While I know that I still have a world of knowledge to learn about roleplay, and in many aspects I do consider myself a noob compared to the years of experience from my friends, I often have a lot of people coming up to me to ask me questions about playing their characters. “What class should I take next?” “How should I play this?” “What would you do if you were in this scene?” “What is your take on portraying something like this?” Now, on one hand, I understand why they would often come to me for advice. In this particular game, I am ancient. I was there from almost the beginning. To newer players I’m one of the originals because I can say things like “I remember Old Hayven” or “I used to play one of the Krattikoff Family.” But at the same time, the honor I feel when asked never diminishes because there are others in the game with far more experience than I. I have made friends who have 15+ years of roleplay experience. Some of my friends are game designers. Yet, they chose to ask me.
However, I have noticed, that when I am asked these questions, I always follow up with a few questions of my own. I try to use the questions to get players asking my advice to realize that they need to listen to the character and the direction the character is going. I boil it down to one essential point: What drives your character?
Then, I give an example.
I play in a Post Apocolyptic Zombie Survival Horror LARP and I absolutely love it. I play a runaway slave named Jeanie. She has a lot of things going on. She is mentally ill and has a personality disorder. She is incredibly intelligent, incredibly racist, sees things in a very black and white way. She has no idea how to understand normal human interaction as it is not incredibly logical or rational (like her thought process). She is obsessed with learning about the world, even if she does so in an unconventional (read: dangerous) method. She is curious, incredibly eager to please, and desperate for meaningful human interaction.
She has a lot of trouble disobeying what she considers an order. She gets very upset at the idea of getting into trouble or making someone mad. In fact, she often apologizes profusely at the idea of making someone mad. She struggles to trust anyone due to the nature of her strain of humanity. She wants more than anything to find people who accept her. She misses her sister (who raised her) and her adoptive brother (who was recently killed). She has very few people in town that she feels knows her well and that really bothers her.
If I had to boil down Jeanie to a single phrase that defines her entire psyche and drives her every action, if I had to simplify Jeanie to a few words…
That phrase defines her every action in town. She had another one of her kind introduce her to the Good Doctor, Inc. She has since joined the group. She had an engineer named Torch take her under his wing and try to teach her about engineering. She still works with him. She craves human interaction but her past is hindering her ability to have it. She can’t handle hugs from people she doesn’t know and if she gets a hug from someone she does know they had to ask if they could hug her because she’s so scared of being hit. She latches on to those she is close to and she never lets go, shutting down when she has to let go. Every interaction in her game is driven by the fact that she is really really lonely.
Now, let’s look at another example.
I just joined a chapter of the Mind’s Eye Society, the LARP for the World of Darkness, specifically a chapter that runs Vampire: The Requiem. I had been interested in joining for awhile and made the last minute decision to go to a game that was happening later that day. So I suddenly threw together a character that seemed rather interesting and went from there. I created a Nosferatu vampire and had a basic backstory. I was pretty happy with the last minute character building.
I have played her for two games this far and have found her, while interesting, rather difficult to play. I was not sure why she was so difficult to play, especially because I was having such a great time. So I decided to work on fleshing out the character with a PDF that the MES has on character building. Maybe if I fleshed out all the little details of the character, I would no longer have any issue about playing her. The only problem is that I am stuck on some of the questions, in particular, the questions on what drives the character.
Honestly, I have no idea what drives this character. I have no idea what is behind her decisions. I know that she reacts to things, but she is never proactive about anything. Why? Because she is not working toward anything. Even a monster like the Nosferatu would have character goals, but I cannot mention a single one.
This is what makes figuring out a character’s future so hard for some players. If you have no idea what drives your character, what their ultimate goals and desires are, then you have no idea where your character is going to go. However, if you know what causes every decision they make, then you know the decisions they will make in regards to their lives and their professions. When building a character, then go and figure out the driving force behind the character. It can be anything – revenge, evolution, a desire for power, a desire for love, acceptance, ultimate knowledge, etc. Anything. But give them a drive. Give them something that will spark every interaction, every decision, every thing they hunt after. Then you’ll know where to go with your character and you won’t feel stuck, like me and my Nosferatu.