Sunday, March 31, 2013

Entice People To Continue

What quality makes a story a "page-turner"? In general, it's that you keep having questions and you want to see them answered. In addition, when questions get answered, new ones arise.

And what quality makes a story incredibly stupid and annoying? Well, a lot of things. But in this case, it's raising questions that never get answered.

Role playing games happen in sessions. In a sense, they are the chapters of the story. If you are running the game, you need to be mindful of these natural breaks. Find a way to give a little bit more of your story, but don't give it all away. Keep some mystery as to what exactly is going on.

To some degree, you want to end your sessions on a cliffhanger. It shouldn't be cheesy, because if you don't have some kind of resolution, it will feel like an unsatisfying session. And if you consistently keep your players in the dark, then they will feel like they're spinning their wheels and going nowhere.

This is as much a writing issue as it is a role playing issue because, in reality, it is a storytelling issue.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Trust Is Needed

When you play a game, you expect it to be fair. No matter how difficult it may seem, there is a way for you to win. Similarly, when you read a story, you expect it to be fair. If you read a story where the protagonist is up against insurmountable odds, and then loses, you have a terrible story on your hands. That's why trust is needed for role playing games.

If you are the player, you have to trust that your Game Master is creating a fair game to play. You need to trust that any particular challenge is winnable and that your actions are being taken into consideration before being told your results.

A GM shouldn't want players to fail; they want to tell a great story that others can take part in. If you trust that this is the guiding principle, then you should have a great time. And if that trust is ever broken, get the hell out of there; it's going to suck very hard and very soon.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Don't Apologize For Your Enthusiasm

There are a great many things I love. I love telling stories. I love solving puzzles. I love fuzzy animals. I love mathematics. I love linguistics. And I love role playing games. These interests help to explain who I am. I like me and I'm proud of myself, and I am not ashamed of my enthusiasm for these subjects (and all the other ones I neglected to mention).

Some subjects are way less socially acceptable than others. Fuzzy animals are universally awesome. Dungeons & Dragons is universally derided. But when you talk about socially acceptable, you have to ask yourself what society you're talking about. Admittedly, role playing enthusiasts are a minority amongst the total population, but among the kinds of people I hang with, it is far less of a taboo (and among many, it is a common and enjoyable activity).

The point is, wherever you go, whatever subject you care about, some people will mock you for it, and others will wish they could openly announce their love for it. If you are afraid to talk about the things you like, then you are afraid of yourself. And in that position, it is very hard to be generally happy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's Mentally Exhausting

Role playing is an exercise in mental fortitude. You are pretending to be a different person with their own life and philosophies, in a place you have never been, interacting with other characters, solving challenges, and doing all of it in real time. It's a significant expense of energy.

For as much as it may be taxing to players, though, it is exponentially more exhausting to the person running the game. The Game Master has to be mindful of every character in the game, has to actually control every character other than the players', and has to come up with explanations and descriptions for everything that happens in their world.

Imagine you are a writer and you spend 5 hours writing a story through the process of a group of people telling you what one person does, then you taking note of that and writing the results of those actions. Certainly it can be done, but by the end of it, you will be wiped out from the experience.

This is another reason I really respect role players as storytellers. They are doing one of the most difficult forms of storytelling out there: continuous, spontaneous storytelling that incorporates the input of others.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Be Generally Inviting

Tabletop gaming is a very niche culture and it always has been. Of course, in any group, you will find a wide variety of personalities, so not everybody will get along all the time, but there isn't always enough people to be really picky.

On a simpler level, though, you should always invite people into your groups. Not everybody will be a good match, and that's ok, but you will have more opportunities to meet good people and acquire new stories by having as many people as possible try out.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Later" Can Be A Long Time

In my most recent session of Dungeons & Dragons, I had the most amazing experience ever. The story starts several months ago, when a friend of mine had a character who had an ability to summon a small field of dense plants. My friend, being the joker that he is, decided to have the plants be magical marijuana. I can only assume that the GM was in a good mood at the time because he allowed it. So I take one of my empty bottles and fill it with this magic weed.

I then proceeded to do nothing with it. I made a note of it as one of my possessions, but I never used it. I spent session after session seeing this bottle in my inventory, and having no need whatsoever for it. I certainly did not want to throw it out, but I didn't want to use it for no reason, either. (In a world where almost everything wants to kill you, it is a bad idea to willfully intoxicate yourself.)

Many times, I would envision ways in which I might use this weed. One scenario was using it as a peace offering with some grouchy person. Like, we would all smoke up, relax, and this person would grant us a favor we needed. Similarly, to mix it into somebody's food so that it would lower their defenses. But for months on end, we were never in a situation that even remotely needed it.

Then on Sunday, it finally happened. We escaped from the dungeon we were crawling out of, and were in a small town at night. Before we could get out of town, every member of the party had some strange spell put on them. My character was put into a giant glass bottle on its side, and despite every single thing I tried, there was literally no way out of the bottle. So I announced to everybody that I was finally whipping out the only plan I had left - I pulled out the magical weed, lit it up, and used the enclosed space of the bottle to get really high.

The entire party cracked up laughing. I doubt any of them even remembered that I had any of it, let alone that I would decide to give up and get high in this very freaky situation. But as it turns out, the magical weed basically counteracted the hallucinogen in the air that was affecting me, and cured me of the delusion I was in.

This was one of the proudest moments of role playing for me so far. I love the idea of collecting somewhat random things and using them in unexpected ways, or at unexpected times. I find it really adds to the excitement of role playing, because if I was an adventurer in real life, I would like to think that I would see certain items and say, "that might be useful later." The catch is, I may have no idea whatsoever how long it will be until it becomes useful.

"Later" can be a long time. It can be a very long time when you have no idea when, and really if, something you have will be useful. But there are two lessons here. The first is that it is always better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it. The second is that when you only have a hammer, you see all your problems as nails. And what I mean on the second point is that you can never have all the tools in the world, but if you focus on the tools you do have, you will find a way to use one or a combination of them to solve the problems you face. And that is as valuable for role playing as it is for anything in life.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Different GMs Act Differently

When I talk about how to act as a Game Master, or how GMs act in general, I'm speaking with a bias. What I'm really talking about is how I hope a GM will act. I'm assuming that they are playing for the same reasons and that they think the same things are fun. In reality, there are many different kinds of GMs.

Some GM are assholes. They see themselves as the antagonists of the story. In this regard, they really try to kill or defeat the party. They tend to either follow rules very strictly, or they make them up to fit what they want. The only reason players keep coming back is that the GM is just fair enough that the players don't say "you're cheating" and walk away. These kinds of GMs force players to operate at peak performance. If the party doesn't work as a collective team, they will all be ripped apart because of it.

Some GMs are the conductor and engineer of the plot railroad. This is sort of the polar opposite of the above GM. These people will do whatever it takes to make you jump through their hoops. They are so married to the story they want to tell that whatever you try to do to veer away, they will punish you until you get back on track (or simply find any reason to shut off all options other than the one they intend you to take).

On the opposite side of that, some GMs are pushovers. They so badly want everybody to have fun and like them that they agree with any player suggestions and they dole out special items and equipment like it's candy. These GMs are certainly fun, and sometimes, they may be exactly what you want, but ultimately they make these games boring. Without a true test of your skills, there is no chance for failure, and thus no sense of reward from passing the challenges.

This is why I find the best experience is a balance between all of these extremes. A GM should be fun, should let players actually do what they want and solve puzzles their way. A GM should do everything they can to say yes, but when the proper answer is no, they need to say so and stand by it. A GM should know exactly how hard to push players without them pushing back. They need to make the goals tantalizing. They need to make failure a palpable possibility. And in doing those things, they will make an exciting and satisfying experience for everybody.

If you are a GM, this is what you should hope for. But if you are a player, you need to prepare to encounter any of them.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reward Your Players

One thing to remember about role playing games is that they are still games. People play them to have fun. Enjoyment is literally the only reason to play.

Although the experience of role playing is often its own fun, remember to reward your players. When they do well, let them know. If it makes sense, show them how appreciative you are by giving them some kind of gift in the game. It doesn't even have to be something useful or valuable; the sentimental value of the gift will make it worthwhile.

Rewards can also be used as positive reinforcement. When you want players to strategize or to role play, make sure they know they're being rewarded for it. Then they'll be yours forever, and in the best way possible.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rolling Random Stats

When creating your character there are certain stats to determine. Often things like physical strength, general dexterity, and intelligence must be determined. These are integral to a character and how they will interact with the world.

So how do you decide these stats? In the old days, they were determined randomly with dice. In doing this, characters were always unique, and exceptionally great characters were possible, but very rare, which made them special.

Characters also ended up being built around the stats you rolled. If you wanted to be a wizard, but your intelligence was minimal, you would be a worthless wizard. So if your strength happened to be good, you might decide to be a physical fighter instead.

Most people I know have a character in mind when they start, so rolling random stats can be problematic. The other issue with random stats is that about half the characters you create will be below average, and you will feel like you're getting cheated with them. It's so unequal that it tends to become unfair.

The alternative to random stats is to have fixed stats. For example, you have a number of stat points, and you can allocate them however you wish. Everybody can still be different, but they also remain even because of the system.

The one nice thing about rolling stats is that when you don't know what you want to be, they give you a framework to work on. Looking at a collection of stats may inspire you to create a character you really enjoy playing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Always Say Yes

The number one rule of improv comedy is "always say yes." Whatever the other people suggest, you say yes and you go with it. This continues the momentum of the story. When you start saying no, you grind it to a halt.

Improvisation is a large part of role playing games, so to some degree, it remains true. If players come up with reasonable ideas, let them try it out. If characters say something inappropriate, let them do it. Make them deal with the consequences of those actions, but let them do it.

That said, if you're running the game, you can't always say yes. Sometimes players want to do things that are literally impossible. They may want to run 100 yards in 6 seconds or leap 30 feet in the air. These things may slip a player's mind or they may be looking for a favor. In any case, there are boundaries somewhere.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

There Will Be Arguments

In some senses, you can think of role playing as collaborative storytelling. And if you have ever done any sort of group project, you know that there will be arguments.

When people don't see eye-to-eye, the story cannot proceed, so until the argument is settled, everything is on hold.

In role playing, many arguments involve ways that official rules might be applied, non official mechanics due to role playing factors, and creating unofficial rules to cover situations that the official rules did not plan for.

The important thing to strive for is to not let arguments become fights. Disagreeing is common, but there is no need to let it get personal. Make your points, listen to others', know that the GM is the ultimate decider, and move on once an issue is settled. People won't always be happy, but everyone will get along.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Alignment Bias

I've talked about how difficult it can be to separate yourself from your character. Basically, because you can never truly stop being you, your characters will also have your personal tendencies and characteristics. Similarly, you will always view right and wrong through your personal moral lens.

Is murder always bad? Some people say yes - all life is sacred. Others say no - people can commit crimes heinous enough to justifiably lose their lives. Both sides can be argued very well and very convincingly, but if somebody commits murder, the GM's moral code will determine whether or not this was an acceptable thing to do.

I call this issue "alignment bias" and it really can be an issue. If your bias is different from the GM's bias, you can find yourself really butting heads. You could do an action that you thought was heroic or at least benign, but the GM might see it as self-centered or uncaring. The two of you might argue a bit, but ultimately, the game is the GM's playground, and you have to abide by the rules and the rulings.

Ideally, everybody can move beyond their biases. Even if you may see things through a particular lens, try to see other ways of looking at a situation before immediately calling it good or evil. Listen to arguments, and if they're good enough, let them have it. Just don' let them win too much - then they'll argue everything until you concede, which is far, far worse.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dice Are The Great Equalizers

The beauty of dice is that, in theory, when you roll them enough times, you will get all the results. And over a long enough period of time, you should be getting each of those results the same number of times. Because of this, dice are the great equalizers.

Everyone, both the player characters and the non-player characters, are equally affected by the dice. Some days, you get lucky. Some days you fail miserably. And often times you get a melange of  results. But in the end, everything will balance out for everyone.

Sometimes, this is not a good thing. If you are trying to tell a story, then you usually want dramatic scenes. When characters are against extreme odds, you want them to be able to dig deep and pull an amazing victory from the jaws of defeat, but when success is out of your control, you have to hope for the best and plan for the worst. But actually, that is also the charm of dice.

What could be more human than randomness? Sure, great stories about superior people are wonderful, but there is a real thrill in seeing a person who doesn't always have things work out. There is an admiration for somebody who takes risks, knowing they won't all work, dealing with the consequences of them, but still moving on. They are the stories most excting to hear and truly validating to be part of.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Know How To Challenge Your Players

Imagine that you've made up your own adventure and you're excited to get down to business. You have your players, and you let them make whatever kind of character they want to play. Often, in role playing, each character will have certain strengths. The best groups are ones where each person specializes in a particular set of skills, but when the party works together, each one makes up for what the others are lacking.

Because you let each player make their own characters, you may find yourself with an unbalanced party. If you have several characters who are smooth talkers, one character who is a wealthy merchant looking for thrills, and a couple characters who are brawny fighters, but nobody who can heal characters and nobody who can strike at a distance, then you may feel hesitant to have them try to hack and slash their way through a gauntlet of wizards and demons.

However, just because you didn't get the party you expected does not mean you have to throw away your adventure. What makes role playing games so exciting is that you have to think on your feet. Whatever your plans are, they often go awry, but you always deal with it and find a way to move on.

Present the adventure you planned and challenge them to find a way to make it work. If you have some smooth talkers, maybe they can persuade other characters to come along. Maybe the fighters can call in some favors for reinforcements. Maybe the merchant can hire some mercenaries.

There are all these ways for characters to find reinforcements, but even that's not the only way to solve the challenge. Maybe when the party finds danger, instead of trying to fight everything to death, a smooth talker tries to find a peaceful solution. Maybe a different one convinces enemies that there is more to life than fighting. Maybe the wealthy merchant purchases adventuring gear that is so exceptionally good that it makes up for not having a medic following them around.

As the GM, though, once you do know what your party is, be willing to modify your adventure. If you have a lot of characters who rely on the power of their words, then don't pit them against serpents, spiders, and other beasts that can't comprehend language. Give them a challenge they can face. Make it difficult. Make the risk high, but reachable, and the reward worth the effort. Pit them against other humans and see if they can get those humans to crack without swinging a hammer to do it. Not to mention, maybe the merchant ends up bribing those who care more about gold than honor.

What makes any game challenging and any story exciting is risk. It's about challenges that are great and consequences that are severe. It's about bravery in dire times and the fortitude to push forward because there is more that must be done. Keep those in mind and remember that if you want to GM a great game, you want to tell a great story.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Know How To Manipulate Your Players

If you are the Game Master and you have a particular narrative you are trying to tell, the autonomy of role playing games can sometimes be its own hindrance. If there is a place you want the characters to go, but they feel like doing other stuff, you have a dilemma. On the one hand, you really want to tell your story; it's the whole point of the game. On the other hand, you don't want to put them on a plot railroad and strip them of their personal freedom.

The answer to this dilemma is in psychology. Remember always that characters have motivations. No matter how nonchalant a person is, there are things they want and things they don't want. If you want the players to travel to the next town over, then you need to make them want to do it.

Do your players want to save the day? Then tell them the bad guy or one of his cronies is there. If somebody is interested in wealth, then tell them about the bounty on that person's head. When one character only wants to read books, then maybe there are rumors of a retired librarian in the town who knows about a hidden stash.

There are other ways to manipulate characters. Spoony's best advice: Steal something from them. Players will trek across the globe to reclaim even the most petty item that was stolen from them.

A good storyteller should know how to tug at the heartstrings of their audience. They should be masterful weavers of excitement and suspense. You need to have some idea of how to make people want to read the next page of your book. When you can do this, you will be the pied piper of roll playing games, able to lead characters to hell and back, and always having them excited with every step.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Endless Replay Value

One of the greatest things about a tabletop adventure is that it's impossible to play the same game twice. Even if you had the same players and you used the same characters, even trying to replay an adventure would yield completely different results. The randomness that comes from the dice guarantee this.

Like I said, though, this is one of the greatest things. It's always new. It's always different. Now, most people I know aren't playing the same adventures multiple times because they also want new settings. But if you do return to an old story, it's going to be a new adventure.

Think about reading a book. Sometimes you wonder what would have resulted if things happened differently or if characters made different choices, or even if entirely different people were in the same situation. In a role playing game, you can do exactly that.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Charisma And Intimidation

Continuing from yesterday, I find charisma to be a difficult attribute to deal with in role playing games. One of the biggest issues I have is the idea that one's Charisma affects anything they do that uses words. The problem is that not all words are equal.

If I am trying to haggle with a salesman, coerce a security guard, or flirt with a cute girl, I am using similar skills. Basically, I am trying to be pleasant and appealing. I want the other person to like me and to agree with my points of view.

But what if I'm trying to threaten somebody? What if, instead of trying to appear friendly, I decided to appear terrifying? Now, certainly one's words would be part of that, but there is so much more to intimidation. What about the sheer size that one might have? What about using physical violence to show that your threats are serious?

The same reasons that make your character have a low Charisma may be exactly what makes them incredibly intimidating.

In terms of the game, these issues can be addressed with a good Game Master. Basically, if they keep track of the role playing elements you are adding to your actions, then they should award you with a bonus to modify your roll. If you are doing good role playing, then you will make up for your character's naturally low charisma. And that would be proper. After all, the most important part of a role playing game should be good role playing.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Charisma vs. Role Playing

When you create a character, there are usually six basic attributes to determine: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. The first three are physical characteristics. The next two are based on knowledge. And then there's charisma.

Physical characteristics need attribute points. The character doesn't actually exist, so their body is abstract. General knowledge also is an abstraction, because we cannot plan out their entire lives and determine every single thing they know or their intuition. But charisma is different.

Charisma basically affects all of your words. Players with high charisma are better at communicating. They are more likely to succeed when trying to be diplomatic, deceitful, threatening, or charming. The problem here is that the players are pretending to be the character in the present tense. They are the character's charisma. The words they say, the tone they use, every aspect of verbal communication is actually being conveyed. There is no need whatsoever for an abstract value to determine this.

I personally believe that the idea of giving character's a charisma score betrays the idea of actually role playing. It allows anybody to simply roll a die and let that do the talking for them. In extreme circumstances, players will say things like "I use Diplomacy" as though it was a magic spell. But what kind of diplomacy are you using? Who are you talking to? What do you know about them? What could you say to grease the wheels to get what you want?

Admittedly, I am a person whose actual charisma is pretty high, so I'm biased. I understand that some people aren't so great at communicating or thinking on their feet. The abstraction can allow for people to have diplomatic or wily characters without actually being such themselves. But I still find that to be a step against role playing.

I think that, since role playing games already confer so many great lessons in thinking and strategizing, the best approach is to think of role playing as another one of the lessons to learn. Get exposure and get experience and practice how to be a cunning character. It is something that you don't need dice to determine, which is also a great skill to have for real life, where the same is true.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Players Are Cowriters

When drawing comparisons between prose writing and role playing, it's easy to think of the Game Master as the author. Therefore, the players must be the audience. But this is not always a fair parallel to draw.

Sure, the GM may be planning the story and telling the narrative, but the players are not passive. They're playing the game. More importantly, they are adding content. They create action. They make choices. They add dialogue. If the players did not make the decisions they did, the story would have been quite different. Therefore, the players are more like cowriters than audience members.

This makes the experience much more exciting to me. It turns every game into a collaborative process. Every person gets a say and can't be vetoed. Not every plan may be perfect or succinct, but they are part of a unique story that everybody gets to build. And that's what makes it worthwhile.

Personalities Are Interpersonal

With the nine basic Personalities covered, feel free to mix them with the nine basic Alignments and go nuts with the sheer number of options for characterization. That said, I want to give a caveat on Personalities.

People generally do have a disposition that is their default. Some people have a general "fuck you" attitude, for example, which is their default when dealing with people. They may be Chaotic Unhappy in general, but they may act completely differently when they go into work or get pulled over by a cop or have lunch with their mothers.

Personalities are interpersonal. Because every person is unique, we can treat each person differently. This means that our own personalities can be malleable. Many things can change our feelings and how we regard others. Sometimes our mood can naturally change throughout the course of the day, and how we act and perceive others depends on when they happen to catch us.

Although I feel personalities are an important grid to have, they have similar issues that Alignment does. First of all, they are more of a description than they are an enforcement. At least Alignment is more based on personal philosophy/belief; Personality is so variable that some people can hit all the points in a single day just by hanging around enough people.

The importance of it is having a concept of the spectrum where people can be. It allows you to see their general disposition by how they treat the different people in their lives, as well as complete strangers. You can see which personality types they do and don't work well with.

Even if you as an author don't want to dive that deeply into the analysis of your own characters, it can give you another tool to play with. What kinds of personality types do you want to work with? What happens when you put various combinations together? The Personality grid allows you a different kind of sandbox to play in, and if you find yourself unsure what to do or where to go, try this

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chaotic Happy

I've saved for last my favorite Personality: Chaotic Happy. Like all personalities, it can come in many flavors, but there is always one I envision. To me, Chaotic Happy people are touched in the head. They are unendingly enthusiastic to the point of being dangerous. They want so badly to help out that they do not actually listen to what people want and instead just do what they imagine people want.

Imagine coming home and finding all the rooms completely filled with sand. Your friend is there with a great big grin, and he tells you your home is now full of sand. When you ask him why he did it, he says, "Now we can dig together! And digging is awesome!"

Chaotic Happy people have the best intentions, but they are completely unruly. It can be difficult to get angry at them; they tend to have a child-like innocence. But their actions, regardless of their intentions, generally make life less convenient for you. They are a chore to be around and a true test of patience, but at least they're trying.

These people can be horrifying to be around in real life, and frustrating to have in your stories, but they do tend to be great for comedy. They are so random that you never know what will happen next, but you can always be sure that it will be ridiculous, and that is enough to keep you coming back for more.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Neutral Neutral

The True Neutral personality is the most level-headed one. These people tend to think things through and make decisions that they think are right. Sometimes that means they are doing what is told, and sometimes they disobey commands, but always they are keeping their wits about them.

In this sense, they are like the Neutral Neutral alignment, sometimes like a nihilist and sometimes an adamant individualist. They can also be completely insane and unpredictable, thus being put in the Neutral category not because they are level-headed, but because they oscillate between extremes so much that they average out to be neutral.

What I like about True Neutral characters is that they are the perfect symbol of balance. If you look at balancing scales that have nothing on them, they are even. If you put a million pounds on both sides, they will still be even. There is a huge difference between zero pounds and a million pounds, but if they are applied evenly, they still get the same result: balance.

It's not always easy to wrap one's head around this, but that is what makes this such an interesting personality to study.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Loyal Neutral

The great thing about neutrality is that it's motives are hardest to determine. So with the Loyal Neutral character, what is it that makes them loyal?

Loyalty could be a result of personal honor. Complying with requests could be a point of pride, so it is done not with exuberance or fear, but out of respect for doing a good thing when possible (and when asked nicely). Similarly, it could be that the character was simply raised to believe that one should do what they can to help people, so it is not a conscious decision but a result of upbringing, which is what makes them nonchalant about it.

Conversely, the character could be a devious prick. When you help somebody out, they owe you a favor, so by helping people regularly, they are building up a reserve of favors to cash in at a later date. In this case, it's just good business sense.

With Loyal Neutral characters being so hard to read, they can make for fun characters to write about. But they're less fun to be around in real life, especially if you're easily paranoid.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Chaotic Neutral

Much like the Chaotic Neutral alignment, the Chaotic Neutral personality almost always comes off as a psychopath. It is a person who will go out of their way to ignore commands, but does it with a level head. They aren't being compelled by some emotion; they just have no regard whatsoever for the authority of the person issuing the command.

Admittedly, the Chaotic Neutral character isn't necessarily insane, but they are most definitely social deviants. They will do whatever they feel like doing and no outside influence will slow them down. Sometimes they're perfectly rational people who simply don't care about others.

These characters do tend to be problematic, though. They're uncontrollable, at least through civil means. The only way to control them is through force. Physically restrain them and poke a spear in somebody's back, and no matter how chaotic they are, they're going to go where they are told to go (unless they have no survival instinct).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Loyal Neutral

If you've ever seen The Flintstones, you are familiar with prehistoric animals being used in lieu of technology. For example, a small bird-like dinosaur uses it's beak like a record needle to play the music on a stone record. Afterward, it looks at the camera and says, "it's a living." That is the mentality of the Loyal Neutral character.

They follow orders, but it's not because of joy or fear; it's because loyalty is its own virtue. Certainly, not every person deserves such loyalty, but those that do will get it because it's the right thing to do.

Sometimes this character is the kind of person who doesn't want to be part of the team, but will help out when times get tough. Conversely, it could be the kind of person who commits terrible atrocities because "I was just following orders." So as always, any given personality can really span the spectrum.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Loyal Happy

Loyal Happy people are pretty exciting to be around. I often think of them as the eager go-getter, truly wanting to help and make things better.

Often times, this character is an assistant of some kind. Anything from an office secretary to a hero's sidekick. This person follows orders and can be seen as a lynch pin to making plans succeed.

What is beautiful is that the two traits tend to feed off of each other. Their happiness makes them want to be loyal, and their loyalty makes them happy. With a good partner, this personality can last indefinitely.

That said, this personality can also be quite fragile. If the cycle is broken (e.g. what if their loyalty results in betrayal), can the character maintain the personality? This also leads to the other question: should they? It is not a simple matter by any means, but it is a question to ask yourself and seek your own answers. It will also be a topic handled in a future post.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Neutral Unhappy

A Neutral Unhappy character is in a real funk. They're lethargic and unmotivated. The only real saving grace is that it hasn't affected their minds much beyond that. Such a character may not do too much, but they are not easily manipulated.

I also want to mention that, although I call it Happy/Unhappy, it is more a scale about energy levels and exuberance. This Unhappy person could be depressed, could have low blood pressure, could just be generally apathetic, or could simply be lazy. As usual, there are many expressions for this Personality; Neutral Unhappy is simply a framework to describe or better flesh out your characters.

Being neither Chaotic nor Loyal, this character generally cares more about the specific factors of a given situation to determine whether or not to do what they are told. They may lean on the side of not helping because their Unhappiness is overwhelming, but that really does depend on the individual case.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chaotic Unhappy

The Chaotic Unhappy character is a special kind of sociopath. They are both miserable and indignant. They are somewhat common in storytelling cliche, but can make interesting studies.

The best question to ask is, what makes them Chaotic Unhappy? Are they chaotic because they are unhappy? Are they unhappy because of their internal chaos? Are there two distinct causes to thir unhappiness and their unruliness?

The specific answers are as unique as the characters, but their personalities will have certain commonalities. The chaotic nature makes them rebel against command, but because of that, it makes them susceptible to manipulation like reverse psychology. The unhappiness can be treated like a fuel, being stoked to spur on the character; this clouds their mind, preventing them from taking a step back and thinking about what all is going on.

Sometimes these people are very powerful (like Anakin Skywalker), and sometimes they are just ordinary people (like the goth from The Breakfast Club). But very often, they are weak minds and used as pawns by other, more rational people.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Loyal Unhappy

I wanted to kick off the Personalities with something a little uncommon: Loyal Unhappy. This is the kind of person who does what they are asked, but hates every minute of it. Again, this could be so for a number of reasons.

One possibility is that the character is afraid of the consequences of saying no. Maybe they would be punished, so following orders is the path of least resistance.

Another reason may be that the character is conflicted between a compulsion to help people (like being told it's the right thing to do) and having no personal motivation to do it.

In real life, it is possibly not that uncommon. In fact, it sounds like the vast majority of teenagers and employees in customer service (and God help you if you're a teenager in customer service). Still, not a terribly heroic description of a person.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Personality Alignments

I really like the idea of Alignment as a way to understand a character, but it is an incomplete system. As I mentioned in my series on them, alignments give a sort of framework of characterization, but every alignment can be expressed in several very different ways.

What I have come to realize is that there is another set of axes that can be used to describe a character, and that is their personality. It can feel very similar to Alignment, but where Alignment is is more of a character's moral beliefs, Personality is more of how they interact with other people. Another way to describe it is that Personality is how a person acts when there is no moral issue at hand.

The two axes I use are Happy/Unhappy and Loyal/Chaotic. This system came up while working on the Pokemon RPG with my friend. We wanted pokemon to be unique, even when they were members of the same species. In the games, Pokemon have a nature that affects them in certain ways, and we were looking for a way to implement that. This system is what we came up with and we were very happy with it.

Happiness is a pretty simple concept to understand. Are people doing things with a smile or a frown? Happiness also lends itself to exuberance. A happy person has more energy and is more excited to do things. An unhappy person will be more lethargic.

Loyalty, although that may not be the best word to describe it, boils down to how well they will do what they are asked/told. A very loyal person certainly has their own thoughts and beliefs, but if somebody else asks them to do otherwise, they will oblige. A very chaotic person will do whatever the hell they want.

Much like Alignment, Personality can be expressed in many ways. So although there are 9 quadrants, there are for more personalities to experience. I will be going into each of them more in depth, but always remember that no matter how thoroughly you try to explain personalities, there are more in existence than you can describe.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tabletop Gaming Month Extended

Due to popularity and having way too many things to write about, I have decided to extend Tabletop Gaming Month into March. As I reflect on what is now the midpoint of this endeavor, I feel the desire to restate my purpose for doing it.

Role playing games are a truly unique form of storytelling. They are the only true interactive story I have ever come across. However, because they are so very different, they need special examination to better understand.

Tabletop gaming can be expressed in at least as many ways as any print storytelling medium. It is truly complex, and I wish to examine its many facets.

Cheff Salad is a blog about writing, though. When I talk about life, it is for fellow authors to reflect both upon their own lives and the lives of their characters. When I write about tabletop games, I am wanting storytellers of all kinds to reflect on how these concepts affect them.

What can translate beyond role playing? What can translate beyond fiction? What can you implement into your own ideas? What inspires you to create more?

Keep all that in mind as we move into March. Even if the subject of tabletop gaming isn't your thing, writing should be, and everything I have to say will hold true.