Players Planning for Success

Players Planning for Success

dsc_0093Okay, so let’s say your character has a really big goal that can’t be managed through a full frontal assault.  You either need to politically tear down your enemy, gather the evidence required to indict them or set yourself up to have some sort of strategic or tactical battle to come. Let’s take a Vampire: the Requiem example and say you want to erode the head of Clan Ventrue’s power base and humiliate him until the entire clan refuses to have any dealings with him.

No easy task. If you start by hurling baseless accusations around, or take a step wrong, you’ll likely end up being the one humiliated … or even murdered. So what do you do? How do you take control in this situation?

Firstly you need to keep accurate notes on your enemies.  Find out their motivations, likes and dislikes, allies, enemies, assets and other resources.  Find out the same information on those allies and enemies.  Get the best perspective on the situation that you can and record it because if you don’t than you will forget it.

Then brainstorm some options with your own allies, jotting down (OOC at least) each and every idea for both short-term and long-term plans.  It’s easy to just toss around thoughts verbally without writing it down, but if you don’t, you’re likely to forget half of your best ideas and get distracted by a less-than-ideal option that seemed easiest at the moment.  If they’re all written down, you can also go back to other ideas once you’ve fully nutted out whichever idea seemed the most valid in the moment.

If you’re looking for new ideas on how to achieve those goals, perhaps take a look at your character sheet and brainstorm a list of ways you can use each skill or supernatural power to achieve your goals.  Oftentimes we forget what we have on our sheet or don’t realise the unusual ways we could use Survival or Socialize to achieve our goals.  Perhaps we could get their childe drunk in a bar or track their ghoul’s movements through the parklands after an Elysium.  Some of your ideas might be terrible.  That’s fine.  Jot them down and move on.  The brainstorming phase isn’t a good place for criticism as that can dry up your ideas.  Weed out silly ideas once you move into reviewing your lists.

It can also help to do some research into how other people with your character’s skill-set might manage the situation.  Read some books on CIA advice when looking at recruiting moles and manipulating events in your vampire book.  Check out the Writer’s Guide to Police Procedure or Forensics: A Guide For Writers (in the Howdunit series by D.P. Lyle, M.D.) when trying to determine some useful tactics your ex-cop might use (writer’s guides are great for outlining situations most likely to come up in a fictional universe).  After all, you’re probably not a secret agent or a police officer so it makes sense that you might not see things the way your character would … and you may be missing the right opportunities.

Finally it pays to know your game master and the genre assumptions appropriate to their games.  Every game master has their own biases in terms of whether it’s a good idea for vampires to attempt to manipulate the police or not.  Or whether it’s better to lay out precisely what your character is doing or to just call for a roll and let them tell you what tactics you use.  It may seem like a meta-game choice, and it can be if taken to extremes, but if you keep it to simple details related to how the world itself, or the mechanics, vary from the norm then you’ll do just fine.

What other general tactics can a player use to help their character’s plans succeed?  What are some pitfalls to avoid?  What do you think?

Why Players Need to Read the Books

Why Players Need to Read the Books

pzo1110-peThere are plenty of experienced players who find it hard to remember all of the rules and setting details peculiar to their game.  That’s pretty normal.  Some players aren’t keen readers, either, and would much prefer to learn through listening rather than going over the books.  Some systems have dozens and dozens of different rule books and setting guides which is a lot to go through.  Due to all of these reasons, there are plenty of players who don’t know the rules in the games they are playing and there are even a few players who boast about never having read the rule book.

The problem is that it’s important to try to learn the rules, even if you can’t remember them all.

It’s important because when a player doesn’t know the rules, they need to ask someone else to do it for them.

They are, in effect, adding extra work for other players or the game master to guide them through character generation / levelling up their character or get someone else to do it for them.  They are requiring other players or the game master to remind them about the things they can do which means that player or game master are also partially controlling two character sheets.  Sure, you decide whether you do the thing or not, but you’re not really getting to choose from all of your options — only those options that appeal to others or are so quintessentially your character.

And typically only when their own characters can’t already do the thing — not out of selfishness, but because they’re too immersed in their own character to spend time thinking about what you can do at the time.

After all, if you don’t know if the game allows you to charge another character for massive damage, you won’t think to do it.  If you keep forgetting you can hack, others might not think to point out all of the terminals you can use until they get stuck halfway through a mission.  You might need to ask people to retro events (if it’s allowed at your table), when it turns out your character has an ability that they would have logically used and which would have changed everything if you’d thought to use it.

If you don’t know the basics of the settings, you’ll also damage immersion when you try to get items that don’t exist, keep needing others to explain basic terminology your character should know and make decisions that are clearly bad ideas in the game world to anyone who has read about it.  If reading is illegal, it’s not a good idea to mention your favourite books to the Grand Inquisitor.

And this is a problem.

Now if you are a new player who is learning the ropes or have a disability which prevents you from remembering the setting and/or rules, than you don’t need to worry about all of this because you are doing as best you can.  No one can fault you for not being able to do a thing, either due to a lack of prior experience or a disability.  Read or listen to what you can and learn what you can.  Everyone has different limitations and it’s important to respect this.  No one expects mastery in a day.

The problem arises when players consistently turn to game masters and players to remember things that they could remember.  When they believe it’s too hard or annoying so refuse to pick up the books at all.  No one expects any player (or game master, for that matter) to know everything about the game but it is important, crucially important, to have a decent idea about what your character can do even if you don’t know the mechanics that underlie that rule.  If you are playing a hacker, know that you can hack and which devices are hackable.  If the mechanics are simple, but hard to remember, then jot them down on your character sheet where you can easily see them.

If you can’t build a character on your own, then fine, but pay attention as your guide builds it for you so you can make legitimate choices about what your character can do and so that you know what your choices will be during the game itself.  If you need someone to level your character, again pay attention and learn what you’ve been given.  Many players and game masters are happy to help with this section of the game most of all because it doesn’t take up mental resources during the game itself.

If you’re hanging around in Cheliax (Pathfinder setting), read enough to know that they don’t worship devils but feel they have bested them in a series of deals.  Read enough to know that they abhor demons and the gods of chaos.  Read enough to know about the complex legal system and their connections to Nidal.  Hell, know enough to know what the words Nidal, Taldor and Varisia mean and their relationship to Cheliax.  You don’t need to know a plethora of details but you should know the basics — even if you prefer Pathfinder wiki, podcasts, or audiobooks to the actual books.

And if you can’t remember some obscure rule, or some complex mechanic that rarely comes up, don’t worry about it.  A lot of games reach a level of complexity that very few people can truly comprehend.  It’s a collaborative game and everyone should help each other along where they can so that we can all stay involved.  All that’s requested is that each player learns the basics so that they can remember the fundamental choices their character has before them.

What do you think?  Have any advice on helping people remember the game rules and setting?  Have any counterpoints?

Creating Compelling Player Characters

Creating Compelling Player Characters

IMG_3738Compelling characters make for a compelling story. Just think of the difference between the games run by a Storyteller whose characters can make you laugh, make you cry, make you fear for them … and the ones who would make a piece of cardboard look deep and interesting in comparison. The same can be said for the protagonists themselves — your player characters! After all, the PCs are what the game is about and they, by definition, have more screen time than anyone else. So if they’re boring then it’s not going to do the game any favours.

I’m not saying that every player character should be a work of art nor does a character need to be realistic to be interesting. Some of the most compelling characters ever made were larger-than-life characters.  And, obviously, different game genres and player / game master preferences are going to have an impact on the game’s needs for PC complexity so you don’t need to have layers of detail to make that character compelling.

So what makes a character compelling?

Motivation is a big one.  Your character needs to *want* something, ideally something related to the main arc of the story.  This motivation needs to runs deeper than a simple list of goals. This is what your character is searching for and it colours everything about them as the game gains in tension.  It can change over the course of the game, and you may need to change it pretty early on in reaction to early plot points.  A strong motivation often pulls from a powerful internal core such as an ideology or a base need for safety, companionship, trust, recognition or power.  While this central motivation won’t be the only thing that motivates your character, it should inform the other goals.

A good quirk can make a character compelling when it adds depth and contrast to your character. A character who snarks all the time or always makes goofball comments just because it’s funny isn’t going to add a compelling vibe.  A healer whose snark covers their compassion when they’re truly driven to help people or whose goofball commentary comes from a place of pain where they feel guilt over the death of their son adds significance to these quirks.

Not every quirk needs to be powerful to be worthwhile, but the more it defines your character’s interactions the more important it is to figure out why.  Smaller quirks can also be very worthwhile if they provide contrast to the character (the torturer pats the dogs head when thoughtful), defines the character (lips a coin in the mean streets of a Noir Fantasy), or adds a touch of historical or cultural realism (feels naked without hit hat outdoors).

Dare to be different. Take a clichéd expectation and twist it to help give the character new depths.  A rogue who learned their skills as an archaeologist from an arcane university or due to their work in a city police force can lead to a more interesting backstory.  Taking an exceptional skill or useful niche can also help your character stand out from the crowd — especially in games where character sheet building are a very important part of the story.

Embrace your character’s flaws.  The moments when your paladin struggles to face their fears are every bit as interesting as the times they are automatically brave. Give your character a trait they wish they didn’t have and perhaps something they don’t realise they have.  Perhaps they really wish they could be a classy diner but they get too eager to eat to pay attention (or just don’t know the rules) or maybe they think they’re funny but the jokes always fall flat whenever they try it.

Finally, let your character change.  Let them be influenced by the other characters and the storyline itself.  A character is most compelling when you get to watch as the highs and lows of war affect your personality, revealing and concealing different traits and potentials as time wears on.

So what do you think makes for a compelling player character?  What other handy hints could we bear in mind when creating and playing our characters?