Sunday, November 08, 2015

Some thoughts on the art of Character Vetting

It is one of the major stumbling blocks in Chat gaming that you can't just put your character in some database and just go play. I am NOT saying that's what should happen. There are enough twerps, griefers, twat-waffles, and PK-nuts that such a thing would be wildly impractical for any Larp or Chat that wasn't incredibly exclusive and invite-only.
And even then, probably not a good plan.
But on the same token, Vetting can be stressful, and frustrating to the point of making a player want to rage-quit before they even get started. It flatly, doesn't have to be that way. I've had experiences with character vetting that have made me want to pull out my hair, not that there is much left, and other experiences that were so painless, that I wanted to sing hosannas to the Storytelling staff.
So let's see if we can find ways to make this thing a bit easier.
* The first questions out of your mouth as a Storyteller ought to be the following and you should ask them each and every time. Cut and paste this block of text into your first interaction with a player:
1) Have you ever played role playing games before?
2) Have you ever played this particular game before?
3) Have you ever built a character for this particular game before?
4) Have you ever game mastered before?
5) Have you ever game mastered this particular game before?
6) what is your actual age?
These 6 questions help you gauge your players level of rules understanding, his experience as a player and as a GM, and hopefully give you a good idea as to his general maturity level. As you can see, there are a number of Axes upon which this understanding might turn. You may have players who are prodigies at play but are only 15. You may have players who just got into RPG's but are in their late 30's. You may have players who are dew fresh and eager to be molded into some kind of role playing wunderkind. And you may have people who are old and crusty like me, who may resent being talked down to by some college kid. I have had to point out to at least 2 GM's that i had DICE older than them.
*I've talked about character background before and how important it is to the vetting process. (It isn't)
Whether a players presents you with a novella or a set of bullet points, you should be aware that the vetting process is NOT the place to be hyper critical of a person's creative output.
And that is JUST EXACTLY what it is. Dots on a sheet are nothing special, but the backstory is. At least to them, They may be great at it, but not right for your story, and they may be okay with anything you want to do story wise, but a terrible writer. Not everyone is good at this. But no one truthfully needs anyone busting their balls for it.
Be kind. And if you must be critical of something in the character background try to use the method of finding positive things to say and sandwich the bad things between the two slices of good.
*Also, it might not be bad idea to make sure that you keep your more aggressive tendencies in check. Although, you might BE an alpha wolf, (and as an ST, you probably need to be.) You need to not be aggressive with people who you are meeting, ostensibly for the first time. If you have a canned speech that you want to give every player that comes in the door, go over it for overly aggressive attitude and tone it down. It's certainly alright to be protective of your game and to let players know that there are certain behaviors that won't be tolerated. You can do that without threatening to shoot anyone in the face. No one comes off as cutesy as they think they do, doing so. In a larp you give such a speech with a smile on your face. That does not work in a private message window.
*The whole bloody point of Character Vetting is that you keep out undesirable character concepts from your game. This is unfortunate, as no two storytellers are capable of agreeing on what constitutes an "undesirable character concept" I think we can all agree that the Lesbian cat-girl stripper ninja and the character built around the concept, "I kill all things with my gun" are usually a good starting place. Beyond that, try to be flexible. 
*If there is a numerical problem on a player's sheet, don't be afraid to offer point debt to fix it. Most problems are fixable for less than 4 points and if you take a single point from each EXP earning, until it's paid off, it's almost completely painless.
*Do not assume, that because a character is front-loaded with combat skills that all they will be doing is combat. Some players, myself included like to make sure that their character can survive at least a mid-level threat from the jump, but may not be interested in spending much of their experience on combat stuff. Personally, i like to get that stuff out of the way early, so i can concentrate on social and influence spending during play. Even players who insist on creating a beginning level character with 5 dots in a martial art, you should maybe remember that each and every point that they spend HERE is a point that they cannot spend THERE. It makes them weak in some area or other. And frankly, it is morally wrong not to exploit those weaknesses.
* If you see a problem with the character, instead of being brutal and direct, why not get Socratic and ask questions. Sure, vetting a character can be a time consuming process, especially if you're doing it live rather than through forum PM's. But it's better to question than say "This is fucked up and/or wrong." in a dismissive or condescending manner. Tone can make a huge difference.
* I've talked about Stress Stating and Reserve Lists before, but one of the things, you need to be on the lookout for as an ST is players who are looking to play the long game. Combat Monkeys are short timers usually. So are griefers and they usually draw a fatal response from the rest of the player base. Any character based on a character from something else is usually a one trick pony and will be dropped in favor of something else. But if you have a player who has done some work to try and meld his story with your city and your existing player base, and has plans mapped out and ready to go, sit up and pay some fucking attention, because THAT guy is going to do his level best to generate plot. You won't have to come around and make sure he has plot cookies to chew on. He'll make his own. 
And let me say one more word about people who play the long game, although it may deserve it's own article at some point, They have plans and plots and schemes that have NOTHING to do with your plots. Just because they don't jump on your plot, doesn't mean they aren't interested, but they may have their own thing going on. Shoehorning them into the plot that everybody else is dealing with is a good way to chase them off. I'm just saying.
*Caps are bullshit
They just are. They are essentially the practice of saying to any incoming player, "You aren't allowed to play this clan or this faction because we have too many of them already, and it doesn't matter that a percentage of them haven't been around for months, and some of the players wouldn't know how to play that clan or faction if their lives depended on it."
It is actively psychically painful to watch others plays a character type you normally play and do it fuck-off badly.
Look. it may just be an element of your city that there are more Ventrue than you know what to do with. Or that Ordo Dracul are thick on the ground for some weird reason. Don't create artificial limits in order to fill roles in an arbitrary manner. It's bullshit. If you want to fill certain roles in your chronicle, offer incentives, like the occasional free merit dots, or some exp.
*Make them answer the question: "What are you doing here?" Don't be afraid to say, "Try again."
Because the reason why someone might uproot themselves from some other place and come to your city and set up shop should never be fucking trivial, or an afterthought. It ought to be at least ONE of the reasons that your character would involve himself in things. And it ought to be something serious. If some trouble comes over the horizon, and you don't have a very good reason to be in this city, then why in the fuck would you stay?


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