Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Story vs RPG Part 3: Character Information

Story vs RPG Series
Story: Elements
Story vs RPG Part 3: Character Information
Story v RPG Part 5: Personality Types
Story v RPG Part 6: Alignment, Morality, and Ethics
Story vs RPG Part 7: Character Needs
Story vs RPG Part 8: Character emotions
Story vs RPG Part 9: Lies - Our characters darkest secrets
Story vs RPG Part 10: Setting - cultures
Story vs RPG Part 11: Pair Dynamics
Story and Game Structure: Storylines
Story vs RPG Part 12: Larger groups - conformity & deviance

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This is the third post in this series. It will first look at the character tools of RPGs and story writing: character sheets and profiles. It will look at the similarities and the differences. It will then consider challenges in converting from one to the other, focusing on what information may be lacking.

Character Sheet vs Profile

At first it seems naturally easy.

So you want to take a character from a game into a story or the other way around.

Doing so may be harder than it may appear.

I'll start with RPGs because characterization for them is more obvious and standardized than in writing stories. This information pertains to main characters mostly: role-playing games (RPGs) - player characters (PCs) and non-player characters (NPCs); Stories - protagonist, antagonist, supporting characters such as mentor, sidekick, hero, heroine, villain, antihero, seductress, storyteller, fool, etc.

RPG Character Sheet

A small image of the official D&D Basic Char

Character Sheets
Normally in RPGs each character will have a character sheet, which has information describing the character. Such information normally includes the name and  stats to represent values to that character. The values might represent amount of lifeforce, supernatural power, natural abilities (such as strength, dexterity, etc.), learned skills, unusual talents, disadvantages, and species traits. In addition, clothing, armor, equipment, money, and other tools might be recorded as well as less functional cosmetic items and features that represent something to show individual taste for that character. The games vary somewhat, but most of the time just by knowing one system you are somewhat familiar on reading other system character sheets.

Alignment and Personality
The main way to differentiate character personality is by alignment or a personality type if the game system has such functions. Alignments sort of are short descriptions of character motivation, decision making, and an indicator of behavior. Some games may include deity or belief system information which helps describe the character to help the players think as the character would when deciding what to do in different situations.

Sometimes a backstory is written that further helps define the RPG character, however it's normally optional.

Story Character Profile

A sample of character profile information

Character Profile, Bible, Notebook, & Notes
Keeping track of character information in writing helps creativity and when editing the story. Sometimes the information is called a character profile or character bible - which I will use in this post to differentiate from RPGs. Or it might just be notes, in a notebook, or a file on the computer.

Varied Author Techniques
In writing stories, character information is more varied. Different authors use different techniques. Most fiction writing instructional sources teach that it is best to keep track of character information in order to keep your characters consistent. It is easy to forget some aspect of a character that you wrote in an earlier part of the story and wrote something else in a later part of the story.

Story Character Information
Name and Physical description
Like RPGs character information normally begins with the character name. You may even include a short description of the character's role in the story. Physical descriptions may be written down so that you don't accidentally change the character's hair or eye color or something easily forgotten like that.

Some writers use character personality types. They may use archetypes, Myers Briggs, enneagram, a person that they know, or other personality type systems. Personality helps create a more realistic character if differences are added to make the characters less stereotypical and cliche.

Most writing sources mention to write some backstory information about each main character, even though that information might not actually be used in the story. Main events that occur from birth to the character's current age may be written down. All of this backstory and main events help to determine the character's belief system, core belief values, triggers for motivation, emotional makeup - all which helps to determine the motivational drives that leads to ambition and character goals. It will help to flesh out the conflict based on different characters having conflicting wants, needs, and desires.

Another important information most systems included is to create relationship connections. How do the characters relate to one another?

RPG & Story Character Info Similarities

Some of the information between the two media seems similar. The both record character sheets and profiles have names, physical traits, and information for abilities and roles in the cast of characters.

RPG & Story Character Info Differences

Some of the information differs at least in stating what is more important and the depth of such information. I will point the differences that I see based on details first - numerical vs description - and then focus - victories vs failure. Following that, I will examine some troubles when converting from one to the other.

Numerical vs Description/Details

RPGs generally are more numerical so that the values can influence probability when influencing random probability. Abilities are more important in games. Whereas story writers normally have more depth, details, and descriptions in their character bibles. Motivation for actions, decisions, and behavior becomes more important in stories.

Victories vs Failure focus

RPG characters are trying to maximize victories by using their higher value abilities or tactics, even in the face of challenges. Story characters focus on conflict - normally a series of failures, setbacks, and struggles - until the final hopeful victory at the climax of the story. Or it may end tragic.

Converting from a Story to a RPG

Existing Game Systems
If you are trying to find a game system to run your story world, there are many systems, each highlighting different facets of interaction and actions. If you don't know what system you are trying to convert your story into, you'll need to take time to compare each one or to ask around for suggestions. Speak with your most knowledgeable tabletop gamer friend or acquaintance. Or head to a RPG forum or online group to ask for suggestions.

Numeric Values & Abilities
Many times the character profiles for a story is very detailed with backstory. In converting over to a game numeric values need to be assigned to the character for abilities. Story writing isn't as systematic and point based, so attention may be required to restricting the character to an allotted point system. Many times the story profile doesn't even cover some of the abilities that the character will end up having in the game. For example, a romance novel may focus on how charismatic or intelligent a character is, but not how strong or quick they are. So possibly some thought and analysis may be needed when addressing details not written in the profile.

Experience and Level
Games may run on a system of levels. Because of this, you may have to consider the background information and figure out which of those experiences may have cause your character to level. If so, what level would that character be at the beginning of the story. Many systems allow the characters to improve their abilities as they increase in level from experience.

Remaining Background
The character profile will most likely have details that do not transfer over to the character sheets, such as a lot of background story. That information however helps flesh out the character to be more dramatic and have their own character voice. You can add that character story on to the end of the character sheet.

Converting from a RPG to a Story

Character Depth
This is, to me, much harder than converting a story character to a RPG character. The main reason being that most characters are extremely shallow, showing too little in terms of depth and background. Unless the player has gone out of their way to add those details in background, details that come from random or picked background options in systems is normally on the first layer of details needed to write believable plots and conflicts. Dark secrets, weaknesses, and disadvantages may have to be added to a character without blemish. Character relationships may have to be constructed, showing how different characters connect to them. Most character sheets are made to highlight strengths rather than to reveal dark secrets, weaknesses, and relationships needed to create a compelling story.

Character Personality
Because of this, new character motives, desire, personality, and background events may have to be written to deepen the shallow character facade. What does the character believe, know, wish for, need, and desire? If all one has is an alignment, details showing how that alignment fits in with the character's past and personality may be explained. Exceptions in the form of dark secrets may reveal time periods that are great in stories when the character doesn't follow the alignment or personality.

Character Voice
After the depth of the character is revealed, finding and honing in to the character voice may be needed. In game, the players voice acts and substitutes for the character. With the information gained from digging deeper, the personality can reveal a more consistent and less cliche character voice.

In the next post

In the next post I may compare alignment to archetypes, Myers Brigg, and enneagram if I have enough time to finish it quickly. If not it may be something else.

ABS12 system

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