Building by Vitruvius
adversity. Feats of heroism whispered along the grapevines of the masses branding him legend.
An author bestows a character with the resources needed to propel a story at key points of conflict to evolve a plot. The necessary skills are built into the character as the book is written but always relevant to the story. Game characters are not afforded this luxury. A role player must build their characters to function in a story that unfolds in the moments of the present. Having no knowledge of what will happen, a good game character must be built with a fitting base of valuable skills and resources. For this reason, many character resources are designed into a game system taking into consideration a wider application in order to cover a larger range of story possibilities. It then becomes a game challenge to design a character with usable and appropriate skills. For example, in the HERO system, a character may take the skill "Riding: Animals" (as opposed to Riding: Motorcycles or something else that is ridden and not an animal). This gives a character the ability to ride most any living, land based creature. When an opportunity comes up in the story for our hero to take advantage of a wandering llama, they may hop on the errant llama with a riding skill and saunter off (as llama's do). The character may also ride horses, tauntauns or any other indigenous figment of a rogue GM's imagination. This promotes a focused yet tolerant level of character interaction between character and game setting. By grasping a character's game mechanics, the forthcoming construction of a usable character will be better balanced, have improved interaction with the setting and generally be more fun for the player.
A character concept outlines a game character in the player's imagination. The process that translates the character into terms that can be precisely understood by the other players is called Game Mechanics. Game mechanics are the “behind the scenes” part of a game system that enables participants to understand a complex, abstract series of connected ideas. It facilitates the external mechanical junctions between imaginations allowing a measurable relationship between the mental constructs of the game master (game setting and NPC's) and the mental constructs of the player (character concept and functional ability). Some game systems exclusively use numbers and mathematical equations to define a character while others use a predefined set of semantic instructions. Most RPGs use a combination of mathematics and semantics to define a game's interactive fictional elements for a more precise understanding of the game system. The varied blending of guideline applications are prevalent in particular genres to help simulate specific experiences in understandable terms which contributes to a more accurate representation of the genre's setting details and playing styles. The core purpose of game mechanics is to create a shared, imagined environment for game play. It is important for a player to understand the game system and its application to play for the purpose of understanding and contributing to the composite story. It empowers the player with the information needed to insure that the character on paper resembles the concept in the player's five ounces of gray noodle.
A character concept outlines the game character in the player's imagination. The process that translates the character into terms that can be precisely understood by the other players is the mechanics of the game system. Game mechanics governs the operation of the game and most of it will be handled by the GM ('cause that's in the job description) but players also have their part to perform. Gamemasters establish the foundation of the story and game setting so players can plug their characters in to complete the circle. The sphere of game mechanics that a player is charged with understanding is Character Mechanics. Character mechanics are the conduit in which two or more minds may accurately communicate and express the actions and feelings of fictional characters.
The first part of character mechanics involves the resources of the character. A character's resources are manifested in the game as physical and mental characteristics, skills, talents, tools, and power bases. These are all measurable and precisely represented in game terms. The second part of character mechanics is a player's ability to employ those resources during the game.
In any social interaction, there is a point that the involved parties work toward; a point of understanding. In a role playing game, that point is an understanding by the GM and the players presence of thought toward an abstract universe existing only as mindscape. Once the mindscape is understood, a player can use their character to interact with the GM's mental world. That moment of understanding and interaction culminates with a character's Functional Ability Score. A Functional Ability Score is the aggregate data used by the player to interface and extend influence to the other main characters and the game setting. It justifies their existence with quantifiable numbers and protocols that represents a character's mechanics; mechanics that govern a character's successful participation in a story by determining the success potentials of plot encounters. An encounter is an event in which a character takes on a challenge that will develop their condition with conflict. A typical encounter could be picking locks, programming computers, a saber duel, flying spaceships, or whatever else is required to drive the plot. These actions must be defined in quantifiable terms that contribute to a mutual understanding of the situation and each participant's role in effecting the outcome. This mechanical progression is skewed by introducing dice into the equation. To prevent an orderly, predictable ascension from farmer to intergalactic hero, dice rolls throw uncertainty into the mix. Just as we are not always able to do simple tasks out of our daily life (IE. locking the keys in the car, swallowing your toothpaste, and dropping toast "butter down"), we can sometimes accomplish the improbable (getting to work/school on time, cleaning the house, and lifting cars off of loved ones), game mechanics can duplicate the chaotic randomness of life by hinging success on the roll of the dice. By connecting concrete rules to a variable index of probabilities, characters are not wholly predictable and the excitement of the unwritten plot remains intact. A character's mechanics identify how a character is specifically capable in effecting a story in a campaign setting that resides in the mind of the game master. The functional ability score measures the point of interface in game discussion and the unpredictability of the dice adds the spice of life. The result is a fictional, interactive story without predestination.
Adventures in Inches
Mechanics allows a player to accurately translate the mental construct of a character concept from imagination into measurable terms. Humans understand their living environment by assigning definitions to the world around us in comprehendible increments. Role playing games apply this same principle of basic understanding by implementing game mechanics. Game mechanics applied to the character concept govern the design of the character for the mutual understanding of all the players. This way the GM knows how to direct your character and the other players have an understandable point of reference in which to relate to your character. Your character is now ready to be defined as player on the field.
The game field is the story environment called an adventure or campaign and the forum where game play exists is in the arena of open discussion. The discussion will be question and answers focused on explaining a game "scene": physical description, ambiance, points of interest, and an all star cast of NPC's. Once the game master has described a scene, each player will have their own turn for a more specific orientation of the scene to their character for a personal understanding. Players can ask specific questions about how the setting is directly affecting their character or role play short bits of a story that pertain to their character exclusively.
Before Luke Skywalker soared across the galaxies he led a quiet life. The simple life of a farmer and a family member. As a farmer, he focused his natural skills of mechanics and flying in his daily life. Skills that later helped him in his conflict against the oppressive empire that threatened free peoples everywhere. He relied on those basic skills (and a bit of the force) to begin his adventure. His life as a farmer left him with an accumulation of skills and talents that just happened to come in handy as he became a warrior and a hero. As the story progressed, he was continually thrust into increasingly difficult situations and continued to accumulate skills that served his specialized needs of saber dueling, spaceship piloting, and other hero-like stuff. Skills that enabled him to overcome great
The Next Destination
Characters need a place to live once they leave your imagination. The story environment is their “physical reality” in the game setting and a comprehensive method of defining the character's actions is done with the character sheet. Good character interface relies on bridging the gap of expression and communication with the game master to establish a character's condition. Condition is a player's status quo; wealth, looks, and a balanced compliment of tools and resources. These items appear on a character sheet. All game systems have some sort of character sheet to catalogue interface points between the players and the game system. The character sheet is the only representation of the character in existence that everyone else can understand! It is a tally of characteristics, skills, talents, tools and contact resources (or power bases; guilds, super-groups, etc.). All of a character's physical and mental abilities are represented by characteristics. Characteristics are represented in many different ways according to the need of each systems inherent genre and purpose, based upon their basic concepts. Examples of characteristics are strength (STR), constitution (CON), dexterity (DEX) and any other attribute in a game system that defines the functioning parts of a character. The second part of a character's mechanics are it's skills and talents. Characteristics define the character while skills and talents define how a character uses those attributes. Character statistics are general descriptions of various attributes that creates a parity of understanding. All characters have strength. It represents a character's ability to manipulate force and physically function in the game world. For a character to do something physical in the setting, everybody must have a method of determining how strong a character is so they can make the proper adjustments to their understanding of the game. A character may have "Riding; Animals", and may have a llama to ride but if it doesn't have the strength to jump as high as the llama's back, it will only succeed in irritating the llama. As a follow up, the character may make another attempt hoping for a better dice roll to mount the llama. If the llama doesn't want our hero on his back, the hero may have to employ skill to stay on the llama. Our hero leaps toward the back of the llama (with enough strength), but the llama lurches forward for comedy relief (courtesy of the GM) leaving nothing but the open sky and hard ground for our hero. The game master will either roll or require the player to make, a skill roll. In this instance, the GM may require a DEX (dexterity) roll to determine whether the character was more nimble or the llama quicker. It may not seem like a point of great contention but if the hero is being chased by a gaggle of cunning pygmies there may be a need for that quick llama-escape to insure personal safety. Stories are always changing and evolving and the catharsis for that change is conflict that can come at any moment.
Various game systems institute either a general or specific method of applying character statistics depending on the importance, need, and frequency of a particular characteristic to the game system as a whole. Character abilities define the means that a player has to engage plot challenges. They dictate innate abilities, the level at which a skill may be applied and the base representation of the character's "self".
Strings for a Hero
A story requires characters to operate in a separate mindscape than one's own to carry out the game. Players need strings to pull their characters through the game in a way that everyone involved can understand. That's where game mechanics comes into play. The essence of game mechanics creates the area of mutual understanding so that complex, abstract actions and associations may take place. Game mechanics are outlined by the rules of the game system and applied to the troupe by the game master. In many cases, a troupe may opt not to adapt the letter of the rules to their own gaming situation. While this is both acceptable and promoted by most gaming systems, a troupe should have some sort of notebook or resource to access for house rules and system alterations. It is of the utmost importance for fair gaming that any mechanical parameters are known by all players. You can't play a game if you don't know the rules!
Game Mechanics is only part of an RPG and is in a way, the mental adhesive that holds everybody's imagination together. Like the engine of a car, you don't necessarily worry about its mechanics unless it breaks down (or until repair bills become too costly). Sometimes gaming a story can be so engrossing that character mechanics break down over time. If the player's character doesn't mechanically work, story participation "red lines". An ineffectual character can be the result an improperly built character, a player's inability to participate or an inequity between the difficulty of the game setting and the character's functional ability.
The structure of game mechanics allows a loose association of broadened skills to act as a tuning fork between player and game master. A character's functional ability is defined by the game system with enough latitude for player interjection to realize the encounter in fictional terms. Our hero may have "Riding, animals" as a broad skill. In a hypothetical game encounter, the hero may wish to leap onto a llama and ride off to a nearby castle. The GM may require an additional characteristic roll (such as dexterity or strength) as part of the encounter challenge. In the mind of the player, it may be envisioned as the character valiantly leaping on the llama and racing to the castle. The character, on the other hand, may not have the necessary degree of skill to hop onto the ornery llama. Character mechanics define the functional ability of the character and establish the player's mental construct in mutually definable terms. If those terms are not met, the mechanics break down and the character can't perform. At this point, a player should confirm that the proposed ability of the character and the corresponding definitions by the rules are concurrent!
Character Mechanics Checklist
Rules: Do you know enough about the rules to translate your character from concept to character sheet?
Functional Ability: Make sure you have a good idea of how your character will function in any story situation in relation to the rules and what you want to accomplish on a regular basis.
Resources: Consider the character’s resources so they may be incorporated into the character’s construction (characteristics, skills/talents, tools, & power bases).
Translation: As you prepare to build your character, be aware of the key points of functional interface that must be transposed into game terms to match your character concept.
After all the players internalize the scene and interpret how their characters will react, the role playing starts. Players use game mechanics to define the nature of their character's impact on a story so that the others may understand and react. Game flow will be driven as imaginations clash and develop among the players, urging the story to its finale. This "game flow" will develop differently with each troupe and be heavily affected by the game system, genre, and motivation of the players to participate. The game progresses with each player's turn adding their own perspective and interest into the plot, culminating in a series of fictional events each building onto the last until the climax and ending of the story.