Exposition & Advanced Character Developement

How often have you been reading a book and you think to yourself, “Man, why can’t I do that in my games?” Well, books and games are two different things, but one of the things that I want this blog to be about, is finding a happy place where these things blend, and in effect, everybody at the table is telling a group story led by the DM. The Players of course become the central heroes, the main protagonists. These people are broken and challenged and must unite to defeat a power that will greatly change their world for the worse. , but how do you do this, and how do you get them ready?

This starts on character creation day. The characters should always begin the game at first level; this allows the role-player to understand what motivates their character. Yes, they will bitch because they are weaklings in their minds, but this is an important time for the characters themselves. They have just left their teachers and are just now, striking it out on their own! Just remind players who are worried about this, that while it can take up to a year to gain a level when you are a 15th level powerhouse, 1st though fifth level happens very quickly.

After the characters are all rolled up; and the game is about ready to meet for the first time, you as the DM must decide who knows whom. This is a quick way to handle exposition; it is the player’s job to decide HOW they know each other. This can be anything, but done secretly, among those that do know each other. An example of this: Four characters, each plays a different class. Based on alignment and sex you can define that the fighter knows the cleric. The Wizard knows the Thief. The Thief knows the wizard and the Cleric. Talking in private, the fighter decides that he and the cleric fought with each other in a war, the cleric mentally aiding the fighter often. The Wizard and the thief decide that they are brothers who have struggled with their relationship but brought together by a death of both parents. The Thief and the cleric decide that when they were younger they were sweet-hearts, but a jealous rival came between them.

This is a group exposition, but there is also personal exposition that the player can write up away from the table, after they have played the character a time or two. Things that the player should write about is their birth date (I will be writing about calendars and gaming in the future), their hometown (May require showing them the world map and city maps), and about their family life and how they were raised. Who trained them? Why did they leave? Do they have any love interests, or any rivals? Did somebody hurt them in the past? Do they hold a grudge? Are they racists in some ways and why do they feel this way?

Character expositions can be as brief or as in-depth as the player wishes it to be, the main purpose for this is to create NPCs that are tailor-made for the PC, and give that sense of enjoyment to the player that they are a part of the creation process, which they are! The more in-depth these expositions are the more experience points the PC should get, especially if it gives them some kind of disadvantage while playing the game.

Some players are not creative enough to do this, or they lack the energy. The DM can write up a short summary of exposition for them, just to help them with their role-playing, but of course, this will not give them any bonus experience points.

Players should think about three different goals:

The Story Goal

These change as the story advances; usually discovered through game play.

Group Goals

These are constant goals, which lead to making personal sacrifices for the entire group as a whole. Sharing loot and spreading it around evenly, and helping the other party members become more powerful.

Personal Goals

This goal is typically ignored by most DMs and players alike, which are personal to that character alone. What is it that the character wants to get out of life? What are his dreams regarding the future, does he just want a quiet retirement to a country farm? Does he have dreams of building a shop and owning a business? Why is he adventuring? What would he normally be doing if he were not adventuring? If he is thoughtful about the future, where does he see himself when he is too old to adventure anymore? It is your job, as a DM; to give him opportunities to further these personal goals as well as you give him opportunities to further story and group goals.

The advantages for doing this, I feel, speak for themselves. The players themselves are taking an active role in the creation process, this will also bring the player closer to the character that they are bringing to life, and they will actually care about them! This will also improve their skills as role-players and make the game that more immersive. The disadvantage is that it may leave uncreative players feeling alienated because they feel that they lack the ability to create a colorful background, but I feel that with some gentle help on the DM’s part, this is not a problem.

2 comments:

thanuir said...

Greetings, Rip.

I disagree with many of your points, though the last three are pure gold. By disagree, I mean that there is another way to do things that I prefer. Since your blog is called advanced gaming and theory, would you like to explain why you do things the way you do?

Unless playing a complex game for the first time, I see little reason to start the game at very low power level. If I or my players want a story about a band of dragonslayers, then they will be trying to slay dragons, not kill kobolds to level up.

I also go for group character generation whenever appropriate (which is most of the time): All players together creating characters and tying them together however appropriate, the GM throwing ideas in and keeping up momentum. There will be no secrets between players, but almost certainly there will be some between characters.

I have discovered that some players enjoy writing character histories, and can do so, as long as they do it well (as in, the history opens more hooks than it closes). Some enjoy developing that stuff spontaneously in play, so I let them do so (I do this, preferably).

Specific questions: The first level is important time to the player characters. So is their puberty. So are the days of their greatest power and might. Presumably the game will happen during some of these interesting times. So why start exactly when they are beginning adventurers?

Why does the GM decide who knows whom? I prefer that to be up to the players; they know their characters the best, anyway.

Ripper X said...

Thanks for commenting thanuir!

Of course all of these idea's are up to the DM to pick and chose as they please, these are just things that I do personally in my games.

My players and I are storytellers, we enjoy some hack and slash, and some puzzles, and a bit of everything that makes the game fun, but our primary motivation to play is storytelling.

I personally find it exciting to experience the formative year of an adventurers career, but on the flip side, I also find that this struggle to survive and the fact that you've only got 10 hp dramatically leads to some awesome heroics!

Before we ever start a new game, I as the DM have an idea of where it is going to go and how the thing will end. Not today, but at level 16 or 17. Levels 1-5 is a great way to meet and depend on NPC's, explore the land, and it makes it that much more special when they DO become heroes, and they actually earn the respect that they have.

Besides, have you ever met a dude who was bragging about the fact that he's nurtured and brought up his character all the way from 10th level? No, if a player can keep a wizard alive from 1-10th level, they are awesome!!!

I've also started new characters off at upper levels that were for specific things that we wanted to do. There's no shame or harm in that! But if you think of some awesome evil plot that is worthy of an actual 1st through 12+ game, start at 1st level, and make these characters your players new favorites!

In regards to why I chose who knows whom, I give them an opportunity to do this, however if they don't then right before we sit down and begin play, I'll tell them who knows who and it's up to them to tell me how they do.

I find, especially with starting brand new games, that sometimes players, even creative ones, need a little leadership from the DM, but you are correct, it doesn't matter who does what, but when it is done it makes your game more logical then the crazy strangers forever technique.

You've got a lot of great points in your post Thanuir, I look forward to healthy debates. All theories need to be challenged before they are worth any salt.

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I enjoy writing, and have played since 1993. I'm married to my best friend, with two children. Favorite Character Class: THIEF

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