Monday, July 20, 2009

What Makes a Beautiful Player? (Part 4)

We all have goals, and so should well thought-out characters. A character’s goal may range from revenge to domination to leading a normal life, but players don’t always define those goals well enough to pursue them.

A player with Initiative, however, does. These are the players that start trouble among NPCs, that organize raiding parties on the villains: in short, players that are pro-active. Quite a lot of players react; they wait for a situation to present itself or an adversary to act against them. Players with Initiative (the adjectival form would be Initial, I suppose, but that’s a bit much!) don’t wait. They create the situations, in so doing, do much of the Storyteller’s work for them.

As such, it’s a matter of opinion as whether or not Initiative constitutes one of the traits of the Beautiful Player. Some Storytellers like to keep a firm grasp over the plotline of the story and it annoys them when the player come up with their own machinations that matter more than the presented story. I’d like to remind such Storytellers that the point is to have a good time, and if the players are having fun and agreeing on a course of action, you are doing your job by encouraging it. So what if your ingenious and sinister plotline gets thrown by the wayside? Save it, spruce it up and serve it later. Reward the players’ Initiative.

Pro-active players are often the ones that have been gaming a while. They create characters who have agendas and follow those agendas, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. For some Storytellers, who run character-driven games and keep their plotlines loose, this can be a godsend. For others who run a tighter ship and have intricate stories that require the characters to stay focused on what’s presented them, it can be a nightmare.

A player with an agenda will analyze everything the group comes across in terms of that agenda (not unlike real people with agendas). Keep this in mind - you are fully justified, as the Storyteller, in exploiting a character’s drive to achieve his/her agenda. A driven character (and said character’s player) may let little inconsistencies slip by her if she’s focused too much on the proverbial brass ring. That kind of oversight can be the source of some great role-playing later when said oversight causes the Big Plan to fail - or causes all kinds of other problems but aids the Big Plan. At what cost success?

Initiative can apply to situations as well as entire stories, of course. A player who acts as leader in a group (pack alpha in Werewolf: The Apocalypse, for example) is probably someone who inspires the others. She must be perceptive enough to recognize each other characters for their talents and capabilities and decisive enough to utilize those talents. A player with Initiative is often one of those rare individuals who can give out orders and make them sound like suggestions (because while characters may understand the need for a chain of command, players rarely enjoy being ordered around). A Clever player may decide on the strategy before the assault, but it’s the player with Initiative who assumes command when the dust starts flying.

The differences between Cleverness and Initiative are subtle but distinct. A Clever player enjoys problem solving, but a pro-active player cares more for the results than the process. The Machiavellian world of Vampire: The Requiem and the survival-horror milieu of All Flesh Must Be Eaten reward Initiative - those with the courage to act are noticed and rewarded. Those who flinch fade away (or are devoured, in the latter case).

One of the big advantages to having Initiative-laden players around is that they will pick up on your hints and act on them. With such a player in your group, you won’t have to do much prodding to get someone to suggest investigations; the player’s Initiative will provide the motivation. Likewise, this is usually the player to whom you’ll have an NPC make a suggestion or confess a secret to - the player who will take the bait and look deeper. Oftentimes, the player does this out of a desire to find out the plot of the game, and is therefore helping said plot along by investigation (which overlaps a bit with Consciousness, of course).

A pro-active player doesn’t always concern herself with foresight, however. Throw a clue to such a player and she’ll pursue it, sometimes putting her character at risk. Such players’ characters are great stalking horses because they’re easy to lure, but don’t rely on that. If the character picks up on a clue in a way you hadn’t anticipated (an NPC is seen as dangerous rather than intriguing, for example), she may act in ways that derail your plot. Again, about the only thing you can do is be ready.

When a player makes it obvious that she will investigate any clue the Storyteller provides, the temptation arises to exploit that tendency mercilessly and lead the character into all kinds of bad situations. Resist the temptation…to do it too much. Using Initiative as a plot hook works once or twice, but after the fifth time that peeking around a corner after a shadow has resulted in sudden ambush, the character will stop peeking (and her character will stop picking up your cues). Then, you’ve lost a pro-active player, and that definitely is a loss.

Do you take the Initiative?

Are you the official or unofficial leader of your group?

Does your character description include words like “curious” and “inquisitive”?

Do you take notes?

Does your character often try to stir up trouble for the ruling classes?

Have you ever uttered a phrase like “Viva la Revalución!” in character?

Has the Storyteller ever given you OOC information because she knew you’d do the right thing with it?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you’re probably quite pro-active.

As you can probably guess, any given gamer is capable of being a Beautiful Player, given time, guidance, and the right circumstances. The “example” players above fit any number of players I’ve had the privilege of knowing over the years, and of course a player’s comparative “stats” can vary greatly from game to game. Also, some stats are more important in some games that in others (you can be as Clever as you like in Paranoia, but you aren’t getting any breaks!).

The overriding theme here, as you may have noticed, is for players to be aware of the game and the group around them. The best moments in gaming, as any “vet” will tell you, are when the group functions well together, and the players leave feeling they all accomplished something. It’s at moments like that when you have not a group of Beautiful Players, but a Beautiful Group of Players.