Getting into Character
meshes into predominant campaign stories. A GM can only offer as much or as little as the player gives him in the way of plot interaction. Characters drive the plot and in an RPG, players generate the main characters! If you design a boring character, a GM can only go so far with a plot before he or she must actively change the player’s character or run a boring game. Change and development is at the heart of an RPG character but an undesired change is, in a way, a breach of the unwritten collaborative agreement between GM and player. A cooperative story is just that; a cooperation between GM and player to bring the plot and character together to create an exciting story.
By understanding how vital a player's interaction is to the game story, that player can consider some of the variables that make up a quality character that will be satisfying and contributory to the game plot. Turning thoughts into reality is like catching shadows. Reaching out to capture the illusion of shadows cast is forever futile. A player left to create an imagined and intricate being from random mental pulses without understanding the basics is just as futile. The secret is understanding the fundamental principles; once you learn that shadows are created by an eclipse of light, the challenge is overcome and the shadow understood. Likewise, grasping the basics of character creation will bring a sense of corporeality to your ideas that can eclipse the light of wonder and cast your paper shadows with seeming tangibility.
You have survived the initial shock of information overload and are ready to take on the hieroglyphics of a character sheet. A character sheet is a catalogue of references; a map to understand the physical and mental faculties of a character. A character sheet is a customized set of rules that establishes what a character can and cannot do in a story situation. Whenever a character initiates or engages a game challenge, the GM uses various ranges of probabilities and/or protocols to negotiate success or failure. A character sheet catalogues all the mathematical values and circumstantial etiquette that bench mark a character's fictional existence and govern how a GM applies values to probabilities and judges character conduct.
The key to successful play the first time around is character translation from mind to paper. This important translation will occur as you stare a character sheet trying to eclipse the game rules with a character design concept. If a player's first character design is left solely up a new player, the character probably won't meet up to the player's expectations and leave a bad taste for gaming in their mouth. Without knowing the rules, the game setting, or gaming in general, there is no way to compile the necessary data and you might as well pick your nose. It's a good idea to have an experienced player sit down with a newbie and it's a better idea to have that newcomer sit down with the GM. Whenever a player (new or experienced) sits in with the GM for a character interview to plan a game character, that character will be better translated for play. It will have a more orchestrated story connection making the PC, or "main character", relevant to the plot rather than work against it and in turn be more enjoyable.
Traditionally, new players create characters patterned after themselves. This is a natural place to begin role playing because it's easier to imagine one's self in a fictional drama rather than attempting to understand the motivational particulars of a detached and dissimilar character in a fictional drama because you know how you would react. Presuming you know how anybody else would react in that same fictional scenario is just a guess. By associating with a character construct already understood by the player (a character similar to one's self) a level of comparative comprehension is achieved that allows that player to frolic on an imaginary stage with some degree of successful empathy.
The more you play, the more you understand how to play; what occurs is an internalization of the gaming process and enables an operational understanding to occur. This internalization process orients a player to a character similar to one's self, in terms of cataloged rules and protocols, and allows a functional comparison of character to game setting. It is metering and controlling the actions and emotions of a fictional character by understanding the abstract environment by comparing it to understood notions. It is the difference between "book learned" and actual experience. For example, facing a 100 foot dragon is not real, but a player generally has no difficulty understanding that a 100 foot dragon is frightening simply by the fact that it is a hundred feet tall and breathes fire and if that player sat behind that 100 foot dragon in a movie theater, the dragon doesn't have to take his hat off, however, later on, that same 100 foot dragon is not so scary once your character has an invulnerable coat of armor, a Pegasus mount and a legendary sword in which to smite the evil beastie.
The reader of a great story is inexorably drawn into a plot by the dramatic expression of a protagonist's trials and motivations, enthralled by the literary dance between author and reader. This comparative association of reader and protagonist creeps into consciousness through well smithed words illuminating an empathic understanding between reader and character. In a role playing game, a player is the protagonist and must devise their own dramatic motivations that could pull a readers attention, in this case one's self, into the story. Initially, players tend to create characters with one of three motivational templates; the character resembles the player, a favorite literary character or represents a specific and personal embodiment of the players daydream desires. These basic mental starting blocks are a natural place for internalization to begin because the thought process is already in place. Personal expression through a familiar character helps a player better understand a game plot by internalizing the story process. By depending on intimately understood and relatable concepts as a point of reference, a player becomes accustomed to operating in an externally imagined environment and can then expand a character base as a player for greater game challenge as the urge arises. Progressively increasing in gaming skill and experience, a player can continue to try on new character masks, each different from the last with ever increasing skill until characters can represent something totally alien to the player's realm of self-understanding thereby exposing themselves to a profound avenue of experiential thought.
Once a player is comfortable with running a first character in a game environment, the urge to write up another character will come quickly. It may be a nostalgic rewrite of the first character or perhaps a new character expression and it will probably be a little more focused and designed with a more fictional and mathematical substance rather than the clumsy puppets of the inexperienced escapist. This stage of development is important because it creates the next bridge to understanding role playing games. By creating another character of personal expression, an individual will more comfortably and accurately understand the driving reason of a game plot from another point of view. Plot comparison with many character masks inspires a more complete translation into "game terms" simply by a familiarity of actions and reactions. Each different character and archetype creates a larger base of understanding forever creating new character masks to explore.
The first stage of player development is a major learning process of the basics; game rules, character sheets, basic plot exposure, and gaming etiquette. Each new story will bring about different character motivations and in time, each new character can possess ideologically diverse motivations a variety of different game stories and settings. These story characters can accumulate in variety and motivation having different skills and resources creating a gamut of story involvement. In this, a player will learn how to "run" different types of characters keeping the game interesting and different each game. The criteria used to select character archetypes, or fictionally patterned role will evolve as the need for new game challenges arise. In this, a player will mature from novice to veteran, growing through this acclimation process and enjoying an increased orientation to the game experience through interest and involvement.
The essence of imagination is thought, and the building blocks of thought are the symbols of words and numbers - - words and numbers that build ideas of familiar understanding. A lighthouse of ideas that can overcome gale storms of confusion and shadowy illusions. Just as words on a page mentally accrue to create a character in the mind of a reader, they can fashion a character from the whims and passions of a player. As a role playing troupe meshes together, that character can be shared with others to create a story that will spark the collective minds into moments of tangible wonder.
Players generate their own characters that will represent the main characters of the story - - a cooperative story. They are the actors that will bring an imaginative setting to life with their actions as they participate in the story. It is this reason that players should never neglect the construction of their character or depend upon a GM's skill to insure a good game - - each and every player adds to the essence of a story. A game master puts together the supporting framework, but it is the players and their characters who bring it to life. By taking a participatory role, character importance is amplified as an increased amount of information
Start by sitting in with a troupe and watch their gaming style and interaction. Role playing is not everyone's cup of tea, and scouting out the playing field before you commit to a troupe might save everyone a little bit of time and discomfort. On the other hand, you might like it, Mikey. Pick a group, and ask if you can watch. Most will have no problem, some will insist you join, and the rest don't matter. The best thing to do is just watch. Watch the dynamics of the group for genre, ability levels, story stylization, role playing content, party composition, and the gaming atmosphere. That doesn't mean much right now, but it will in about half a chapter. Each of these issues will augment or detract from a troupe's experience. The first thing to look at when selecting a troupe is the people. Are they friends? Did they invite you? Are you comfortable around them? Settle in to a hospitable group that is patient with new players, and don't be afraid to look around. There are always new groups popping up and finding them is fairly easy. Once you've settled into a group, look at the type of story genre their troupe is playing. Some groups switch from time to time to keep things fresh, but it's important to play a story type that holds your interest. Genre will affect a player's interest in the story and in gaming. Certain stories appeal to various types of people and a player needs to be genuinely interested in the story environment to sit in for dozens of nights for hundreds of hours, sometimes over the course of years.
Ask the GM before the session starts to fill you in on the story details and house rules so you may follow the plot with some degree of accuracy. Pay attention to the story and the manner in which the group communicates. Get details on the plot thread, the genre, the game setting, the story so far and the types of abilities and effects of the characters. Character designs within the troupe will have a direct effect on a character's abilities and resources, the relative balance in game play, and the interaction and responsibilities of the players and their characters. These elements determine the exact nature of a character's ability (or lack of) to navigate the story challenges that the character will face. It boils down to one question, can the characters blast their way out of a tough situation, or will they have to talk their way out? Story stylization of the game master plays a strong influence on a player's interest in the game. Identify a GM's storytelling techniques in relation to the type of character you want to run. Examine how clues unfold and the sensory interface of the campaign setting through the GM's eyes. Try to determine if the game is a high action, quick-draw adventure or an NPC-heavy plot that requires a particular focus on background development and player involvement for good integration into the story experience. It might be a blend of the two or something completely different, just make sure you are comfortable with the content. Wrap up your investigations by figuring out your own involvement: try to imagine how you would integrate a character into the story.
The role playing content of a troupe greatly defines the manner in which a character interacts in a game setting. One of the thrills of role playing games is the role playing! When a player can put on his character "mask" and take the stage as an actor, the exhilaration of character interaction breathes life into the game session with drama, dialogue, and humor. Watch a troupe to see how often a live table is called (the stretch of a game session wherein players act out their character "in-character") within the confines of the story challenge. Some troupe's rely more on combat and narration, while others prefer the nitty gritty of character interaction and interplay.
Players and their characters always carry a unique flavor to a game table. Party composition should also play into your decision to join a game troupe. Start by getting the GM's opinion of party needs and availability and if you get a green light on your character construction then ponder some party aspects. If you are the type of person that can play any type of character, then this is not an issue, but if you have a particular character archetype in mind, consider party composition. Existing character archetypes already in the story environment may overshadow or underscore the potential need of your character affecting it's bond to the story or campaign. If you only want to run a wizard and the prospective troupe already has four hat-wearing, staff-toting bookworms, compare the story challenge and design to your character abilities to figure out the potential need of your character's involvement. If the party needs a knight, and you want to play a wizard and nothing else, start thinking about joining another troupe. If the plot needs yet another wizard, then go get your pointy hat and bring it to the game table.
Another key factor to look at when scouting out a gaming troupe is the atmosphere. Some people like the traditional splinters of an old wooden table in a basement. Others prefer the more relaxed setting of a living room for comfortable role playing. Either is fine, but plays big against the type of interaction and story focus throughout the session. Comfort and relaxation will impact on how involved players become in their character's roles and accessibility to a decent sized table will be needed if game miniatures are used. Conversely, a living room can be too relaxing, disrupting attention and a game table can negate the creative use of furniture and books and stuff for miniature armies to hide behind. Remember if you aren't inspired, your character will be dull and you'll be bored. Take the time to find the right troupe for your gaming expectations.
Some say you can track them by junk food debris. Others rumor that the sound of clicking dice is the only way to be sure. There are many legends that whisper a few tell tale signs that can be used to track a gaming troupe. Many schools have gaming clubs that offer a large player base to choose from. It's always easier to join in with a few acquaintances and in a familiar place. If you're a lone wolf, check out the bulletin boards at gaming and comic shops. Many such establishments even have in-house gaming sessions and folks that are eager to help out. Sometimes the easiest is just to ask around - - most troupes will try to fit you in, or know of a troupe or two that needs a warm body (or cold body for you vampires out there). Okay, you've got the gist of RPG's and how to get involved; now it's time to ask, "What is a character?"
So, What do I do now?
You've seen and heard enough about role playing games to want to pick this book up and start figuring out an opinion on the subject because you might want to play the game. A cousin of a friend of a friend decides he's going to run an RPG, and asks if you would like to join in. Curiosity kills your cat, but hesitance fills you when your “hangin' buddy” says, "sure, we'll play." The question that gnaws at your conscious mind begins to bang away like a hyperactive six-year-old who wants that cookie on the top shelf, "So, what do I do now?"