Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What's your attitude toward your character?

Having just read, and chuckled a bit about, the latest post on Grognardia about silly names, I think back on my attitude towards my own characters. How do you approach the creation of a new being in the imaginary worlds? Do you toss some dice and tack on a jokey name and then rush head first unto glory and death? An experience with one of the CD based products from the late TSR illustrates my attitude well.

Our local game club had started regular gatherings, and someone had just purchased some kind of introductory set of D&D. He wanted to test it on us who were familiar with the hobby before using it to introduce others to the hobby. This was back in those days during the nineties when TSR experimented wildly with new package formats and loosing money on all of them. The idea with a CD with examples of player interaction and sound effects to play when entering specific rooms is an intriguing one. Done well it could show how a typical session sound like, and add an extra element to build atmosphere around the table. Starting our test run of this product we listened through the initial explanations of our character cards and the the set up of the game. That part was ok but the next part was where it broke down. In the example session the voice actors were sounding like total dorks, which was unfortunately but something which we could endure. What we couldn't endure without giggling, or even breaking out the big guffaw, was that these people were referring to the other players by their role in the party! Hearing someone without any acting ability yell "Thief, help me out over here!" just sounded too silly to us.

Silly, yes. That's the connection to James post I mentioned in the beginning. Anything that makes you and your fellow players take the game seriously, i.e. a serious intent to have fun an no one else's expense, works fine. But, something that signals to everyone else around the table that they don't care and might as well be playing a video game or watch tv, that's not fine. Hearing people talk about their character as a game piece, "Fighter, you have a higher STR score than my hobbit. Help us lift this thing!", grates in my ears. Among most players I've met, talking in the first person and referring to your character as "me" and the other characters by their name, is the way to roleplay. Once there was a poll on one of the forums where old schoolers lurk, and it became clear the most of the crowd there didn't play the game that way. I have no idea of why the majority of gamers in Sweden, where I grew up and learned to play, seem to do the immersion thing. Is it more common among gamers in North America to not do the immersion method of roleplaying? Is it just old school or is that just the habit of generally conservative gamers? I don't know.

In the end we decided that the introductory box of D&D was not to be recommended. We felt it taught bad habits and wasn't all that great as a tutorial anyway. Now, many years later I realize that I think that even though I like it better when the player make some effort to name their character "seriously", the deal breaker for me is if they treat the character as a real person. If they try to make those numbers come alive by at least refer to them as "me" when doing actions, I can live with some silliness.

I'll end with a personal memory of a silly name, and a hint. One time when we where playing WHFRP, our game master had to invent a name on the fly for a bouncer. He became Bruno (he might have based it on a relative or picked it off a list, for all I know). This is not a silly name as such, but his way of portraying this brute was nothing but. After that, every time we encountered a bouncer or a city guard, we asked "Is it a Bruno"? Needless to say, that name was never used for anything serious in that group again. The hint? When running a game, always have a list of names beside you. If you can rattle of a name without hesitating, and without resorting to blurting out something less than inspired, your players might treat that NPC as someone real. Having a name does a lot to make that encounter feel like you meet someone real.


  1. We seemed to have fun, whether the character names were serious or silly. As JM noted, if your character survived to higher levels, the silly-ness of the name was typically explained away.

    I remember a friend who's character was named "Pothead" (for obvious teenaged reasons). After reaching a higher level, it was decided that a pot had landed on his head as a child, thus his name.

    Revisionism at its best.

  2. It do sound like you were having fun! :)


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