Saturday, July 6, 2013

New Girl at the Table

 Danielle is a new player in a game with Anthony and Jeremy.
 I'm the one that got away—almost.

    I never got involved in roleplaying games when I was a teenager, though it would have been right up my alley.  Obsessed with fantasy since I was a kid, I gobbled up every book on wizards and dragons that I could find.  Then, when I was 13 and looking through the bargain bin at my local library's yard sale, a huge event for a sleepy rural town, I scored bigtime.  I found Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis &Tracy Hickman.  From the first scene where the guards burst into the inn, I was hooked.  I devoured it, finding everything a tween could hope for, a band of unlikely heroes, magic, dragons and bad guys aplenty, dungeons and mysteries, all waiting for me to discover them.   Adding to the appeal of the series, it was suitably, tantalizingly racy.  I remember this scene with an elf bathing in the moonlight...  Anyway, I wanted more.

   I learned gradually that there was not just three or twelve books set in the Dragonlance universe, but over 190 volumes.  It vaguely occurred to me that these were interrelated, and I had some notion that the people involved in writing the series all knew each other, but it took me a long time to put it together that the books were based on a series of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.  The Dungeons & Dragons rulebook was more expensive and daunting than pulp paperbacks, and my teenage self wanted instant gratification, so I was surprisingly slow on the uptake, even when one of my high school friends showed me dungeon maps he had drawn up in math class (putting his graph paper to good use).  To me, fantasy was something that happened on the page, and I was a huge fan, and I sympathized with the characters and came along for the ride.  Aside from choose-your-own-adventures, though, I would always be a passenger, and the people who wrote and participated in such stories were impossibly far removed from me.

   Fast forward to this year.  My appreciation for stories has deepened and matured, and that gulf between me and the exalted class of magicians and storytellers has narrowed to a gap I might easily cross in one step.  I find myself thinking, “I would have done it this way,” or “that villain is more interesting than the heroes,” and watching from the wings, itching to try out each character's part.  So when Jeremy invited me to a game he was starting I was thrilled, not just because it's great to watch his face light up when he's doing something he loves, but also at the opportunity to share a fantasy world as a group experience and participate in a living, breathing story.   I've come to roleplaying the long way around, but it is just as satisfying for me to manhandle and steamroller the GM's encounters, to laugh at the alchemist chef's antics and flee in terror from giant scorpions that will kill us at Level 1, to learn the seductive nature of powergaming and the delicate balance of roleplaying.  I'm new to roleplaying and the Pathfinder system, but I am not new to fantasy, and it's a pleasure to discover the mechanics behind the stories that have always fascinated me.  At some point we were all new players, and as That New Player, I'd like to say thanks to the people who stop what they are doing long enough to explain things to us at the table. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

5 Questions That Will Help You Make a Better Character

1) Why are you an Adventurer?       

Of all of the ways to earn a living in the fantasy world, adventuring probably has the greatest potential for both risk and reward. Sure, that pile of gold coins is enough to set you up for the rest of your life. And your kid's life. And your kid's kid's life. Too bad there's a dragon in between you and it. Your character should have a reason for adventuring beyond simple greed. Maybe you have an altruistic streak. Or maybe adventuring is a last resort. Figure it out so the next time your character is paralyzed neck deep in ghouls you'll know exactly what brought you there.

2) Why are you working with your fellow party members?

This goes along with 1) but is important enough to be it's own Question. While it's not very important that all the characters in the party necessarily like each other, it is crucial that they get along well enough to work together. There are certain roleplaying tropes out there that seem immensely appealing to play but in reality can be difficult work into a cohesive party. You know the ones. The gruff dwarf who hates everyone, the sly thief who will steal just about anything, the Chaotic Evil servant of the Blood God who, well… wants to kill everything. There's a metagame reason why all of your characters are adventuring together. It's because you're all (nominally) friends at the table and have decided to tell a collaborative story. But if you're playing a character with an abrasive personality ultimately the onus is on you to figure out why the other party members don't just kick your annoying butt to the curb.

3) What are your long term goals?       

This is probably also tied in with 1). Your character probably doesn't intend to be an Adventurer for the rest of his or her life. They probably have aspirations beyond an inglorious death in the middle of a swamp infested with dire rats. Maybe they have grandiose dreams of taking down the Tarrasque. Or maybe they're simply content to settle down and retire after buying a roadside inn with all of their loot. In any case, knowing where your character is headed makes it easier to make roleplaying decisions on the fly.

4) What are you passionate about?   

Passionate people are interesting. They're usually the main characters in stories because we find them interesting. You can generally get a good sense about a person based on what elicits strong emotional responses from them. What are the things that they love? What are the things that they hate? And to what degree do they feel for these things? Answering these questions sets you down a path towards more questions like: Why is your character so strongly compelled to stab [that NPC]? Does he remind you of someone from an event in your past? Is the response tied to anger, jealousy, self-loathing, or some other strong emotion? It's a bit of work to navigate through these sorts of questions but I promise that the result is worth it. You'll have a deeper understanding of who your character is and what he or she would do in a given situation.

5) What are you afraid of?

More than just a strong emotional response, fear is a back door into someone's head. Fear goes beyond love or hate. It's a base instinct for self preservation. Figuring out what your character is afraid of and why can be hugely rewarding to you as a roleplayer. You might not want to imagine your character with weaknesses. That makes sense. If you're imagining a heroic adventurer in a fantasy world, why would you make that character afraid of anything? Because it's fun. Say the half-orc wizard was once a slave, for example. He hated it and will do anything to avoid captivity. So when the Gnoll slavers ambush the party he goes crazy. He starts exploding everything left and right, not caring who else gets caught in the crossfire so long as the Gnolls don't get him again. Having your character afraid of something, however minor, sets up the potential for hugely engaging roleplaying situations.