[⚔Swords & Stationery✐] Enacting character motivations

A few weeks ago, I ran a post-apocalyptic game at Singapore Open Gaming (January 24, 2016), using the Atomic Highway system. It was an epic session with lots of “YOU WANT TO DO WHAT?!” moments. I loved every minute of it, and I believe the gentlemen who had contributed to the session’s success had had a lot of fun too.

What made this session unique – and I quote my own words to the players after the game had ended, “(that) this is quite possibly one of the most epic games I’ve ever run” – was how the players really pursued their characters’ motivations and doing it to such a memorable extent.

For example, during a bar scene, two raiders came in and shot up the place. One of the players, whose in-game name was John Cena, took a table, wrenched it free of its nails, and hurled 50kg of wood at a raider. The raider had 12 hitpoints. The massive wooden missile dealt 84 points of damage. Suffice to say, the raider was there one second, then disappeared in a spray of fine red mist the next.

Another example: in a later scene, there was a convoy of enemy cars chasing our Player Characters’ (PCs) bus (affectionately named The Magic School Bus). John Cena, again, rose to the occasion. He ripped out a chair from the bus, climbed out and on to the roof, and hurled the bus at a buggy. The chair smashed into the speeding buggy with appalling impact, causing the little car to be dashed into littler metal shards.

Who needs an AK47 when I’ve got a chair?

But this post isn’t solely directed at thinking out of the box – more than that, it’s about players enabling their characters to pursue certain motivations, certain ways of thinking. After the game had ended, one of the thoughts I expressed to the players was my appreciation for their thinking out of the box. Make no mistake, although I was generous with the gear andyjeupkd equipment, they still chose to play in ways that pleasantly surprised me, from using furniture as makeshift weapons to roleplaying characters that are the embodiment of walking brick walls. They acted in-character and played really well to their own characters’ motivations.

Part of me believes that that could be because of their gaming backgrounds and spontaneous attitudes towards games, but it could also be that they recognised and acknowledged that a large part of the game was to make it a shared storytelling experience that everyone would fondly remember for years to come.

And perhaps that’s really why I enjoy creating stories, even as a child. The best narrative pieces I’d written had a diverse spectrum of characters with differing motivations. A good story needn’t thematically be explosive or wondrous, so long as its characters fully play out the roles that they serve. And while one must still be wary of typecasting characters to the point where they become cliches, that’s an extreme case.

The creation of three-dimensional characters is something I insist on when it comes to writing, and narrating/writing characters with strong motivations and notable roles is an extension of the process. There’s a lot more that can be said in this regard, but I’ll just end off here and leave you to chew on the points and examples mentioned above. Have a good week, and happy gaming!

-Jim

P.S. Atomic Highway currently exists as a free RPG due to the generosity of its author, Colin Chapman. You can find it here.

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