Thursday, 9 June 2011

Births, Deaths & Marriages

If I have one big regret regarding my time running role playing sessions from day one, it would have to be my lack of insight into the importance of keeping records.  By this I refer to the keeping of all character sheets; who played what class, race, age and gender of character and if the character died, where, how and when - this latter aspect I started very late in my DM'ing.

On the other side of the histrionics of role playing there is also the matter of player character trysts, romances, births (in or out of wedlock) and on rare instances, marriages - admittedly, something I never had occur during my time as DM.

Romances did happen. Some intentional, and others grew over a period of game time, but were sparse.  Funny how many player characters follow a path of unintentional celibacy, it being neither a conscious or rational choice.  It sometimes seemed that players either forget or overlooked the fact that their characters did have an option to engage in relationships with members of the opposite sex (or same sex in very rare cases), and neither have I known any to go on a lustful rampage of conquest as if the very spirit of 'free love' had possessed them in a demonic embrace.

I imagine that some of you reading this are doing so with a raised eyebrow or two.  Understandable.  But if you commit yourself to creating a world of depth and detail the thing will sometimes take on a life of its own.  Hard to comprehend possibly, but like a writer will tell you, there comes a point when the characters on the page start dictating the story and making decisions you'd least expect.  The same goes for a well run rp session; the bonds between NPC/s and player characters can become very strong, and on times, intense - in both positive and negative aspects, depending on the 'who, what and where'.

Just remember: love and hate are very closely linked and have to be controlled tightly within the game setting, otherwise the emotional impact becomes dulled, eventually leading to a state of almost non-response.

When starting out on your role playing career as a DM I would suggest the purchase of a good, sturdy A4 notebook.  This will become your 'RP History Tome', pertaining to your players' many character incarnations - and trust me, some players are more efficient at killing off their characters than others - whereas some might only create a new character should you ever decide to change rule systems.

Within your 'tome of role playing', set aside a reasonable number of pages in which to record character names, both for players and NPCs.  Many a time I've been stuck for an on-the-spot name check, dived into my book and flipped a page at random for a name and been saved.
Building up your name file can be a slow and arduous process to begin with, but over time you will accrue a wealth of names; some of your own creation, some inspired by a favourite book and others blatantly stolen from film - but what the hey?  In those such instances, use your creativity to morph the name into something not quite the same, but retaining a similar impact for which you were initially attracted to it.

*As a side note, I did see on the internet that someone had named their son 'Strider' - now that is just cruel.  Jokes not withstanding, what a name for someone, let alone a kid, to live up to!*

Some might find this odd, some might find it distasteful (sensitive souls), and others amusing.  My reasoning was to create some sort of historical 'account keeping' as to the 'W-H' (who, where, when and how) of my players' characters and their demise.  Also a good point to record the name of the NPC, if involved in the character's death.  Makes for a good point of reference for recurring storyline, plot twists, not to mention a start of a mini-background for the NPC concerned, who could eventually develop into a major villain or power within your game world setting.

Some characters who have been left 'alive' due to a change in game system - a prime example from my own game sessions would be a load of Warhammer FRP characters left in limbo when we switched back to AD&D - are also entered into my book with an entry describing their last known location and a possible 'last seen - last known' entry.  This way I have a point of reference for introducing the characters again should the campaign concerned be started again, thus giving players a brief idea/background as way of an explanation to what their characters have been doing in between.

On the topic of names, might I suggest you keep players within the realms of your game world setting when they begin to create names for their newly born characters.  There is nothing worse than having some smart-arse decide they want their Gnome Paladin to be called 'Phart Garfunkel' or 'Gnomebody the Mysterious' ... I mean, no!  Just ... grrrr!  I won't allow puerile, juvenile attempts to be humorous or radical when it comes to character naming - one of my biggest hates within the MMO genre!  But that's just me.  You could be very easy and laid back about it, and if that's the case, go for it.  Obviously, DM styles vary from person-to-person, so anything I say on this blog isn't my way of attempting to convert folks to my way of DM'ing.

By all means, invent a nickname for your character based on some reason from their past AFTER the player has chosen a name proper that fits in with the game setting/world.  That I have no objection to at all, especially if it is woven rather thoughtfully into the player character's background story (if they have one) and adds weight to the credibility of the character personality.

All this might seem a bit useless on first glance, but if you do last the test of time as a DM, then you will be very glad you made the effort to record such things, as I know there are times when I read through old notes and for a brief moment or two I'm sat once more at the table, faced by my band of players, faces still fresh and full of expectation of what lies in store.  More often than not, it will be these things that will spur you on to running your next campaign, and make it even better than the last - and if not, then at least you will always have the fond memories of times well spent with friends round a table in the pursuit of adventure.  Times of excitment, suspense, great humour, pathos and camaraderie.  Treasure those moments.

It is, and always will be, a reminder of a time of heroes.

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