This post was originally written by me for submission to Gamecrafters.net. Thanks Brian for giving me an outlet!
I just read a great article over on Dungeon’s Master and I’d like to use it as a stepping off point for some thoughts and experiences I’ve had on the subject. In this article, Wimwick discusses the subject of player input, and in particular, how much should players have in building the story and even the campaign.
I think he rightly surmises that player input is both vital to the story, as well as incredibly helpful to the DM, a person who often struggles with the endeavor of putting together an intriguing interactive fiction that is hopefully enjoyed by all. He starts with the tried and true; the player back story. Then he moves on to what I think is just as key to keeping things moving along; the Paragon Path. Wimwick supports my belief that Paragon path is more than a few extra class features and attack powers we can expect to get in the mid levels of the game. It’s something we can use to fuel our player progression and set us apart from (or bring us closer to) others in the group in a good way that advances the story while supporting creativity.
So, lets take those solid building blocks and see if we can pepper in some more juicy bits that might benefit players, DMs, and more importantly, stories moving forward.
The Player Trademark
I play in two alternating groups and DM for two others so I have lots of opportunities to try out different techniques. One that I’ve been tinkering with, as well as been exposed to, is The Player Trademark. It’s still in its infancy but I’d like to throw it out there to see if others are having success doing something similar or if it sparks an idea that might improve on it. I’ve been trying to put together a few little eccentricities (as have some of my players) for the characters I play to give them flavor. After reading posts like Wimwicks, I think there may be greater potential here. I can see a possibility where a player Trademark would be a great vehicle for using story to give information to both the DM and the other players in the group.
An example of this is my Ranger character. He’s level 7 now and I’m considering the Battlefield Archer Paragon path. That’s good information for my DM to have for planning adventures and we’ll eventually have the very discussion that Wimwick advocates. However, being the story loving type that I am, I would like to influence the story in more subtle ways as well. I’m going to try to develop a Trademark that will give the DM even more flavor for developing any portions of narrative that lead to my eventual Paragon Path. Currently, I’ll call what I do a gimmick more than a trademark. My Ranger has a habit of whispering the name of the enemy he attempts to kill in combat prior to rolling the d20. I’ll probably take this a step further and begin whispering the name to my bow, or perhaps to each arrow specifically, communing with it as an extension of myself. Perhaps I’ll come up with a post-combat ritual to add to this. Doing this can be an interesting RP exercise as well as giving my DM a peek into what is important to me as a character, i.e. my bow and how I use it to dispatch my enemies. Knowing this can add the extra oomph to how he plans my trajectory into the Battlefield Archer Paragon Path. This extra depth allows me to impact the story such that I can help seed the DMs imagination in a way that is in keeping with who I view my character to be.
Another interesting story seed is player relationships. This is a pretty common thing to think about. Does the Paladin get frustrated by the Rogue or the Warlock? Does the Dwarf constantly bicker with the Elf in the party? Is the Warlord constantly “over” negotiating NPCs with his intimidate and diplomacy skills? These are pretty standard tropes insofar as we understand them. However, thinking about this has made me realize there is more potential there for the thoughtful player and DM.
Others may take this for granted but it struck me recently that these relationships should both be informed by player backstory as well as impact Paragon Path choices. Our relationships with other PCs, NPCs and even villains, can be a great way to set our characters on certain adventure paths. Do we want our character to be someone who melds easily into society? Do we want them to be someone who struggles to maintain relationships? Do we perhaps antagonize certain types of characters or villains? Do we have things in common with them? How do these choices, and how we RP them effect the ideas we have about our Paragon Path choice? I’m not sure I have all the answer to this one, but I’m certain that with further thought, and potentially some feedback, there is great storyline potential here, especially as we try to link it to our chosen Paragon Path.
Now this is one that I think has some great potential. We all spend a lot of time building our characters strengths, powers, and capabilities. However, inherent in those very designs is weakness. In many ways, those weaknesses, those “holes” in our character optimization can be just as interesting as our actual abilities. Perhaps you’ve designed your character to be an expert in certain areas. This could very well mean your character is narratively deficient in others. Think about your skills. What happens when you stack your design to have great scores in certain areas? Naturally, your scores in other opposing specialties will suffer. This is more than just good game balance. This is a narrative opportunity. Similarly, those nights where your dice are ice cold can present an opportunity to tell a story that is interesting and different from the nights where they are flaming hot. This is a story challenge, and even failure can be exciting if you build a story around how it relates to your relationships and even your Paragon Path. Just like failure needs to be interesting in a skill challenge, so too does failure need to be interesting when it comes to our characters abilities and endeavors.
In fact, I’ve recently had discussions regarding one of the games I play in where the DM makes success a bit too easy. All those potential storylines that revolve around failure, or lifting yourself out of defeat become purely theoretical. Don’t get me wrong, I like to do awesome things as much as anyone (see my most recent guest post) but I also think that the greatest feats of awesome often begin life in the shadows of failure or near-defeat.
Think about your characters weakness. Perhaps it’s a Barbarian who is weak at ranged combat. Perhaps it’s a Cleric who was built around healing but has little damage potential. Perhaps its a character designed for combat but who suffers in RP situations. These are all great hooks that can be influenced by backstory and further used to make our Paragon Path choices all the more interesting and potent.
I guess the point I’m trying to get across as it relates to Wimwicks post is that he’s more right than he realizes. Backstory is huge. Paragon Path is huge. So much so, that we need to continue to expand on both as well as what they mean for the future and how they relate to our past.
If you have any thoughts on getting the most out of your backstory and Paragon Path, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.