Monday, January 9, 2017

Make People Interact With Your Character (Not Your Class)

Karroun Valesh is not the sort of man one forgets easily. Broad-shouldered and narrow-waisted, he bore the dark mane of a lion, and the winking smile of a rogue that wasn't helped by his single, gold tooth. He always bought the first round, and he never let a companion (nor even an enemy) go hungry. His hammer-headed horse was an ugly, cantankerous thing, but she was fierce in battle, and he always brushed and cleaned her with his own hands. He fought ferociously, his scimitar flashing in the desert sun, but he rarely fought with hatred in his heart. He stood by his allies, and made sure everyone was accorded a fair share of the loot they had earned.

The fact that Valesh was a paladin never once comes up in this description, because that shouldn't be the first thing the rest of the table sees when they interact with him.

Sick to death of catching shit for my samurai levels, too.
I've harped on this before in posts like What's In A Name? How Character Class is Limiting Your Creativity, but most of the time I talk from the perspective of the player. About how class name, and traditional character archetypes, can make it hard for us to step outside our usual preconceptions when we're trying to make fresh, new characters.

Today I'd like to talk about something different. About how you can bypass your table's preconceptions, and get them to see your character, instead of the stats on that character's sheet.

It All Starts At Conception

I don't claim to know how other players get prepped for a game, but when I join a table the only person I give the nitty gritty on my background and mechanics to is the DM. During Session 0 (more on this at The Importance of Session 0 in Your Tabletop Games if you're not familiar with the concept), I will refer to the role I picture my character filling instead of who they are, or what building blocks make them up. For example, I might tell the rest of the group, "I'll bring a beat stick," "I'll play the blaster," or, "I'll bring the healer," but I won't get more specific than that. That way my group knows what skill sets are covered, but they don't get to peek behind the curtain to see the details of what I'm putting on the table.

Whatever form it may take.
The next step is to pull my DM aside, and to confab with them. I lay out the character's history, the build I'm planning on using, and I make sure everything I want to do is kosher. If the DM has questions, or wants me to explain part of my plan, this is the time where I do it. Once I have the seal of approval, and the game actually starts, is when the magic trick begins.

Show Your Character (But Don't Tell The Table Who They Are)

So, the game is beginning. Assuming that you don't have pre-existing connections with other characters (you can, but that isn't a universal strategy), you need to decide what kind of impression you want to give when you introduce your PC. So you need to ask what they look like, but also if there are any details that might intrigue passersby. Does the character have a unique or exotic weapon, particular items of interest, unusual tattoos, prominent scars, or something else remarkable about them? Rope scar around the throat? Missing hand? A living, prosthetic arm? Freckles?

He has a rather... memorable face.
The most important thing you need to do, though, is create the impression of who your character is. For example, if the party sees a heavy-handed bruiser in a black, armored coat with messy hair and the sunken knuckles of a brawler, they'll remember that. If they note that he has a thick accent, city-dwelling habits, and that he can put a man down with a single punch, those are also things his companions will take note of. But it may take a session or two before the character casts a spell, revealing to the players that he's a warpriest, instead of a common brawler.

I brought this very character to a Pathfinder Society game. Despite looking over his sheet, the DM continually forgot he was a warpriest just because he didn't prosthelytize, never invoked the name of his goddess, and sounded more like a back alley thug than he did the sort of man the divine would choose to put their faith in. For more about him, check out Gaspar Dell'Amore, the Black Rose of Edme.

First Impressions Make All The Difference

First impressions matter, and they are really difficult to change. If the first thing someone learns about your character is their class, then that is going to be nearly impossible for them to shake. You may find that you're referred to as the barbarian, or the paladin, or the wizard, despite having a name, a background, and a history with people.

The longer you avoid tipping your hand regarding your class, the less of an impact the revelation will have. For example, if you go most of the first session as Hark, a former Nirmathan Irregular, woodsman, and expert archer, that's what the table will remember. Not that he has three levels of the Archer fighter archetype. If the party meets the handsome, broad-shouldered Prince Caldrain, the fact that he's a bloodrager isn't going to phase them. He has a name, and even a title, which are what will take precedence. No one is going to care that Dozer is a bard, because by the time they see his magic in action, they're already well aware of the motivational power a bellowing half-orc with a great ax in one hand can have.

Who gave you permission to bleed?!
Now, that might seem like a lot of work to some players. Like you're planning some kind of secret party, or something. If it's too much for you to do, that's your call. However, if you want to introduce deeper roleplaying into your game, and avoid using so much meta terminology for what's going on, the first step is to make sure people see your character, and not the class or classes you've put together behind the scenes to let them do what they do.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Hopefully you all enjoyed my thoughts on the subject, and I promise I'll give this particular dead horse a rest for a few weeks before coming back from a different angle. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave some change in my jar. All it takes is $1 a month to make a difference, and to earn yourself some sweet swag while you're at it. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, well, why not start today?

1 comment:

  1. I rather like this idea. In my 5E game I play a Rogue/Warlock. Honestly I think I focus on my character more than the class, even though I chose that build for a specific purpose. My class features enable my story, rather then just being my class. (I feel like I'm not making sense.)