Has anyone ever told you a story that you really not not care less about? It was probably about something inane and uncontrollable (they had very little or no influence on the outcome), like winning a game of Chutes and Ladders or War. It might have even gone like this:
RIMMER: So there we were at 2:30 in the morning; I was beginning to wish I had never come to cadet training school. To the south lay water –there was no way we could cross that. To the east and west two armies squeezed us in a pincer. The only way was north; I had to go for it and pray the Gods were smiling on me. I picked up the dice and threw two sixes. Caldecott couldn’t believe it. My go again; another two sixes!
LISTER: Rimmer, what’s wrong with you? Don’t you realize that no one is even slightly interested in anything you’re saying? You’ve got this major psychological defect which blinds you to the fact that you’re boring people to death! How come you can’t sense that?
RIMMER: Anyway I picked up the dice again… Unbelievable! Another two sixes!
LISTER: No one wants to know some stupid story about how you beat your Cadet School Training Officer at Risk.
RIMMER: Then — disaster! I threw a two and a three; Caldecott picked up the dice and threw snake eyes — I was still in it.
LISTER: Cat, can you talk to him?.
CAT is sitting with big pieces of cotton wool plugged in to his ears. As
LISTER talks to him he takes one of the pieces.
RIMMER: Anyway, to cut a long story short I threw a five and a four which beat his three and a two, another double six followed by a double four and a double five. After he’d thrown a three and a two I threw a six and a three.
CAT: Man, this guy could bore for his country!
LISTER: What I want to know, is how the smeg can you remember what dice you threw at a game you played when you were seventeen?
RIMMER: I jotted it down in my Risk campaign book. I always used to do that so I could replay my moments of glory over a glass of brandy in the sleeping quarters. I ask you, what better way is there to spend a Saturday night?
CAT: Ya got me.
RIMMER: So a six and a three and he came back with a three and a two.
LISTER: Rimmer, can’t you tell the story is not gripping me? I’m in a state of non-grippedness, I am completely smegging ungripped. Shut the smeg up.
RIMMER: Don’t you want to hear the Risk story?
LISTER: That’s what I’ve been saying for the last fifteen minutes.
RIMMER: But I thought that was because I hadn’t got to the really interesting bit…
LISTER: What really interesting bit?
RIMMER: Ah well, that was about two hours later, after he’d thrown a three and a two and I’d thrown a four and a one. I picked up the dice…
LISTER: Hang on Rimmer, hang on… the really interesting bit is exactly the same as the dull bit.
RIMMER: You don’t know what I did with the dice though, do you? For all you know, I could have jammed them up his nostrils, head butted him on the nose and they could have blasted out of his ears. That would’ve been quite interesting.
LISTER: OK, Rimmer. What did you do with the dice?
RIMMER: I threw a five and a two.
LISTER: And that’s the really interesting bit?
This is what it sounds like to everyone else when you recount the time your Rifts Glitterboy killed a Juicer in one shot. No one cares because you honestly did nothing to produce the result besides roll dice. What people do enjoy hearing is why you killed that Juicer and what events followed. As a player don’t you enjoy games in which you do more than just role dice to see if you _____ed? Yes, there are tabletop games that don’t care about the reasons why (Warhammer, Hordes, Infinity, etc.), but they are most often strategic wargames that don’t care about story. But roleplaying games are built on narrative. Without narrative they are either a strategic game (Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 if you have a game-mat and minis) or a group of people throwing dice around with no real perspective of what is happening.
So for game masters, dungeon masters, storytellers, and masters of ceremony I say: please, for the love of God, please let me be my character and not just a dice-rolling machine that adjusts numbers of a piece of paper. My character is more than just a collection of statistics. Well, at least he should be…
We players can’t blame it all on our “masters” (seriously, the titles for that role are such an ego trip). If all you can say about your character is, “He throws fireballs.” then you are a part of the problem. In addition to that, while it can be fun to twink out a supremely efficient or funky character, that is more of an exercise in manipulating rules systems, and does not make your character inherently interesting (you aren’t the only person in the world who figured out how to get 20 dice to shoot a sniper rifle in Shadowrun). Roleplaying is not about making the most powerful thing you can think of, it is about story. But it is true that some of us (yes, I am included) enjoy the act of playing with number systems, or we may just feel uninspired at the moment and quickly throw some stats together. This is fine. This is ok. All it means is that we now must figure out Who our mishmash of numbers is.
I find that a few steps/observations help me in figuring out what kind of person Mr. Numbers On Paper will be:
- What is the setting?
- Is my character majority, minority, taboo?
- What do his stats prepare him to do?
- Kill, heal, craft, die?
- What is special/unique in his statistics?
- What profession/historical background could explain his combined statistics?
- Who could possibly utilize botany and metallurgy at the same time?
- Do the answers to any of the above questions produce more questions?
- Seriously, how do you combine botany and metallurgy?
I would like to run through the process for you guys, but I feel like that would be long enough for its own article. Instead I will end here with the promise that next week I will have a character prepared who I developed originally from a Stats perspective. In fact, to make this interesting: How about you guys propose a Stats twink (to keep it simple, let’s go with something possible in DnD 3.5), and I will both make the twink and develop a personality/background based on that twink. If I don’t receive any input I’ll probably just do something simple like the good ol’ traditional spiked-chain tripfighter.
Oh, and if you’re curious about Rimmer’s story about Risk, then check out Red Dwarf season 4 episode 6: Meltdown. I would link it, but I’m not sure about our take on promoting piracy…