Authority and context: long-term play and editing

One day I will have a full post on the subject of editing in roleplaying (which is a real-time form of media, and thus operates under some interesting constraints). I think I’ve talked about the subject twice: once back in April, focused on design (RPG Design is like editing but backwards), and once more recently talking about remixing (Low permanency and remixing). The ideas I was working with back there are going to be at work in today’s post.

One of the reasons that a character with an existing play-history is more powerful is based on simple refinement. It is rare in my experience that any character in a roleplaying game turns out in the end to be quite what the players thought they were when play started. Generally characters evolve as players strive to catch one anothers’ interest and mold their characters in personally meaningful ways.

Playing a character over time gives you more time to edit and revise that character in order to make them as powerful as possible. A brand new character does not have the benefit of all those hours of work invested in improving and sharpening his or her coolest features. Consider how much cooler most characters seem at the end of the first session than they seemed at the beginning of it, the process of play allows you to cut out the parts that looked cooler than they were, and to solidify the emergent coolness of the character.

This time-based editing process also allows you to shape the character to better fit the dynamics of the other characters, as well as to better fit the other players. It is in these interactions that a lot of the emergent coolness comes out. With a character sitting in isolation it is often hard to get all the cool parts figured out, but when you mix in other characters you can suddenly start playing with relationships and foils. (This is one reason that group character generation is so powerful, it lets you start with a character already playing with relationships and foils. That said, even this does not net you a perfect character because you still end up with ideas that look cool in theory, but are flat in practice.)

Simply playing a character puts that character through the editing process.  The longer you play, the more editing you get done.  This simple dynamic is another thing that contributes to the narrative power of an established character.  There are, of course, interesting work-arounds.  Playing archetypes gives you access to more-edited character forms, for instance.  What other techniques let you get some of the benefits of editing up front?

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2 Responses to “Authority and context: long-term play and editing”

  1. Rahvin says:

    1) Actually allow editing of characters — mechanics that promote changes in your character over time, or swapping out one feature for another, or specific temporary resources that could be allocated between intervals of time.

    2) games-within-games: Quick and rapid exposure to game mechanics during character generation. DitV has the best example of this I’ve seen, but there have been traditional games with some game element thrown into character generation. Anything that gets a player from design-mode to play-mode quickly to provide an “editing perspective” as it were.

    3) games-outside-of-games: Side games within the game that can be played with fewer players than the full group can allow players to gain experience with their characters. Not as satisfying as full play, but the small boost can help improve the limited time that groups spend together and also provide fewer (or lone?) players with something to play when the full group can’t get together.

    4) Props. Lots of Props! – A time-honored tradition of adding to the game experience to providing concrete outside sources to influence the game environment such as pictures, sounds, music, or modelling (my character is like the guy in this movie!). In a superhero game I played recently, players kept refining the pictures of their characters until they were happy with them and practically every week a new picture was being presented to the group made with one of those computer-art programs. If that’s not editing in action, I don’t know what is. And it impacted the game a lot.

  2. Rahvin says:

    Quick summation of my previous comments: Any method that allows players to contribute to the game outside of an actual playing session, or allows some kind of frequently played mini-session, could help capture or improve this editing experience. I’ve rarely seen it done, however.

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