To name a character

28 March, 2008 at 9:32 pm (roleplaying) (, , , )

Name is always the hard part. Especially is searching for Victorian-era French names. Were anyone to know a source or appropriate names, I’d much appreciate if such could be shared.

For context, if such is desired, read these two posts by Thulen: 1, 2.

Character concept

An art dealer and thief living a normal (double) life with his family.


The illegitimate son of a French nobleman. Was accepted by his father (who was drunk or blackmailed or bribed or some such) as a family member, but not treated terribly well. Stole a few pieces of art from his family and traveled to England. Encountered and later married the daughter of a wealthy townsman with some artistic talent; has a child or three.

Modus operandi

The character is known as an art dealer with ways to get obscure items. He buys and sells as any trader. The obscure items come from certain contacts in France, though there are a few layers of people to ensure security. Extra income comes from an occasional art theft and typically selling the piece to France, where someone might actually buy it without getting policemen knocking on one’s door. An occasional English collector may also buy something stolen. These deals are never done in person.

Stealing a presumably valuable and well-guarded piece of art happens in few steps. First, the area is researched with as much accuracy as is seen necessary and practically possible. Second, the theft itself is done while masked and otherwise disguised. Normal clothes are stored somewhere nearby where they likely won’t be discovered. Third, assuming the person or institute stolen from is respectable, a work of relatively unknown artist may be left to replace the stolen one. Gameplay-wise, I am not terribly interested in lengthy planning scenes, so another solution, such as their near-complete lack or significant shortening, is preferable (as I and Thulen discussed in bus the other weekend).

For the purposes of this character, “art” consists of paintings, drawings, small sculptures, jewelry, and so forth. One should not be picky.

The family knows nothing about the illegal activities. The character would prefer it to remain this way. So, Thulen, if you are going to attack this aspect of the character, please let me affect the process somehow, if at all feasible. Otherwise it is likely to be just a random set-back and fall flat, like erasing Leon’s drawings in Like umbrella.


The purpose of the above section is to give Thulen an idea about how I think I will be playing my character, so that he can better prepare, if he desires so, and so that we will be on roughly the same page about the kinds of play I’d like to see. These are, of course, negotiable. Also: to give one clear point where my char can be poked for fun and profit.


I’ll do this in terms of beliefs and instincts, just because I enjoy the format and find it both expressive and brief. Beliefs first. They tell about what I am potentially interested about in the character and about how I will likely play him. They are meant to be challenged.

  •  My father has no power outside France; I am safe here and will stay here.
  • My family thinks of me as honourable. I shall not let their trust down, for it would make them unhappy.
  • This one up for writing. If Thulen is cooperative and willing, “Stealing [plot-relevant] item will allow me to finally end the unlawful acquirings and live with no more deceit.”. Alternatively, when other characters are done, this one may be about one of them, is the player is interested.

And on to instincts. They tell about the character’s supposed behaviour is like and provide colour (detail, fluff, something to that effect). These are also flags: I want these to be relevant and apply in actual play. Up to negotiation, as always.

  • Always be courteous. (Some of this may occasionally be spoken in French).
  • If unmasked and among people, then act clumsy.
  • Always secure an exit. (That is, assuming no outstanding surprises, always knows at least one exit route that can be reached with only modicum of trouble, provided such exists.)

And on to the mechanics

I’m not quite confident enough with Thulen’s house system to deal with this stuf, as of yet. Thulen, we can handle this in person, through here or through other means.


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Lost in translation

28 February, 2008 at 11:20 pm (definition, rpg theory) (, , , , , )

This post is about language. Tangentially related to roleplaying, more so in the end. I don’t have any training in the area, but meddling is fun, so…

There will be three examples used: Written English (you have probably heard of this one before), propositional logic (which can handle such phrases as “p and q if and only if q and p”, “if p, then q”, and usually has the operators not, and, or, if…then, if and only if) and a small indie RPG Risus by S. John Ross.

Defining a language

Language consists of four components: There is  a set of symbols (in case of spoken language, this would have something to do with the kinds of noise one can emit), a set of rules which define a grammar, a set of meanings and a set of relations that combine some meanings with some grammatically correct expressions.

English: Alphabet and other symbols used when writing constitute the set of symbols. Grammar tells that expressions such as “agonagasgjsegls” or  “write .ChA!oS” are not legal. The set of meanings is extremely large. The set of relations is even larger; it tells that such sentences as “Car is red.” can be used as a communication tool.

Propositional logic is an example of a formal language; notably, it is complete in that all grammatical expressions have a well-defined meaning. Set of symbols varies a bit, but may consist of between 2 and arbitrary number of operators and usually a countably infinite set of variables, like {c1, c2, …}. Parentheses are allowed (often). Propositional logic is severely limited, meaning-wise. A given variable can have two values (true or false). A given proposition (e.g. “c1 <=> (c2 or c1)”) may be a tautology (always true), a contradiction (never true) or neither (sometimes true, sometimes not). The relationship between propositions and truth is not terribly complicated, but also not worth writing down here.

Risus is an example of a supplemental language in that it builds upon a given natural language (English, for example) and needs one; it can have no meaning without a base language. Risus uses the symbology of natural languages. It adds new grammatically correct expressions, for example: Blogger (3) has well-defined meaning which involves rolling three dice in given situations.

Actually, I cheat

If I really wanted a good definition, it would have to be recursive so that, for example, words have meaning, words combined into sentences have meaning, and sentences that consitute a story have even more meaning, and so forth. It gets complicated and is not worth it.


The scope of language is all the meanings it could have. Natural languages have large scope; formal logic usually does not.

Supplemental (with regards to a given purpose) language does not have sufficient scope to communicate whatever  the purpose would require. Roleplaying games are generally supplemental to natural languages. Computer games are usually do have sufficient scope to be played; MMORPGs may not.


Translation happens when one is given a (grammatically correct) list of symbols and should retain the meaning while changing the symbols, the grammar, or the relations.

Translations are problematic. There are several reason for this. First and most obvious is the difference in scopes languages can have. The canonical (but wrong) example is the number of words that inuits have for snow of different kinds. If it were true, it would certainly either be impossible or require an exceedingly long list of symbols to make a difference between them. Correct example are not hard to come up with: Propositional logic is an obvious example. It can’t make a difference between, say, “all humans are mortal” and “one human is immortal”, while natural languages and more advanced logical systems (such as predicate logic) can.

Another, though less obvious, problem occurs when symbols are changed. IIRC, Japanese have problems with “l” or “j” or some other letter that is common enough in where I live. If I asked, say, Nakano to write this blog in katakana or hiragana, he would have problems, even if only the symbols were changing. This problem gets really bad in languages where a given symbol means a given word (there is a fancy term for such languages).

I prefer to read books that have been translated through as few languages as possible. Also, reading a book in two languages or changing the language in the middle of a series can be surreal (I did exactly that with the Song of Ice and Fire).

Implications to roleplaying

Some people prefer to create characters in play, others at start, and this is not a true dichotomy. DIP and DAS the styles were called in the r.g.f.a. days, according to what I have heard. Assuming a player who is of the DAS type, that player first builds a character in her head and then tries to translate it to whatever system is being played. Conversions of whatever between games are similar. Some games make this very hard (Burning Wheel is notorios at this with the lifepaths; anything with random chargen likewise). Even the games that try allowing all options, like JAGS or Silvervine, make certain options difficult to impossible. They usually break when trying to create extremely powerful, small, large, or weak beings. Wushu and the like may be an exception in that they don’t make things impossible; rather, Wushu doesn’t tell enough about a character. (There are games that don’t have this “problem”, at least theoretically.)

An exercise for the reader. Two, actually.

Take two game systems that have sufficient detail and are sufficiently different. Try to convert a character from one to the other and see what happens. Try to recreate a fictional character in both and see what happens. Both exercises are pretty illuminating when it comes to what the game rules are about.

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Character burning: The crunch

20 January, 2008 at 12:06 pm (Burning vikings, Burning Wheel) (, , , , )

This Wednesday I had the pleasure of actually getting the Burning Wheel campaign going. Sort of. BW is an excellent game, but it does have the problem of involved character generation, especially with only one copy of both core books (and one Monster Burner which was not used).

I am the GM. Players are Thalin, wgaztari and ksym. Thalin has played around one con game of BW and is somewhat familiar with the basic mechanics and knows what combat is about. wgaztari is new to roleplaying and has only played in Thalin’s Like umbrella. ksym has played some Warhammer fantasy roleplay (and is somewhat familiar with lifepaths), as well as the aforemention Mage game.

Thalin had a concept and started burning it, adjusting pretty well to the system, which was not surprising. ksym took to it pretty quickly, too, and at the end of the session told that the chargen was pretty inspiring. I agree. wgaztari had problems. BW is not the game for beginning roleplayers. He had similar problems in the Mage game, too, so it may be he does not enjoy building characters. Maybe it is due to the huge amount of choices one can make and inexperience at building character concepts and translating them to mechanics. Or maybe he just doesn’t see the relevance: The chargen choices don’t matter. Note to self: Ask about this later.

The session ended after midnight (University starts at 8.15 on Thursdays and I would rather not go there without at least four hours of sleep) and all the rules-stuff was dealt with. The actual meat of the game, beliefs and instincts, we did not have time for. Some ideas were thrown around, so it should be a breeze. BW has handy character burning worksheets. By “handy”, I mean absolutely invaluable. I am pretty happy at printing them. I can do chargen with pen and graph paper, but I doubt the others could have achieved the same.

The cool bits

Lifepaths are the way BW goes. The orcish lifepaths are available as a free sample (and I recommend reading them for pure inspiration; they positively radiate inspiration). Each life path gives skills, skill points, traits, trait point (or not), resources, years and sometimes stats, physical or mental. Pretty standard fare, but it does create character history with little extra effort. Also: The first skill and trait (if any) are always mandatory for each LP. This gives nice colour to characters.

The truly brilliant part are resource points. It is a pool of points that can be used to buy gear (equipment, stuff), property (house, workshop, cattle), affiliations (membership in a group), reputations and relationships. Usually there are a few extra points left after the expensive things are bought. Minor relationship is five points base, but can be modified: -2 for close family, -1 for extended family, -2 for romantic love, -2 for hatred or rivalry, -1 for a forbidden relationship. The minimum cost is 1. This means that almost every PC will have a minor relationship that is rivalry or forbidden, both of which are great story fuel, especially when combined with love or family relationships. Players get to create a number of NPCs that I must make relevant in play, which goes a long way towards building player investment.

Thalin’s char

The lifepaths for Thalin’s char, whose concept is “cheater”: Village born – village peddler – lead to outcast setting – itinerant performer – poisoner – conscript – pilgrim

Those do tell a story, sort of. The pilgrimage was just an excuse to get a few more skill points. The story explanation is a bit hazy as of yet, but it’ll clear up.

Stats: Will 5 (good), perception 4 (normal), power, forte, speed all 3 (poor), agility 6 (excellent). The character is quite likely to be very wounded if ever engaged in combat, melee or ranged.

Skills: Poisons is grey, or heroic, 5 (very good), cooking 5, inconspicuous, falsheood and herbalism 4 (professional), mending and sleight of hand 3 (trained), and big heap of skills 2 (nominally trained). Stealth is 1, which ought to be amusing, unless he wants to increase it.

Traits: Odd, off-kilter, hide before battle, collector, scheming (edge in social conflicts), chronologue (always knows the time of day, which means Thalin will keep track of time or impro it; less work for me), tidy aspect (the character is always tidy, no matter the circumstances), unlucky (arbitrary decisions are always wrong; can be bought off by having the character screw up at the moment of total victory, which removes the trait and gives artha [hero points]), plain-faced (call-on for inconspicuous).

Gear is not interesting, but notably includes a pet and no weaponry, not even knives. Relationships: Forbidden relationship with the giant, forbidden and hateful relationship with the village witch, his aunt.

Resources ability, which is actually used in game and derived from resource points used on affiliations, reputations and property, is zero. Nada. No money, no favours owned, no nothing. This’ll be fun.

ksym’s char

Concept: Warrior and the wife of a loser (ksym is male; I hope this turns out fine). LP: Son of a Gun (born at sea, in other words), sailor, marine, lead to village, village guard, village sergeant.

Stats: Good power and forte, others average. Steel attribute, used to resist pain, fear, surprise and shock, is notably 7, which is not bad at all.

Skills: Sword grey 6 (expert and heroic skill; ouch), command, bow and field dressing 4 (professional), intimidate 3 (practiced), seamanship 2 (nominally practiced), plus shield and armour training. Pretty focused combatant, all in all.

Traits: Sea legs (no sea sickness, call-on for speed on deck), sailor’s oath: I vow to drink to excess at every opportunity I get (this will be fun trait to poke at), bruiser, thug, cold-blooded (reduces hesitation; that is, makes steel tests easier).

Relationships are romantic family: husband (this may be liberal interpretation of “close family”, but let it be so) and hateful family: child. Fleshing these out ought to create some great story fuel. Also has a local reputation, the details of which were not written down. This must be done.

Oh, yeah: Resources 0.

wgaztari’s char

Concept: The son of the village king/leader/ruler/whatever title I will be using. LP: Village born – village guard – village sergeant – lead to soldier setting – bannerman – lead to village – captain of the guard (technically, guard captain is a city lifepath, but it was a good fit for the character and the lifepaths are not built for vikings, so I tweaked it a bit).

Stats: Good will and agility, others normal. Notable attribute is steel at 8. When combined with will 5 that gives hesitation 5, this character can actually succeed at steel tests, which is rare enough.

Skills, which may be revised significantly: Spear 6 (expert), command 4, conspicuous, brawling, sword and tactics 3, few at 2, plus shield and armour training.

Traits: Thug, honoured, exasperated, gloryhound. The last on is interesting, but requires some explanation. Generally, when a character fails a steel test, there are following options, of which player selects one: Run screaming, stand and drool, swoon, beg for mercy. The game has a bit of a gritty edge. Gloryhound adds another possible reaction: For glory! In melee, this means charging the opponent. In ranged, this implies a steel close, which basically means charging the opponent. In both cases, it has a significant chance of being suicidal. Cool trait.

Relationship: Rivalry with a brother (about the leadership of the village), 1D affiliation with the crew of the ship, 1D reputation as fearless. Resources 1, which means the character might, with good luck, actually be able to get a bread to eat.


All of them have good story potential. BW is good at that. I can barely wait for generation of the beliefs and instincts.

I’ll post the characters on BW wiki, once they are finished.

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