Character: Tool or Tool | KingSpoom's RPG Design & Theory Junkyard

Character: Tool or Tool

A character is usually a player's only means of affecting the game, so far as the game itself is concerned. If Timmy wants a log for the fire, he uses his character Y'mmit to go get it. In some games, there are other ways, but I'm not concerned with those games at this moment. Timmy exerts control over the world with Y'mmit. How is Timmy supposed to use this power?

The divide: Timmy uses Y'mmit as Y'mmit's personality would have him act or Timmy uses Y'mmit as Timmy wants (to gather fun for himself/the group). I'm not sure if there is a clear side that is taken, or if these are even real sides. The bandwagon side is the latter. Y'mmit is there so Timmy can have fun, everyone likes fun, everybody deserves fun, fun fun fun. If that were the case, then why do RPGs have you create personalities instead of playing as yourself? So people don't get hurt by revealing how they have fun? Perhaps it is just tradition?

I don't care for either side, personally. The first side essentially means you're like a labratory monkey. You've taken the brave trait? Well act brave otherwise you're playing it wrong. Entire campaigns could be played in a matter of a minute. Each player fills out an ordered list of their priorities and tolerances, and the GM creates situations that offer or tax an item from the list. RPing is reduced to following a complicated list in the situation you happen to be in.

The second side isn't much better. You've done a lot of work, and it's either a waste (as fun is given priority) or you're intentionally suffering, trying to find the fun through the maze that is your character's personality. It's also selfish, or at the very least, extremely passive. I'd suggest having everyone list what they enjoy doing and turn it into the GM, but that would kill my fun. I can't have fun knowing that my fun was created with the purpose of funning me.

RPGs seem to be in a murky state regarding this matter. Although some have a list of traits or personalities to choose from, the lack of mechanics backing this (when do I have to be brave?) create a weak use of it. Others rely on another player (GM included) to score you on your use of the trait. Some rely on you to be true to your own character. Although this is the method I side with, it is not without it's faults.


Bwian said...

'... Although some have a list of traits or personalities to choose from, the lack of mechanics backing this (when do I have to be brave?) create a weak use of it...'

What do you think of the Hero Systems approach to E.g. Psychological Weaknesses?

Bwian said...

Later I also thought of Pendragon, in which your character's Virtues often determine how the character responds in a relevant situation - forcing a lazy character to be lazy, a pious one pious etc.

KingSpoom said...

Hero system, 5th edition, has a decent approach to handling Psychological weaknesses.

1: You usually must act your weakness out for 1 phase.
2: You can act differently afterwards only with an ego roll.
3: It must be applicable to the campaign and approved.

Of course, there are also some things I don't enjoy about the whole system:

1: It's a front-loaded disadvantage system... you get the points up front and the disadvantage part doesn't come until later.
2: The task of bringing up the weakness can easily end up in the GM's lap.
3: It creates a gap between old players, what they find acceptable for psychological weaknesses as a group, and new players entering said group.

However, it is something that can enhance the game, if done properly.

KingSpoom said...

Pendragon can seem heavy handed at times. To my understanding, the GM calls for a check versus a trait and you must act depending upon your roll. If the GM doesn't call for a check, it is up to you to decide.

There is a system, I can't remember the name off hand, where you would roll to see what happened, but you could ignore the results in favor of another action. You would be penalized for a period of time, but you were free to choose.

Bwian said...

Well, the 5th edition rule is certainly much more explicit than the original. Looks neat.

And yes, it does usually seem to end up being the GM's job. But good players will be mostly playing in accord with their Psych. Lims. without rolling any dice.

If I am playing a character with the famous 'Code against Killing 14-', then it will be a very rare occasion when I declare any kind of action for my character that might reasonably be expected to kill someone.

When I do, I will almost certainly have thought about it - it is an important aspect of my character - and have decided that under this particular stress (maybe it is shoot the villain or risk his blowing up a busy shopping centre) my character _might_ break his code.

I expect to be asked to roll the dice. If the GM doesn't call, I may well call for it myself.

Having said that, in the heat of the action the GM does have fall-back responsibility for spotting the need.

How you can avoid this? All I can easily think of is something gamey like giving the player a bonus (like a plot point or something) for following his Limitation. E

ven then, you might run into problems with 'Code against Killing': every person your character meets is an opportunity to kill. Does this mean the character is following his limitation and earning bonuses for his player each round he is next to another PC and doesn't try to kill her?

Bit of a knotty problem, methinks.

Curious about your further thoughts, though.



Bwian said...

Yeah. I guess it is pretty strong.

I thought you wanted something strong?

I suspect you're after something more empowering for the player, that encourages them to limit themselves.

In this case some sort of meta-game reward is probably the way to go.



BTW: The Pendragon system is interesting because it enforces both consistency and choice. As a player, you can drift your Virtues over time in whatever direction you prefer by the choices you make - i.e. you can choose whether your character is 'Lazy' or 'Energetic'. But if you've established your character is 'Energetic' then you can't suddenly play 'Lazy' because it happens to suit you at the time - the die rolls will probably prevent you).

Bwian said...

'...a system... where... you could ignore the results in favor of another action. You would be penalized for a period of time, but you were free to choose.'

Not sure.

I played a game once that was based (I think??) on some of the White Wolf 'Mage' stuff. In that game (don't know if it was in the system) you could do pretty much whatever magic you wanted. But you always suffered fallout/ adverse consequences from the natural environment (like bad weather, roof collapses, pneumonia etc.). And the bigger the magic, the bigger the adverse consequence.

You could apply a similar idea to character flaws. The cowardly character can act brave - but if he does, he has some sort of -1 for the next game turn or something.

Trouble is (as you said about Hero Systems) its still going to be up to the GM to spot it.



KingSpoom said...

Every person is an opportunity, but not every person is related to the campaign. One reason I actually don't like the idea of giving experience directly for specific actions is that it can warp play.

For example: You have a "greedy" weakness. If you play your character greedy, positioning yourself to be alone with valuables, you're asking for trouble. It's sorta like double dipping (you play greedy, plus the dice force you to be greedy). D&D 2nd edition personal experience awards were horrible. A thief could be twice the level of the party just by doing his job.

There are two systems that I like for the kind of personality mechanics we've been talking about.

1: Play yourself adjusted to the situation and there are no rules for it. ie "What would I do if I lived in medieval times and could cast fireball?"

2: The previously mentioned mechanic: You have a personality trait and end up in a situation that requires a check. You roll, but if you don't like the outcome, you can ignore it at penalty.

For example: I get into a public discussion with a foe, but he trounces me. I end up rolling to avoid attacking, but fail the roll. I'm supposed to attack, but ignore the result and storm out of the area. Now I get a penalty to any action that involves my foe until the action is resolved (I shame him back, or get resolution somehow). A little extra bookkeeping, but it leads to characters doing things that a lot of games ignore.

Basically, I want to be told that I should do something, but have the freedom to make the ultimate choice myself.

Bwian said...

I can relate to either of your preferences: 2) to me is an example of a meta-game reward - but I guess you could think about it either as in-game or out-of-game.

Its still a bit hard for me to see how that would not end up relying on the GM to notice that you need to roll for what you should do in this situation.

Personally, I don't think I'd worry about the die roll. I'd just say: 'So. You have a greedy character. The character is alone with the group's gold. Either pinch some gold OR take a -1 to courage checks for the rest of the day.' Why roll the die, if you're going to choose anyway?

Alternatively, make your choice first, then only if you choose to act out of character, roll for the consequences. I.e. 'Nup. My character resists the temptation'. 'OK. Roll for consequences.' 'Uh. 1'. 'Right, so Dougall must have been pretty scared of the merchant to resist that temptation. -4 on all persuasion rolls against the merchant forever' (but if it was a '20', no worries).

Might use that one myself. Its evil.



KingSpoom said...

I'm not sure I follow it being a meta-game reward. I agree that you could see it as either in or out of character (as in "I can't get in a fight right now, it'd ruin my career" or a "I don't think getting in a fight would be interesting to play out"). I'm not sure how it's really a reward.

You are totally correct in that it does rely on the GM to back it up, especially in the case I remember (vaguely remember anyhow). My first option above frees that from the GM's responsibility. I do believe there can be a comprimise though.

The whole combination creates an interesting thing:

1) Resolution occurs normally, causing things to happen

2) The player can interrupt the normal results in favor of something he'd enjoy more

3) Although he wins a battle, the character is now at a disadvantage for the war

4) This leads to dynamic results, in my view

It's all about build-up from where I'm sitting. You see it all the time on tv. The penalty is like a little reminder that something else is on your mind and until you come to terms with it, you're not really firing on all pistons.

Why not just choose? Personally, I don't enjoy that kind of a resolution system. When I know drama resolution is in play, it really drags me down.

Roll the consequences? If the conditions of success/failure were preset in the book, that'd be fine to play. Full out conflict resolution isn't something I shoot for personally.

Thanks for the discussions, I think I've seen you over at lumpleys.

Bwian said...

I'm not sure I follow it being a meta-game reward

I guess 'reward' is misleading, because its more like 'avoiding a penalty' (for acting out of character).

When I said 'meta-game' I just meant it makes the player think about what they (the player) wants to happen to the character, rather than what the character wants to happen to the character.

Your combination option (including 2) The player can interrupt the normal results ) confuses me a bit.

I had thought we were talking about rules for deciding what kinds of actions players can cause their characters to undertake/ initiate. But your explanation looks like an explanation of how to decide what happens as a result of what the character undertakes (i.e. resolution).

Puzzled =_^



I think I understand the mechanism you described - just not sure how it applies in this context.

KingSpoom said...

Yeah, I've sort of drifted from the original post during our discussion. The system I proposed is sort of a work around.

In a game with no personality mechanics, IIEE goes off without a change due to personality. There isn't really anything stopping you from shooting a guy in the back, even if you've been honorable up until that point.

In a pendragon-esque system, during "intent" phase, the GM may turn your attempt to shoot a guy in the back from "Do I hit or miss" to "Do I shoot or announce my presence?" due to your honor. In essence, your intent can be removed from a possibility.

In my proposed system, the GM may still change what happens during the intent phase. However, it is changed to (in this situation) "Do I shoot him in the back, do I shoot him in the back and feel guilty (after a forced alteration), or does my that guy with the halo on my shoulder stop me (a failed roll, but forced alteration avoided). Thus, although the original action is altered, it's never off the table.

So... yes, I'm not really looking at rules for what characters can initiate. For mental/non-physical tasks, I don't want to take any reasonable opportunity off the table.

Although I am altering the Effects part of the equation, it's only during the Effects part of the equation that leads directly to another IIEE cycle (of a physical task, most likely). Hard to explain.

Bwian said...

Tell me if I have understood you:

1) Player declares character action.

2) Player/GM consider any psychological/ mental factors that might affect the character's desire to do that - this might involve a die roll.

3) Player decides based on the results of (2) whether the declaration at (1) stands, or whether she wishes to change it to some other action in light of (2).

4) The Player/GM apply normal resolution to the declaration at (3) - which might be exactly the same as at (1)

Something like that?

Have you looked at Vincent's post on 'The Rock of Tahamaat' at It seems highly relevant to this.



KingSpoom said...

1: Correct
2: Yes. (If you gotta make a check in order to carry out the action you declared in step 1, I consider that a new IIEE cycle. The current cycle is paused while the new one is jumped into (often with an implied intent))
3: Yes, but technically the choice is made before the effects phase of the IIEE mentioned above. When that is resolved you unpause and continue.
4: Correct.

It seems you understand fully what I'm talking about. I've read that particular post.

Bwian said...