Friday, 7 February 2014

thoughts on character

I've noticed that characterisation in my two campaigns has been very different, and that it has had a profound effect on the way I write up the game notes, beyond what would be expected for the genre differences between hard sci-fi and dark fantasy.

The Traveller game, focussed as it is on one character, presents nearly everything from her point of view. The LotFP game, on the other hand, is currently an ensemble piece, and few of the characters have really had an opportunity to shine. It's not helped by the fact that they're all first level and the same class. There's a bit less to differentiate them than most first-level parties. In hindsight, I should have at least started each of them off with a second spell, but I'm playing with as few house rules as possible since... well, since I'd rather play than tinker and the game pretty much works for me as written. Plus I already gave them a pile of healing potions.

With so many characters to keep track of, they all seem to lose out a little. It's hard to keep all of them in the action and give them something to say. I could write out long conversations involving the entire party, but my goal is to simulate a terrifying and fantastical adventure, not a BBC costume drama (though if anyone ever writes GURPS Jane Austen, I'm totally buying it).

Lieutenant ( Sergeant) Gytovo had almost the same set-up as the elves: tiny bit of notes for his origin, a stat block, and two random personality traits. Yet he has managed to blossom into a full person. One can hardly say the same about Debinvarr. He's apparently humorous and eager, but he has yet to demonstrate either trait. I can't recall the personality traits on Lt. Gytovo's character sheet off hand, but it's hardly important. Put him in a situation and I'll know how he'll feel about it.

There's a stock bit of advice given to writers which is Show, don't tell. It's a lot harder to pull of with eight characters in the spotlight than it is only one or two. I suppose a combination of PC attrition and level-gain will make it possible to have a smaller party and develop bigger personalities, but until they hit at least 3rd or 4th level less than six in the dungeon seems suicidal; either that or they need more typical D&D amounts of magic items, but that's not a route I want to go down. I like the lower-magic setting just fine.

Once they get the Crown and trade it for the vampire's information, they are totally going to consume all excess treasure in spell research. Being elves, they operate with a different regard to time. If they track down Neldir and return within a year it will still seem like they just left yesterday, so a few weeks downtime will be trivial. Different spells should help differentiate their abilities in the short term. In the longer term, it's likely that some of the elves (the boring ones or the ones who suffer irreparable damage) may decide to give up adventuring after their quest is finished, opening up slots for different sorts of characters in the party. Maybe I'll just have two or three main characters and let the rest be NPCs or hirelings.


So, what do I have so far?

At some point I decided that, from linguistic evidence, Firdeth must be of a different stock than the others. All the male elves' names end in a liquid consonant, the females' in a vowel, except for Firdeth. Since the nobility of the forest would mostly be High Elves, I decided that this made Firdeth a wood elf. Théscine's name ends in a vowel, but it's silent. So she's still a high elf, but her family is originally from the Continent, from which they migrated / fled / were exiled long ago.

If I could draw, it would help. But I don't really want to use random people's art for my character portraits. Besides, I do have some definite ideas about how some of them look, and so finding something suitable would be hard anyways. I can see at least some of them clearly in my mind's eye.

Firdeth and Debinvarr look rather similar. They're about the same build, though she's the stronger of the two. They also sport the same close-cropped hairstyle. You might think they were siblings, if you didn't know better. They also both fight with rapiers -- not the renaissance-looking kind, but a more bronze-age style, like these.

Firdeth has auburn hair and walnut-coloured skin. The rest of the elves are very pale.

Théscine has dead white skin and masses of black curls. She is scarcely over 4 1/2' tall. She has one blue eye, one green: some say this comes with the gift of prophecy.

Miolla's golden curls are even more voluminous than Théscine's locks. She has freckles from too much sun. She has violet eyes, the face of a pixie and the body of an athlete, all sinewy and muscled.

Lycinia's flaxen hair is very fine; she wears it long, to the middle of her back. She's the tallest of the elves, standing about 5'5". Her eyes are vividly green. She's nearly as pale as Théscine.

Oighonlaer's got a more-or-less Prince Valiant thing going on.


Caerindíl was a would-be hero, and Benyithelnol was kind of a jerk, but as they were killed by zombies this is all academic.

Miolla is a bit simple. She's sweet and friendly, but also the most dangerous fighter. She means well, though is easliy led. She also doesn't understand humans, though this has yet to cause any problems.

Lycinia is the brains of the operation, and the most driven. She wants to know the deepest secrets of magic. She means to mean well, but may be slightly amoral.

Oighonlaer thinks he's in charge, though not everyone would agree. He speaks Common in a very affected fashion. He thinks he understands humans, but probably doesn't.

Firdeth is the most soldierly, Théscine the most proud, Debinvarr the most swashbuckle-y, but none of them have really had a chance to say much yet, so are all a bit hazy.


  1. One of the reasons that I set "The Laughing Owl" up as I did was to have small (and admittedly fragile) groups at any time because with too large a group they all seem to blend together as a mass instead of as individuals.

    Sadly this did result in my favorite character (after generation) dying early . . . but that too is one of the reasons for small groups. If there isn't any danger in the delving it lacks suspense.

    So yes, I am agreeing with your observations . . . and as your elves progress you WILL begin to see more individuality come to the fore.

    -- Jeff

    1. I admit when I read your setup I mostly saw the mechanical convenience of running a smaller party (8 vs. 6 combats take forever to resolve, even at low levels). But I definitely see how the smaller groups develop the PCs as people better. My next two installments involved splitting off a couple characters from the rest for a bit, and suddenly there was interpersonal interaction. I guess this is what writers mean when they talk about characters writing themselves.

      Now, to clean up the notes and post them...