Friday, 6 December 2013

Building Characters to a Theme

I want to go further with character creation … but I’m not sure how. 

  Returning to the question from yesterday’s post – what is the difference between a Pit, Angelic themed sniper and a Exo-suited, high tech themed Samus sniper.  Weight class can factor, a little.  Moreover, I think “theme” is a much better descriptor.  In short, Player Characters are built according to theme. 

  Mario “Jumpman” might oscilate between being a plumber, carpenter, or Kingdom and Princess saver, but he is fundamentally a working man.  That’s what his ensemble says, and it’s the attitude in the back of his handlers at Nintendo when he throws himself into his work, whoop, whoo-hooing and yahooing all over the place like he loved dying frequently.

  Link is on theme a woodsy, fairy themed warrior.  With a ... mechanical hookshot.  Okay, some themes are stronger than others.  There is room for a theme to be delivered weaker than others, but PCs should be building, at least, a ten year old kid with a baseball bat coming to save the world, or matching parka mountaineers with ice powers.  It prompts clichés, true, but also provides a framework to challenge those clichés, and thus, the penalties for not following a theme (in attire, tools, power selection, etc) should be relatively light, more like not getting a boost than taking a penalty.

  Enforcing this is going to be problematic.  It has become a mechanic in Orbis Terrarum, for instance, as métier.  It certainly hasn’t had a chance to ship yet – it was only just funded.  But the gist of the mechanic appears to be that it places full discretion into the DM’s hands to reward good roleplaying (in their chosen character’s theme) with small bonuses.  It seems reasonable, but I like to spread responsibility around for a character dying.  A variant idea might poll the associate gamers at the table what they think of the subject’s theme.  Hmm… that might have the opposite effect, and cause everyone to become rote and uninteresting to appeal to the majority vote.
Maybe some guidelines can be written down, and then taken into playtesting.
1)      Themes reflect upbringing, origins, and faiths. 
a.      Example: Samus’ armor is Chozo.  She automatically inherits the conflicts the Chozo left behind (versus Metroids, Space Pirates?)  NPCs encountering her remember her theme, and when they last encountered it (if ever, the Hatchling, was after all, a hatchling!).  Social interactions are moved positively or negatively according to those previous interactions.
b.      Example II: Fox and Falco are clearly futuristic pilots.  Their costumes invoke the sense of flight suits.  Their headgear doubles as microphones, without compromising vision.  They act the part too, cocky and aggressive.  They have something to prove.
2)      Player Characters should have at least three themes, and they are recommended not to all agree or be compatible.
a.      Luigi’s themes include being an adventurer and ‘the scared one.’  Played effectively, he constantly pushes against his natural fear to keep up with his brother, torn by fears of being left behind, and of losing him.  Mario’s always too brash!  (Oh, shoot, I need a third, don’t I?)  Um … okay… I guess he’s got a troubling domestic taste, like for fine teas, soft fabrics and vacuuming.  Like Mario he is a hard worker, he just prefers safe, warm, housework is all!  No I swear that’s all, whatever you’ve heard of dresses!
b.      None of these themes have to come up in every situation, nor in most situations, but they speak to the character, and the kinds of things he or she enjoys, likes, and dislikes.  They can and should form a part of how the PCs react to danger and reward.
3)      Player characters are asked to defend their theme choices, but really only as an exercise to determine how this makes sense for the character who is from this world.
a.      Recall the Setting: Set in a town of game sprite characters mostly ripped from their own worlds and jumbled together. 
b.      There can be riotous disagreement with fellow characters in Nexus, but in their own world everything makes sense and is logical; the creators more or less made that be the truth.

c.      Characters should not be allowed to play cluelessly.  They are all connected, invested, in the city which took them in while clueless.  Nexus isn’t perfect, but it should rest as a centerpiece of just about any characters fragile mind, either to defend it or dominate it, or both.  PCs can and should make long term plans with Nexus at the center.  

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