All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG. Bring these games to your table!
One of my regular groups has been playing a modern paranormal game using Savage Worlds. It’s a mash up of the Dresden Files along with a little bit of the World of Darkness, but with our own spin on the setting. Our eclectic group of supernatural folk include a nervous changeling fae, a rich kid selkie, a witch blood that talks to dead people, a water wizard that is a descendant of lost Atlantis, and my exiled werewolf. Since I was playing a werewolf, I pictured her human form as muscular and tall, but when the group started talking about what our characters looked like, I learned that everyone else in the group was either the same height as my character, or taller. Hrmph!
Okay, so my annoyance at this is kind of petty and a bit silly. In the grand scheme of the game, so what if most of the group is 5’10” or over 6’? Does it really matter if the character I pictured as tall enough to stand out in a crowd is suddenly eye to eye or overshadowed by everyone else? Not really, but it can still be a little frustrating when the vision you had of your character doesn’t quite work in the light of what the other players have chosen for their characters.
In this particular case, the disputed feature is height, but I’ve seen this kind of disconnect come up with other kinds of physical features before. Someone made a red head, only to find out that almost every character in the party is a ginger. Or, the player who made a character they wanted to come off as tough, only to discover the rest of the party looks like a biker gang on a bad day.
So, what do you do with a frustration like this?
- Session Zero is for more than just balancing stats and mechanics. While not everyone may have a vision of their character in their head yet, it’s worth bringing up some basics if you’re aiming to try and be noteworthy in a particular area. Let folks know if you’re picturing your character as being particularly tall, short, stout, or whatever. Doing this doesn’t necessarily claim ownership of that characteristic, but folks might consider other aspects if they know you’re going that route with your character.
- Be vague and stay away from actual numbers. While this doesn’t work with some physical features, your group could agree to stay way from specific numbers for height and weight and just use descriptors. This may come as a surprise, but the designation of tall and short is completely dependent upon point of view. To someone who is only 5’2”, someone who is 5’8” is tall. To someone who is 6’2”, someone who is 5’8” is pretty short. One of my gaming friends is somewhat ‘height blind’. He fully believes me (5’8”) and my roommate (5’3”) are the same height. When we point out the difference in our height, he is legitimately surprised. In his world, people are either short (shorter than him), normal (about 6’ or so) or tall (taller than him). Switching to descriptors can help let the rest of the group adjust their perception without having to put real numbers to those features.
- Adjust your description of your character. If you’re just getting started with the game, there’s usually no foul in changing up various things about the character within reason. This includes the description. If you really wanted to have your character be unique with their emerald green eyes, but then learn that everyone else also gave their character green eyes, go ahead and switch it up to another color.
- Embrace the commonalities. Maybe you wanted your character to stand out with bright blue hair, but when play starts you realize everyone else also gave their character unnatural hair color, it could be fun to lean into that. Maybe the bright colors are something they could have all bonded over. Maybe it’s a choice they made when they started working together. Either way, it could become something to celebrate rather than get annoyed at.
Whatever route you choose to get around your annoyance, the biggest suggestion I can make is to not be a jerk about it. Yeah, it might be annoying that the description you gave your character doesn’t quite line up with what you hoped after you hear about the rest of the characters, but it’s usually not anything someone did on purpose. Figure out a way to get over your annoyance and get back to the important stuff: the game.
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Gamers, such as I, who are devoted to Dungeons and Dragons and similar tabletop experiences, are all about big, showy magic.
It’s all about fireballs and magical webs and dazzling color sprays.
And if the spells in the main player’s handbooks aren’t enough, there are usually equally thick supplements replete with even louder, more demonstrative magic.
But what about games where there is magic, but it’s rarely in the players’ control? What about magic that intrudes only occasionally, but with significant purpose?
I think if you game in that sphere, then I would look to the 14th century chivalric poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for inspiration as to how magic could be incorporated in an otherwise mundane world.
A magical moment
The Green Knight’s first appearance and the challenge of the beheading game takes place at the dawn of the New Year — the solstice — as part of a Christmas celebration.
A holiday, a festival, a celestial convergence, the annual ritual rites at solstice and equinox are all great occasions to have magic pierce the veil, so to speak.
Magic won’t work on just any old Tuesday. But Friday the 13th? The start of a new moon? A planetary alignment?
Magic becomes plausible, then. Not just for the adversary, but if they are prepared, for the PCs as well. Will it break the otherwise continuity of your non-magical world if it seems to intrude on just this one, particular time?
A magical mixture
In the poem, Lady Bertilak’s kissing game and the reward of the impervious girdle highlights how to infuse competing paragon virtues with the attainment of a magical item.
The knight must live up to a vow of fidelity but also their reputation as a great lover so as to obtain the one thing that can protect them from sure death in the coming confrontation with the Green Knight.
The formula to follow for your game, then, is to have a PC weave a path through two competing virtues particular to them so as to obtain a magical item deemed essential to the final event. If you are able to throw in any social or cultural demands to confound or challenge them, so much the better.
A magical place
Magic is tied to a location. There is some of this in the first meeting between Gawain and the Green Knight, for Camelot is certainly a mystical location in its own right. But Camelot represents the new. Let the final confrontation occur elsewhere, somewhere unfamiliar. The Green Chapel represents something else — a connection to something old, mysterious and not entirely understood. Camelot is a place of vibrant occupation, a hub of activity. The chapel is a forgotten location, a ruin.
New and old magical locations are easily manufactured in the real world. The quest may begin at SoFi stadium, still under construction in Los Angeles, and end up at the temple of Zeus in Olympia.
As you contemplate magic in your nonmagical world, look for the extremes and things of a contrasting nature around you. That’s where magic — if it exists at all — lives and works.
Whether its effects are lasting are up to you.
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