Roleplaying: shaped by the game or the player?

My friends and I were talking about my character builds the other day, and they said they found it intriguing that I was working on the different characters’ motivations. They asked me if how I build and play my characters was shaped by the game or a reflection of myself?  That question got me thinking, before I began writing about my characters I would go into a game and make a character I thought would be really fun to play, one that would match my playstyle.

When I began working on my character builds for this blog I decided to use character builds to explore the mechanics of the games they inhabited.  In essence I create an ideal for the character and allow the game to inform the building of that character’s skills and core mechanics.

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For my character Pom Pom the Illusionist, her ideal was to be a pacifist, she did not directly harm anyone.  However, mechanically I needed to allow her to do more than just pacify enemies, so I gave her a companion, and the skills of healing and illusion spells like heal, calm, and courage to protect her companion and pacify as many enemies as possible.

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Pom Pom using the healing hands spell on her companion
For my character Bael the Thief, his ideal was to be a master thief without using violence, he refused to kill people and loot them. Mechanically this manifested itself in the development of having Bael use pickpocketing and sneak as his main ways of stealing items. I relied on the game’s penalty system as a way of furthering the narrative, when Bael got caught he wouldn’t run or fight, he would submit and be taken to jail.  It was here that I could expand his master criminal and smooth operator personality traits and use his lockpicking skills to become an escape artist.

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Bael, making his way out a prison after picking the lock on a hidden door in his cell

For my character Scribe Michael, his ideal was to be a supporting member of the Brotherhood of Steel. In his case his development was less about mechanics and more about how he fit into the structures of the game world.  The mechanics I picked for him were a reflection of the tenets of the organization he aspired to be a part of: science skills allowed him to build advanced weapon types, hacker skills allowed him to tap into locked locations using technology, and intimidation skills served as a demonstration of his connection to the Brotherhood.

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Scribe Michael using intimidation to get a raider to surrender, allowing him to pass through the area without having to fight humans, while searching for pre-war technology for the Brotherhood
I believe that all roleplaying experiences are, at their core, a manifestation of the player’s personality and an expression of their interests.  However, I also believe that creating unique characters to explore quirky mechanics within a game can be a much richer experience if the player associates those mechanics with personality traits or motivations of the characters themselves.

Thus I would say that my answer to my friends’ inquiry is that I personally enjoy making characters that explore the unique mechanics of a game regardless of the intended game world. That being said, I now look for opportunities within the game world to create a niche for these characters to exist in by developing motivations and character traits that explain their mechanical choices.

What do you think about roleplaying in games and character building?  Do you typically build characters to fit the game world? Or do you make characters that represent your playstyle and fill in the details of how they fit in the game world later? Do you avoid lore-breaking mechanics or do you just play with whatever you enjoy? I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please respond to the thread for this article, or talk to me through my email or any of my social media: playprofessor@gmail.com, FacebookTwitter.

Play Professor is the blog of ludologist and video game journalist Andrew Mantilla. You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.

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