Are you going to be your character?Posted: October 23, 2011
I was reading the blogs this morning and stumbled on Noism’s Monsters & Manuals blog where he had recently posted an interesting read about ‘Life Lessons.’ One of the things that struck me was his ‘life lesson #1’:
You really, absolutely, definitely, unquestionably, indisputably, do not need a detailed character background before play begins. In fact, all you really need is a name, a class, stats, and some equipment, and you’re good to go – because within five minutes of the game beginning you will without fail find your character beginning to take on a personality of his own. This strange and almost mystical emergence of character through play is one of the best things about the hobby, and it amazes me that people have been so determined, for decades, to kill the concept.
I thought it was a good summation of some of my recent disenchantment with ‘new school’ rpgs (if I may use such a broad term).
But as I thought further on it, I began to question if the ‘character’ (or ‘avatar’ or whatever you want to call it) really needs any personality of his/her/its own. If I sit down to play D&D and I create the character ‘Stumbo the Dwarf,’ do I really need to justify what I have ‘Stumbo’ do beyond the idea that I may want to do it? Is “Stumbo will open the door because he is by nature greedy and curious and he hopes to find treasure,” to be considered better roleplaying than, “Stumbo will open the door because I want to see what is behind it“?
I’m starting to wonder if all characters can’t just be an excuse for ME to have fun exploring the fantasy construct of the imaginary world with my fellow players (without death and other consequences). Sure, as Stumbo I’ll do things I would never attempt in real life, like staring down medusa or jumping over pits filled with poisoned spikes, but start to think that creating a ‘character’ in terms of personality attributes begins to fell a bit artificial to me, or a case in which we are trying to make Dungeons & Dragons more like a cooperative novel. And I question if it is suited to that role.