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Character Sheet as Contract Between Player and GM


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#1 rjcurrie

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 09:46 PM

I've start a discussion about this on Facebook in the World of Supers RPG group, but I think I will start a similar discussion here.
 
Essentially, the idea is that the character sheet is a list of things that the player wants to see when their character is in play. For example, if they take Professional Skill: Piano Player, then they are asking the GM to present them with the chance to use that skill in an adventure in an important way. Similarly, if they take the Focus Limitation to represent that the power is in a device, they are asking for the GM to have a story point about them losing the device. If they don't want such a story point, they shouldn't take the Limitation. The power can still be in a device. It's just doesn't suffer the problems of the Limitation. And if they take the Social Complication: Secret ID, it means they want their secret ID to be a story point. If they want a secret ID because it fits the character but don't want to deal with the noisy reporter constantly trying to find it out, then they don't take the Limitation.
 
The other half is this is that when the GM accepts a character sheet for their campaign, the GM is agreeing to at least try and provide these story points for the player. If not, the GM should ask for the player to make the appropriate changes. For example, if the GM is sick and tired of Secret ID stories and doesn't want to deal with them in this campaign, then they should ask the player to remove the Complication. Similarly, if the GM is pretty sure they'll never use piano playing in a significant way in an adventure, they should probably let the player have it for free.
 
So, to a large extent, during the character creation process, the GM and the players are negotiating some of what will and won't be in the campaign.

 


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#2 Christopher R Taylor

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 09:55 PM

I think there's some of that.  At least for me when I GM I would always try to work someone's abilities and complications into the game somehow.  I wasn't always good about it, but it was a plan at least.  Like the mage in a fantasy campaign that took Geology 11-.  Everybody thought that was silly but it gave me ideas, how could I make that useful?  Sometimes what characters build gives me campaign ideas, like the character that could aid everyone's Mental Defense (it was a base stat in the campaign, everyone had EGO/5 base MD).  This made them all tremendously protected from mentalists but it also made some stories possible that might not otherwise be.


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#3 Lucius

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 10:25 PM


On the other hand if I build a character with Regeneration that regrows limbs, I don't necessarily want that taken as an open invitation to chop a limb off. It might be more a way of saying "IF I lose a limb I want to be able to get it back" - more like an insurance policy than a "please do this thing" contract.

Or then there's the Trollop character I play in Monster Hunters who has 1 or 2 pts in Knowledge Skill: Carnal. I don't foresee the character's knowledge of sexuality to ever play a significant role in the game but it's an excuse to every once in a while make a joke pushing the boundaries of the mostly PG game.

But that same character has a Danger Sense that only works for vampires and a few other abilities specialized for vampires and I do hope that they come into play eventually. And I think I've said as much to the Game Operations Director.

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#4 mrinku

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 10:26 PM

Absolutely.



#5 bigdamnhero

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Posted 12 September 2017 - 10:09 PM

I agree that's a good way of looking at it. You don't want to take the "contract" idea too literally of course, but it's a great way of explaining it to the character: "Tell me how you see this coming up in game?" "How bad are you going to cry when the villain disarms you of your OAF? Cuz that's gonna happen at some point."

 

My players love to put weird $#!% on their character sheets, I think just to see how I'll work them in. So far this campaign (a low fantasy game) I've managed to work in SS Anatomy, SS Astronomy, LS Aramaic, AK Wales, SS Geometry, PS Herbalist, PS Pilgrim, PS Merchant Sailor, and even KS Legends of the Sidhe (who I hadn't planned on including in the game at all until the player put it on their sheet). One of the highlights of the last campaign, was when the team brick incorporated her PS Dancing into a combat and started slam dancing: with a semi!

 

I also agree things that are unlikely to come up often (or at all) in game should be given for a discount, or even for free. I once had a player who really wanted KS: Beatles Lyrics at 18-. (And it totally fit his character concept.) I think I charged him 1 point for it, and it came up once or twice, mainly for roleplaying purposes.


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#6 sinanju

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Posted 12 September 2017 - 10:46 PM

This is very much how our Champions game works. My PC has a secret identity, but I don't really want to deal with it in-game, so I didn't take it as a Complication. Ditto for DNPCs. I have a number of friends, acquaintances and so forth, but none of them are DNPCs, so they don't get menaced or kidnapped. They exist for role-playing purposes only, not as plot tokens. Most of my Complications are psychological--they define my character's, uh, character, and influence how she responds to the situations she faces. We put a fairly low cap on the number of Complication points you can have, so players only really took the ones they wanted to deal with. I think this is an excellent approach.


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#7 Nolgroth

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 02:12 AM

The character sheet is the opening bid that is negotiated before and during play. The things that fit the GM's campaign stay, the other stuff is retconned out and replaced by more game-appropriate content. No GM can foresee where their campaign is going to end up and can similarly make no promise that things on the character sheet will get any "screen" time.

 

As an example, I had a player in one campaign that had a Han Solo concept clone, complete with Organized Crime Hunted. Due to the nature and course of the campaign, it never had the opportunity to come up. It was retconned into more of a general "The People of the Galaxy are Hostile, Don't Like You and Want You Dead" sort of Hunted. I wanted to utilize that Hunted, but the characters were literally on the far edge of civilization and then only from time to time. Certainly not long enough for word to get back to the OCF and then have the appropriate thugs, bounty hunters and assassins sent after them.

 

I supposed the actual contract comes into the spirit and intent of the character and how the GM presents the setting to the players. A departure from that agreed upon tone, setting and such is a violation of the contract.


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#8 Tech

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 12:15 PM

Saying it's a contract sounds too strict to me. Rather, it's flavor for your character and opens up opportunities for the GM to use them. I've seen skills on characters go unused for looong periods of time, and suddenly, it's the skill that saves everyone's life in an episode or even surprises the GM with creative use.

 

Quite frankly, I leave it usually with the players to say something because I can't keep track of all skills, limitations, foci, backgrounds, etc., all the time, in addition to real life. Once in awhile though, I look at character sheets to refresh myself.



#9 massey

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 01:05 PM

I'm going to disagree on some of this.  Sometimes I give a character a special defense specifically because I don't want those attacks to come up.  You hate being Mind Controlled, so you put 20 points of Mental Defense on your character sheet.  You GM shouldn't look at that and think "Oh boy, now I can finally pull out Menton!"

 

Players and GMs should talk about their expectations for the game.  If the GM doesn't intend on using Mental Powers, he can tell the players "hey, don't worry about taking Mental Defense, you won't need it".  If he expects players to have a lot of skills, he should let them know when they're building their characters.  If it's a Silver Age game with no killing attacks, then he should tell the players that their Punisher knock-off is not going to fit in.  Likewise, if they players are sick of the GM's constant political intrigue in games, they can say they'd prefer just a straightforward action story.

 

The character sheet should be the result of those conversations.


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#10 mrinku

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 03:02 PM

Good discussion.

 

Luck and Unluck probably deserve special mention here. Yes, they have a defined game effect, but IMHO they should also reflect the general fortune of the character. If you take 3d6 Unluck you're saying "this guy just cannot catch a break". That doesn't have to mean they're glass-half empty types - Peter Parker was the original Hard Luck Superhero, but always kept his head up.



#11 bigdamnhero

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 03:53 PM

The character sheet is the opening bid that is negotiated before and during play. The things that fit the GM's campaign stay, the other stuff is retconned out and replaced by more game-appropriate content. No GM can foresee where their campaign is going to end up and can similarly make no promise that things on the character sheet will get any "screen" time.

Absolutely. Complications in particular can change a lot during course of play, either because the GM couldn't really work them in (as in your example), or because they get surpassed in game. Maybe the PC wipes out the crime family that was Hunting him. Or overcomes his mistrust of elves due to his friendship with Legolamb. I rarely have characters "buy off" Comps per se; typically they'll swap them out for new ones.

 

Quite frankly, I leave it usually with the players to say something because I can't keep track of all skills, limitations, foci, backgrounds, etc., all the time, in addition to real life. Once in awhile though, I look at character sheets to refresh myself.

For some campaigns I'll keep a list of all the PCs' Complications, with notes as to when was the last time they came into play, just to remind me when I'm under-using some or over-using others.

 

I'm going to disagree on some of this.  Sometimes I give a character a special defense specifically because I don't want those attacks to come up.  You hate being Mind Controlled, so you put 20 points of Mental Defense on your character sheet.  You GM shouldn't look at that and think "Oh boy, now I can finally pull out Menton!"

Fair point. Tho I would take that 20 MD as "I should throw some mental attacks at this guy, so he can watch them fail." Regardless, everyone saying "have a conversation" is spot on.


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#12 Jagged

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 08:34 AM

On the other hand if I build a character with Regeneration that regrows limbs, I don't necessarily want that taken as an open invitation to chop a limb off. It might be more a way of saying "IF I lose a limb I want to be able to get it back" - more like an insurance policy than a "please do this thing" contract.

Do you read the web comic Grrl Power? (And if not you should. Its better than the title sounds) Because there is this great little comic book rant about how Wolverines real power is "getting stabbed" not "healing factor" and contrasts a typical fight where Wolverine gets totally sliced up whereas Cyclops (who couldn't survive it) doesn't get touched :)

 

Wolverine = Blade Magnet



#13 bigdamnhero

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 09:41 AM

Wolverine = Blade Magnet

IIRC they tried to justify that in one comic by saying part of why Wolvie is so deadly is he doesn't bother wasting any energy on defense so he's all-offense-all-the-time. But still, yeah.

 

Similarly, any show where a character has resurrection, it's guaranteed they'll be the only one to get killed on a regular basis. The "I have one Hit Point" Cheerleader from Heroes was bad enough (at least she looked tiny & fragile), but how many times did Jack Harkness get killed in Torchwood & Dr. Who? Like that one time they dropped a building on the whole team and everyone else walked away with minor scrapes, but big tough Jack gets straight-up killed.


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#14 massey

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 10:50 AM

Do you read the web comic Grrl Power? (And if not you should. Its better than the title sounds) Because there is this great little comic book rant about how Wolverines real power is "getting stabbed" not "healing factor" and contrasts a typical fight where Wolverine gets totally sliced up whereas Cyclops (who couldn't survive it) doesn't get touched :)

 

Wolverine = Blade Magnet

 

I messed around with a Cyclops build once, where he had lots and lots of extra Defense, visible, only as long as other characters were still standing.  The idea is that villains start to shoot at him, but then they go "oh wait, he's got like 50 PD, this isn't going to do anything to him.  Let's shoot that other guy."  Once the rest of the team has fallen, his Defense drops a lot lower so you can take him down.

 

Never really got to use it in a game, but it was a brainstorming idea.



#15 Tech

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 11:57 AM

I agree with the previous posters. If I'm buying Mental Def or Power Def, it's because I want to be resistant to that type of attack.



#16 Sean Waters

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 01:05 PM

I'll make this point: I like GMing and I like playing, but GMing is a whole lot more work already without having to make a players vision of what your campaign should be like part of your vision too.  i do not have the run time that I used to to devote to including all the foibles of a character in my game narrative and I've often written the plot so far ahead that I often don't even bother with working PC DNPCs in, let alone making sure that the PC's knowledge of Mesopotamian Pottery is properly spotlighted.

 

In theory, yes, the character sheet is a contract, but a contract involves offer, acceptance and consideration: if a player wants to be a concert pianist as part of their concept, fine, but don't expect the GM to make this a plot point; accept that everyone probably has stuff on their character sheet that is not going to directly affect the game and that it all about balances.  Make something of it as a player, don't expect the GM to.

 

I'd go further: don't expect the GM to say 'that is not going to be useful, pick something else/have it for free' because who knows how things will develop, and if you are giving players the heads up on what is relevant to the campaign ahead of time then you are probably giving too much information.  More to the point, how do you even know?  I have played in and run games where the most obscure thing becomes a recognisable theme in the game and no one planned it that way.

 

Sherlock Holmes plays violin, and probably paid character points to do so, and, whilst it is a trait most would recognise and he is often at practice, I don't recall it helping to solve any cases.  it might have, but that is not why it is there.


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#17 Jagged

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 04:26 PM

 

Sherlock Holmes plays violin, and probably paid character points to do so, and, whilst it is a trait most would recognise and he is often at practice, I don't recall it helping to solve any cases.  it might have, but that is not why it is there.

Its also said in the stories that he doesn't learn anything that doesn't help solve crime and apparently did not know that the earth goes round the sun or who was the prime minister. So he is something or a Min/Maxer.

 

Supposedly playing helped his concentration.



#18 Sean Waters

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 06:03 PM

This is true, although that may have just been him winding people up.  High functioning sociopath.  Got to keep yourself amused somehow.  

 

Anyway, I daresay if he'd ever needed to find his longitude he'd have remembered hearing something about it.

 

I imagine the incessant violining played hob with everyone else's concentration: as Garfield says "If you want to look thinner, hang around people fatter than you".  There is also probably a 'fiddling with himself' joke in there somewhere if you could be bothered to look for it...

 

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#19 bigdamnhero

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 09:12 PM

Its also said in the stories that he doesn't learn anything that doesn't help solve crime and apparently did not know that the earth goes round the sun or who was the prime minister. So he is something or a Min/Maxer.

True, tho Doyle was notoriously inconsistent with that. In one story Holmes would claim to know nothing about politics, but then two stories later he'll go on about the details of court politics in Bohemia or wherever.

 

This is true, although that may have just been him winding people up.  High functioning sociopath.  Got to keep yourself amused somehow. 

One of the many things I loved about the Cumberbatch version of Sherlock was they straight-up admit that a good percentage of the things Homes says are complete BS; the fun part is trying to figure out which bits!


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#20 mrinku

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 11:58 PM

Most versions of Holmes (and definitely the original) had him as very easily bored. Music's a funny beast, though. I don't find it odd that he found distraction in playing.