Monday, August 16, 2010

Duty II: Society

As the spam gets thicker on my blog, encouraging me to believe that I have ‘arrived,’ let us continue on the subject of character creation as begun in the last post. In this case, duty as it applies to:

One’s Particular Place in Life

The gentle reader will please remember that this refers to those aspects of an individual's life that are outside his or her own self: the family one has, or the country where one is born, or the religion one was raised in and so on.  There are a great many examples.  I'll try to hit on a few as fuel for character creation, but by no means do I expect to cover them all.

Let me say first, not everyone loves their family.  In general, most of us have one, even if it is an orphanage, or a single aunt or a sibling that raised us.  Humans at the infant stage are dependent upon some nurturing entity - and that, for good or bad, is one's family.  The more appalling one's upbringing, however, the less likely it is that we will look back fondly upon it.
From a player's point of view, the important element here is the choice your character has made about his or her family upon reaching maturity.  What role does the character allow their family to play in their life?

It's no good to say that your character loves his family if the plan is to abandon said family in typical D&D fashion.  Is it your intention to remain in the family's vicinity?  Would you send treasure to your family?  What would they be likely to do with it?  You have to ask yourself how things would work if the remaining party had no interest in their family and was ready to journey to the ends of the world on a moment's notice.  How would that make it difficult for you to be a good, loving child?

I wonder if we should be making steps to ensure that initial, multiple members of a party are related to one another, as immediate family or cousins.  Obviously, racial differences would have to mean separate clans, but what if all the dwarves had to be from the same family, and all the elves and all the humans?  Wouldn't a half-elf have to be related to both the human group and the elven group?  How would that affect the dynamic of the party, it's loyalties and such, and how would that anchor the party to a particular place in the campaign?

If your character is going to make decisions based on their loyalties (to family or anything else), you ought to be asking yourself, why does this character love or despise his or her family?  There are all the awful things the character's family may have done, and all the kind and thoughtful things.  Either is deserving of a list:  "Let me tell you about my uncle, the bastard, and what he did when I told him I intended to seek my fortune in the world."  Or, "My mother worked herself into an early grave so that I would have the training that kept me alive this very day - each time I struck home with my sword, I thanked my dear, sainted mother. May I kill a thousand dragons in her name!"

Whatever floats your boat.

Either way, if you have the imagination to come up with a dozen stories, to tell again and again a particular tale whenever a particular set of events encourages it, you'll be rewarded with your fellow players moaning and groaning.  --"You know, this is just like that time my Uncle Ransom tore down the mill and found it infested with giant beetles, long as your arm they were.  He raised up the whole town to help him. That's what we ought to do!"  --"Stander, if you mention your uncle one more time I'm pulling your arms and legs off."

It all goes to create a three-dimensional realism, rather than the wooden approach Luke takes to his dead Uncle Owen - who never gets mentioned again through the remaining saga.  Or the father whom we can't tell stories about, or explain at all, really, because it would give away the cheesy revelation at the end of part two (I really hate those movies).  But naturally, realism may hold no interest for you.  It remains a method for creating greater depth to your character, as well as motivation.  Obviously you don't have to draw out your entire family tree ... though there is value added by expanding your character's place in the world: a sense of self.

In a very similar way, the player should examine the character's perception of larger elements of the world.  In each, though the player chooses the religion and the DM chooses the physical origin, the character would have no sense of having chosen anything.

Let's suppose the character's religion.  Very often a player will say he or she has none.  "I don't like clerics," as the saying goes.  What's generally forgotten is that this same character will have probably been raised in a religion - and that there's more to the tale.  Does the character actively despise the religion of his or her upbringing?  To what degree?  It's very likely that that particular religion would be hated or its believers treated more harshly than other religions.  The player ought to be informed what religion their athiest character has renounced.

The reverse is also true.  It the player has a cleric, was the character's upbringing in that religion, or did the character become enlightened at a later age?  Has the character (cleric or otherwise) tried other religions?  Are there parts and bits of some religions that the character still follows, despite now being a celebrant of the Celtic mythology?  And what parts of the theological structure of the religion does the character have trouble with?  Surely, not all parts of the religion are embraced equally.

Very well, let's take that last point and apply it to the character's place of origin.  It's generally accepted in the present that every individual loves his or her country.  In a medieval setting, this is replaced with the Royal Family.  There will always be a tiny percentage of a population that hates their country or their King, but that's a rather obvious character trait, and I think we can leave it alone.

Is it enough to say, however, that your character loves his or her country?  What, every single part?  The taxes, too?  What about the King's position on the ongoing war with the West, or the Dowager Queen's meddling with affairs along the seaboard?  There are rumors that the Duke is a monster - does your character take with such rumors, or are they bunk?  What is your character likely to say, or do, when someone else makes a comment about the Duke?

"The Country" is a mixture of hundreds of entities, each vying for power to some degree.  The character's background as a fighter or a mage (or secondary considerations like his or her once having been a rat catcher or a sailor) should provide plenty of fodder for political positions and disgruntlements that the character has.  DMs should take note, and recognize that it's possible to build up a constant, deepened intrigue by playing up those things that the character naturally leans towards.  Not only that the taxes were recently raised, but that there are laws recently passed that target paladins, monks, thieves or mages ... as well as foreigners, guildmembers, elves, short people in general and possibly people who carry bundles of rope, clearly indicating them to be troublemakers.  The party should find allies among the population that are also opposed to such laws on principle, thereby establishing a conflict that could lead to complications upon complications.

How "Duty" fits into all of this is defined by what responsibility the player chooses to have his character possess towards all the elements of the society in which the party travels.  The character's duty towards others who believe the same things, or have the same origins, or similar experiences, helps drive the character's decision-making.  It answers the question, "Why are we saving princesses?"  Because, ipso facto, my personal beliefs are that young girls are innocent and shouldn't be preyed upon by villainous monsters.  But how complex does the problem become when the princess isn't young, or innocent, and the villainous monster has a good reason - which the character can identify with?

Obviously none of these considerations apply to players alone; the DM needs to take these into consideration for the NPCs, as well.  There are limitations.  Not every non-player can be three-dimensional.  But such characters, scattered through a campaign, can have a tremendous influence on the pace and effectiveness of a DM's campaign.

The potential should not be discarded.

1 comment:

Dungeonmum said...

Nice post. In our current campaign two pcs are childhood friends, another is a servant and they all worship the same god that the cleric touts. They are also totally in love with the city and the doge.

It's certainly more credible than a bunch of maverick strangers deciding to form a family unit of their own over a few beers.