We all do it. You’re getting ready to play a new game and, unless it’s just a mindless dungeon crawl where the characters aren’t going to talk amongst themselves, the time comes to introduce your character. Maybe the GM wants you to describe to another player who his character sees sitting in the other corner of the bar with his back to the wall. Maybe the PCs have worked together before and already know each other. Whatever the case, it’s time to let the other players know who their characters are adventuring with, so you promptly begin introducing your character sheet:
“My character has a Body of 14...Gimmick is Weird Luck...Skills are Guns +3...WWPHITM? is…”
Some players aren’t quite so blatant:
“He’s an athletic guy...strange things always happen when he’s around...he’s a good shot...kind of looks like…”
But the effect is about the same. The other players get word salad of game stats or an inventory of abilities but when it’s all over they still have no idea who this guy who they’re about to ask to join them on a dangerous journey or who they’ve known for years actually is.
We can do better. Here are a few ideas:
Don’t think of your character as a game character that you’re describing to the other players. Think of him as a character in your favorite TV show or comic book who you’re describing to someone’s who’s never seen or read it.
Get into character. I almost always give players extra Yum Yums if they do the character introduction in first person, especially if they do it as the character describing himself. Sometimes you have to break character to get all the important information across, but playing the character will at least give everyone some idea of what he’s like.
Focus on the big picture. Nobody’s going to remember all your Words and Numbers anyway. Saying “Hannibal is the brains of the operation” is just as meaningful “Hannibal has a Brain of 15, his Job is ‘Leader of the A-Team,’ his Gimmick is ‘I Love It When A Plan Comes Together,’ and he has Skills in Tactics and Strategy.” It’s also a lot shorter and less likely to get lost in shuffle. Don’t worry about giving the other players a full resume, just give them general idea of what your character can do.
Tell the other players why they know things about your character. Instead of telling the others what abilities your character has, tell them how their characters know about a particular ability. For example, instead of saying he’s got the “Drawing” Skill, mention that he’s doodling on the bar napkin or that he’s carrying a sketchbook. Details about what the other characters can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell are more likely to make an impression than lists of what they know. If they wouldn’t know about an ability, don’t mention it. If it comes up in play, they’ll find out.
Describe what the character looks like, not just the WWPHITM?. Mention how the character is dressed, how he wears his hair, whether he has any tattoos or scars, and anything else that gives them a better idea of who they’re dealing with. Sometimes describing the character’s costume or equipment can be an indirect way of letting the others know what he can do. For example, if you mention that he’s carrying a laptop, most players will assume he’s got computer skills of some sort, and a fraternity T-shirt and backwards ballcap is a good way of letting everyone know your character’s a bro. Just don’t let it turn into a dramatic reading of the character’s equipment list. If your character’s stuff is the most interesting thing about him, you need a better character.
Talk about the character’s personality, values, and general attitude. This is especially true if the characters have known each other for a while. While you can get some personality across by doing the introduction in character, there are some things that longtime associates will know that you can’t get across with mannerisms and funny voices. If your character always keeps his word or rants about government abuses of power at the slightest provocation, and the other characters would know that, let the players know.
Describe things that aren’t on your character sheet. Remember that your character sheet isn’t your character (something I plan to talk about in a future post), so it’s perfectly fine to mention things that aren’t written down. While you don’t want to introduce new abilities that really should be on the character sheet (“oh, yeah, and he can fly!”), it’s perfectly fine to describe his love of unmasculine European coffee even if he doesn’t have a “Cappuccino Appreciation” Skill.
Giving the other players and the GM a good idea of what your character’s all about will make it easier for them to understand what role you want him to play in the group and may even be a good way of creating interesting group dynamics right from the start. An inventory of stats, however, isn’t going to do that. Hopefully when you start your next game, these tips will help you introduce your character instead of your character sheet.
Josh Burnett was a co-writer of the ENnie Award-winning Hobomancer, and now he has written the first Hobomancer supplement, the Hobomancer Companion, all by himself. The Companion includes new hobomancer powers and secret hobomancer signs, new monsters and sample evil sorcerers, a new optional rule called Histories, and the complete adventure “Bad Train a-Coming.”
I had a few questions for Josh, and he was kind enough to answer.
1. Josh, you’re one of the five writers who worked on Hobomancer. What were your main contributions?
Josh Burnett: I contributed little bits here and there, but the monster section was my biggest contribution. I wrote most of that. I also wrote and drew the intro comic.
2. For you to spend so much time working on these books, you must like hobos. What is it about hobos that makes them so appealing?
An Interview with Sharktoberfest Writer Steve Johnson, Conducted by Dale Ryan
Just in time for October, Hex Games has released Sharktoberfest, written by Steve Johnson and illustrated by James and Lindsay Hornsby. I’d never really given much thought to shark movies before, but reading the book I was struck by how much time Steve has clearly put into analyzing the genre. I wanted to know more about this project came together, and Steve was gracious enough to answer my questions.
1. Sharktoberfest is an adaptable adventure that allows players to recreate the thrills of a shark movie. Why shark movies? What makes the genre compelling?
Steve Johnson: Shark movies can be compelling in a lot of different ways, but I think Quint’s line from JAWS about a shark’s “lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes” is the thing that separates shark movies from other monster-type movies about real animals. Most of the other familiar big, scary critters in the real world are mammals, so even though they’re terrifying, we kind of understand them because they’ve got the same basic instincts and biological drives and in some cases even mannerisms that we do. If a lion attacks someone in a movie, there’s a sense of emotion and purpose behind it--it’s scared or hungry or protecting its territory. Sharks are completely alien to us, so they’re easy to portray as cold, emotionless killers who live to cause senseless destruction.
An interview with Steve Johnson and Leighton Connor, conducted by Jeffrey Johnson
I remember back in the olden times when if you wanted behind the scenes information about movies or games you had to settle for the little snippets in Starlog, or on E! entertainment TV and piece the whole story together bit by bit. Every now and again, you’d get really lucky and there’d be an interview with George Lucas or Dan Aykroyd or something. These days, we have to settle for the 2+ hours of behind-the-scenes extras plus commentary from the cast and crew on the DVD. Where’s the adventure?
While I feel some entitlement to moan about how much easier kids have it these days, the fact of the matter is I love DVD extras. It’s awesome hearing about how the guys from Pixar went on a road trip and hammered out the stories for their first four major movies. It’s inspiring to see the development of the sets and artwork for The Lord of the Rings. It’s hilarious to hear Mr. Lucas claim that he always had a plan for the Star Wars prequels. So, if the movies can do it, why not games? Games are about story and visual development. Even better, by talking about how they are developed, why some decisions were made, who inspired them, and what it’s all about, maybe it’ll make it easier to add your story to the experience.
The making of Hobomancer, a game about a secret society of magical hobos, was the
result of a lot of late night talks at conventions, during car rides, and over e-mail. A labor of love years in the making, it was finally released in 2012, and stands as one of the biggest books that Hex has produced.
Editor's Note: This article was originally written in the late 90s or early 2000s, so I've cut out an introductory bit that's no longer relevant, which is why the thing starts a little abruptly. I've left the dated references in so you can make fun of how old I am, though.
What follows are the four major stages of game evolution, as I see them. This evolution can be seen not only in individual gaming groups, but in the changes in games on the market over time. Right now, the gaming industry is right on the verge of the final stage. On a microcosmic level, only a few groups ever make it to the final stage. Regardless, I think the final stage is the purest, most perfect style that anyone can hope to achieve. Sort of a gaming Nirvana.