Invasion of Character

Yesterday, something clicked…I love that feeling.

Yesterday was a session of our Desolation campaign called The Path Less Taken, and I have very much been enjoying being ‘just a player.’ I am playing a sorcerer from the Saikin Wastes, and the setting for this introductory story is a caravan whose members comprise a fair cross-section of the major species and societies of the known world.

Before play began I had gone through several versions and revisions of the character traits, trying to refine a concept that I could sense but not really see in my mind. I was satisfied with the design choices I had made, but in the end, I knew I needed the crucible of play to really bring the hidden character within those stats and images to light.

The core concept was one of potential. I wanted to play a character full of possibility, but not yet travelling a path toward greatness in any particular direction. I wanted to play a character motivated more by the pipe dreams of youth than by any sense of the realities of the world around him. In a sense, I suppose, I was drawing on the same sort of feeling which gives us Luke Skywalker; talented, but without direction or even a clear sense of what his own ethics mean, or even are. It is hard to capture an intangible in the tangible, and so it was with my character sheet.

I love Ubiquity, and here was another case where I found its streamlined, open-ended nature to be a real boon. I was able to build the character from these vague images, and the traits helped me refine the vision a little further, but did not lock it into any particular cant or direction. Like me, the game was willing to let the character wait for the right moment for its actual birth.

Ubiquity Dice!

During the first session of the game, most of my attention was spent getting acclimatized to a player’s seat again, interacting with the unfolding story, interacting with the other characters, and generally rolling a statistically impossible number of failures. Inauspicious had a new name, and it was my character’s.

Yesterday was our second full session with these primary characters and the failure train kept on dancing and raining garbage down on my parade…. and that is precisely when it happened. The character concept just clicked.

In the midst of a spectacular and very public failure, I knew what the background I had crafted actually meant to the character as a person. I knew how he hoped to be perceived and how he felt when he could not make people perceive himself that way… and that in itself summed up why I had chosen Power as his base Motivation, even though at the time of selection I had had no real idea why that had seemed to fit.

Everything changed from that point. As a point of minor interest, the failures stopped as well.

It was now easy to colour and shape how his magic would manifest in the eyes of onlookers. The unifying thread of who he admired, what he dreamed, and how he saw himself was laid bare and made accessible to me, and I could step in and inhabit this young fellow and enjoy him both as a player of a game, and as the performer of a role. I suddenly knew how he would stand, sit, walk, and talk, and I could see him in my mind’s eye as though he were sitting next to me.

The rapid advance of character from dimly perceived idea in the distance to fully realized, in the driver’s seat invasion of my mental space was comparable to a blitzkrieg, or a sudden attack of the 3am munchies.

As a GM, I rarely get to have this experience, but I have found that for me, and many of those I grew up gaming with, it often happens in just this way. In our early Red Box days of 5-minute character generation, or the subsequent and slightly more complicated AD&D days, character was something that existed completely outside of the stats. If a character was to be found, it had to be discovered in play, recognized for what it was, and allowed to take shape… and precedence. That some chose to run characters without character was, of course possible, but in my experience, most people found a voice for their different characters within the context of play. Not all did, or would, but most did. Perhaps I was lucky. The innovations in game design which force character to the forefront of generation, and capabilities to a vague, tertiary aspect definitely show that the reverse was true for many others.

Either way, I still see it as a fundamental truth of gaming, and incidentally martial arts, that to a certain degree – if you are open to it – the tool you are using will tell you how to use it.

Coded within the skeleton of numbers and single word descriptors lies the kernel of a character waiting for the right alchemical conjoining of elements to set it free. No straightjacket required.

Ubiquity’s strength in this area lies in its broad concepts which highlight certain archetypal concepts without limiting the shape of the character. By following through on character creation with the idea of a real person in mind, all the right seeds get planted in all the right parts of your imagination to allow a new character to rise up from those fertile fields when the time is right. Of course, one can use that same system to craft a ready-made concept and outline it to a T, but… fortunately, one does not have to.

After all… the play’s the thing!

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