Friday, July 23, 2010

Motivation Emerging from and through Play

I had some good, thought provoking comments to my Klondike Bar post the other day.

When I said that I think for D&D a character only needs a desire to explore the world and get rich through looting tombs/battling monsters, I do only mean that as a part of character creation.

Once the dice hit the table, characters should begin to be fleshed out by actions that happen to them within the game, choices the players make for them, and goals the players set for the characters themselves.

A few examples from past experiences I've had, both good and bad.

1. My first D&D character to make it to 2nd level, Gwydion (hence my internet alias), about the time he hit 5th level or so, decided his goal was to purchase a longship and crew so he could return to the Isle of Dread any time he felt like it. The first time we played the module, we didn't have any ships among our characters, so we used one of the provided hooks of a loaned ship. I wanted more IoD fun for my character, so my short term goal became to save enough for that.

2. My brother Tim's main character was a Dwarf named Larry, and when one day he rolled up another Dwarf as a replacement character for one that died, he named him Gary and said the two were brothers. Because of the TV show Cheers, where the rival bar was Gary's Olde Towne Tavern, Tim decided that the Dwarven brothers were going to open their own inn rather than build traditional strongholds when they hit name level. If one other character hadn't died, we might never have seen that brother appear, and this all never would have happened.

3. In a mixed 1E/2E game with the Evansville group, I was running a Dwarven Fighter/Thief. Due to very poor rolls by me in combat, compared to very good rolls by certain monsters, my guy was always getting knocked around in combat to comic effect. I ended up changing the way I roleplayed him because of that--originally he was a gruff but honorable trapspringer. He ended up being more of a willey, dastardly anti-hero just because he'd learned that fighting fair didn't work for him.

4. In one of the many short-lived 3E games with the Ebisu Group, we had one game where we started at 10th level with 2 characters each. I'd written up linked backstories for my two characters, a Half-Orc Rogue and a Human Ranger, who were half brothers, sons of a famous human Bard and members of the same Thieves' Guild. The first encounter with giants and a Pit Fiend sees my Ranger biting the dust to some uber save-or-die spell, and there went all that hard work within 30 minutes of starting the game.

5. In Paul's BECM game with the Yamanashi group, I rolled up a Magic-User who had all scores average or lower, except an Int of 13. I took Charm Person as my first spell, and lots of various equipment for dungeoneering. Using those scores, I made him an offensive braggart (low Cha) named Valentio the Pungent who lorded it over all the other characters how much smarter he was than any of them (because a slightly above Int was all he had to work with!). I never would have come up with a character like that if a) we'd been playing with a high rolling method like 4d6-L, or point buy, or whatever, and b) the way things went in the first adventure, when I was using some smarts and gear cleverly in ways most of the other players, who hadn't been playing as long as me, never thought of.


  1. Example 3 reminds me of the first time I played Champions, way back in the '80s. My character was a gadget hero, but I couldn't roll dice for crap in that game for some reason. After awhile I declared that the character stomped into his apartment, and reappeared shortly thereafter dumping a box full of his gadgets in the hall, then slamming the door behind him.

    In true comic book fashion, though, he got revamped a few years later. Again, plot that emerged from play...

  2. I agree with your experiences wholeheartedly. I had a similar situation, where one of my player's characters died. He was a Minotaur (basically a re-skinned Fighter) and his next character was one from the same tribe. By making some stuff up off the top of our heads, we managed to create a good chunk about a world that was never planned, or that we'll probably even go back to. Made the session more fun, though ;)

  3. This, I guess, is where I completely diverge from all semblance of old school, because what inspires me to role-play is actually the character concept. In other words, what motivates me as a player to portray a character. It's something of a muse for me. All of the best characters I ever played started out as a concept that sprang into my mind, and I thought, "Man, it'd be totally cool to play THAT."

    Example: Reading about Japanese 剣聖 (kensei), watching るろうに剣心, and checking out 子連れ狼 (LONE WOLF AND CUB) I rolled up Otomo Kenjin (大友剣人), who was exiled and traveled West seeking to right wrongs and dedicate his sword to justice. I got the idea for him MONTHS before I rolled him up. When I finally filled out a character sheet for him, the concept had already sprung to life in my head--I just translated it into action through the adventures he had with his companions.

    Locke, the halfling philosopher/archeologist, was likewise inspired (this time years) before he came to life in game. Norbert "Norby" Beltengarth, the half-mad gnomish engineer/tinkerer, was inspired by Nockers from CHANGELING: THE DREAMING, TIME BANDITS, and the 3.0 Forgotten Realms Gnome Artificer prestige class.

    So, what, exactly, am I trying to get at with this? Well, see, my motivation for gaming is sometimes to explore dungeons and interact with a setting. But sometimes it is driven by ideas for characters that I'd had long, long, long before I even picked up the dice. Sometimes, these characters had started to eat holes in my head, screaming to be expressed, so I'd write stories about them. However, I always had the most fun PLAYING them.

    With Old School, unless I'm REALLY REALLY LUCKY with my rolls, I can almost never give these concepts expression. Take Locke, for example. He's highly intelligent and he's a thief. He reads a half-dozen dead languages and speaks numerous others. That's tough to do when you're stuck rolling 3d6 for his intelligence. Oops, I rolled a 5. Well, Locke, I guess you can't be an archeologist, because you can't even spell your own name, let alone read Ancient Baklunish heiroglyphs or Suloise cuneiform.

    For some people, that's an opportunity to roleplay something new. But, at the risk of sounding childish, I didn't approach the situation with the desire to play whatever came up. I came with an inspiration to play Locke. If he can't be intelligent, he can't be Locke. He's someone else, maybe Dim Mufflewhut, the halfling retarded kid who is really good at stealing stuff. But he's not Locke the archeologist and scholar. I can play Dim and have fun. But I had really wanted to play Locke, and that would have been more fun for me.

  4. About a year ago I played in a short B/X D&D campaign on Skype. The character I rolled up was a fighter with Wisdom 6 and Charisma 5. So I decided he was the younger son of a noble family. He had never developed Wisdom because there was always someone looking out for he, he never had to make good decisions. The low Charisma was a reflection of his arrogance and obnoxious sense of entitlement. He thought people reacted to him poorly because the men were jealous and the women were intimidated by his good looks. Fun from the get go and the DM incorporated it into the game.

    But in the Pathfinder game I'm in currently, I came up with a concept, spent the points appropriately and began play. But after a few weeks, I realize I built him better than he should have been. The shortcomings he has aren't really reflected in his attribute scores. And he has gotten himself into a couple of situations he shouldn't have survived, but did, because I built him too well. Maybe it means I'm playing him wrong; but I feel I built him wrong as I would do it completely differently if I were to build him now.

    Take from that what you will.