Monday, March 11, 2013

Character Pittraps: Never Lost/Seen it All

So I want to bring up a criticism of a type of character, or maybe a certain type of player, but I want to do it by pointing out that I have guilty of it too.  It's something I see all too often... that's not to say such character's shouldn't exist, but they should be created with the OOC understanding that they are flawed, and how.

I've written characters so they are perfect. I remember a Malkavian, childe of an Elder, the coolest guy ever.  They made every decision right in their back story. Every challenge he faced he has beaten.  And of course, anybody who did anything less, are to be derided, and exploited.  No forgiveness, no understanding.  And worse... I as a player judged people who's character's fucked up the same way... and when, inevitably, I failed, I wanted to play a different character.  because the character was broken.  He could never recover.

It's very easy to make a character who never failed... or who, if bad things happened, happened only because of things that were beyond his control.  We all want to play clever, skilled, smart, socially skilled fighters that have never lost a bout.

And of course, if you have never failed, if things have gone wrong only because of others... then any individual who has failed, who makes a mistake... is to be judged.

Don't get me wrong, characters should be successful... they should have something going for them.

But if you only play characters who are successful in their backstory, who don't understand failure, then you should do it with the out of character understanding that, your character is flawed.  Never having failed means never having learned to learn from one's mistakes.  And that is a flaw.  You've been perfect?  that means you never learned how to deal with failure.  In fact, you may be unable to admit you failed.  You should plan for success, and not allow for failure.

The super villain that can't understand how they were beat...  yeah, that's you.  And it's okay to play that character.  But please do it with your eyes open.

You Never Lost.

Because It's one thing to play a character that never made a mistake.  It's quite another to be a guy who thinks that their character is better for having had a back story where they never failed.

Anyway, like I said, eventually your PC will fuck up.  Or find a new mistake,  Or he/she won't, but something will go bad and your first thought will be... this character is no good anymore.

And that is the really sad thing... because in the best stories, the best characters grow... and you don't grow by being perfect... you grow by learning from your mistakes.  Your perfect character found out they aren't perfect... that's when the fun begins.

Not to mention, the perfect back story character is kinda boring... it's successes are based on stuff you wrote, which means that as soon as it has to interact with other characters, it's failing because it's not being awesome.  When you see people coming in an doing nothing at game just waiting on XP... that's this.  

That means that you should never work with others.... since they may fail.  And right then, you've built a PC who belongs on a shelf like a trophy, not in play.  In play they will only get tarnished.

Heck XP represents what your character learned... if you aren't doing stuff, if you know better, then you shouldn't be getting XP.

To me, the best characters are tarnished... They've seen horrors, and they've failed, and they've lost.  And having been broken.  But they aren't done being broken.

There is a variant that perhaps goes too far the other way... the too wise cynic who has seen everything.  That character may have failed, or at least had bad stuff happen, but now they have no more mistakes to make... they are perfect.  Nothing will ever change them, make them care, because they know better.  Every other character who is still trying to do stuff is a failure because they haven't learned the lessons they have. Again, I meet players who play such characters without understanding, or at least without acknowledging, that they are also flawed.

You have Seen it All.

Again... if your character has seen everything and nothing effects you... why the hell are you playing it?

Where is the story?  It's okay to be arrogant and think you know everything... but again, it's a flaw.

So, if you are going to play a character who either never makes a mistake, or knows every mistake you can make, at least now you can do it with open eyes.  And when I play with you, and you say OOC that a PC is a screw up because they didn't know better... I'm thinking you don't know better.  Fucking up is better story, and makes for better characters, then the perfect character that never screws up.  The character that goes home after an adventure without changing or learning anything is a boring and sad one.  And when I've done that, in the past, I've missed out.

We play characters... often vampire characters... and we treat stasis and the status quo as a good thing.  But it's important to remember that what IC is a good thing may OOC make for less valuable characters and less interesting story.

And if you have never made the same mistake, never never lost, or never saw it all... well good for you... Maybe you as a player never screwed up, or maybe you've seen it all.  I hope that makes for good stories for you.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pixars Rules for Storytelling

On a blog for the Pixar Touch, a documentary about the history of Pixar, they published a collection of rules for good stories originally tweeted by Emma Coats a Pixary Story Artist.

Some good ones:

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.

See for the rest.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Online Gaming not Sucking, and the Gamer Nuremberg Defense

Two articles, one on how to run online games that don't suck, and one on how just playing your character is a BS excuse.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Joseph Campbell's Heroic Journey, Supernatural Characters in the World of Darkness, and Gangrel

There's been some discussion recently in OWBN's gangrel out of character mailing list about Gangrel. People have been suggesting that vampires (and other supernatural creatures more generally in the World of Darkness) can be Heros in the sense of Joseph Campbell's monomyth, or superheros, while others have suggested that Vampires are essentially motivated by selfishness. Personally I think either view is reductionist, and I wrote the following:

Actually, Campbell's heroic monomyth isn't that great a fit.

The character types of the world of darkness are based on trespassing against a society's taboos, about ceasing to be human. Vampires, Changelings, Werewolves and Mages, all represent an alteration from man to another type of being brought upon by some sort of trespass... with the possible exception of mages, who are a sort of reification of ritual as a means of transcending humanity, but at the same time plays with the separation of the "awakened" from ordinary man. None of them returns to humanity, they are all fundamentally inhuman at some level, set apart in fundamental ways. Even mages are in effect the shamans of their culture, transcending the physical with the metaphysical in ways that "sleepers" cannot.

The mono myth isn't even all that widely accepted among students of mythology, at least as I understand it. It's kind of a crib. Sure the Hero has a thousand faces, but Campbell goes on to write the Masks of god, which talks about the cultural differences in myth and their importance.

Anyway, getting back to vampire, it's perhaps better to see Vampires as representing essentially cautionary tales. Myths about the inhuman are still, at there essence, myths about humanity, the limits of what it is to be human and the allure of leaving humanity behind contrasted with the loss that represents... hence the focus on Humanity in vampire.

That tension, among Clan Gangrel, is about becoming bestial and wild vs. staying human. Gangrel grow more powerful by departing from their humanity, by becoming part of the wilderness. Essentially, Gangrel become red in tooth and claw, the ultimate bestial predator, at the cost of giving up most human concerns. The essential ultimate gangrel lives in the wild, survives easily, is a monsterous predator and a loner, lacking concerns for politics or human morals and even human speech, a master of their environment, but lacking self control and operating largely on instinct..

It's also not really a player character, since living alone in the wild as a beast isn't really great for a protagonist.

Gangrel PCs instead have to have that tension... they live uneasily on the line between beast and human, seeking a unification that may well be impossible. A Gangrel story is about changing, or resisting the change, of becoming more bestial and animalistic. It works slightly better in Tabletop, where Frenzy is an advantage (making you largely immune to social and mental powers) then in live action, where it's mostly a disadvantage. It's also hard for Storytellers to frame stuff... really dramatic moments should have you choose between fufilling your goals by acting like an animal, or remaining essentially human and failing. It's about sacrificing ones humanity for one's goals or one's goals for one's humanity.

Anyway, that's not to say that Gangrel can't be heroic. But in a sense, if your playing your Gangrel as the good guys, facing only easy black and white moral choices, running around in beast form without it making you more into a beast fundamentally, you are not taking full advantage of the real drama of being Gangrel... that tension, that struggle. In a sense, that struggle, winning it, or even losing and becoming more beast like, is also part of myth.

Remember, when you "Win" on a path or humanity check, you feel either guilty (for conscience) or gain a sense of shame over your own failure (for conviction). When you lose, you feel righteous and justified.

If I had to draw a larger lesson from this... I'd say that things that make one more powerful should also bring one closer to one's animal nature, and one's Beast. Maybe some combo disciplines would benefit from having neg trait requirements... you have to be bestial or repugnant or feral enough for them. Maybe getting mentors for paths like path of the beast, especially instinct paths, should be harder for those that resist frenzying, or seek to mitigate their animalistic nature with Mask of 1k, or use tools in beast form. Not that these should necessarily be binding packet rules, but they might make good suggested rules for STs, and guidelines for PCs to gain coord approval.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hello Again: Character Development Techniques

Hi! It's been a while, but I thought I'd post something I saw.

Kung Fu Monkey, which is a writing blog, talks about developing characters. I think this is valuable both for developing PCs, and developing NPCs.

Techniques discussed:
360 Degree review. IE, how does the character's bosses, peers, and underlings view him.
Flipping characters from villian to hero, or hero to villian.

And my personal favorite:

Years ago another writer taught me a simple exercise -- describe a character, hero or villain, as his best friend would describe him while setting up a blind date. Then do it from the point of view of the co-worker who hates his guts and is unloading to his wife after work, or finally has a chance to sink him with a job recommendation.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I realize it's been a while since I've posted. I'm working on the following two blog posts (titles tentative).

House Rules that Don't Suck: Or what I've generally learned about Writing House Rules that players will actually read
We Screwed Up: Fixing ST mistakes

I'm also considering a post discussing how to communicate players to figure out what they want in terms of plot and theme, but I haven't started work on it.

If there is one you would prefer me to put out first, sound off in the comments.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Advice for New Ventrue Players

Somebody on the OWBN Ventrue OOC list asked about playing a Ventrue. I've edited it a bit, expanded it a bit, but this was my response. In case this isn't clear, this is for Masquerade Ventrue, though it's possible that it's applicable in parts to Requiem.

Playing a Ventrue is hard.

Lineage wise, I don't regret not having a PC sire, but I do wish I had picked a lineage at least partially shared with other players. Hopefully the Coord team and the wiki can be helpful in that. Incidentally, if they'd be interested in being related to my PC, I'd love that, and I'm sure there are plenty of other PCs who would be happy to share a lineage or even be a PC sire.

Lineage is incredibly important for Ventrue RP. It colors many things. Having a screw up childe, or a famous sire or grand sire creates new facets for characters. There is also a PC I know of who's sire was killed by another Ventrue, and the hatred that's there makes for awesome roleplay.

For playing a Ventrue, you could do worse then recommending they pick up a copy of Tai-Pan and/or Noble House by James Clavell. Possibly Shogun, though I haven't read that. Strategy books like the Prince, art of war, how to make friends and influence people or vampire: the Masquerade books like Guilded Cage etc. might help them being good at being a Ventrue IC, but the Clavell books books will show them how to play a Ventrue, whether a strong leader, a cunning manipulator, a brutal monster, a career politician, or a weak willed patsy. It also teaches you about rivals, and how Ventrue won't kill their rivals off the cuff... they want everything their rivals have built torn down, destroyed or taken over, and they want their rival to see it, and their children take up the cause. In Noble house especially, you realize a rivalry from the 18th century has continued for at least a hundred years between two families.

TV/Movie wise Tai Pain was also a movie, which I haven't seen. I'd also highly recommend HBO's The Wire.... The police dept functions a lot like the Directorate, and many of the characters are excellent examples of Ventrue, The worst of them often are promoted. Loyalty is established by protecting one's subordinates, or taking the fall for one's superiors. The best of them are good police because of their flaws.

Flaws. Flaws make Ventrue Ventrue.

Lots of people will tell you to that Ventrue are supposed to be great leaders, astute businessmen, honorable knights, and masters of influence. This is all at least somewhat true IC, and every Ventrue will likely be expected to to try to live up to that. But OOC playing a Ventrue who isn't perfect is best. A Ventrue who is flawed, who has weaknesses. First, because it's impossible to play perfectly. Second because Ventrue, like all of the best PCs, are made interesting by their failures.

Having said the above about failure, few Ventrue PCs should be complete failures and total disappointments to their elders. On the other hand, that doesn't mean that one's elder's shouldn't be disappointed in you... living in the shadow of other Ventrue and under the weight of their expectations is a large part of Ventrue genre. Breaking under that weight can be good RP.

The most important way a Ventrue can fail is by arrogance and pride. Hubris and entitlement are in many ways really the Ventrue Clan flaw. Seriously, if your Ventrue is screwed over because of their unwillingness to lose face or to admit defeat, your probably RPing just fine. That's why neg traits like callous, violent, impatient and condescending are great for Ventrue.

That pride colors competition in clan. Ventrue compete not by doing things well (that's to be expected) but by trying to get each other to lose face. In fact each Dignitas claimed is like a target telling your Clan to test you there. There is also noblesse oblige, and the paternalistic part of Ventrue arrogance. If you replace White Man's Burden with Ventrue's Burden, and have the other people be other Kindred, you start to get an idea.

The second is tradition and the clan's institutions. Ventrue genre is holding to tradition even when it's the wrong choice, and it's breaking from it when it's the right choice (or even the only choice) and being punished for bucking the system or failing the tradition. The best stories I've seen in the Clan have often come from this. The best way to get a Ventrue to lose face is to point out a way they failed the clan traditions, or failed to live up to their Dignitas. The best place to do so is in a Directorate meeting.

Speaking of the Directorate meeting, I've also had Tremere players tell me that the clan has better genre, and much better clan meetings. Some people hate Directorate meetings... personally some of the best RP I've ever seen has been in them, especially when you have a rival or an agenda. Tribunals as well can be awesome, as can Death Nights. New players should seek directorate meetings, should push for them.

So again, playing a Ventrue is hard. It's also amazingly fun.

Later on in the thread I said.

I'd add to that thatneonates, nobility, honor and obedience are part of the same package. They are encouraged to be ambitious, but being honorable and noble means ambition must be tempered with respect for the good of the Clan.

A noble neonate understands how little of the Elders they understand, and is thus willing to trust their elders, to sacrifice their personal ambitions, and possibly themselves if required for the good of the clan. That's honor. That's rewarded.

An ignoble neonate pursues his owe interests, doesn't trust or respect his elders and superiors, and sells out his clan for short term gains. He dishonors himself. He will find himself on the outs. A CEO can thus be noble and well rewarded by Elders, and a Ventrue descended from royalty with an aristocratic bearing can be ignoble and dismissed.

That's how the majority of neonates should likely see it. Ancilla and Elders, those with twisted upbringing, those who are left to their own devices... well they may notice some hypocrisy in the above.