Saturday, October 31, 2015

...And one time, at band camp.

No one cares about your Character Background.
Seriously, it's like your Blog and your Facebook posts. Nobody cares about it as much as you do.
Which is not to say that shouldn't write it. If it's in you, you might as well right it down, if only to be able to keep it all straight in your head. And that's useful. Pinky's backstory got so unruly and unmanageable i had to write two books.

But really, Your ST has a LOT to read. Assume 50+ Players at 2 pages each. That's 100 pages of background material that has to be read and known. He or she is not going to devote a lot of time to reading a long-ass background, much less know it cold. Reduce your story down to its main elements and make it into bullet points that are easily chewed and processed. And ST's, stop kidding yourself that you're going to get around to reading all that and asking for it. Seriously. Give us all a break.

I know where that impulse comes from. It comes out of a desire to really get to KNOW a character inside out. and a desire to tailor stories to those characters. But this is, once again, a symptom of carrying over tabletop game dynamics to a Large Scale Dynamic game. The amount of work you're creating for yourself is huge and often unnecessary. Not only that, but not everyone wants to write a huge background for a character. Not everyone is even GOOD at it. Maybe they've only just made it and only really have the character's vibe in their heads, In such cases, they are looking to fill in the details of the character as they go, rather than shoe-horn it into a multi-page history. Not everyone approaches character creation the same way. Some are perfectly happy to think out every single detail of their character's past life before entering the game. But I think you'll find that THOSE players will be intensely resistant to revision. If your characters backstory is bullet points, odds are good that you'll be able to edit it with greater facility than the players who's backstory is the equivalent of the sistine chapel made entirely from toothpicks.

I have literally had a GM give me hassle because I hadn't mentioned my PC's childhood at all. To which my answer was, "What in the hell could you possibly need to know about my character's childhood? What are you, my therapist now?"

The main reason why I bring this up is because I've been there. I've been the storyteller and did something to a PC only to be told. "Well NOW i can't play my character because they would NEVER ever EVER EVER go along with that! I mean, it's like you didn't read a bit of my 47 page magnum opus. Anyone who had would KNOW that I would die before trying on green trousers at Tesco…"

Conversely, I've been on the end of having an ST be completely confused as to why my character felt he needed to immediately leave town or wage un-ending war on everyone in the place, after being publicly humiliated.  "Did you even GLOSS my sheet. Under concept it says, "Man of Respect" as in "Old School Mafiosi".  Were you paying ANY attention at all. I didn't think my backstory was so thick you got lost in the underbrush.

But, there ARE a few things that are helpful to do when creating your character background
*You probably should avoid making your background way more interesting than current play. If you only have 2 dots in firearms, you probably shouldn't have a backstory that points you up as the premiere assassin on the scene. That's fairly elementary. 
*When points are few, it is, to my mind, perfectly permissible to create what I call, the "reserve list" This would be the sort of stuff that OUGHT to be on your sheet but you can't afford from the jump. Many physical skills are frangible and if you don't practice them, they stagnate. Lots of skills are like that. So it's certainly possible that you could dust those skills off at some point. letting your GM know that you have that in mind might ease the path of justification down the road. Assuming that you have to justify at all. So, if you feel like your character really ought to have a specialty in french impressionist painters, but just can't swing it at the jump, why not put that in your reserve list? 
*I have this thing that I do. And I think it's a good idea, simply because It makes me feel a bit less confined in terms of my characters portrayal. I call it "Stress Statting".
The premise is that the dots on your sheet only measure what your character is capable of under stress, and this is not a radical idea particularly, it's enshrined in the rules already. You'll note that you can often use various skills even with no dots, at slight dice penalties.
To put this idea into personal terms, I'm a professional actor with over 20 years of experience on the stage. So even if my allergies are killing me, My parents are in the audience, I'm doing the next scene with my ex-girlfriend, and the burger I had earlier is sitting on me like a rock, I can still command 4 dots of expression.
On the other hand, my guitar playing is a great deal less accomplished. Among friends, or perhaps with a couple of glasses of whiskey under my belt, I might have a dot or two. However on a stage in front of strangers that facility melts away like dew on the spring grass.
With this idea in mind, There are a number of permutations. For one, I can play a character that perfectly capable of being sociable and personable, one on one. But maybe not so good in crowds or around scary vampire elders. Which is great if I, personally have good social skills, but my character can't afford them. This is of course, and age old problem in Chat and Larp games. But it needn't be. Storytellers don't have to go around policing interactions between players and so forth, They need only have an eye open for social interactions that involve stress, which, as like as not, would have required a roll of the dice for ANYONE.
Moreover, It obviates some of the stress of not having enough points for a single dot of some skill you think you ought to have, or even what an ST thinks you ought to have. True Story: I once had an ST give me an appreciable amount of grief over not having a single dot of socialize. His idea was that if you lacked a single dot in Socialize, you couldn't actually do it at all. Never mind that the only profession that I can think of right off the top of my head that requires Socialize would be "Wedding planner".
Vetting prejudices aside, Stress Statting makes it possible to elide these sorts of problems.

* Don't feel the need to fill every single minute of your characters backstory. Leave yourself space and wiggle room. At times, you'll want to build something into the backstory, whether it has to do with the rationale for a change in character direction, or it's simply an idea you had on the fly. Large portions of the legend of Pinky Berkowitz owe their existence to improvisation and the willingness to have a bit of unused territory in the backstory.

* The more you flesh out the people who have had an effect on your character, (The parents, The sire, The unit commander, etc…) The more weight their influence will have in your backstory. Don't come up with the person who dragged you kicking and screaming into the supernatural world as some kind of after-thought. It's lazy and it honestly doesn't give you much to work with. The deeper the relationship and the more complicated it is, the more mileage you'll get out of it, and the more it is likely to interest the ST staff.

* Talk about who you were in your life more than who you are now in the shadowy world if the supernatural. The everyday life you used to lead illuminates the world you live in now. This assumes of course, you aren't playing a creature who is intent on losing their humanity as fast as is possible. In which case, why bother? 


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