If you're reading this and you're a GM/DM, welcome to my entropic cosm of terror. Over the weeks to come, we're going to pierce the veil of this illusion of benevolence and accommodation that's the current trend in RPGs and put the MASTER back into Game Master. Being a GM is akin to being a Greek God, the players being the mortals subject to your whims and cruelty. If you are a player reading this blog, your sanity is forfeit as you will learn that you are but mere puppets dancing to the mad tune of your GM.
This week I'd like to shine the light on the topic of player responsibility in making their characters interesting for the game. When you GM enough games, you'll run into players who want to skate by with the nondescript loner orphan character with no ties to the world and no personal relationships to any NPCs. That character is BORING and will need to be re-done or subject to the not-so-tender mercies of GM editing. The other end of the spectrum are the Mary Sues (characters that are somehow tied into major events and NPCs even though they're just starting level 1 scrubs). That player ego masturbation background so ubiquitous it makes all gamers reflexively cringe at anything that remotely sounds like, “Oh, gosh! Let me tell you about my character!”
As Masters, it is our job to crush both ends of the spectrum into the conformity that will liberate their confused player hearts and minds. While the actual mix and quantities vary slightly based on game style and player count, I find a five element mix to work best. That is to say that PC backgrounds need five usable elements to be considered acceptable. Typically five is what the average player brain can handle on a consistent basis so I recommend staying in that ballpark. They will after all need some reserve in order to not go stark raving mad in face of the Machiavellian psychological and emotional torment engine that you plan to put them through.
So what is the typical mix of these elements that byzantine mastermind GMs should use? Years of testing on victims suggests that it works best with two intrapersonal, two interpersonal and one aspirational. That's a lot of terminology I know, but we must keep our methods of player manipulation obfuscated in jargon after all. Intrapersonal elements are those that are within the characters' minds such as beliefs, values and personal codes of behaviour. Interpersonal elements are their relationships or ties to other characters or groups in the setting. Aspirational elements are characters driving motivations and goals and are not necessarily always aligned with the goals of an adventure. In fact, some of the finest moments of GMing can be had when your players are soul crushingly wrenched by their characters' plights as these elements both help and hinder their adventures.
With that, I must bring this installment to a close. Would you like to see this expanded upon in future weeks? What other areas of Games Mastering would you like tips on? Questions? Compliments? Non-sequitur megalomania? Leave it in the comments below!