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Taipumus erikoisiin hahmoihin - Palava pyörä ja muutkin pelit

Peluutin Palavaa pyörää (Burning wheel) joskus kauan sitten. Minun piti kertoa pelaajille (taustaa perinteisissä roolipeleissä ja D&D:ssä ja ehkäpä Menneisyyden varjojen kanssa) hahmonluonnista.

Palavassa pyörässä hahmon ikä ja elämänpolut määräävät ominaisuuksien käytettävien pisteiden määrän. Hahmo, jonka kaikki ominaisuudet ovat arvossa neljä, on varsin hyvä ja pelattava. Siitä voi halutessaan vähän poiketa, mutta tämä ei ole tärkeää sen kannalta, että hahmo olisi pelikelpoinen tai kiinnostava pelata, tai erottuisi muista hahmoista; elämänpolkujen antamat erilaiset taitovalikoimat kyllä pitävät huolen hahmojen erilaisuudesta.

Yksi pelaaja teki haltiasoturia ja oli laittamassa voimaa tai kestävyyttä kolmoseen, jotta saisi nopeuden tai näppäryyden korotettua kuutoseen; neuvoin tästä vastaan, koska kolme on jo varsin heikko ominaisuus soturin voimaksi tai kestävyydeksi. Pelaaja jätti ne nelosiksi, mutta ei kuitenkaan ollut tyytyväinen hahmonsa taistelupätevyyteen. Hän sanoi myöhemmin, että oletti hahmon toimivan paremmin, jos tietyt sen ominaisuudet olisivat suuria ja toiset pieniä, mikä ei kyseisessä pelissä yleensä päde.


Dogs in the vineyard ohjeistaa pelaajia tekemään ihan tavallisen koiran, muistelen, tai sitten nappasin tämän jostain verkkokeskusteluista. Pelasimme sitä vain muutamia pelikertoja ja pelaajia oli noin kolme, mutta jo hahmonluonnissa muistelen korostaneeni, että on ihan hyväksyttävää tehdä tavallinen hahmo. Traagista taustatarinaa tai vastaavaa ei tarvita. En muista, vastustivatko pelaajat tätä juurikaan; aika on häivyttänyt yksityiskohdat.


Nämä asiat tulivat mieleen Sorcerer-peliraporttiin http://adeptplay.com/actual-play/sorcerer-demons-are-social-media-junkies-session-0 tutustuessa. Sielläkin näen tietynlaista tarvetta erikoisuuteen; erityisen heikko paholaispalvelija ja erityisen sotkuinen alkupotku, ainakin.


Vanhassa D&D:ssä pelaajan soturi voi olla ritari tai merirosvo tai ei kumpaakaan, eikä tämä välttämättä juurikaan vaikuta peliin, eikä peli erityisesti panosta pelaajia tämän määrittämiseen. Nyky-D&D tapaa tuottamaan värikkäitä hahmoja ja erityisen suuret ja pienet ominaisuusarvot saavat korostetun tulkinnan. Ihmistaistelijalla on tietynlainen asema yksinkertaisena tai perushahmona, mitä internetkeskusteluihin tulee.


Mikä erikoisuustaipumuksen takana on?

Onko se vain joistakin peleistä opittu tapa? Esimerkiksi nyky-D&D:ssä erikoistuneet hahmot ovat voimakkaampia kuin kaikkea vähän osaavat. Siirretäänkö tämä tapa muihinkin peleihin?

Vai onko kyse siitä, että pelaaja ei usko saavansa pelistä muuta hupia kuin erikoiseen hahmoon samaistumisen, ja pelkää, että peli on tylsää, jos hänen hahmonsa on tavallinen?

Vai haluaako pelaaja osoittaa luovuutensa tekemällä erikoisen hahmon?

Minua kiinnostavat niin muiden kokemukset halusta tai tarpeesta tehdä tai olla tekemättä erikoisia hahmoja kuin mahdolliset vinkit asiaan liittyvien kirjoitusten tai videoiden suuntaan.


English summary

In some games people try to do tricky characters. I experienced this in Burning wheel with a player who wanted to have their character have quite unbalanced stats, which is not such a good idea in that game. A Sorcerer game report at http://adeptplay.com/actual-play/sorcerer-demons-are-social-media-junkies-session-0 reminded me of this. If I remember correctly, Dogs in the vineyard has advice (or maybe this was from some discussion of the game) that the dogs can be entirely normal as dogs, no need to have a tragical or special backstory or anything of the sort.

A possible related phenomenon might be how in sufficiently old D&D you can play a fighting man without defining whether they are a knight or a pirate, and this might never come up in play, whereas modern D&D forces and encourages very colourful and special characters. The status of the human fighter as a standard (boring?) character is maybe worth some attention.

I am interested in this search for special characters, or a tendency towards it. What is it about? Pointers to further reading/listening, as well as your experiences, would be appreciated.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Sam's picture

I think that a lot of players are addicted to character creation. I think I am too. I think character creation is the thing that keeps me coming back to play. My Undiscovered character, Vephselk, is still in character creation, permanently, and when she leaves it I will yawn (not that we would ever play that long). But I think character creation happens in at least two distinct ways, and I'm going to talk about the two I think are the most common.

1. The kind of character creation you are talking about, the special character. The character that is meant to wow everyone, or impress the DM or whatever. What is this about? I think it is about a failure of a lot of methods of play and systems (in combination of course) to allow character creation to happen "forever" in play. I would argue that play becomes uninteresting once character creation stops--"Oh boy, my guy has a 5% higher chance to hit a monster. Blah..." If I want to experience an interesting fight, I can watch World Star videos or a horror movie or read some Conan. When dice results don't have real impact, when our character sheets arent changing in interesting ways, character creation can end at the end of the formal ritual (Session 0 or whatever you want to call it).

This can also be the kind of play where someone wants a character to "explore something" or be about something...and...I...just...hate this deeply but not in a reasoned way. 

2. Anyways, I think the second type of character creation only begins with the stuff on the page, and even the changes on the page are secondary to the things that impactful dice rolls and actions say about the character. And again, I really don't think this happens without hard hitting dice rolls.

I guess the moment I "know" a character is the moment I want them to die, and death hurts when I don't know them yet. 

Hello Sam,

It is certainly an interesting idea to frame the game as a prolonged process of character creation, though maybe character change or discovery would be a more usual way of expressing the same idea.

An extreme of what you describe might be the person who comes to the table with a short story worth of backstory where everything has already happened, but I have only heard internet legends of such people. Maybe their play is more about seeing a character in play and less of discovering them.

Ron Edwards's picture

Literally.

  1. How 'weird' is the game overall? I think the first step is to separate signal from noise (or maybe I mean the other way around), by noting that many and perhaps all role-playing games are full of weirdness, and that this topic must be some other kind of weird or atypical.
  2. How does 'atypical' relate to what we came together, as people, to do? I've seen offbeat or even deranged characters who - in the fiction - were definitely disruptive, misdirected, useless, even pains in the ass ... but who as characters in our fiction were golden, sometimes as foils, sometimes as sources of adversity, or sometimes a source of strong perspectives on what everyone else was doing.
  3. Does motive matter? I don't think so. Arguably a perfectly suitable character by any fictional criteria played by an unsuccessful player - and yes, they exist - fulfills this (mis-)role. Conversely, a player who wants or tries to stand out doesn't necessarily have to be causing difficulties.
  4. What is the role of required or highly-recommended content in rules terms? Can a game walk itself off the plank by requiring every character to be oh-so-motivated and oh-so-cool? I think so, in two ways: playing without reference to it, therefore wasting and devaluing the effort or investment; playing in a chaotic, jumpy "every which way" based on so many neuroses and enemies colliding.

Having pulled these out for scrutiny, I think I need some more information from you, Tommi. Specifically: what is the problem you're thinking about? Specifically, what happened in the Burning Wheel example that says to you, "something went wrong here."

Hello Ron,

In the Burning wheel I don't think there was something was wrong as such with the characters; there was certain mismatch in overall creative goals in that play, but I don't think it is pointing quite the way I want to go, here. What I see interesting is a mistaken assumption that one should or has to make a character somehow particularly special or different to be interesting in play or even mechanically effective; two things I think might be conceptually distinct.

This single player made another character, a dwarven prince with lots of resource points (can be used to buy relationships, reputations, gear, property, etc.) and used most of those to carry a big bunch of cash (gemstones I think) with them; a prince banished from the dwarven lands unjustly, but at least they managed to take valuables with them. I think part of the idea was trying to game the resources (wealth) system of the game, but here we also see something non-standard mechanically.

1. Sure, yeah. I think "weird", or maybe "special", here is with respect to baseline of palyer characters. In Burning wheel you might play a dwarven prince or a human peasant or many other such figures, but they feel like they are integrated in the game world and have a place there. This is hard to avoid. But what you can do is try strange mechanical point buys: make some abilities small, others big, or maybe buy many skills at low exponents or only a few at high ones or even as heroic (gray shade), or use resource points in a strange way as seen above, etc.

In some other games it seems that every character is somehow special and there is little in the way of baseline. I got these impressions of some White wolf games; a campaign of Mage: the awakening that I played in, and some one-shots of the same mage and the Frankenstein game of theirs. I get the same impression of D&D 5 and Pathfinder 1 play; every character is of some colourful species and class which make them look like or feel special, and might also have corresponding mechanical special abilities distinct from those of others. This is more of a gut feeling than analytic and I think the part I am more interested in exploring and understanding.

2. and 3.: You might be aiming at a different phenomenon than I, at the moment, if I read you correctly. My interest is in: games that suggest or not, make possible or not, encourage or not, etc., characters that are either usual or typical versus special or strange. Trying to figure out whether and to what extent such a difference exists in the games or their play culture, or only my gut feelings and imagination.

If I read you correctly, these points are asking about how strange characters function in play, good or bad.

4. is close to my goals, I think, but I'll need a bit more to figure out what you are pointing at.

 

Writhing more generally: My stance here is that I am trying to figure out if there is something to investigate here, or just figments of my imagination. I don't know exactly what I am looking for, or else I would already be done. Some related jargon/concepts: develop character in play or at start, character celebration or princess play as called by Eero Tuovinen (not intended as pejorative). But I don't think these are right on target here.

So I appreciate questions and guesses, as they help me clarify where I am going to, even (and especially) when I write that they are not what I am trying to get at.

Sean_RDP's picture

My observations on the issue arise from a question I heard asked a lot in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s. Not as much since those days, it seems to have been answered perhaps or is no longer brought up thanks to changing dynamics or demographics?

Why would you play a human?

And the questions of play vs. design: 

How attached should you get to this character? & How long is play designed to last vs. how long it actually lasts?

Humans

I do not play humans exclusively in games that offer a choice. But I mostly play humans or in the case of a game like Marvel Super Heroes, I play humans who use tech or a mystical means as super heroes. Even my Wolverine knock off, Badger, was a chemical spill-motor cycle accident origin, and not a mutant. Part of it is comfort level and part of it is the idea that I feel playing a human is more challenging from a mechanical perspective. Where some people look at an elf or orc and see all sorts of benefits, I see things that often subvert the game experience for the GM and other characters. If everyone can see in the dark, it changes the dynamics of the game. 

In this way I am able to make my charcter as unique as any human could be. Exploring the other aspects of humanity through others is not as interesting to me because they are not alien enough. I think this extends into SciFi games as well; I am less inclined to want to play a Vulcan or Twi'lek than a bog standard human. I guess the mechanics of playing an alien are not enticing to me and do not make a charcter interesting to me.

A notable recent exception is the Jher-ems from Forge Out of Chaos. They and the other races feel alien, even though they are furries in many cases. The Jher-ems have some expcetional abilities for sure but this is balanced by some hefty disabilities. 

Attachment & Longevity

How long is the relationship between a player and their character designed to last? How long will it last? I think those are important considerations. Depending on the design, a certain amount of attrition is to be expected. In earlier D&D, Cyberpunk, Runequest, Traveller (even leaving aside the character creation-death hype), and in more recent games like Forbidden Lands, life expectancy of the character is less than that of the play. It would not be unusual, even for a short set of play, for there to be character death or dismemberment. 

However, my impression and experience is that, starting in the 90s and maybe before, a character was meant to be with the player for the long haul. And I think design has changed to match that. In fact play and that character could be linked; if that character dies then that instance of play could be over for that player. Is this a case of character vs plot driven or in our case, character vs. situation/play driven? I suppose I look at it that way, though the language is likely not exact. My impression is that specific characters are more important than they were in the past. 

And if this is the case, dressing up your doll/making it more colorful and unique becomes a more attractive option. It also makes diversion into character arcs more interesting. 

Those are just some of my thoughts on it. 

 

I think I remember the "who would ever want to play a human" instinct from the (mostly aborted) childhood games.

The hypothesis about the longevity of characters having something to do with is certainly worth keeping in mind. Thanks.

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