Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Character Challenges

by kevin dooley
Character Challenges
by Tobie Abad

Here are some ideas of character concepts you might want to try to add another level of challenge and fun to your usual gaming nights:

1) The Realistic Pacifist
While many games have character options that embrace a concept that feigns on violence (from Dungeons and Dragons' Paladins, to Vampire the Masquerade's Salubri and so forth) why not try portraying a character who absolutely despises any form of violence and murder.   Be vocally against any forms of aggression.  Insist in how carrying any actual weapons.  Seek out other alternatives of self-defense and the like.  There is a fine line between being a pacifist and being stupid, however, so be sure you avoid mistaking one for the other.

Easy tropes to fall into would be zen masters, martial artists who supposedly find inner peace, or fanatic pacifists who do stupid things like make themselves human shields against an incoming barrage of weaponry.  While such tropes might work at times, for a fully fleshed out player character, you might want to explore alternative approaches.  Maybe you avoid violence because in the past, you allowed yourself to get emotionally overwhelmed by your anger, and that lead to a brutal act of cruelty?  Maybe you still suffer from a traumatic event and find the use of weapons as something unacceptable.  Or maybe you really just don't have the stomach for it, so the moment you engage in violence, you get violently sick?

2) The Happiness Font
I would have to comment Joss Whedon for this.  You have characters like Kaylee who always finds a realistic way of looking at the brighter side of things, to reinterpretation of characters like how he approached The Astonishing X-Men's Kitty Pryde who would insert amusing remarks (such as "I have cloud hair" during a meeting in the Danger Room) or Princess Power of the Runaways; characters who always offer a ray of light and additional shades of colors in a world that might be dismal or dark.

Now, again, it can be easy to fall into tropes in portraying this.  More often than not, you have people who play characters who see NOTHING dark at all, which totally cheapens this concept.  Even Kaylee knows when something is horrible and frightening (as seen when she heard of Nisska or how in the movie she grabbed her weapon to fight the Reavers after learning Simon liked her too).  While it can be temptingly easy to play an oblivious unrealistic character like Project A-ko's B-ko who hops around, singing and smiling even as someone threatens to beat you up, it reduces the concept to an amusing side role that might be best reserved for non-playing characters who only appear for a short while.

Instead of thinking of a character that eternally remains optimistic, why not try a character who realizes that someone has to keep others seeing the bright side.  And this is to be accomplished without pandering or just using jokes.  The challenge of being an endless supply of hope might be more difficult and yet more rewarding than you think.

3) The Caring Bastard
When it comes to rude, violent, cruel bastards in gaming, player characters that fit that bill are NOT hard to find.  More often than not, many do prefer to embrace such roles, thinking that braggadocio equates with being a foul-mouthed bastard with great fighting stats.   But the tricky challenge is portraying a character who does cruel and seemingly wicked things, but deep down when inspected further, can reveal an unexpected depth of care and concern for others.   In superhero games, this can easily be reflected by heroes like John Constantine and Wolverine, who do the horrible things someone must do to keep others from having to do it.  And who keep others at arm's length for their own safety, since being close to them will only lead to them eventually getting hurt.

But outside the Hellblazers and berserkers in the world, you have to consider the levels you can approach this.  Maybe there's the warrior who always talks down the Princess and the female wizard about how women should stay home, when in truth he lost his wife in the past and now overcompensates in the wrongest possible way in showing how he's afraid of losing more women in his life.  Or maybe there's the cold-hearted vampire never leaves witnesses alive, but later admits he does so because he believes death is preferable to living the rest of one's mortal life afraid of the dark knowing that monsters are real.

Bonus points if you find ways to delay the "full reveal" to much later in the game, after all the other players have decided you're really a cruel evil bastard.   Just be sure the storyteller knows the "real story" from the start.

4) The Edge of Sane
Yes, it sounds very easy to do this.  But you'd be surprised how hard it really is.  Most people think playing this means just having a ball doing everything excessively.  It is quite similar to the "overconfidence" excuse:  My character is overconfident, that's why I won't think about what he's doing.  But key to both is keeping in mind that the game must remain FUN for everyone in it.  If your "overconfident" character keeps doing stupid things under the excuse of "he's being overconfident" then the players might reach a point of thinking about getting rid of you might be the best solution.  The same goes with the emotional wreck.  Whether it is a character who is always going through emotional crying fits or a character who can't seem to trust others properly, if the drama queen moments and paranoid concepts are becoming more annoying than fun then they aren't concepts that should be allowed to remain in the game.

Doing this right however, might best be accomplished by knowing the actions themselves MUST make sense for the character.  The character's actions must make sense, and make other players groan the way we react when watching a chick flick... we know they'll do something stupid, but we don't think it is something totally out of character.  But if the action being done HAS to be explained to the others for them to get it, it is probably missing the mark.

by kb35
Even insane characters  like Hannibal Lecter and the like work best because their madness does make sense.  Hannibal Lecter might still be disturbing if he laughed intermittently seemingly out of random, but that sense of disturbing would not reach the level of dread compared to being in a game where you know the other character might be looking at you one moment and thinking you're good to eat.

Hell, maybe you can even try to be the most logical thinker ever.  Taking from the Vulcan's of Star Trek and characters like Danger of the X-men and Brainiac 5.1 from the Legion of Super Heroes, try portraying a character who embraces logic so much he despises allowing emotions to color his feelings.  But rather than being almost robotic, why not go the opposite way:  when emotions threaten to affect your decision, LASH OUT and let the emotion burn out, then become calm and make your choice.    And always choose what empirically stands as the best option.

Challenge yourself and see what you can accomplish, if not enhance the games your part of, without resorting to easy tropes and expected approaches!

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