Posted by: Sean | June 16, 2009

Role-playing with Manifestations

Before we begin, a quick editor’s note:

Ahem.

HOLY CATS! Good blogging seat! I mean, it’s no Awesome Blogging Seat™ but it’s still actually usable for typing. This is seriously nice.

Done now.

So, in my grand tradition of stealing David Bowers’s ideas contributing to a discussion, let’s talk about the idea of role-playing with layers. David’s written a really terrific three part set of columns there and you should read the whole thing, but in case you don’t have time, I’ll nutshell it for you. David’s suggested that a good model for conceptualising a character is in three layers: An surface layer filled with quirks and hooks designed to pull in others, an inside layer that can be revealed to those you interact more closely with in order to deepen role-play, and a core layer that only true friends get to see. All well and good.

But I want you to take part in a little thought experiment with me. Let’s role-play on this blog! Woo! This should be fun. OK. Imagine you’re someone normal, like say, yourself. (If you’re not normal, imagine what it would be like if you were.) Now, the scene is that you’re out with a bunch of people you don’t know too well but get along OK with at a big, action-packed movie and you’re all hanging out. Describe your surface layer. Actually write it down, if you like, but you probably don’t need to.

Now, same character, but imagine you’re talking to a religious leader after a service. A lot of elderly people are around you. Same you, still surface layer (they’re not that close to you) but I’m willing to bet money that most of you are going to have a very different surface layer going on.

Now, to be fair, David Bowers was accounting for this. I’m not saying anything he really hasn’t. But hear me out: Let’s say you’re with a group of friends and hanging out at that movie. (They’re friends this time, not acquaintances.) You’re chilling out and talking, and you admit a few secrets to one of them.

Now, back to the religious leader. The elderly ladies have left, and you know your priest/rabbi/imam well. You acknowledge a few secrets and ask for advice.

Those secrets may be the same ones, perhaps. But more than likely, they’re not. “I like a girl, how do I get her to notice me?” is likely a secret given to friends. “I find myself struggling with thoughts of lust” might be more likely to be given to a priest. (Actually, “Dude, I can’t stop thinking about doing her” could well come out with friends too, depending on what kind of friends you have, but you get the point.)

The only layer that doesn’t change much depending on context is the core layer, because in many ways that’s the layer that you reveal mostly to you. Other friends simply get to see it because, well, you’re willing to drop your guards around them.

So perhaps the way to apply David’s model at character creation is to mix layers with your designated character traits. Watch, I’ll explain.

Katafray is my Draenei Paladin whom we’ll one day get back to playing. She’s Pompous, Responsible, and Cultured. So, I’m going to draw up a chart and start filling it in…

Pompous Responsible Cultured
Surface Sniffs her nose a lot at people, enjoys the phrase, ‘Fortunately, I thought different’ Insists on doing the right thing, talks of duty a lot Fawns over artworks and frowns on those who don’t recognise the various books/music/art she talks about
Inside Gets competitive and insists she can do everything better Always lends a helping hand, never refuses a chance to assist Talks passionately about ‘the nature of beauty’
Core Talks quietly about her family and how they never got along Bursts into tears, talks of stress Admits fear that she doesn’t feel she’s capable of creating art

OK, you get the idea. Each of those traits manifests differently at each level. Now, of course, which trait she’s operating on depends on context.

Would she be pompous and arrogant with a priest? Probably not. She’d more be stressing her responsibility… and showing the manifestation in that column depending on how close she was to the priest. With her friends? It’s pompous and cultured down the line.

How do your characters look?

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