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Addressing the Character

A lot of games treat the player and character as interchangeable, addressing the player or the player’s character whenever it’s convenient. A lot of games don’t tell you which is which, which can lead to confusion.

I usually resist this type of thing, because it’s maybe important to separate the player and character and address the player, since the player is the one playing the game, the character is just a narrative token moving around the board. If we want the player to roll the dice, we want to be clear that it’s the player rolling them, not their character. It reinforces the idea that the player is accountable for what happens in the story, too. Reminds them that they’re a person.

But what if, instead of only addressing the player, we told the player to go away? To let the character be themselves within the context of the story? To let the player let go of their own bullshit, and let the character just be?

This part is for the character. No, not you, player. You doesn’t matter here. I don’t give a shit who you are or where you came from or what you did before you sat down to play.

So fuck off. Let me talk to the character.

You are the hero of this story. The hero. The. Hero. Maybe you were chosen by the gods, or by your people, or by a secret government organization. Whoever did the choosing, they. Chose. You.

And that means you’re special. Right? So let’s meet You.

This probably wouldn’t work for every game. But if I’m writing this game as an in-world artifact, and especially if I want the game to have a kind of unreliable source vibe to it, this could be a cool way to plant seeds of rebellion in the mind of the player, on behalf of their character.

When you were chosen, they gave you a weapon. What’s your weapon called?

Why did they give you a weapon? What are you supposed to do with it? Those are questions that the player might be tempted to ask or answer. But if the game doesn’t tell you… it can become a kind of insidious design where the game itself is a villain to be undermined.

Your weapon is powerful. It will tell you when it’s time to use it. Write the name of your weapon in your journal. Also write: “When the time comes to use it, you’ll know.”

Think of a game you’ve written, or one you’ve played. How would its tone change if it addressed the characters directly, instead of asking the players to serve as proxies?

But okay, I do better with like, working examples, so let’s give one a shot.

Heroes of Magic

The time of the Magi ended millennia ago, and no one has cast a spell in centuries. The old rituals and alchemical formulas have all been either destroyed in the fires that erased the Grand Libraries from existence, or squirreled away into private vaults and dungeon towers for the wizards who survived the collapse of Arcanum.

Today, no one uses magic. Most people don’t even know it ever existed. We talk about Arcanum as an old empire that fell, the way you might talk about a place far away from here that went through a dry season. It’s distant. Happened long ago. We don’t care about it. How’s the harvest.

But somewhere, someone has been remembering, and keeping track of the old ledgers. Following the strands of prophecy, or tracing genealogies, or whatever it is that old codgers in dungeon towers do when they’re meddling with humanity’s future.

And in one of those old towers, in one of those old ledgers, someone found a record or mention or clue about the existence of someone exactly like…you.

What’s This Game About

Heroes of Magic is a game about the rise of people called heroes, who will be expected to save the world from disaster, or carry it forward into a new Golden Age.

The game will address the characters of the story. It will not address the players. The players will be expected to figure out their place in the game’s mechanics. If something doesn’t make sense, the players will be expected to change the rules or invent new ones in order to make it make sense.

Breaking and changing the rules of the game is central to Heroes of Magic. If the players don’t end up breaking the game, the likelihood of them enjoying the experience may be put in peril.

You might not want to play a game like this. Sometimes I don’t want to play a game like this. That’s okay. But you should know what you’re getting into.

Stats

To find out how strong you are in a stat, roll a d6.

If you’re happy with the result, write it down. If you’re not happy with it, roll another d6 and add it to the first result. Keep going like this until you have a number you like.

Write down the total result. Also write down the number of dice you rolled. It should look something like this:

Good With Knives Dice
47 12

Or like this:

Strength Dice
Good With Knives: 47 12

Any time you encounter a thing where your strength isn’t high enough, you can roll another d6 and add its result to your total. When you do this, also add 1 to your Dice score.

If the stat you’re looking for doesn’t exist, you might need to create it. For more information, check out Hacking the Game.

Want to know what all these numbers mean? Check out the math.

Did you just lose? Again? Better go back to the beginning.