What is your favorite color!?!

This week we’re talking about well developed characters.

The most important part of a character is their story. This seems like it should be obvious, but to really know a characters story, you have to get into the finer details of it. Take, for example, the noble knight trying to save the fair princess from the dragon. Why? Is he fighting for her hand in marriage? If so, is it because he is in love with her? If so, why? Does her beauty entice him, or is he thrilled by the idea of being a prince or king in a few years? Did he decide to rescue her because he couldn’t find real work or has he been training to fight monsters for years?

Even that, though, is just a framework. What a character did is nowhere near as important as why a character does what they do. Ask your character questions about how they think, and the whys of their life will become clear. Does the warrior who became a warrior because he was naturally gifted and never excelled at intellectual pursuits fob any thinking heavy tasks off on someone else and have a hard time empathizing with those who aren’t as physically fit, or does he work hard to overcome his shortcomings and protect his weaker friends. Does the character with the hard knock life scrimp and scrounge to horde every penny or work hard to make life better for those who are growing up in situations similar to his own.

In Arcanum, in the first town the player visits, there is a blacksmith. Of course there is, the player needs swords and they have to come from somewhere. The blacksmith is surly, as they are stereotypically, but generally helpful. However, if the player is an elf, the blacksmith reveals himself to be a bitter racist who nigh throws them out of his store, although a sufficiently charismatic character can convince him to aid them. Well developed, interesting characters don’t necessarily take a long time to make or to convey, but they make or break a story.

So remember, make a character a person, and when you know who they are you’ll know how to write them.

Put a little music on.

This week we’re talking about setting the mood. Awwww yeah.

It’s important to make sure players understand the mood of the game they are taking part in, and it’s your job to make sure they do. Tailor your portrayal of the game world to the type of mood you wish to project to your player. If a town is full of poor peasants, perhaps they are wearing ragged clothes and looking gaunt in a relatively bright world or maybe they are wasting away by the side of the road, rattling begging cups with the stubs of missing limbs while flies buzz around their filthy rags if the world is altogether darker. A fighter’s strike can cripple and enemy’s leg, sending it crashing to the ground and granting the warrior a great advantage, or maybe the blow sheared through the beast’s leg, spraying blood everywhere as the monster collapsed in a mewling pile in a puddle of it’s own blood, bearing it’s unprotected neck to the fighter. In both examples, the same situation is being described both to different extremes and with different tonal details. A thesaurus is your best friend in a situation like this, and I honestly suggest looking up a couple of words you might use (dirty, poor, wounded, broken) and finding the synonyms that best fit your tone.

The way you choose to describe or show scenery also affect the mood of the game. A building collapsing, spewing dust and debris everywhere as it topples to the ground, can be either majestic or terrifying. A building collapsing on a crowded street, with the still trapped people inside desperately banging on the glass is a gut wrenching idea. An audience with the king inside a regal, gilded hall full of retainers in fine clothes is much more uplifting then the same audience with a king in an ill-lit hall of fading tapestries, dirty fixtures, and sneering courtesans.

Out of character things can also be a major factor in the manufacture of mood. Most horror games are best played with the lights down low, with occasional segments of brightness, while a game of adventure on the deep desert might stay brightly lit as much as possible until the in-game night fall. Sounds are also important, with good background music greatly enhancing the power of the storytelling. A spooky, low track is perfect for exploring a haunted house, something fast paced and high simulates an epic battle quite well, and it’s even possible to get one’s hands on the sounds of crowds, forests, and similar settings should they be present in the game.

So remember, use words that reflect the mood, describe things that reflect the mood, install a dimmer switch, and get speakers for your iPod.

Puttin’ yer time in.

This week we’re talking about story based advancement systems and possibly the astonishing revelation that I am lazy.

The polar opposite of the challenge based experience system is one where advancement is keyed into certain advancements in plot or story and progresses regardless of the players actual accomplishments. Games that reward the player with experience for time spent playing, such as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, or with a set amount of power after every mission regardless of what took place during the mission, such as Jedi Knight Jedi Academy, are premier examples of this system.

As a rule, storytelling based games work well with systems such as these, ditto games with a vast array of play styles. It is far easier to determine how many points it’s worth for the player to rescue the princess and then let them decide if they want to mow down every guard with their vast array of deadly weapons or sneak through the sewer systems and spirit her out the window without ever alerting a soul. For the more time based systems, such as the aforementioned Warhammer, it allows both players and Game Masters to focus wholly on the telling of a good story and stop them viewing any portion of the game world in the context of it being worth experience.

On the flip side, a strictly time based system can fail to account for behavior in a player that should, perhaps, be rewarded. If the player faces insurmountable odds and elects to defeat them all using some unexpected tactic, they would be rewarded in a challenge based system, but not in a strictly storytelling or chronological system. Mass Effect 2, for instance, has a set amount of experience earned for the completion of every quest, no matter whether it was solved with the utmost care and diplomatic tact or by shooting aliens in their heads until they all fell down. Solutions to this can be found in a more hybridized system, but I’ll get into that later. As a rule, storytelling advancement provides for a very rich setting and roleplaying experiences, but can occasionally stifle interesting play by making the risks not worth it.

This was a short one, but remember, if you don’t want everything dead, try a storytelling advancement system.