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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Something We Can Relate To

This week's "Crunch" post comes as a bit of a fun way to varietize your character. A lot of times, even if players have some well-developed characters, they give little thought to exactly how those characters have come together into a group. I'm sure a lot of you enjoy weaving together backstories for your different characters, but here's a little bit of houseruling aimed at giving a dose of inspiration...or giving your character relationships a shot of variety, if you find yourself in an old, familiar rut.

(By the by, these techniques work best when applied to distinct PCs who haven't had their backstories linked just yet, although they can also work to add additional layers of intra-party relationships into the mix, too)

Step 1: A Little Chat, You Say?
This is the step where you figure out the general attitude your character has towards all the other characters. It's done pretty simply. Outline six different ways that your character could conceivably feel towards someone else, preferably someone working with him. Here's an example:

1: Disappointed in
2: Angry with
3: Amused by
4: Enthralled by
5: Shy around
6: Happy with

You'll note very quickly that these distinct attitudes will go a long way towards characterizing your PC. You determine how many positive and negative attitudes are there (which defines how well your PC works with others), as well as the strength of these attitudes (which shows what your PC's outlook on life is, from misty-eyed romantic to rock-jawed cynic). This in itself can be a fun way to give your character depth. Here's where the real development begins, though.

Once each player has done this, you then determine how each other character in the group feels about you. How? Well, that's simple. Roll a d6, and let them tell you what option you rolled. That's how their character feels about your character. If it's workable, stick with it, and you now have the basis for a relationship between those characters! Do this, obviously, until each character has attitudes towards every other character. This, on its own, can provide a good bit of spark for character relationships.

Step 2: Remind Me How This Happened?
If you want to add another layer on top of things, make another list of six. This time, it's a list of six ways that this attitude towards that particular character could have happened. I provide a generic list below; you may see fit to alter it per character or in general.

1: You just met the character, and have sized them up
2: You did something with the character
3: The character did something to/for you
4: You've done things with the character before
5: You have a history with the character
6: You are connected to the character

Both players roll, but only one relationship, obviously, can be chosen, unless you opt for a path of secrecy ("I know you, but you don't know me..."). Usually, the higher roll is the one chosen, but it's all up to the players.

Some may be more appropriate than others, depending on the situation. Remember: use this as a guide, and everything should work just fine. As you might have guessed, you take one of those attitudes, and make this roll, to clarify and explain exactly how it happened. Remember, use it as a springboard, a hook, a way to generate interesting stuff. You could probably theoretically start with a bunch of character concepts, roll dice according to this, and start generating enough character material to really flesh backstories out.

Step 3: Cull the Details
This is probably the trickiest part: you need to cut that list of things down. Not everything is equally worthy of mention, and if you have too many things, they can bog down gameplay/storytelling, as you try and keep that many plates spinning. I'm not saying that you have to get rid of some of these relationships, but you should definitely pick one or two to focus strongly on. Without that, you'll quickly find yourself descending into a good bit of character chaos.

Hypothetical Example
Okay, then. Let's say we have two characters: Aelyss the Cleric and Baube the Rogue. Aelyss is supposed to be a female human, battle-hardened, with an affinity to nature. Baube is supposed to be a male dwarf, with a bit of a taste for alcohol, and a nice, easy manner. They write out their Attitude Lists:

Aelyss
1: Wary of
2: Scornful of
3: Saddened by
4: Ignores
5: Bashful around
6: Hopeful for

Baube
1: Happy around
2: Very friendly with
3: Stricken by
4: Trusting in
5: Curious about
6: Cautious of

They roll up to see how things are...Aelyss' player asks Baube's player how his character feels about hers. She rolls a 5, which means that Baube is curious about Aelyss. No doubt he's not run into a lot of clerics, especially those close to nature, and he wants to know what it's like, finding so much beauty in trees and other plants. Baube's player likewise asks Aelyss' player the same thing, and she rolls a 3. Aelyss is saddened by Baube, because she's seen far too many adventurers like him fall on their quests, in very unheroic ways.

It comes time to clarify relationships. Baube's player rolls a 2: Baube is curious about Aelyss because he did something with her. Maybe they've just cooperated to heal a wounded traveler, and he was able to closely watch her methods, contrasting them with the ways of his own homeland, which is nestled somewhere harsh, inhospitable to life. A frozen-North wasteland, perhaps? Aelyss' player rolls a 5, indicating that she has a history with Baube. They agree that the most intriguing backstory is for Aelyss to have had that history with Baube, with him unaware of it, thinking he has just met her. They decide that Aelyss was assigned to watch over Baube as a hidden guardian, to keep him safe, for the sake of his father, who has had contact with the forest peoples before.

And thus you have many bases to build characters off of: what is this homeland of the Dwarves? Why did Baube's father take such pains to keep him safe? Why was Aelyss chosen? Those will invariably lead to more questions, which can help you shape characters even farther.

Hopefully you enjoyed this post...stay tuned for my "Fluff" post on Thursday!

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