Archive for the ‘Character Creation’ Category

CharGen Tales: Larp Luncheons

15 Oct

In my never-ending quest to become the dorkiest scrap of meat in meatspace, I’ve done the unthinkable: I’ve signed up for a LARP event.

That’s right, I’m gonna be doing the sort of costume-wearing wacko-talking roleplaying even my dicebound brethren think is a bit much. The local RPG club is hosting a live-action roleplaying shindig in which participants assume the role of landed nobles, mingle at mock dinner parties, and try to outmaneuver, outcamp, and backstab one another over the course of several sessions. Given the extremely dubiously title “Blood and Tears,” the event promises to be entertaining, if absolutely nothing else. Joking aside, I’m looking forward to it.

Of course, if I’m participating, I’ve gotta make a character first. Since we’ll actually be generating the characters on-site, we’ve just been asked to come up with some ideas of what we want to play. That’s what I’m going to do here: bat around a few ideas for engaging, original, interesting noble-type characters.

Of course, since it’s me, I’m going to start by identifying LARP character cliches and endeavoring to stay the hell away from them. That means establishing some ground rules, which means, in turn:

1.) My character cannot be described by any of the following adjectives: aloof, wry, enigmatic, immortal, arrogant, divine, satanic, vampire, brooding, goddamned vampire.

2.) My character’s power level is significantly less than 9,000. If this means literally everyone at the party is mightier than I, so be it. That’s more fun than getting into a my-character’s-better-than-yorn pissing contest, however likely or unlikely that turns out to be.

3.) My character’s past can’t be too dark.

4.) My character has to have a decent sense of humor.

5.) No goddamned vampires.

With those laid firmly down, here’s the two concepts that most leap out at me:

Take My Card

For some reason, when it comes to RPG characters, I keep coming back to traveling salesmen. I would be a happy man if I could tell you exactly why; I think it has something to do with the fact that as a job, it requires a mixture of slick schmoozing and rugged independence that’s everything I enjoy playing. Of course, if I’m gonna get back into the Ruts Rut, I’m going to have to find a way to work it into an aristocrats campaign.

The storyline that occurs to me is this:

(Insert Name Here) is a lower-middle-class farm equipment salesman that set up shop in potato country. A sudden demand for potatoes caused a lot of carpet baggers to settle in, which led to a massive demand for equipment that only (INH) anticipated. As such, he became incredibly successful almost overnight–so successful that he attracted the attention of a local down-on-their-luck branch of one of the noble Houses. They quietly married him to one of their less marketable daughters and set the marriage conditions so that they got a massive chunk of his business, giving him the chance to trade a potential fortune for a little bit of propriety and social leverage. Unfortunately for the House, the spike in demand for tools petered as potato blight set in, and they were left with a company that was basically worthless while (INH) was left with a title that wasn’t much better.

(INH) is nonetheless optimistic, gregarious, and always eager to find new opportunities. He hasn’t quite shaken his homegrown mannerisms and over-friendly salesman ways, and comes off as a bit of a buffoon to his stiffer, subtler brethren. He’s not nearly as stupid as he seems, and there are occasionally hints that his arranged marriage and loss of his soon-to-die company were part of the plan all along.

Pros of Take My Card: Unique (for the LARP, anyway), fun to play, undercurrent of cunning under a simple shell.

Cons of Take My Card: Not a whole lot of immediate hooks. See, apparently, people like to set up all sorts of relationship dealies starting out, like “you killed my father” or “you want my land” or “I’d like to have sex with you*.” Take My Card might not fit into those so well.

Nouveau Poshe

Then again, I might want to play someone a little more outwardly capable and confident. I’d have to be careful to avoid Lord Percival Bloodtalon, Master Fencer and Assassin and Political Schmer and Poisoner territory, though. “Capable and confident” don’t mean “better than you.”

Again, my first thought is this:

(Fantasy Name) used to be an adventurer/mercenary in a modestly successful party/warband. His role was probably as a scout or skirmisher, someone who got in, scoped the place out, reported back, and would only join the fight to eliminate distracted formations or take out specific targets. While he was not famous himself, the group he was a member of took part in a few memorable battles, and he attained a reasonable degree of success through proxy. By the time he was in his mid-twenties, he had reached a very comfortable standard of living.

That’s when he and his group were hired to defend an out-of-the-way manse from raiders. The owner was the last of his very broken-down lineage, a fellow with only a crappy manor and a massive list of debts to his name. He estimated that about ten bandits were going to ride up and try to loot his place, which (FN)’s group dutifully prepared for. A day later, thirty well-armed bandits assaulted the place before an alarm can be raised.

(FN) hung at the back with a crossbow, the first to fall back as more and more raiders poured into the courtyard. His buddies took out their share of the raiding party, but in the end, it wasn’t enough, and each had themselves a suitably heroic last stand. (FN) found himself in a bell tower, sniping at raiders as they search for him–eventually managing to kill most of their survivors and convincing the rest to retreat.

At this point he descended, still vaguely hoping to get paid, and found the manor owner in an extremely bad way. He was hit with a half-dozen arrows while changing hiding spots. He looked the space of a beetle’s sneeze from dying on the spot, forget recovery. As (FN) resignedly starting rummaging through the noble’s pockets, he sprang to consciousness, ranting and raving incomprehensibly about how his line “won’t die here,” and how it will be “returned to its former glory.” Then he grabed (FN)’s startled shoulders, babbled a few words in a foreign language, and handed him a bloodstained handkerchief. Confused, (FN) handed it back, and the noble smiled bitterly before passing away.

Later, other nobles showed up to survey the property and determine its rightful owner. (FN) recounted what happened, still confused; the nobles gave each other a look of pure amusement, and then–trying to keep from snickering–explained what had happened.

The noble had performed a legally binding marriage ceremony. For about a second and a half, (FN) was considered the spouse of the dying noble, receiving his royal blood and ownership of all the dead noble’s property, possessions, and debts. Oh, and also a minor family curse.

(FN) prodded around half-heartedly for a way out, but apparently, his short-lived marriage was both valid and binding. In the space of three seconds, he went from commoner to heir apparent to head of a house. Since his company was dead anyway, (FN) resigned himself to his new life as a blueblooded society mingler.

Pros of Nouveau Poshe: Amusing backstory, some assets to lean on, combat strength. Also: fun curse to figure out what to do with.

Cons of Nouveau Poshe: Doesn’t immediately lend itself to being a schmoozer, which is my favorite kind of character to play. Also, I’d have to tell his backstory pretty much every time I meet someone.

Right, so, those are the two I’m currently considering. Game doesn’t start until Saturday night, so in the meantime, feel free to pre-emptively call me a histrionic nutbar in a cape**.

*Probably not in this LARP, specifically. That’s more for the slightly creepy guys who show up for Vampire games with characters like, “Don Felipe ‘The Stallion’  deMarceux”, and talk a little too breathlessly about “bucking social conventions through the framework of roleplaying,” at least when there are girls around.

**Will not actually be wearing a cape.


Character Creation 15: In Conclusion

22 Jun

Today, we come to the final day of Character Creation—bit of a short one, actually. Alas, I have no new characters for you today—only a reflection on some of the principles I’ve upheld over the series.

If I’ve tried to communicate anything in this series, it’s that a storyteller that uses fresh approaches to character design and motivation has already done much to intrigue the audience. People like seeing something they haven’t seen before—after a while, they grow tired of the same-old slack-jawed schlock clichés for their protagonists and the same crazed moustache-twirling villains. If you present them with an inversion, subversion, parody, deconstruction, or even just an outright aversion of the standard fare, you pique their interest. Put some thought into the matter—see what you can do to make your character a little, or a lot, different from all the rest.

Now, this isn’t to say this should be done as recklessly as possible at any expense necessary—there’s no reason you should bend over backwards to cast a wussy, bed-wetting blind albino half-human half-naked-mole-rat doctor as the hero of your grim fantasy story about mercenaries. Try to have the character suit the storyline—and, of course, an original storyline doesn’t hurt either.

Remember, always, that characters drive story—rarely the other way around. Make sure you’ve got characters well-suited for whatever story you’re trying to tell—otherwise, you might find out halfway through that your character isn’t willing to go along with your ideas. Nothing worse than a rebellious character.

Finally, flesh them out a bit—if not in the story, in your own mind. Know where they come from, what their upbringing was like, what they want most, what they’d do to get it…know them, in effect, as if you’d just read their autobiography and managed to weed out the BS parts.

And on this note, I conclude. Thanks for sticking with me as I pretended to know what the hell I was doing, while producing essentially nothing of actual storytelling merit.

Next week? Well, I’ll leave that as a surprise.


Character Creation 14: Major Minorage

14 Jun

Awright, we’ve got a repeat of last week coming up. Introducing: more minor characters.

(I’m not quite stupid enough to give myself a time limit this time, though.)

Let’s get right to it.
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Character Creation 13: The Minor Leagues

07 Jun

So far, I’ve been working on the big players—the heroes, the villains, the corporate sponsors, etc. Today in Character Creation, I’m writing up some less-significant characters—characters whose importance falls somewhere between supporting character and minor character.

To add an element of challenge to this, I’m going to come up with all of my archetypes and brainstorming within a time limit. Basically, I’m going to drill out as many characters as I can come up with in a half-hour. This should be interesting.

Alrighty, here goes nothing.

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Character Creation 12: Go Team Goatee

31 May

Welcome to this, the final look at our villainous villain.

So far, we’ve established his background, motivation, and character pretty well. He’s dedicated, disillusioned, and more than a little crazed. He’s an anti-villain–practically heroic, by some standards–and is somewhat more misguided than outright evil. Seems like a pretty solid build.

Now, I thought it’d be educational and helpful to take an in-depth look at the precise geopolitical circumstances that enabled his disillusionment process.

Just kidding. Let’s look at his awesome death robot squads.

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Character Creation 11: Depth

25 May

Welcome to this edition of Character Creation, which is most certainly NOT late by any reasonable standards of shut up.

This week, we take an in-depth look at the motivation of…whats’isface.

Alright, let’s look at this guy pre-war.

The Great Machine is about to get into a war with another, smaller faction, one with guerilla capabilities. The Great Machine needs contraptions that can get inside a base, then wreak tons of havoc in confined conditions. They send out a message, summoning all individuals with machinist talents.

Cue…what was the name I made up for him? Cavatte Camair? Fine. He’s an up-and-coming high artist with an excellent grasp on locomotion, and had previously turned his efforts to civilian purposes.

He was raised in a very patriotic family—all immigrants from a smaller, outlying tribe, all fiercely proud to be citizens in an empire of plenty. When he heard that the Great Machine wanted machinists to combat a significant threat to the supply lines, he instantly volunteered.

For decades, he devised progressively more dangerous instruments of war, creating a fleet of deadly automatons. Some of them could almost pass as humanlike, hidden under a shroud of ceremonial garments, until they burst free and eviscerated all that stood nearby. The carnage spawned by his creations nagged at him a bit, but he told himself it was for a good cause. People would be dying regardless, and he might as well ensure there were as few casualties on his side as possible.

Then the war ended, and things went wrong.

He was, to his confusion, reassigned to one of the major Great Machine cities. Upon arriving, he was given a briefing: his creations were to be used against the rebel insurgents within the city.

At first, he protested—there was too much possibility for collateral damage, he insisted. As well, he was not entirely comfortable with the idea of using them against former citizens.

The Great Machine made it clear that this was not open for debate.

For the next few years, he stuck on, somewhat against his will. He was known to be bitter, quiet, and reluctant to pursue further innovations in his duties. Still, he consoled himself with the knowledge he was helping the Great Machine retain its integrity.
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Character Creation 10: They’ll All Pay

18 May

Welcome to this week’s installment of Character Creation—now, in new and improved Evil flavor. This week, we’re looking into the twisted backstory of our mutual fiend.

Obviously, I need to know what kind of villain I’m making—there are, after all, several varieties of main villain. Let me break down the four basic Fiend Groups:
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Character Creation 9: Evil Overlord Checklist

10 May

Alright, I thought I’d come up with a quick-and-dirty list of qualities I want my villain to have.

1.) Good motivations. The motivation has to make sense—it can’t just be “because he’s evil”. I’d prefer for them to be somewhat sympathetic, as well—something the audience can understand, even (perhaps) side with. I’d also like to avoid the common definition of a “sympathetic” fantasy villain, which is one that wants to destroy the world because it’s evil, or to bring back his sister, or because he’s having a really bad day. Example of a good motivation: he feels (justifiably) like he was screwed over by an administration that contains substantial corruption, and thinks a few surgical murders might clean up its act.

2.) Not too powerful. The typical formula for a villain seems to be >9000N, where N is the power of the protagonist. The hero has only himself and a couple scrappy allies, while the villain has a truckload of disposable henchmen and/or godly powers. I’d really prefer he be on the level of the hero, about—makes the whole conflict seem a little more plausible.

3.) Not cartoonishly evil. Being an honest-to-gosh sadistic bastard is one thing, but being a moustache-twiddling mountebank is another. Ideally, he has enough reason or restraint to not to incredibly stupid things just because he seems more hardcore that way. Examples of bad behavior: executing civilians to try to quell the others (yeah, because that always works), killing a person’s parents but leaving their child to grow up healthy and strong, murdering his own men for no adequate reason.

4.) Doesn’t use one of the villain voices.

Alright, this needs some explanation.

In my formative years, I came to realize that there are three kinds of voices that 95% of all villains use. There’s voice one, which I like to call the Cretinous Sneer, which is full of logorrhea, constant insults, and a general air of superiority. Doctor Doom is their patron god. The second voice, which I like to call Flatfoot Jawing, is an amalgamation of all sorts of thug/mobster clichés. The third voice, which I like to call the Whispering Doom, is a painfully trite your-souls-will-be-consumed-by-the-ravaging-darkness-of-the-god-prophecy-chaos-eternally kind of dialect.

What I’m saying is, I’d prefer to stay away from those stereotypes when possible.

5.) At no point will he try to frame the hero for something. Okay, this isn’t really an overdone thing, and it’s not even technically a characteristic; I just hate these plots for some reason. So…yeah.

6.) At no point will he fail to follow up on a major opportunity. I know, the Evil Overlord list has mocked the not-shooting-captives and giving-sporting-chances aspects of villains to death—this isn’t exactly breaking new ground by saying I don’t want my villains to throw the heroes into deathtraps before explaining their plans. Thing is, not only is this kind of practice stupid, it invalidates the victory of the hero. So they manage to defeat Professor Von Talkative—so what? They should have failed—it was only because the villain essentially gave them a mulligan that they didn’t. That’s not a heroic, hard-won accomplishment–it’s the equivalent of tripping over the first hurdle in a sprint, then looking back and realizing that your opponent is a paraplegic.

Next week, I’ll look into the kind of backstory all strapping villains should sport.


Character Creation 9: Mwah-heh-hee-har-hum

03 May

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of Character Creation, where we engage in the debatably pointless exercise of creating characters without stories. It’s your weekly dose of meta, in 1000 words or less!

We’ve already looked at a couple kinds of heroes—now, let’s do a u-bie onto the evil side of the street and take a look at villainy.

I figured I’d do a list of all of the important characteristics a villain should have—you know, use that as a starting point. Here goes nothing!
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Character Creation 8: A Long and Free-Flowing Ramble

26 Apr

Alright, braindump mode ON.

So, the scientist character needs a damn name already. How about…Kyrette Mascone. Yeah, sure, it works. Moving on.

Earlier, I mentioned that I thought a fairly rich background would suit the character, but I actually think a middle-class upbringing would be better. I’ve already decided that I want her to be self-reliant, and having a rich past would probably make this streak a little more implausible. Kyrette paid for her own education, never had anything handed to her, and learned the importance of hard work and study.

Let’s say she was born in one of the core cities. Her family managed to make ends meet, live a decently comfortable life, and generally stay out of trouble. Kyrette was doted on by her parents, but was nevertheless encouraged to take initiative and do things for herself. In this way, she quickly became reliant on herself, eager to solve her own problems and follow her own ideas.
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