Saturday, September 24, 2011

Unlikeable Characters

I’ve come to notice that I normally don’t use characters (NPCs) that I don’t like. I’m not really talking about not using straight warriors because I prefer magical types, but that happens too. I’m talking mainly about personalities. If I don’t like the mission giver, I tend to drop writing that mission in favor of ones where I like the known associates. I know I’m missing something here.
GMs have to include characters they don’t like. Think about most stories (TV, movies or books). The good guys do not always like each other. They may have completely different goals, but still want to do the same missions. More to this point, they might be completely different personalities. Even different personalities than the GM. Yep - you need to play against your own personality. If not, then not only do you become boring (a one trick pony), but you become predictable. That’s the big fear! You as a GM cannot be predictable. Kiss of death! If they know what to expect, every one of your twists and sub-plots will be telegraphed.
Covering more ground here than planned, but it needs to be said: GMs need to play against their type. Use NPCs that are different from you, different from your personality, different from your style of play. If you don’t remember to keep this sort of variety in your campaign, you’re doomed. (OK, that was a little overdone, but I hope you get the point.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Some of the other bloggers are focusing on assassins this month, and I always have an opinion.
I respect that there are the sneaky, poison using bad guys willing to knock off a target or two, but history shows assassins in a different light. Obviously modern assassins use firearms, but I do like using the sniper crossbow guy. They only work if your critical rules allow for called shots - or extreme poisons, but nothing beats a bolt appearing in the king’s throat as if from no where. I’m also a big fan of the duelist who finds a reason to challenge the target to a duel and then kills him in a “fair” fight.
But I think the most useful assassin in life and in games is going to be the bruiser. Call it assassination, call it “saving the world”, call it execution - whatever; the best way to off somebody is to have some huge guy come barreling through the door and kill him with some massive amounts of damage. You know all those missions where the “good” characters go racing into the temple of some “evil” god and slaughter the priests, especially the high priest. Yeah - that was a “mission” and not an assassination. Whatever you call it, someone was paid to kill someone else.
I know what you’re thinking - This guy has it all wrong. We’re the good guys. Assassins are a whole different thing. But think about it really. If you are paid to go and kill someone, you are an assassin. Even if the bad guy is a dragon or a giant - you are still an assassin. Oh, we can dress it up in different names, but it’s still there. Just because you had to cut your way through forty guys and traps to get to in, you’re still an assassin.
So when you’re thinking about the rules that assassins follow - You need to be thinking about the entire range of hired killers, and not just the sneaky ones with poison.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What’s it All About - Part 2

OK - so building on the last blog - how do you get your players passionate about their characters? I think you need to make them “cool” or at least quirky. So how?
Don’t give them a massively powerful magic item! Do give them a quirky magic item. What do I mean? Give them a new item with some history - either a historic relic, or owned by some historic guy, or maybe possessing the soul of some historic guy? Standard stuff from out of the book is easy, but if you can put something together that is going to be more fun, then you’ll hook them. I think items that either don’t always work right, or give incredible bonuses, but only in very restricted settings are great for this. Maybe I’ve always had masochists for players, but they love when an item produces the wrong effect at the wrong time. You’re the GM - play it up and make it funny! Plus - when it does work correctly in a tight spot - the tension the player feels when he’s figuring out what is going to happen really adds to whole game. Be warned - If you introduce five really cool items into a campaign, chances are that the party will sell two or three of them. Before they get into the fun of the item, it may seem like a nuisance, but once they “own” it, they’ll come around fast.
Have you put them up against memorable enemies? Just as the characters have to be interesting, so do the enemies. Not to be too much of an advertisement, but if you need memorable enemies - check out our Baker’s Dozen Villains supplement for some decent ideas. Or Baker’s Dozen Tribes for groups of cool enemies.
OK - so what else? Last week we said that the characters needed backgrounds. Use them! If the character is a veteran of some war, have the next mission giver be a veteran of that war, maybe even an old buddy. Or make the bad guy a rival who is an alumni from the same magic university. Have the victim be a priest from their hometown. If the backgrounds and histories of the characters are only sitting on the page and don’t come into the campaign, then they’re really not achieving their full potential. First, this makes the campaign come alive, in that the player can start to feel that things matter and the world grows. Second, by using their history, you are building their history. It doesn’t have to be every time, but every once in a while, it can really help. Make sure you rotate between the various characters too. If Johnny’s history keeps getting built up but no one else’s does, then it’s going to annoy the other players.
The last thing is to take this sense of building history and run with it. Whether it is the pre-generated history of the characters or what happened in their first couple of missions, build on previous campaign issues. If the characters go from one mission to another without any ties, they are going to start to see everything as separate, even if they use the same character. That’s not building a history for that character and not building the passion for that character within your players.

Friday, September 2, 2011

What’s it All About?

So what’s it all about? What is the secret to being a great game master and keeping your players coming back time after time? There’s a lot to it! The interaction between the group has to be fun - typically because they’re friends. The atmosphere has to be fun. Not too tough for most people, but it’s just not as much fun playing in a crowded cafeteria as it is in the basement of your buddy’s house with maps and posters all over the wall. A really good campaign setting or location can bring them in too, especially if you as a game master have the gift of describing things well to make them feel like they’re really there. But I think the one thing that really makes a campaign memorable is the characters.
Characters make the game. They make the story. They suck the players in and hold them there. I strongly believe that there was nothing special about the Harry Potter stories other than some really compelling characters. I don’t know how she did it (or I would copy it), but she created characters that people really wanted to care about.
OK - So you’re not a billionaire author - How do you create characters that are compelling enough to keep your players involved? Well, first, they need to be more than “Fighter Level 3”. They need to have some substance to them. A little bit of background, a little bit of quirkiness - they go a long way! It’s one of the main reasons I’ve steered away from class based games and into skill level games - you can craft a character instead of flopping into an established role.
There are tons of tricks, and we’ll probably get into more of them in the next post, but there is one thing that so few GMs are willing to do: Kill off a character. If you see that one of your players is really not liking his character - kill it off! Maybe you work with the player - promise him a new character of the same level/experience if he lets you kill his character as part of a murder mystery or something like that.
Look, there are times, when a character should just walk away from the party. Maybe he’s a religious guy and wants good things, but the party keeps assassinating the enemy. Maybe he met a princess in an earlier adventure and proper role-playing would have the character go off to be with her. Maybe you just don’t like the character and can use some excuse like one of these to have him leave and be replaced. Maybe suggesting killing off the character was overdone - you can always retire him in a different manner. The point is - do not keep characters around that cause boredom, anger, disruptions, or just apathy. We’ll try to come up with more ways to grow interest next week.