Monday, February 11, 2013

Themes and their tendencies.

When one has a certain number of things in their story- two characters, six buildings, fifty-two chapters, three books, etc.- we have a tendency as humans to say "But wait! This other thing that people know about has this many objects too! Maybe I can link them together!"

There are two sides to a coin or Yin and Yang. There are six sides to your average die. There are fifty-two cards in your average playing card deck. There are threes throughout the bible and trinities just about everywhere you look. So being humans, creatures that naturally want to lump things in tidy groups, we want to be able to associate things with other things. The more marketable the property, the more association. As I love to do, let's look at Batman:

The Joker, association to the card, and clowns.
The riddler, association to puzzles and childish playthings
The Hatter, association to Alice in Wonderland and other childish fairytale books.
The Scarecrow, association to both the Scarecrow of the Wizard of Oz, and the main character of the Headless Horseman tale.

All of these associate with the market that best related to them at the time of their creation. these character properties all link to children, who were the comic's primary audience early on. (anyone who says these characters are still for children needs to remember that we're referring to, in order: a mass-murderer, an egocentric psychopath, a possibly paedophilic (depending on interpretation and writer) man specializing in brainwashing, and a man whose entire goal is usually terrifying people for the sake of studying how to scare people even more.)  So we can see these themes. Further, there are sometimes gangs revolving around these characters' themes. The Hatter has had characters revolving around Alice in Wonderland as his gangs, the Joker has his goons (and a spinoff gang, the Jokerz, in Batman Beyond), the Riddler had Query, Echo, and some other goons depending on writer, and even Scarecrow has had a few friends, allies, cohorts, and gullible goons.

But let's go a step beyond the cover, shall we? Some have likened them to playing cards (The Joker and Harley Quinn being the Jokers of the deck, obviously, with Batman and his cohorts all playing individual cards), or perhaps liken all the characters to pieces of the Bat's psyche.

But we have to be careful!

When you keep relating a character to a specific theme, it gets a bit obvious. People start to predict. That might make sense if you're basing you've got a theme and the characters are based off of the seven deadly sins (see Fullmetal Alchemist), but when you've got a disjointed story and you only relate some things, you can frustrate an audience. Worse than going halfway, though, is becoming wearily predictable. If your character selections in the future can be narrowed by Occam's razor, you'll have to look hard to come up with new and surprising characters.

Just a bit of a warning for those who -like me- love to theme their characters.

Luckily for me, in the work I'm doing now, I'm making all (or at least most) of the characters relate to entirely different things. Or trying to. We'll see how it turns out! Perhaps I'll prove myself a hypocrite after all.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

25 Things I'm Not Allowed to Try in Future Tabletop Games

25 things I am not allowed to try in future tabletop games. (Some of these have come up, most of them I make up off the top of my head on account of not having much time to play. But most of these probably would come up, knowing me.) Most of these are meant to go with Airship Pirates, the Abney Park RPG, but  some I leave vague, in case I feel like taking up other tabletops. ...And you can bet I'm going to try most of these eventually. I'll try to add more later, if they're funny.

1. I am not allowed to try things I see in "Things Mr. Welch is Not Allowed to do in an RPG", no matter how possible or plot-relevant I can make them, whether or not I'm the DM.

2. I am not allowed to make Non-player characters specifically designed to piss off the player characters, and then make them plot-important, without letting the characters kill them later.

3. I am not allowed to make confusing the living daylights out of the party with logical puzzles the main point of the campaign.

4. I am not allowed to make a time paradox the main point of the campaign, either.

5. I am not allowed to transplant known characters into the campaign without at least fitting them into the genre, no matter how awesome Repo The Genetic Opera would be in 1800's Whitechapel.

6. I am not allowed to make a murder mystery in which I as the DM turn out to be the badguy. It's generally assumed that's the case, anyway.

7. I am not allowed to make the unsuspecting lawful-good player character the killer, either.

8. I am not to make a sport out of describing the most gory scenes I can to try and make someone whimper in terror or discomfort, no matter how funny it is.

9. I am not allowed to use the campaign to re-write stories in popular media that I think I could write much better, even if I'd do much better at it.

10. I am not allowed to try and convince the party that the itty bitty inconsequential characters are plot-important and hold the secrets of the universe.

11. Especially not right after they just killed said character.

12. Especially-especially not if said character has a combined Int. and Wisdom score of less than 15.

13. The personification of Death does not carry a smartphone in a universe that doesn't otherwise have them, and it most certainly is not pink.

14. I am not allowed to transplant Batman villains into a Steampunk society without informing my party prior, and I am not allowed to elect one of the player characters to be "The Robin that died", nor one of the other party members to be Batman.

15. I must use the appropriate dialect for voice-acting the characters.

16. Pig-latin is not a dialect, no matter how long it takes the Player Characters to realize it.

17. I am not allowed to allow a player to let their character captain a crew of a Circus ship without them having circus skills.

18. Being awesome in bed is not a circus skill, no matter what the player in question says.

19. I am not allowed to have my characters start playing out the entirety of a Shakespearian play in the campaign.

20. Especially not a Shakespearian play that contains a play within a play scene.

21. Especially-especially not while the current campaign takes on distinctly similar qualities to the play.

22. I am not allowed to punish the players for figuring out that this is my plan, especially when the main NPC's is Amhelt, prince of Mardken.

23. My character cannot have Flaw: Crippling Addiction to Coffee, no matter how much I can add to my Dexterity.

24. I am not allowed to force the players into going on a long quest for a terrible reward, and then not allow them to kill the questgiver to teach them a lesson in patience.

25. I am not allowed to pointedly remind the party that they are on a floating island by dropping the most annoying player down a trapdoor into the ocean, no matter how obnoxious they are.