Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Character Defense - Warning: Nerdy Post Ahead

I admit to being a gigantic nerdy geek-a-tron. I have been playing video games since I was but a young lad of six, I spent most of my life practicing a musical instrument instead of going outside and playing sports like all the other kids (my brief stint of wrestling in sixth grade, and six years of Little League notwithstanding), as the Internet grew in popularity, I used it constantly, and when I got to college, many of my fellow marching band fraternity/sorority members got me into Dungeons & Dragons.

I really like the concept of the game. It's effectively an immersive multiplayer video game. A game that allows you to create a character and then have it interact with and explore worlds that we could never actually go to, as boring mere mortals.

But, inherent in the concept of being *multiplayer* is that the characters must work *together* toward a common goal, be it retrieving the Obelisk of Eternal Despair, Slaying the Evil Brown Dragon plaguing the Kingdom of Centralia, etc...

That is, the team has to actually work as a team of some sort.

Things to Think About

Depending on the level of skill for the Dungeon Master, this can mean a number of things that the players and DM must think about...

*Splitting the party - Do you? Don't you? I don't particularly see the problem with having adventuring parties split allows for more freedom of movement, perhaps allows the game to move along more quickly, and allows the players to do things that their characters would be more wont to do.

*Party Alignment - When a Lawful Good character meets up with a Chaotic Evil character, generally they tend to be at there a way to be effective party members while still undermining everything the other person stands for?

*RP - How do you role play your character? Many parties don't particularly relish the roleplaying aspect of the game and would much prefer to have their stories told for them by the DM instead of actually talking in character, and only breaking out the dice and interacting with the world itself to steal something or kill someone...but some players relish the chance to transform themselves into Gargathan Smashington the Half-Orc Druid or Gamliel Pygmalion the Eladrin Wizard. (Yes, they're mine.)

Players who love to immerse themselves in their characters have even created backstories. They know where they've been, where they're going, and what they plan to eat for lunch. Some of my dearest characters are the ones who I watched grow from birth and then died of old age after battling some of the greatest enemies of their time (and sometimes...everybody else's, too).

But, because they have every single step plotted out for their characters, this sometimes causes problems with the rest of their fellow players and the DM.

The Inter-party Relationship

For those of us who have been playing for even a short time, we can all recall that one player who stubbornly insisted to follow their own path regardless of what the team wanted or needed...When met with the ire of the party, both in and out of character, the player simply shrugs and says "But, that's what my character would do!"

We, as gamers all, have been conditioned for years by playing RPGs to assume that since we are playing a character, we are the protagonist and everything that we want must come to pass...and then we play out our decisions and see where they leave us, regardless of consequences. We all do it because it's part and parcel to discovering ourselves and testing the limits of the world we have created around us.

But, in a party situation such as D&D, there are sometimes four or five other people with whom one shares the spotlight. The purpose of a party is that every single character gets great moments to shine, explore, and even fail spectacularly, and it is important that every character get the chance to do so.

That Weird Voice Coming From The Heavens: Playing God

The DM/player relationship is one of storyteller and storybuilder. The DM's job is to set the scene for the players, perhaps add ambiance with props and music or flickering lights and scary characters. The players' job is to take that scene and play it out and interact with the DM productively.

Nothing is worse than a campaign that feels like it is DM vs. Players. If the players are spending more time bargaining with you for re-rolls than they are role-playing...something is wrong.

If a player spends an entire day of in-game time engaged in espionage, even if there was not going to be anything of importance in the room that he went into...throw him a bone. Find someone to tell him a really juicy piece of information that he can bring back to the party, or barring that, a nice chunk of XP, a shiny new sword with a nifty enchantment, or a bag of gold for his trouble.

It's about positive reinforcement. You should always reward players for playing (and even more for playing well). Even if it doesn't always line up with your initial expectations for the game. If you have a NPC who was supposed to die, but didn''ll have plenty of time to kill him later if it's ESSENTIAL. This is a world of magic. Think of all the awesome ways he could die! If they can kill off Aeris in FFVII, you can find a way to kill off an NPC.

The important thing is compromise.

Likewise, as a player: If you are getting nasty looks from your party members and your DM has buried his head in his hands, this might be a sign that you are overplaying your role as a PC. Sometimes, it's important to think about "What your character would do" in a different sense: "What would my character do if he wanted this to run smoothly?"

Granted, there are situations where your character specifically doesn't want the campaign to run smoothly, and that's okay! Even so, consider only screwing up everybody's plans...every once in a while, or collaborate with the DM to have one big screw up that the party has to work through together.

There is so much fun to be had by everyone when playing any Table Top RPG, but it is important that everyone work together so that EVERYBODY has a good time. Keep your eyes and ears open and allow everybody to participate constructively.

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