A to Z Challenge 2013

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dungeons And Dragons - Character Traits

Before I jump into today's topic, there's a bit of housekeeping stuff I need to attend to.  Alex J. Cavanaugh is celebrating 200 followers and he's holding a contest for it.  I only recently started following Alex, but I'm a big fan.  Check out this trailer for his book CassaStar:

If that doesn't get you excited about the book, I don't know what will.  I'm seriously hyped to pick this one up.

The reason for today's title isn't to show off my geek card (though I do have one, in solid gold no less).  One of the blogs I follow had a post a while back that got me thinking about character traits.  I tried to remember who it was, but I honestly don't know (so if it's you, please accept my most humble apology for not giving credit where credit is due).

Now for the uninitiated, here's a quick glimpse into what DnD involves. The Gamemaster (GM) is a storyteller, and he tells how the player characters got where they are. Each player has a character they have created (on paper), and they are usually focused in a specific direction. For example, there may be a party composed of a warrior, a bard, a priest, a mage, and a monk. The player characters (all sitting around a table) then listen as the GM unfolds the story and they walk their characters through the GM's world, fighting, saving people, obtaining treasure, and making choices. This is an extremely simplified view of things, but hopefully you get the idea. If you're a DnD vet or just interested in learning more, my friend Matt Conlon has a great DnD blog you should check out.

Back when I was an avid DnD gamer, I was part of a group that had an extremely talented (GM).  He was very creative, and he would challenge us to make the characters we played more realistic.  So before one session, he wrote random character traits (faults, actually) on note cards and had us pick one.  They were things like drug addiction, alcoholic, uncontrollable temper, easily seduced by women, etc.  We were then expected to incorporate these traits in how we managed and played our character.  Some of the players didn't like the change, probably because they just wanted to go kill stuff and loot treasure holds.  Looking back though, this was one of the most fun sessions I experienced.
I believe my particular character got the fault of being an alcoholic.  This meant I had to make sure he always had alcohol on him and that he was always drinking.  It also meant minor to severe negatives during combat, depending on his level of inebriation.  It was a lot more difficult to play, but it made my character that much more real.  And it challenged me to literally step into his shoes for a bit.
I am in the process of fixing a short story, and the biggest thing I have to fix is characterization.  On my first draft, my characters were flat.  I was using amateurish tricks to liven them up, but I recognize now (thanks to my critique partners in the short story class) how flat they are.  Thankfully a friend has offered to help me out a bit, since some of the characters are mythological and I need more knowledge in that area.
Remembering that DnD session though, has put me in the right frame of mind for this.  One thing that does make a character more real is quirks, traits, or faults.  Now I'm not saying I'm going to randomly assign my character to be a drunk, but I am trying to once more step into someone else's shoes.  Is my character rich?  Are they poor?  How does that affect their psyche?  What about my mythological immortals?  How does living forever change their outlook, and what habits have they picked up?  All of these questions (and more) are running through my mind, and I'm hoping my previous DnD experience will help me answer them. 
In your writing, are you asking questions about your characters?  Do they have traits you haven't yet identified?  And how will you include hints of them without stalling the story?


Davin Malasarn said...

When I was writing my first novel I thought I new my characters. Then, about three years into it, I suddenly realized one day that I knew them so much better than I used to. It was like a switch that happened, and it happened after I took a break from the book. Now, I try much harder to get to know my characters because it feels so good when I do. They suddenly come to life for me, and it's a lot easier to write about them.

Matthew Rush said...

Damn you Eric! You are the only other one I've seen today who is sharing Alex's trailer and contest in the hopes of winning a copy of CassaStar. Argh!

I'm only kidding. Alex is awesome and I'll just buy his book if I don't win a copy. Best of luck to both of us.

To your actual post: This is awesome. And not JUST because Dungeons and Dragons takes me back. I'm picturing the Drunken Master movie thinking about your player character. What class was he?

You also make a great point about characters in storytelling in general. Without flaws, believable ones, it's difficult to really connect with a character, unless of course they're a comic-book super-hero or something.

Great post, thanks for sharing Eric.

Eric said...

Davin - This is a great description of where I'd like to be. I'd like to always know my characters innately, and though I usually learn about them as I write the story, hopefully by the end I DO know them. Thanks for the comment.

Matthew - You better believe it. I wasn't kidding when I said how much I want a copy. I will be buying one anyway though, even if I don't win. I wish you luck too. I'm not really sure what class I was playing then (it's been a while and I'm old LOL), though something tells me it was a cleric. I do remember it was alot of fun. And even the superheroes needs flaws. That's what made Superman so boring to me. He was too perfect. Give me Green Lantern, Hulk, or Batman any day. They have depth and personality.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

One of the gaming systems I used to use, GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System) was set up so you could include flaws and quirks as part of your character.

Eric said...

Sandra - Yep. The GM actually took a cue from GURPS when he did this, I believe.

DEZMOND said...

wish I could fly in one of those CASSASTAR spaceships!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Eric, you rock!! And Dezz, the moment I get one of those Cosbolt jets, I will come pick you up, as I'll need a navigator.

Your DM was a genius - that's a really creative idea. I'm a gold card D&D geek as well and fulfilled the role of DM often. My trick was to include a DM-controlled character who was just odd beyond belief. (We had a floating, talking skull for a while - he was fun.) It was great to watch the others react and interact with this unique character. Made it more real.

DEZMOND said...

a navigator, Alex? Are you sure? I get lost even in my own backyard :)) Maybe you should better use me as your intergalactic translator like Hoshi Sato on Enterprise :)

Anonymous said...

Since I'm writing a trilogy and only the first book has been released, then yeah. I'm still asking questions and traits are still being identified. That's the blessing of writing a trilogy.

Stephen Tremp

Anonymous said...

That's the problem with character faults. The character always has them, even when they are inconvenient.
Alex's trailer is amazing and I'm looking forward to the release of the book.

Matt Conlon said...

Excellent post, and thanks for the link!

GMing can be tough, particularly when your group isn't into it.

Players, do your GM a favor and turn off the Red Sox game! (break after hour or so for the score, but that's it!) ;)

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Geeks forever!