#RPGaDAY 2019 - DAY 4: "SHARE"

One of the best tools that I've found for encouraging character development is vignettes--very short stories of 1 to a few pages that address one specific element of the character.

I first learned of the concept when I was playing Amber: Diceless RPG by Erick Wujcik of Phage Press. Characters were built with a certain number of points, and you had the ability to gain a few bonus points by agreeing to write stories or summaries about your character.

The stories I wrote were about the character's background, her successes and failures, the hobbies that she had growing up, and incidents that helped make her who she was today. When I wrote a summary, it was exclusively from her perspective (as is the style for Amber, especially.)

These techniques helped me in two ways:

  • She got a background. I actually had thoughts about what she was good at and why. What skills she had that might not be obvious. What she was afraid of due to problems in the past or what she might be overcompensating for today. And ultimately...how she might react unexpectedly to a given situation.
  • But this also helped develop who she was today. What are her priorities, passions and foibles? I wrote her background, but in some cases rather than explaining, it actually defined her. In other words, "that cave incident" might explain her current fear of spiders, or it might equally make her afraid of spiders when she had no such fear before I wrote the story.
I carried this technique forward into my own games. Especially as we began to develop the gods of Trinity. My co-creator, John, was almost entirely responsible for the concept of the Cycles, and of the names and roles of the gods. But as we fleshed them out, I began to give them personalities. The gods of Trinity used to be mortals and ascended because as mortals, they best represented some aspects of humanity within the Cycle.

So I began writing short stories about things they did as mortals that gave examples of them being such paragons of their role: magic, autumn or life, to name a few. And in doing so, I got incredible insights into who they were, and the subtleties of their personalities. John expanded on this, and he ran a one-day Champions game, with some of the gods as the "superheroes", with that adventure further developing personalities. (It's where I learned that Mitras, of Light, has no sense of humor.)

I continued this with other themes: If I wanted to figure out undead, I wrote a story about an old man describing the species of undead he knew about, with his own perspective and fears. When I wanted to speculate on the evolution of magic in Trinity I wrote stories about people trying new things in the "old" magic system (which was actually new to me) and how their radical innovations changed the rules in the direction of what exists today.

Finally, when as a player I would write a summary of the events of a game session, I'd do it from my own perspective, with my character's own prejudices and priorities. So the epic fight three people got into might just become "And as usual, they made trouble, and we had to leave town quickly."

To get back to today's theme of sharing, vignettes are a good innovation technique for me, but their value grows when you make the stories public, and others you play with (or who run the games) begin to understand subtleties, making the world more real and even causing them to develop their own extended ideas that play off of what you've written. In one specific case, the week after I wrote an in-character game summary one of the other players wrote the next, from their perspective, showing not only their view of how things transpired but calling out how different our two characters were. Both characters became more real in that sharing.


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