Modular Gaming Components 9 - Private Face versus Public Face

 I've got my lunch-time high school gaming clubs playing Vampire the masquerade at the moment. They've all been playing mortals, and the offer for the embrace is going to hit soon. 

One of the things that a few of the players have really connected with is the idea of "Nature" and "Demeanor" in that game. After playing D&D and similar games where a character is pigeonholed into an alignment that's often a vague fit at best, this method of describing a characters underlying motivations rather than their actions, and tying opportunities for enhanced protagonism into the character's defining personality, really gelled.    

For those not familiar with the system, all characters have a "Nature", which is an archetype that reflects their inner motivations and agenda in the world. There's maybe 20 basic archetypes that can be slotted into this spot, with more in the various sourcebooks for the game line. If you do things that align with your nature, you gain Willpower points, which may in turn be spent to gain automatic successes on tasks.

Demeanor uses exactly the same archetypes but represents the way a character presents themselves to the outside world. A character who is honest with their intentions has the same nature and demeanor, but most people present the world with a different face to their true one. The demeanor has no real effect within the character's mind, but can impact the way other characters react to them in the story.

This sort of thing could be applied to D&D (or Pathfinder) by having characters having underlying motivations that aim according to one alignment, but presenting another alignment to the world. This might be the noble who looks virtuous and good in the public eye, but is actually devious and self-serving behind the scenes... or might be the bandit who flaunts authority and is rumoured to be a vicious scoundrel, but actually has a heart of gold and is trying to help the oppressed. It kind of works, and might be a good step toward incorporating this idea into a game, but I think we can do better.

Various games have meta-currencies that allow players to enhance their character's abilities if they believe an action is really important to the story they're trying to tell. D&D has inspiration, Savage Worlds has bennies, World of Darkness games have Willpower... it's basically a push toward a narrativist style of play where the considerations of the story outweigh any particular adherence to the laws of physics, or the governing elements of the setting. 

The point here is that every character has an archetype in the story, and players can feel disconnected from that archetype if they don't have something that helps link it back into the regular play cycle. If you're playing a warrior, you want to fight things. If you're playing a cunning manipulator, you want to cunningly manipulate things. The narrator should allow opportunities for players to portray the character in the way they've indicated their intentions...this kind of play mechanism just helps prompt them in that direction by giving them a bit of a boost. 

I'd try to make sure I offer these opportunities for each player at least once a game as a part of my "Red-Amber-Green" strategy. Everybody gets the chance to show who their character truly is underneath, and this helps to add depth to the story. Those who hide who they are don't get as much opportunity to show off their character, but at least the offer will have been made.

If your game system doesn't facilitate this sort of thing, it's not hard to present an opportunity to a character. If they ignore it, they ignore it. If they accept it, they get a token of some type which can be spent later to improve a die roll by a limited amount, or allow a re-roll. If enough player are getting those re-rolls by portraying their character in an appropriate manner, this should hopefully prompt other players to do the same. Do it once a game, maybe twice if you're running a long session...and have the tokens expire at the end of a session. Keep them current, keep them relevant. 

The private face of the character (their nature), can always be changed during the story, but there should really be some kind of dramatic moment where the character realises that their actions haven't really been focused in the direction that had thought they were headed. It's a bit of an existential crisis.


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