How Numbers Became Characters

March 1, 2011 § 2 Comments


I used to think the only reasons to play RPGs were to be a stat crazed monster. I didn’t care about backgrounds or story, but I’ve recently change my tune. I changed not only for myself, but also for my fellow gamers.

I grew up in a house of video games. Truly, I had what could only be described as a menagerie of electronic distractions. From Atari to TurboGrafix, I think I owned them all (except the Jaguar, which is my one lament). While I played these games I learned about epic stories. Whether it was getting the four crystals of the elements saved, or sending Dark Dragon back to the abyss, or teaching Lavos a thing or two, or crossing the rainbow bridge armed with the Erdrick sword to kill the Dragonlord, role playing games had always been a large part of my life.

Reading epic stories like these didn’t really connect with me. Tolkien could kiss my ass, Salvatore might as well have been Suck-a-toneh. The written word didn’t really hold much of my attention unless it was directly tied into something I was actively invested in. Outside of a choose your own adventure book (a literary style that will STILL enrapture me if I’m confronted with one), the first book I ever read cover to cover was back in ’93. It was the 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s guide.

While the thought of creating stories for these characters that I made (but almost NEVER played) didn’t cross my mind back then, I DID like powers, and using them. When I heard about fireball (1d6 per level of caster, max of 10d6 fire damage over a 30 foot radius) I wanted a wizard to blow shit up. Collateral damage be damned. One kobold or a billion orcs? Didn’t matter. I’d use fireball first, even if I went last and ‘accidentally’ blew up friends. Eventually, I learned that accidentally setting fire to a town square because one zombie wandered into town got you a lot more enemies. So I needed to maintain my lust for raw unparalled damage, but somehow focus it down. Enter, the Ranger.

Two swords? Just as effective at stabbing people as a Fighter? And eventually got neato powers? SOOOOLLLLDDDD! Bear in mind, this was before 3rd edition with feats, and certainly WAY before 4th edition where I’ve not so much as even LOOKED at a Ranger to be one of my characters. The problem wasn’t so much that they were ‘greater than fighters’, it was that at level 1 I had twice the attacks. More dice rolls means you LOOK more impressive. I was such a child.

Never really playing more than once or twice using the same character, despite having rolled up probably a few hundred D&D characters, I never really worked for the real thing people should’ve gotten out of playing a game like this. Story. Why are you there? Why were you chosen to be in this position? What drives you? What makes you want to keep going? My RPG life would stay like this for a long time, even a little bit after moving to California. The last character I made “for the numbers” would wind up being one of those characters I liked playing, but for all the wrong reasons. The Mango Queen.

Shortly after going out there, I learned that there were other game companies that made RPG’s to play with! WOW! It was like being told that you don’t only have to eat vanilla ice cream, that there is chocolate and strawberry and feces and lots of things! Among these games was a series called RIFTS. Essentially, post-apocalyptic shitstorm. Lots of ways to take the game, and lots of little details that make it a pretty decent setting, if not a little… combat heavy. I was asked to join a game (to this day I still have no idea why) with a group at a cafe I frequented, and I started looking through the books. One class jumped out immediately as the class I wanted. The Crazy. Little implants in their heads made them brilliant and amazing warriors, but over time they would begin to deteriorate the brains of the people with these implants. The longer you had them, the more insane you got. As time went on, my character (Code name : Mango Queen) was eventually shot in one of those implants, kicking the insanities into overdrive.

While it was nice to play with someone with character, it was NOT nice to be in a party WITH this character. From that hit, the Mango Queen had 5 multiple personalities that would come out at random and completely derail whatever was happening. I don’t know if I was being rewarded for ‘playing in character’ or what, but as I survived more and more, and got more and more insane, the game stopped being about whatever story they were trying to tell, but more a gentle plea from those around asking if they knew of a way to kill me. I don’t remember how or why I stopped playing with that group (honestly, they could have just moved locale, and I’d have never known), but I do know that he/she/it never died.

Then, I thought about it. It was stupid. I mean, REALLY stupid. I honestly don’t know if I could play in a game with someone as retarded as I was being now. I would likely just stand up and walk out. However, it was from that character that I wanted to try things that I hadn’t before. The next character I made for that setting was a Body Fixer / Genetic scientist who helped make biological weapons and creatures to aid my country. Eventually, I ran from them taking one of my secret projects with me and embezzling a LARGE amount of money to fund my escape. I only played him a handful of times, but the times I did, I found I really enjoyed what I could create with him in a story.

The more I played, the more I wanted to try out new systems and stories. Between Mage, Vampire, Werewolf, Intergalactic Cooking Challenge, Hunter, Mutants and Masterminds, Legend Of The Five Rings, Exalted, and a slew of games I simply don’t remember. I have since made and played with dozens of characters in dozens of settings. It makes me look forward to making something new for me to work with. It stopped being about making the character to deal the most damage, it became about making the character with the most amount of personal damage and playing with their consequences.

Now, when I make characters, I think less about the powers and stats. I think more about what sort of story I’m going to try to create with them. It’s not just an amalgam of stats and powers… It’s a character I can be proud to put my name on.

-Ryan

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§ 2 Responses to How Numbers Became Characters

  • I think many people have played with the kind of player that you used to be and have traditionally wanted to slap them as hard as they could. That kind of player can ruin games and make it not fun for anyone who wants a story.

    I’m so happy you have moved on since then. Playing in games with you now I would never know you were “that guy” in the past. The L5R game that you and Robert ran actually changed the way I gamed forever and made me feel any passion at all towards playing LARPs… So thanks!

  • Oh man, back in the day I was a MASSIVE tool when it came to games. Big numbers, rather than style and substance, were all that mattered. I used to be friends with a guy (Eddie) who would make characters with the specific design to kill Robert.

    If I recall, he went through like 6 characters before eventually giving up. Priceless.
    -Ryan

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