in an proactive way, like "+2 when securing the safety of his wife and son".

    Securing your family's safety is something that you can do both proactively and reactively. Look at Noah Bennet in the early episodes of Heroes. The guy is spending so much time proactively ensuring the safety of his family that he's basically the villain of the early episodes of the series. Lots of potential for goals and complications there.

    I think putting the motivations into actions with active mechanical punch (+2 when securing the safety...) means you are strongly encouraging the players to persue those motivations in play. It sounds to me like your other way of thinking (reward the players after they've set a goal) is too abstract of a version of that to get the players to engage with it successfully.

    Also, it's really nice when the players can look down on their character sheet and get inspired to do things.

    Looking at the character sheet you've posted, I'm inspired to sneak up and knife someone. Probably someone supernatural, because they'll have a hard time hurting me if my sneaking fails.

    But the reason WHY I would sneak up and knife someone is much more vague. Sure, if they were threatening my family I would definitely knife them. If it's Mouataz and he's being lazy, I guess I'd knife him too, because that seems to be all I'm good at.

    But, see, if I had +1 when calling Mouataz on his laziness, then I wouldn't knife him. I'd yell at him. Or try to actively arrange a circumstance where his CO would catch him being lazy so he would get in trouble. Because I have this modifier for taking actions against Mouataz's laziness, so I'd be inspiried to want to use them. The goal-driven action would flow right out of that.

    Because of the game element in roleplaying games, there's a tendency to be motivated (as a player) by things that give us direct mechanical bonuses that are clear to see. If you want that player motivation to align with character motivation, then make the mechanics be directly about character motivation.

    The character you've written up seems extremely reactive. He doesn't actively do much at all. If you give him an order, he follows it. If you attack his family, he defends them. But the rest of the time, I just picture him hanging out in a barracks, complaining about Mouataz and Rainer and waiting for a mission and maybe emailing his wife or going to the shooting range. He feels to me like the stereotypical bad boffer larp character who does nothing between fights but hang out waiting for the next fight to start.
  • edited September 2011
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidWell, I don't understand what you mean by a challenge phase, because I don't know enough about how you structure your game to know what that means or why it's a problem.

    But I'd like to see some examples of motivations that don't work well as elements that directly impact actions in play.

    I would posit that it's very possible that the things you would list may be poorly positioned motives that aren't really going to drive things and be interesting to dwell on anyway.

    Maybe part of the problem is that you're encouraging people to create abstract, passive motivations like "Family: He has a wife and a young son, aged 7, that mean the world to him." that are mostly reactionary, rather than stating things in an proactive way, like "+2 when securing the safety of his wife and son".

    Securing your family's safety is something that you can do both proactively and reactively. Look at Noah Bennet in the early episodes of Heroes. The guy is spending so much time proactively ensuring the safety of his family that he's basically the villain of the early episodes of the series. Lots of potential for goals and complications there.
    The game has a story phase and a challenge phase. The story phase is where players make decisions and explicitly (mechanically, formally) outline character goals. the challenge phase is when the characters are actively involved in achieving their goals.

    Motivations are primarilly there to inspire goal-setting. So The Noah Bennet character, presumably, would make decisions and set goals related to his familly, i.e. goal : "eliminate the character that knows his daughters true identiy". this would happen in story phase. Then sometime later, when push comes to shove and Bennet is in a postiion to make good (or otherwise) on his goal, the game shifts to challenge phase where conflict resolution rules come into it - using 'plays' and dice and so on.

    So do Motivations impact play? Well, if a character doesnt set any goals, there can literally be no Challenge phase.

    What Im finding is that players are setting short term, immediate, pragmatic goals based on whatever situation is going down in the moment. Because they arent coming up with Motivations at all, or the ones they do come up with arent really relevent, they arent setting those real deep characterization-motivated goals that I would like to see. Ones that may be at odds with their immediate short term, pragmatic goals, you know? interesting ones...

    I mean, initally I didnt have motivations at all, players were just expected to 'have goals'. which resulted in the above problem but worse. Motivations were only introduced in an attempt to help drive 'better quality' / more varied goal setting
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidI think putting the motivations into actions with active mechanical punch (+2 when securing the safety...) means you are strongly encouraging the players to persue those motivations in play. It sounds to me like your other way of thinking (reward the players after they've set a goal) is too abstract of a version of that to get the players to engage with it successfully.

    Also, it's really nice when the players can look down on their character sheet and get inspired to do things.
    I agree. But I dont feel that the direct link of motivation -> challenge phase play bonus is the right way to go about it for my game.

    An idea you just gave me though, could work:

    Currently, points are rewarded like this: (LTG = long term goal, STG = short term goal)

    set LTG = 5pts
    advance LTG = 1pt
    achieve LTG = 5 pts
    abandon LTG for compelling reason = 5 pts

    set STG = 0pts
    achieve STG = 2 pts

    What Im thinking is a direct linkage between Motivations and goal setting, like this:

    set LTG = 3pts*
    advance LTG = 1pt
    achieve LTG = 3 pts *
    abandon LTG for compelling reason = 5 pts

    set STG = 0pts *
    achieve STG = 1 pt *

    * = +2 points if goal related to character motivation.
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidThe character you've written up seems extremely reactive. He doesn't actively do much at all. If you give him an order, he follows it. If you attack his family, he defends them. But the rest of the time, I just picture him hanging out in a barracks, complaining about Mouataz and Rainer and waiting for a mission and maybe emailing his wife or going to the shooting range. He feels to me like the stereotypical bad boffer larp character who does nothing between fights but hang out waiting for the next fight to start.
    Yeah, I envisaged him as a bit or a martial marrionette - deadly earnest career soldier type. He probably makes more sense in the context of the group of PCs that make up the module, they are a fairly uneven bunch of mostly non-military types, so there is inhernet friction there.
  • A couple of other things, Rob.

    1) Its not so much the lack of direct linkage between motivations and goal setting that concerns me. Its coming up with those motivations in the first place. Whether they are tied directly to a +1 play type bonus as per your suggestion, or give bonus points when setting goals as per my suggestion, the motivations have to come from somewhere. Thats the main thrust of my problem.

    The direct linkage to a mechanical bonus of some sort encourages the player to create and consider motivations yes, however...

    2) There is a fundamental problem I have with a direct linkage between motivations and mechanics such as the ones listed in this thread, and that is spamming, for want of a better word. i.e. the most interesting thing about Motivations and other such influences on a character's behaviour is 'will I or wont I?' Under what circumstances will the motivation be acted on, and when will it not? Thats a big thing right? That exploration of character. But if you get a reward for acting on a motivation then you encourage spamming "I will".

    What I currently have is a rule that gives a reward point whenever a player narrates a motivation coming under consideration when they make a decision. Show us your character struggling with a motivation and you get a point regardless of the final decision. Im not entirely happy with this because it is quite a hand-wavy rule, but I chose it to avoid my problem with spamming motivations.

    What Id really like is a stronger, more direct rule that doesnt encourage spamming. And a procedure to help payers come up with great motivations for their characters in the first place.
  • I have a really hard time coming up with strong motivations from a blank page.

    The Smallville group relationship map procedure is an amazing way to address this. Creating people and places and determining relationships to them as a group makes for a nice tangly web of highly motivating relationships. And the fact that it's integrated into character statting is even more impressive.

    Sorcerer also has some very strong procedures for establishing things that the character cares about, which can then drive conflict.

    Also, some games help you automatically generate tense relationships with the other players. Like Fiasco. That drives a lot of motivation and goal setting.

    I find that without tools to guide them, most players create characters that exist in a vacuum and don't have strong connections outside of themselves.

    For the current game I'm running, after the players had their characters about 2/3 developed, I went through and go their buy in on tangling them together. So one of the characters was an outlaw cursed with a different appearance, so I made him the brother of one of the other characters. Another is the sister of the 2 love interests of other characters. And when a new player joined, I had him play a character with a crush on one of the others. Giving them lots of family and love ties right off the bat gave them lots of motivation to have more interesting interactions with each other and has helped the game be a lot more fun.
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidI have a really hard time coming up with strong motivations from a blank page.
    One thing I need to do is probably come up with yet more examples. Maybe some SG crowd-sourcing could help there.

    Relationships are one part of my games'sMotivations, involving Influences and Dispositions. The player also has Beliefs, Desires and Issues to address.
  • edited September 2011
    Hi Rob, I should say thanks for your input.

    I thinking possibly I will make one change (so far) to beef up the Motivation->goal linkage, as that is simply to make short term goals worth +1 RPs when declared if they are related to a motivation, and 0 otherwise.

    It seems like a tiny change, but characters make short term goals all the time, and the +1 reward point will just keep the Motivations at the forefront of everyones mind, and act as a refresher for all the players at the table. i.e. If John Shaw makes it his short term goal to convince Tshilaba Kovacs not to accompany the team on a potentially dangerous mission, because of his predjudice agaisnt women in the armed services he gets +1 RPs -- and that keeps everyone at the table 'in the loop' as far as his characterization goes.

    And on the flipside, a character gets +1 on abandoning a short term goal if it is related to a Motivation, and 0 otherwise. For instance, Tshilaba Kovacs, the gypsy, hates Germans because of some incident in her past. She might make a goal of murdering a german soldier guarding a place she has to infiltrate to get information. but something might happen to change her mind about that - perhaps the soldier turns out to be very young, or begs for his mama or something... And she relents and just knocks him out. Thats worth a RP too.

    This is to replace the hand-wavy rule I had about 'describing a motivation being considered as part of a decision making process, regardless of which decision is made". Setting and achieving / abandoning goals are more concrete. I think that although its not as flexible as the hand-wavy rule, it will actually get applied which is a much better result.
  • Glad I could help. Best of luck with the next stage of development.
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