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Gaming Hut: Inactivists

A player in my weekly game recently emailed me to remind me of a fact about his character. Said fact appeared in the initial bio submitted at the start of the series many months before. I needed the reminder because this fact had not come up in play, even as a reference to that backstory. Why hadn’t it come up? For a kinda cool, subtle reason — the character was ambivalent about a certain possibility and had chosen not to confront it.

I’m always happy to be prompted by players to follow up on plot threads that interest them. Next session I introduced an event allowing the player to explore the character point in question. The PC, in keeping with the player’s sense of his character, responded to the event by not responding. When asked about it by the other PCs, he downplayed the entire incident and made it clear that he didn’t want to go there.

As a result this element from the PC’s backstory remains unexplored. For the purposes of events in the story, it doesn’t exist. Action is character and this character took no action. Now, this particular PC happens to have plenty else going on for him and is very well defined in terms of the group dynamic and the ongoing story.

To speak more generally, though, it is not uncommon for immersive roleplaying types to create intricate, subtle characters who make little impression in the game itself. They exist on the page, but do not make the leap to the invisible stage where a roleplaying game’s action unfolds. Often this happens because they’ve defined their characters negatively, by what they will not do. This may create characterization in their own heads, but it does not define character as far as the other participants are concerned. It remains unseen.

A corrective exercise for chronic inactivist players might go as follows:

a.) List three things you character will always do, whenever possible.
b.) Review the list at the beginning of each session.
c.) Pick the one that seems to relate to the scenario at hand.
d.) Try to move events in the story so you can actively do this thing.

Memorable characterization occurs when a PC actively moves the story in a new direction — not when he fails to act or prevents others from acting. A player who thinks a possible action violates his sense of the character should, instead of doing nothing, find an alternate, suitable action.


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July 2012


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