Following on from today’s interview with Daniel Jones about Otherworld Immersion, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what Daniel calls, “Methodology”. This is the stuff of roleplaying gamers that isn’t the Rules and isn’t the World: it’s the methods we use to actually play, to bring those Rules and that World into harmony.
One of my side projects in the last fortnight or so has been re-reading the classic Fudge RPG rulebook, in the 10th Anniversary Edition that I currently have to hand. Each time I began to apply the Fudge system, what these days might be viewed as a “hack”, I kept hearing a voice in my head saying, “Why are you doing this? What’s this doing that Fudge can’t?”
Good question. The one big thing Fudge offers that GURPS doesn’t is the use of words to describe traits instead of the use of numbers. I guess the rest of what has been great about reading Fudge again is to remind me to think about my Methodology. You see the swirling spiral of thought that I have being wandering?
The answer, when I took a nano-second to think about it, was to simply ask the neophyte player to tell me which Attributes and Skills they want to attach to which label. For example, to ask stuff like, “Are you fast or strong? How fast? How strong?”
From here, it is a short step to use the guidance in Fudge on conversion from other systems (Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition, page 57) to then peg that Attribute level in GURPS. To extend the example, the player wishes to be Fairly Strong; this would correlate to a range of 9-12 in GURPS terms… unless you want a more optimised approach, as mentioned on that same page in Fudge, making Fairly Strong more like 12-13. Simple stuff.
That, however, led to another thought: in doing this for my neophyte player, why do I allow any of the players to create their own characters? Good question. And it’s a question of Methodology.
In The Beginning…
I thought it was fairly well-known that in the beginning, speaking of the first published roleplaying game – namely Dungeons & Dragons (1974) – we read that it is the job of the Referee to roll up characters. Most players don’t believe me when I say this, so here’s a photo from my printed-off copy of the Original D&D rules:
As it was then…
So, nowadays, most players simply assume that they will be either rolling up or designing their characters. That’s not surprising given that this is widely perceived to be the way it was always done. Even given the knowledge that it wasn’t always done this way, it’s the way the vast majority of gamers play almost all roleplaying games. Which brings me to Mark Twain:
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).Mark Twain, Notebook, 1904
This quotation is on my classroom wall. It’s there, like so many others, because I value it greatly as a thinking tool. Just because everyone else is doing something does not validate the action. So… why do we let players create their characters?
That’s a harsh subheading, Webster.
As a Player, I expect to create my character because a) that’s what you do in a roleplaying game, and b) I don’t trust anyone else to do it for me. That’s quite telling.
As a Game Master, I expect Players to do the character creation because it’s a lot of work to create characters and I am a lazy bugger. Also quite a telling point.
I am generous to neophytes – I’ll do the work for them because I want them to play. Alternatively, we’ll play a dead simple game (like Dungeons & Dragons?) so that they can just roll up the stats and get playing.
Oh, and of course, sometimes it’s a “Beer and Pretzels” game: we just need to get playing quickly and it’s easier if the players do the character work. Fair enough, right?
In truth, it’s not lazy thinking as much as not thinking. Personally, I just go through the process of character creation on the assumption that it’s the Player’s job and my job, as Game Master, to help only if needed. Honestly, I have tended to resent Players too lazy to make their own characters: how dare they give me more work?
I am openly questioning this method of character creation.
How about the Game Master sits down with a Player and they have a conversation about the kind of game they want to play? In my fantasy world, I am seeking Otherworld Immersion and so I want my players to focus on attaining a perception of the fantastic world their character is in through that character’s eyes.
Methodologically, I am not going to tell my players the Rules of the game except when they need to know those Rules; many rolls of the dice will be hidden from their sight so that they can focus on the description of the situation in the World. For me, this could be enhanced from the moment we create a character.
Here’s a very quickly sketched out, back of the fag packet, kind of suggestion.
Talking It Through
There are four major things to discuss: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Health. How would you rate character in those things? How would you prioritise them? Here are some words, which ones describe each of those attributes: Superb, Great, Very Good, Good, Fair, Mediocre, or Poor?
What does the character do in the World? We could talk about roles and what the Player wants to play. Funny that, given it’s a roleplaying game, eh? Once we are talking actions, you could ask them what kinds of skills the character does really well. What stuff are they ok at? What are they rubbish at? Cue in to Good, Fair, Mediocre, or Poor skills.
Talk about other stuff, like what they want to do in the World. Goals. Stuff like that – roleplaying stuff, player agency stuff. Let all of this flavour the character design. Listen carefully. Make notes.
And then, go and make that character for that Player. Give them the completed sheet, talk it over, make sure it fits their ideas. Tweak it as needed. Set to play a little – perhaps two or three sessions – with the caveat that numbers can be tweaked. See what happens.
I don’t think Players need to be making up their characters. It might be fun if the Game Master does it for them.