Characterization aids

edited January 2018 in Story Games
Splintered off from another thread, starting roughly here:

Has anyone had any good experiences with "how to play your character" stuff in the rules, on the character sheet, or otherwise formalized or recorded in some fashion?

Has anyone tried such things always to meet with failure/disappointment?

Comments

  • My immediate impressions:

    * I have fairly little interest in rules, tips, or details which give me guidance on my character's mannerisms, quirks, or similar details. Twirling a moustache can be funny, but it's not hard to do and it doesn't add a ton to a game to have it spelled out or supported.

    Sometimes these things seem cute on first impression, but my sense is that, especially after the first 30 minutes of play, they fade into complete unimportance.

    I look at such characterization somewhat like a writer: it's only interesting if it tells me something important about the character. I don't care if the businessman is wearing a Hawaiian shirt unless it turns out that it's somehow revealed later that he was just coming from Hawai'i, and this is an important part of the character's past or an interesting plot point.

    The other details can be nice just for ... you know, detail, but ultimately they are a very low priority in terms of what makes gaming fun for me, I'd say.

    * On the other hand, "how to play your character" guidelines which give me a sense of what the character cares about, how she goes about pursuing goals, or how she might react to something I'm not personally familiar with... those are very helpful and interesting. They help me play my character and help me "get in their head" better, if that's part of the desired playstyle.

    These are actually useful tools for getting the character across in a dramatic sense.

    Some exceptions:

    * If I'm expected to physically act out the character, that's a different thing. In a LARP, for instance, it's helpful to know that members of the mafia wear red hats and that Orcs on this planet are always scratching themselves, because the atmosphere bothers their skin.

    Since I have to maintain a physical impression of the character, those are very helpful - unlike a bit of description for a tabletop RPG, they give me actual tools to portray the character (probably better than I would without that stuff).

    * Similarly, there are occasionally other important uses to things like turns of speech or physical mannerisms. For instance, in a game where it's vitally important to distinguish in-character speech from out-of-character speech, putting on an accent can help play be much clearer/faster to interpret (i.e. we don't need to stop play to ask if someone was speaking in-character or not).

    As a GM, some otherwise meaningless detail like a funny hat, a crooked hand, or a strange voice can help in the same way, to distinguish NPCs and make it easier and quicker for the group to transition from "the GM is talking" to "the GM is portraying an NPC". As an easy illustration, imagine a GM playing out a conversation between two NPCs - such non-verbal cues really help.

    * Sometimes, very minor details carry thematic weight. At that point, they become much more interesting and engaging.

    For example, in Star Wars the Empire is all shiny, new, and well-maintained. In contrast, the Rebels' technology is scratched, old, beaten-up, and unreliable. This makes them more relatable and can be used as a shorthand to create an emotional connection to one or the other. Those details are unimportant by themselves, but in this context they carry additional meaning.
  • I'm sorry I didn't provide any more concrete examples from actual games; I hope some other people will!
  • I don't think about it that when you narrate twirling your mustache it makes the game more fun for you. I think of it more like when everyone else narrates their mannerisms that makes the game more fun for you, and you're reciprocating. :)

    I mean, unless their characterization all sucks. But I'd like the game to help inspire or guide people toward characterization that doesn't suck.
  • Oh, absolutely. We're talking about the same thing here - I'm referring to the overall fun of the game for the group.

    Nevertheless, I stand by my answer!
    But I'd like the game to help inspire or guide people toward characterization that doesn't suck.
    That's what I am talking about here, in my experience.

  • I don't think about it that when you narrate twirling your mustache it makes the game more fun for you. I think of it more like when everyone else narrates their mannerisms that makes the game more fun for you, and you're reciprocating. :)

    I mean, unless their characterization all sucks. But I'd like the game to help inspire or guide people toward characterization that doesn't suck.
    I totally agree here.

    Anyway, I think Tenra Bansho Zero does this well. People have a small number of clearly defined BROAD things. So maybe this doesn't really apply - since we're definitely not talking about "Twirls moustaches a lot" or "inserts 'mhmhm' into lots of sentences" or whatever.

    But TBZ has worked for my groups. People pick one of the "issues" out of their list, and they grab and do stuff with it, and the other players get cooler 'audience time' and get to provide reward feedback. (Actually, kinda like the audience being discussed in the streaming thread.) It's a pretty cool engine that has definitely improved my enjoyment of the game as a GM.
  • Can you give an example of one of those things/issues, for illustration?
  • One of the best experiences I had with this came from something I hacked out from a game I can't remember. Perhaps it was kingdom played with a great deal of microscope and TBZ. Basically each player got in secret and randomly a different card that gave their character a quirk about how they tend to solve problems. Like "I'm willing to help but my people goes first for me" or "developing and preserving knowledge is the most important". Otherwise, they were free to chose anything about their character. The thing is that while these quirks didn't turned characters directly against each other, it made harder for them to find a common ground and formulate a plan together.

    Soon some alliances were formed, other pcs dedided to stand by themselves and the whole session went amazing, as we wanted to find out how these characters turned out to be responsible of the destruction of the human species. It fitted the story and players were happy that it wasn't because they as a players couldn't reach an agreement, but that their characters were flawed and that made it harder to reach a partial one. They could blame the cards for that, which in turn make the argument feel removed from the table and more ingrained with the fiction instead.

    Also, 5e characterization aids didn't seem to work too much for our group either, though it was perhaps that a)we didn't fully understood nor got used to how they worked and b)It felt like too much data to keep in mind while playing (the GM has a lot of data to remember and the players get distracted easily between the loong turns to remember all the things they need to consider when getting back in character.
  • edited January 2018
    So a bit like Paranoïa's secret societies, except with psychological types.
    I had this idea for a mini game on top of a rpg session, never tested it : pick a type in secret. The types are nothing obvious. End of session, people try and guess who played what. Correct answers and players they designate get a small prize.
  • Can you give an example of one of those things/issues, for illustration?
    Sure. If I were creating, say, an Oni Swordmaster, I might put that together from three templates. The templates involved might give me these Fates:

    "Goal: To Know True Strength"
    "Goal: Coexist with humans"
    "Emotion: Hatred of Hypocrisy"

    At game start, I pick two to "keep". These each get a value of 2. Very early in the game, you get the opportunity to add 1-2 more. Playing your Fates in such a way that other people at the table recognize you are doing so earns you rewards. Ignoring them brings no penalties. As the game progresses, you can increase the numerical rating of some but not all of them for mechanical benefits connected specifically to those higher rated Fates.

    So the character comes with some goal/emotion/past misfortune/vow/something built in, and you get to add some more and choose which ones to focus on as the game progresses.
  • Great examples: character issues and motivations are things I find really fruitful for roleplaying.
  • Yeah; And all the default templates have good stuff like that.

    But I guess this is 'broader' than the original mustache twirling question?
  • Broader? Maybe, maybe not. We won't always know whether a designer intended a given character component to aid in characterization or not, but if it does, it does.

    Take Nature and Demeanor in Vampire. Those are right near the top of the sheet and have zero mechanical effects. Both inform how you think of your character, but, as distinct from Nature, I'm pretty sure Demeanor is there to make you think about how to play them.

    The risk there is that the player will just say, "Okay, this Demeanor is how my character comes off to others," but then not actually do anything to convey that impression to the other players. I've certainly seen plenty of that.

    "Twirls mustache" is completely insufficient as a way to help you understand and inhabit a character. But once you do understand and inhabit your character, I think "twirls mustache" on the sheet acts as a nice reminder to show the character to others.

    The "non-practical habits" and other descriptors in Delve get the players to think about how they might express their characters in concrete terms. Combined with a facilitator who starts sessions by asking what everyone looks like, this can get folks in the habit of being more descriptive than otherwise. In my experience, players don't go back to the sheet much, and they don't repeat the stuff on the sheet very often, but they do get into a habit of more colorful play/narration.
  • I just bumped into this - in an article totally unrelated to RPGs, as far as I can tell:

    https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/1*f3TfDs1qcwAZuFDG3jp2JQ.png

    I feel like there's something there to consider and/or use.

    For those curious, it's from this article, which is interesting in lots of ways but otherwise probably not relevant to this thread.
  • Interesting! Certainly, there are lots of things that are great to roleplay, while some others can either make slight problems or leave us without a clue about how they can be conveyed.

    Motivations are great; everyone does things for a reason, even if it's only logic and important for them. I can imagine myself roleplaying a character doing things for justice, out of fear or curiosity, or even just for fun. Currently I'm stealing things from this list for my games. Bonds also make for good motivators, though it must be handled carefully. Like, if you say your character has a dear sister and the narrator has the BBEG kill her in front of you, sure, you can make revenge your new motivation but that may shatter your expectations about the game if you were expecting to save her; or if your motivation was more about taking care of her because that was your mother's last wish, it may even make sense that the character now turns suicidal because there's no bonds anymore.

    Objectives are a must. Mixing it with motivations it's interesting to see how different is a character that wants to steal from the the rich for fun from another that steals from them for justice. Objectives in RPGs are tricky however: give opposite objectives or a common unshareable objective to the players and you've got the recipe for PvP. Let the players get away with "safe" objectives like "living in peace" or "staying out of trouble" and you will need to make things happening to them instead of letting them drive the story.

    Common objectives will have them working together even if they have totally different motivations, like I wrote above. And short-time goals will only keep the characters in the story until they get what they want, so if one PC just wants to protect his forest but the others want to protect the kingdom either the rest of the players or the GM will have to give him something to change their mind. After all, it's not like both objectives and motivations of a character can't change at any part of the story, though changing them too often in a short term without life-changing events to justify that kinda ruins the narrative effect.

    Demeanors fill the gap, adding a crucial component to the things listed above. How you show yourself to others? Are you often clear and open about your motivations and objectives or hide them behind a mask? Are you optimist or cynical in regard to the objective you have chosen for yourself? How do you treat others? Maybe VtM's list of archetypes is a good point to start, though it should be taken with care. Never mind the willpower mechanic mentioned there, dunno how it was actually supposed to work in play. Most of the time when we played the conditions made either too hard to regain willpower for some players or way too easy for others. I'd use some things there for inspiration, but never the list as it is.

    Quirks complete the circle I think. Add some detail to the character, like "twirls mustache" or an accent and you get a bit more of a rounded characterization. I was checking this list, though I don't like that so many quirks on this list trigger only on specific conditions, are hard ro roleplay or overlap with character skills. Perhaps the best here are gestures, tics, speech quirks, physical features, specific ways to perform an action or a particular habit of the character that can either be roleplayed, talked about or generate specific reactions on other people.

    It's still a bit crude though, but if you have to balance this along with a somewhat complicated system for conflict resolution it's probably more than enough. Personally I prefer to keep characterization separated from other game mechanics, since doing it for a mechanical reward interrupts the flow of the game, no matter how quick or not intrusive may be giving another player some form of currency or a temporary mechanical bonus. The sole concept of awarding or getting a reward in the middle of the game distracts the attention from the joy of the performance back to the game mechanics and believe me, the less small distractions you've got in your game, the better.

    Not to say that characterization can't be rewarded, just that the best time for it may be at the end of the session.

  • edited January 2018
    RPGs aimed at teenagers have often an unvoluntary educational dimension. Learning about maths, physics, chemistry, biology, technology, economy, social sciences, history, literature, arts, rhetoric. The tips for playing a character I remember fall in two categories : literary devices ; psychology. Theory.

    Playing with intent reminded me what works best if you don't want a full drama class : it's solo prologues.
  • WarriorMonk,

    That's a pretty good list of categories. How do you make use of TVTropes's list of motivations, though? It's a long, long list, and not all of the same "type".
  • Lots of work, I had to edit and reduce the list, get rid of similar ones and things that didn't fit the game. I'm still working on this though, probably turn it into cards.
  • Yeah, that sounds like quite a project!

    In the meantime, I stumbled across this comment on G+. Unfortunately, it was a copy of a copy shared by someone, so I'm no longer sure I remember who wrote it. It's intended for LARPs, but could also be applicable to tabletop play:

    The following has become my working approach to disambiguating larp goals in a vein similar to GNS theory:

    Piece 1: What the player is expected to be doing
    This part refers to what the game expects the player to consider their cornerstone activity during it. What are players adding to the game? In other words, these are three different definitions of "playing" or even of "roleplaying":

    G - Goals: Pursuing things, trying to accomplish something. The goal seeking can be hardcore or casual, open or fixed, but actions are characterized more by being purposeful, and matter by their results.

    E - Emotions: Working with how the character is thinking and feeling. Actions tend to emerge and be reflections of emotions, and are thus symptomatic of them.

    P - Performance: Expressing the character and what they're like, including communicating a vivid and distinctive figure. Actions are predominantly expressive or telegraphic. (I wanted to call this Expression-driven, but that would double up on the Es.)

    Any of these can be what people mean when they talk about "good roleplaying"-- "Is that how your character would approach the problem?" "What's going on psychologically?" "You did such a good job playing X!"

    Also, of course, these are axes that can be emphasized or not, rather than mutually exclusive, etc.


    Piece 2: What element of the game is being explored through its play
    What is the game made of? Inasmuch as all players are working with a common reality, what about what's common is most relevant to drive and frame things happening? Another way to say this is, where is the meaning coming from?

    System - Directly using the rules that comprise reality, trying to solve them, use them, effect change, etc. _Example: trying to complete the ritual steps to open the magical portal_
    Setup - grasping at and exploring approaches to a situation. Example: we're all stuck in this prison and there's not enough food to go around
    Story - unfolding plot, exploring background, events and their arrangement. _Example: it's an ordinary dinner party on face, but our conflicts run deep_
    Social - interacting with other characters, socializing, experiencing people. (I wanted to call this "People", but why not make it start with S.) Example: at this pageant of the gods, the most intriguing guests arrive.

    (Note: what's the difference between Setup & Story? Both are plot, but setup is about the shape of circumstances, whereas story is about content. For example, The Hunger Games is an extreme example of something that is all about Setup, with a skeleton of a Story stretched on.)

    I think this is something that's useful to clarify so that players can arrive at a game with an understanding of where the meat is and where to delve deeper. Because we have to build a consensus reality, one of the things to consense on is where to cut corners-- knowing that a game is structured to emphasize certain sources of meaning helps players collaborate on where to best invest creativity.

    For the purposes of this thread, I think it's pretty interesting to consider where your "characterization aids" slot into some of these categories.

    For instance, the character quirk "twirls moustache" (a la GURPS) plays directly into Performance, but has nothing to do with Goals or Emotions.

    Notably, it doesn't play into System, Setup, Story, or Social *at all*. (There is a possible relevance to Social here, but it's fairly tangential - it doesn't help form interactions.)

    Dave's "displeased when" categories for Delve, however, could be used to connect a quirk like this to Emotions. You can take it further by connecting the quirks to character-relevant or plot-relevant details. By saying "I twirl my moustache when I'm hiding something", I add a characterization device which may help construct Social interactions, reveal Emotional play, on top of the benefits to Performance.

    Put those together and you get some traction to Story.

    (Speaking personally, I start to get interested once I see enough elements which allow interactions to form, or create avenues for further play, so that's when *I* start to get on board with this kind of thing.)
  • Playing with intent reminded me what works best if you don't want a full drama class : it's solo prologues.
    I do think that the whole group getting to know the character as well as possible as early as possible is a great way to provide context for their future behavior and make it more meaningful to the audience.
    Basically each player got in secret and randomly a different card that gave their character a quirk about how they tend to solve problems. Like "I'm willing to help but my people goes first for me" or "developing and preserving knowledge is the most important".
    Nice. If the game involves a lot of problem-solving, then "here's how your character goes about problem-solving" is hugely relevant and should come out in play often. I think that's a necessary ingredient to make such "disposition"-style attributes really contribute.
    Playing your Fates in such a way that other people at the table recognize you are doing so earns you rewards . . . As the game progresses, you can increase the numerical rating of some but not all of them for mechanical benefits connected specifically to those higher rated Fates.
    That mechanism also sounds like a great way to get character facets into actual play. (FWIW I agree with WM that tracking it end-of-session seems preferable to in-the-moment.)

    Both of these techniques strike me as highly relevant to what you do, but indifferent to how you do it. So the player has lots of stuff to invoke, but whether they invoke it with acting or narrating or just statements like, "Well my guy hates hypocrisy so he attacks the weasely diplomat, here's my d20" is really up to them.

    Overall I guess I would say that any system which helps form a fleshed-out character idea in the player's mind, and then also makes that character idea relevant to actual play, is a nudge toward characterization. Any players who are in the habit of acting or narrating or performing in some fashion will then take it the rest of the way.

    For players who aren't in that habit, though, is there something the game can do to get them all the way there?

    I think so. In @WarriorMonk's breakdown, I think Motivations and Objectives get us some "what they do", Demeanor is a mix of "what" with maybe some hints at "how they do it", and Quirks might exist on that line where the "what" is so detailed and idiosyncratic that it effectively becomes a part of "how the character does what they do". I mean, when the primary action is something other than the Quirk, then the Quirk basically exists to characterize that action.
    Quirks complete the circle I think. Add some detail to the character, like "twirls mustache" or an accent and you get a bit more of a rounded characterization. I was checking this list, though I don't like that so many quirks on this list trigger only on specific conditions, are hard ro roleplay or overlap with character skills. Perhaps the best here are gestures, tics, speech quirks, physical features, specific ways to perform an action or a particular habit of the character that can either be roleplayed, talked about or generate specific reactions on other people.
    No link came through here! What list is this?
  • Dave's "displeased when" categories for Delve, however, could be used to connect a quirk like this to Emotions. You can take it further by connecting the quirks to character-relevant or plot-relevant details. By saying "I twirl my moustache when I'm hiding something", I add a characterization device which may help construct Social interactions, reveal Emotional play, on top of the benefits to Performance.
    Great point! "Twirls mustache" is a bit of a waste of a moment of performance if the performance gives you literally nothing beyond that visual detail. It's probably preferable to twirl our mustache when we're looking down on someone, as a way to express the character's emotions, attitude & worldview (if the context makes "looking down on this person" relevant, that is).

    I wonder if it'd be viable to take a system which already covers how the character thinks/feels about certain events/situations, and then ask them, "So when that thought/feeling is evoked, how does that manifest in your behavior?"

    In Delve, the combo of "displeased when" and "shows displeasure by" led to some interesting choices. A lot of the latter were fairly understated, allowing for a more nuanced characterization, while the audience knowing the reason behind it made it still communicate something.

    To be honest, I've seen very little "do the 'shows displeasure by' action on the sheet" play, but I've seen a little, and I've definitely seen that style of subtle-but-present characterization inform play. Delve is more a "Goals" than "Performance" game anyway, so the upside in that context may be limited.
  • Yes, I would imagine that the goal-oriented nature of play there would often override characterization concerns. (It certainly did when we played, anyway!)
  • That mechanism also sounds like a great way to get character facets into actual play. (FWIW I agree with WM that tracking it end-of-session seems preferable to in-the-moment.)
    I don't really agree; The aiki mechanism in TBZ is a simple chit handoff, so no bookkeeping is invoked. Sure, you could say that you are distracting people from the performance, but to me, that's like saying "applause distracts performers from their performance" and I find that to be the opposite of true.

    Blades in the Dark uses end-of-session tracking for a couple of keys - specifically, "You expressed your beliefs, drives, heritage, or background." and it works adequately because it's extremely whatever-the-opposite-is-of-granular. Coarse? If you can cite one time you expressed one of those things, you get XP, if you can bring up two or more, you get 2 XP, and that's it (and it doesn't matter if you were expressing beliefs/drives/heritage/background - the max is still two instances for two XP) I think trying to book keep any more than this at the end of session is just asking for people to forget most of the characterization that happened, whereas in-the-moment rewards prevent that from happening.

    Both of these techniques strike me as highly relevant to what you do, but indifferent to how you do it. So the player has lots of stuff to invoke, but whether they invoke it with acting or narrating or just statements like, "Well my guy hates hypocrisy so he attacks the weasely diplomat, here's my d20" is really up to them.
    I think this is necessary to a certain extent if you are doing some sort of mechanized reward system. In TBZ all rewards are dependent on someone else recognizing that you Did The Thing, so the more strongly performative it is, the more likely someone is to reward you.

    For players who aren't in that habit, though, is there something the game can do to get them all the way there?

    I think so. In @WarriorMonk's breakdown, I think Motivations and Objectives get us some "what they do", Demeanor is a mix of "what" with maybe some hints at "how they do it", and Quirks might exist on that line where the "what" is so detailed and idiosyncratic that it effectively becomes a part of "how the character does what they do". I mean, when the primary action is something other than the Quirk, then the Quirk basically exists to characterize that action.
    I'm not really sure how this helps. We already know that "what they do" is something these people can easily just state rather than act, and I don't see how adding modifiers helps. Instead of "I do the thing" you get "I do the thing adverbly." Or maybe with another couple scraps of "While, y'know, smiling and stuff." I guess that this is an improvement, because there is now a non-zero amount of description, but I don't actually see it leading to any further improvement. This is one of those areas where I feel like people will do it if inclined to do it, and not do it if not inclined, regardless of what the rules say. I think a more important contribution here would be to establish a situation in which the player feels comfortable "acting" or talking in funny voices or whatever, to increase their inclination. If you're shy about that, I don't think saying "But you'll get a magic banana point if you do it!" isn't going to help.
  • Agreed @Airk, I'm not enthused about trying to force disinterested players into being actors. I think characterization aids find a number of other uses:

    - Signalling to potential players that this is a game where characterization is expected.
    - Providing reminders and inspirations to players who dig characterization but often forget it amidst the other actions of play.
    - Taking players who are undecided or indifferent about characterization in general, and making it worth their while in this specific game.

    The best way to do that latter is probably, like you just said, establish a comfortable situation, where everyone else is acting and enjoying each other's acting.

    If you've seen TBZ's system abet that, that's pretty cool!
  • I totally agree with your three goals (I wouldn't even have thought of the first one). But I do also feel that the third one is partially served by handing out rewards - THOSE are the situations where you can score a win with a systemized incentive, I feel.
  • No link came through here! What list is this?
    My bad, this is the list I should have put in a link there somewhere.
    ... Sure, you could say that you are distracting people from the performance, but to me, that's like saying "applause distracts performers from their performance" and I find that to be the opposite of true.
    Depends on the group, system and genre. I'll give you that aiki chits can replace applause; we grew up to learn that applause means recognition, it isn't ingrained in our genes like smiles or anything. So replacing applause by aiki cheats does nothing... except the same that applauses do.

    I mean, it's a show of recognition coming from a genuine emotional reaction from the audience. A good performer will build up the scene to generate applause naturally and a good audience will respect the performance enough not to interrupt it. So far so good. But if the game is more improvisational, then there can always be another player with a good idea to intervene in the scene and countinue to build up things. Having an official mechanism to interrupt the scene before that kinda ruins this impro timing a bit.

    But then again, this depends on the group, system and genre. For a somewhat normal game where you get pauses for players thinking and deciding what to do, conversations where players pace themselves a bit and such, then a silent applause in the shape of aiki chits interrupts nothing and as a matter of fact benefits the game greatly. Problem-solving usually will mean the pacing of the game will go like this.

    However if you have a more active group, a fast-paced game where problem solving is streamlined and action non-stop, rewarding middle-game to give players some bookkeeping and resource-management to do makes their gears switch into a more calculating mode. Sure, it can be a rest and the actual impact can be as minimized as you want, but for a fast-pacing game, it's there and feels like a speed-bump. The faster you go, the more perceptible the sensation, that's it.

    Blades in the Dark uses end-of-session tracking... I think trying to book keep any more than this at the end of session is just asking for people to forget most of the characterization that happened, whereas in-the-moment rewards prevent that from happening.
    Here is more about the kind of feeling you want to project with the system. Sure, rewarding every little thing on the spot works for some people. For others it's okay if the thing judged at the end of the session is if those things were memorable enough, which would definitely speak more about their quality. I'd prefer to check the list of backgrounds, motivations, goals, etc for each PC and then ask the group at the end of the session if they remember the character showing any of these features. Then I'd award 1xp for each of these the rest of the players remember as being a character feature. Exact lines and moments won't matter here, just if the rest of the players identify any of these as the character's mental features. This would be a sign that the players got these through with their performance.


    For players who aren't in that habit, though, is there something the game can do to get them all the way there?

    I think so. In @WarriorMonk's breakdown, I think Motivations and Objectives get us some "what they do", Demeanor is a mix of "what" with maybe some hints at "how they do it", and Quirks might exist on that line where the "what" is so detailed and idiosyncratic that it effectively becomes a part of "how the character does what they do". I mean, when the primary action is something other than the Quirk, then the Quirk basically exists to characterize that action.

    I'm not really sure how this helps. We already know that "what they do" is something these people can easily just state rather than act, and I don't see how adding modifiers helps. Instead of "I do the thing" you get "I do the thing adverbly." Or maybe with another couple scraps of "While, y'know, smiling and stuff." I guess that this is an improvement, because there is now a non-zero amount of description, but I don't actually see it leading to any further improvement. This is one of those areas where I feel like people will do it if inclined to do it, and not do it if not inclined, regardless of what the rules say. I think a more important contribution here would be to establish a situation in which the player feels comfortable "acting" or talking in funny voices or whatever, to increase their inclination. If you're shy about that, I don't think saying "But you'll get a magic banana point if you do it!" isn't going to help.
    Rewards work best not when offered as a promise in exchange for some work, but when used as a way to express recognition after something is done. That's why they work at best in TBZ and may ruin the experience if poorly used, as in some Fate games I've heard complaints of. The whole deal with motivations, objectives, demeanors and quirks isn't -at least for me- about giving homework to the players promising points if the do it while we play, but provide players with a guidance to immerse on a character instead of playing themselves but without the usual constraints that society puts of them -because without those contraints 30% of the players I know tend to go into murder-hobo mode.

    Those who don't often made themselves some form or other of constrain, like "I want my character to be a good guy" or "I'll be as evil as needed but not despicable, and I'll stick to my word". Now, this takes a bit of a mental excercise: put those two characters with the constrains listed above in the same party. You will notice that even if they have the same goal, at some point they will disagree on the methods they use. This effect is the one I'm actually looking for as a key ingredient in my games. Works better if you're going for a short story arc of course, and the system can stand a bit of PvP. It will produce conflict naturally but within some constraints that will deny the players going straight to frontal violence as a mean to resolve this problem, which will in turn create interesting situations. If the narrator and the players can handle it, this subtle difference on "how things are done" is able to create nice, interesting content as a side effect, without too much effort of the players.

    After all, I'm all for players doing what they want instead of trying to force them, and doing things easier for them is better than saying "And I'll give you a reward if you entertain me"

  • I mean, it's a show of recognition coming from a genuine emotional reaction from the audience. A good performer will build up the scene to generate applause naturally and a good audience will respect the performance enough not to interrupt it. So far so good. But if the game is more improvisational, then there can always be another player with a good idea to intervene in the scene and countinue to build up things. Having an official mechanism to interrupt the scene before that kinda ruins this impro timing a bit.
    I just can't see where you are coming from with the idea that sliding a chit across the table "interrupts" the scene. I can't. It's not like the other player screams "YEAH! GOOD JOB BUDDY!~" and slaps them on the shoulder. There's not even any need for acknowledgement from the receiving player. Stuff more interrupty than this happens all the time in most games. Heck, I would say that rolling dice is more of an interruption than this. This is why people are constantly on a quest for rules systems that "fade into the background" - because even the most simplistic dice roll still involves picking up dice, rolling them, and reading the result, all by the acting player. Compare receiving aiki, where no physical action is required by the receiver, no looking at anything on the table is required, and no checking of results is needed. It can literally be done blindfolded.

    However if you have a more active group, a fast-paced game where problem solving is streamlined and action non-stop, rewarding middle-game to give players some bookkeeping and resource-management to do makes their gears switch into a more calculating mode.
    No. Why would you do that? There is no bookkeeping - you don't need to stop and count your chits. You don't need to mark your character sheet. You don't need to do anything except keep on roleplaying. There's no "resource management" involved in receiving a chit. That is literally all postponed until later.

    Sure, it can be a rest and the actual impact can be as minimized as you want, but for a fast-pacing game, it's there and feels like a speed-bump. The faster you go, the more perceptible the sensation, that's it.
    I'm sorry, but I don't understand why this would be the case. It doesn't matter how heated it is. It's a non-event. You could literally close your eyes and roleplay, and open them to a pile of chits at the end of the scene.
  • edited January 2018
    I included these "tokens of appreciation" in my game. I see it works like the pretend bank notes of Monopoly. You want them, because, hey, but you don't want to lose your friends for them (commodity fetishism).

    I would love to see an RPG oriented digest of Improv and other drama theories. Is there a drama / improv teacher in the audience ?

  • edited January 2018
    I'm sorry too Airk, we agree to disagree. Note that I actually didn't say you are wrong and that your experience is false, it's just that you have your experience and I have mine (and actually mine doesn't negate or oppose yours at all). Both are true in a different place and for different people. So, I can positively say that this avenue of the discussion is a dead-end, and there can be more interesting things to discuss about the subject.

    Please, don't take me wrong at this, I'm really not offended, nor trying to offend you even in a passive-agressive way with this stance, nor trying to be childish about dismissing this way of the discussion as some sort of rage-quit. It's just that I notice that it's a matter of perception, that none of ours is better, lower or less detailed, just different since he had different experiences.

    Let's get on another side of characterization! I'm still interested to discuss some other things and tricks to it, so Ill stay around. :)
  • Cool, no worries.
  • Tossing tokens of appreciation -- that totally needs its own thread. A complex issue, to be sure! I like it a lot better in author stance than actor stance, for example.

    Anyway, I do think it deserves to be on the list of potential ways to aid characterization.

    More on the other stuff soon...
  • Theres something else I'm grateful at TBZ for teaching me: the emotional matrix. Its a really cool characterization aid tool. Just by providing the players with ramdomly generated emotional reaction for their characters prompt the players to come up with complete explanations for their characters reactions, making the story richer and deeper each time. On top of that the emotions are rarely mutual, so misunderstandings and conflict happen more easy and a lot faster.

    Later I noticed that it could be the same even on interactions with characters and the enviroment: pick a theme and a emotion for the place and let players come up with their own reasoning for whatever their characters are feeling. I also love that the players are just told how their characters feel, but how they actually react to that or if they show these emotions at all is completely up to them. Prompts like this help players actually build the story with barely much effort beyond connecting the dots, though they may still require a bit of impro skills to come up with things on the spot.
  • Cool! I think involuntary response is an underutilized RPG tool. :)

    Do you find that feeding the players some character emotions leads them to contribute more characterization out loud than they would otherwise?
  • More than characterization, it was rationalization of those emotions. Specially if the reason is left as an empty space for them to build freely, connecting the dots. That what in turn will shape the way they roleplay those emotions. It's not that that table says that your character is angry so you play angry; you figure out why your character is angry and then say "So it was you! You murdered my father! I remember you now, prepare to die!", thus improving the story with a twist of your own.
  • That's really interesting; I'd love to hear some examples of what that looks like in an actual game. Hard to imagine it not being utterly incongruous now and then!
  • edited February 2018
    Huh. I'm not sure if that's totally on-point or a complete non-sequitur. I guess it's probably in the "fuel for character, which then might lead to characterization or not" category.

    Reminds me of The Veil.
  • Here's a better explanation:
    When the storyteller introduces a new major character in the story that the players encounter, or the player characters meet each other for the first time, the Impression Roll helps the players shape the relationship between the two characters. Together, the player and storyteller (or two players), using a 6x6 chart, use both a die roll and discussion to agree on how the player's character views the newly introduced character.. Maybe your player's Samurai falls in love at first sight with the Princess that he was hired to protect; perhaps the storyteller and player agree that it would be more interesting if he hates her, and the friction between the characters throughout the story adds more interesting elements to the mix. There are 36 completely different possible combinations of affinity, and they are decided upon by both dice and bonus points- If the player is unhappy with a result, they can spent points to change the result to a more favorable outcome.

    The Emotion Matrix exists not to dictate how relationships happen in the game, but to provide a spark of creativity to the players. It may be boring if a samurai falls in love with the princess. Maybe the roll indicates that the samurai hates the princess at first sight. Will that inspire the player? Will she come up with an interesting reason why the princess or her family might have wronged the samurai to create such hate? These interesting and fun questions emerge when the Reaction Matrix is used, and we see the characters' relationships change throughout the course of the game.
  • edited January 2018
    That's really interesting; I'd love to hear some examples of what that looks like in an actual game. Hard to imagine it not being utterly incongruous now and then!
    Well, the game also includes various mechanisms to adjust the outcome, but there's a cost, so you're encouraged not to move all the way across the grid. But if you land on "You feel like they thirst for your blood!" and go "Uhhhh..." you can pretty cheaply move to "I feel this person makes a worthy rival!" or "I feel a sense of goodwill towards this person."

    Even better, other players can pay this cost TO YOU if someone at the table is all "Oh man, you rolled 'Admiration', but I think it'd be awesome if you thought this person was hunting you." they can pay the cost for the move and you can get the benefits while providing a scene someone else wants to see.

    I've never really figured out how the heck they decided on the distribution of results on the chart though - there don't seem to be any discernable clumps of "negative" or "positive" or "mysterious" or whatever emotions. "Hatred" is right next to "Loyalty" but several squares away from "Shock" and across the board from "Annihilation"
  • edited January 2018
    Most probably they figured that putting together similar options would defeat the purpose of paying to move from one reaction to another, as I believe the limit there is that you can choose only any of the ones next to whatever was rolled, and not roll again. That makes putting far away similar things or separating different scales of the same emotion a sensible thing to do, though the result really doesn't make too much sense besides this.
  • It's funny, putting "Loyalty" and "Hatred" next to each other makes instant sense to me. They're like two sides of the same coin; makes much more sense to go from Loyalty to Hatred than from Vague Distaste to Hatred, you know?

    From those quotes and your description, I now get the picture that the system is:

    * When meeting/introducing a new character, generate a random Emotion to help define a playable and dynamic relationship with them.

    * There's somewhat of a minigame to adjust these reactions, but only to a limited extent.

    That makes it much more interesting, to me. Your earlier points are making a lot more sense now!

    I'd imagine that, in play, that creates a bit of a sense that my character has instincts and feelings of their own. I'm also learning stuff about my character I didn't know. Does that sound about right?

    Or is it just a story-creation tool? ("I see you have a Hatred relationship with this person. Let's brainstorm why that's the case!")
  • I'd totally use both. Some players, specially those more interested on the actor stance will jump straight at using the constraint as it is to play the character. Those more interested on the story side will probably play the minigame to suit the story aesthetics they prefer to see. It can even be the opposite now that I think. I'll be happy to roll with whatever the player chooses as long as they use this as inspiration and start building themselves in any direction they prefer.
  • For additional clarification:

    * You CAN move across the whole chart if you want. You're not limited to adjacent squares, but the cost is proportional to how far you go, so generally you are encouraged to find something interesting "in the vicinity"

    * It's only for "important" new characters. That could mean other PCs, or just "important" GM characters. There is no expectation that you would use it for every barkeep or gate guard. Additionally, the expectation is that everyone doens't roll for everyone. If ever PC rolled against every other PC in a 4 PC party, you'd just end up with a mess, overall.

    * The expectation is that the matrix sees less use as the game goes on -- mostly since you start to run out of 'important' new characters.

    Basically, like WM said, it works either way - if you know how you want things to go, usually you pay a small "tax" for getting a useful result, and if you don't, you can just take the inspiration and run with it.
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