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Sunday, 30 October 2016

Creating a character for a live game.

Some friends of mine run a live-action game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It's been going for a few years now, and they are starting a second 'season' in 2018. I have always wanted to play, but have been worried about expense, costume, needed stuff, and so on. But since the 2018 start gives me a full year to prepare, I figure I can actually now give it a go.

Anyway, this means things like converting and painting up a Nerf gun, buying costume bits, and so on. It also means coming up with an idea for a character, and this got me thinking about how I create characters for live games.

A simple sidearm for a non-combat-primary character.
Obviously, every game is different, but for me live game character creation (assuming certain average traits of live games) requires a few key differences from tabletop game character creation. These fall into two categories. Let's call them narrative and performance.

Narrative

So the narrative category refers to the ways in which character action and motivation matter. As a rule of thumb, I try to define a live character as someone who:

  • wants something
  • that isn't finite
  • and that can only be achieved with the help of other player characters
So "the blue jewel" is a finite goal, whereas "a sense of belonging" or "fame" or "the thrill of the chase" aren't, if you see what I mean. Once you've got the blue jewel, you've got it, whereas you can always keep pushing for more fame, or at least be worried about losing it.

Note that this is very different from how you design a tabletop character, largely because of the difference in GM: player ratio. In a tabletop game, you can be whoever, doing whatever, and adventure can come along and happen to you. But in most live games, it doesn't work like that. The character has to come in in motion. And in my experience, you can't rely on in-game economies to provide motivation. My guy's gonna be a mercenary type, but his actual motivations are freedom and excitement. 

Performance

Different tabletop players vary in the extent to which they act out their characters -- doing voices versus not doing them, for instance. But one thing that tabletop games typically do is manipulate time in a way that live games generally don't. What this means is that my character has to be fun to play even when he is doing nothing, and that he has to be fun to inhabit. If I have to constantly do a voice, for instance, it's got to be something I can do and enjoy doing for long stretches. I'm not going to stand rigidly at attention all afternoon, so I'd better not play a character who would. That kind of thing. 

Again, this is something that's not as obviously required in tabletop games. I think that a lot of the times that people create unsatisfactory characters in live games, it's because they've neglected one or the other of these. 

Anyway, I'm sure I've said this before, but creating this characters has these concepts on my mind. 

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