Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bringing Life to Your Game World - Part II

That last post - seems to me that I left out on piece, because I assumed you already can do this: Create three “people”.

If you haven’t read the other one, start there. Link here Bringing Life to Your Game World.

In order to role-play, you need to know the characters. That guy that I have mentioned I don’t like - the one with the extremely successful book series that is now an extremely special cable series - yeah, he didn’t really do this. He didn’t make up his own characters. He went into history and took some his characters from there. That way he had fully fleshed out characters who had made decisions and he could assume that the decisions they made in history were similar to what they would do in his books.

So the question is: Can you make up fully fleshed out characters and then make decisions the way they would? This isn’t that easy a question, nor answer. But if you only know the stats on the characters, then you don’t know them. This is the big difference between the gold farmers and the role players. Gold farmers really don’t care about personalities or even motivations. They believe that everyone’s motivation is to either get more gold or experience or most likely, to deal more damage than any other character in the history of the game.

So you’re here and you’re reading this, so you’re not a gold farmer. How do you come up with fully fleshed out characters? Well, you could borrow characters from history. You could find people in your own life and use them. We have all sorts of warnings about how to make them your own as well as how to not get caught on these “plagiarisms” in our book The Character Foundry. But this isn’t just a commercial for our products. I think the best way to develop a character is this:

Start with an idea - What are you creating? A brilliant politician? A massive warrior? A tactical strategist? A cunning merchant? Figure that piece out - sort of “the present”.

Then figure out “the past”. Develop a character history that helps to explain how this character got to where he/she is today. By doing this, you are really starting to figure out who this character is. Whether the massive warrior came from the slave pits at the arena or the fighting schools of some fancy city or the military campaigns on the frontier or the monastery of the god of battle will help explain who they are, and how they see the world. No big surprise - Now you figure out “the future”. Don’t actually figure out the future; just think about what this character wants in the future. This is their motivation. By knowing what they want, you have the best possibility of figuring out what they will do now in order to achieve that goal.

Present, past, future - Not that tough? Well, do it systematically, and it can be a lot easier. Once you know the character, you can determine what they would do. Once you know what many of your characters will do in different situations, now you can build the action of the campaign world. Yes, you can be the next GRRM, at least in your world, probably not in the paycheck.


  1. For me, what I took from both the Character Foundry and these posts, especially Bringing Life... is to look at some of today's politicians, business people, higher-ups, etc. and get a basic profile, then apply some of those traits to the NPC.
    For example, John McCain would be a General/Court Advisor, as well as an experienced field veteran of war. He is hawkish, always on guard, ready to strike pre-emptively. A lot of people respect or at least will hear him out, including but not necessarily the Ruler. However, his influence is high.
    Another, Angela Merkel, working many factions, with a semi-strong central factions amidst many disparate interests. A master at diplomacy and propaganda, she is considered both wholesome and brutal by many. Growing up a minor noblewoman, she worked her way up through adinistration and was placed as High Guildmistress of her region, then became the de-facto ruler. Too old to bear children, never married, her allies worry about succession, but its a back-burner issue for most. She is placed between two much larger powers, but the insterests and trade importance of her confederacy mean that she is always at the table between the two larger "sides". Then of course, I take a situation like Georgia, with annexation slowly taking over. The Ukraine is both too recent and too muddy. Maybe even Bosnia. Or Rwanda, where we have a tropical Warlord, maybe based on Kuny, a Shaman/Ruler of mystery and misinformation, leading a huge guerilla network, FARC-style. Like you say, the players cannot know about what is happening, so you cannot cut and paste, but grab a simple motivations template and run with it, making it your own.

    As always, a great Spark. Thank J.

  2. It occurs to me that so often perspective plays such a role in this sort of “base” character. Not getting into any political arguments here, but I see McCain in a slightly different fashion. I think it is easier to have a consensus view of historic figures, though that is not always true - see the view of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator vs the Tyrant vs the “for whites only” candidate who opposed slavery in order to keep blacks out of Kansas and the other new states. It matters because your players will see these characters differently than you do too, and that’s probably a good thing!
    As always - thanks for keeping the conversation going!