Pulling The Room Together: Touchstone PCs

I’ve got two cons coming up with the 4th of July between them, so this is a mail bag week! Okay, it’s a Twitter week. Everyone talks to me via Twitter. I asked you all for ideas of what to write about this week, and this was a suggested topic.

“A column about playing characters who are purposefully designed to engage other players and draw their PCs in for RP.”


Being the character that gets in there and ties a group together can be a lot of fun—I know because I’ve done it. I also did it with the help of a Storyteller—this was done at a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP. I’m biased to preferring to do this in collaboration with the person running a game because my experience doing so was positive. I also think it doesn’t work if you do this without ST/GM collaboration. My POV comes from a large LARP, so mileage may vary on my experience compared to yours

  1. The ST generated my stats for me. They approved things on the sheet they wouldn’t otherwise in a beginning character because they trusted me as a player, and we had a specific goal for my character in mind. That goal necessitated her having particularly unusual stats, and at high enough levels to teach them. I can build a great sheet with the best of them, but a pre-made sheet gave me a set of limitations to run with from the get-go, without my own knowledge or preconceptions about the sheet attached.
  2. Fill in the blanks. I was handed a sheet of stats and a goal, not a fleshed out PC. It was my job to give her a name, a back-story, and reasons for her extreme views and exceptional bitterness.  My ST gave me a thumbnail sketch of their ideas about how she might have turned out this way, and that gave us room to negotiate a very basic background before she ever went into play.
  3. How I played was fundamentally challenged.  The basic, expected rote for a number of us was very plug-and-play. Come up with a cool character or concept, stat it, slap some neat goals on there, get it approved and go play. I hadn’t noticed how singularly focused on personal  goals most of us were till I was handed a character whose goal involved creating a secret community. The core group I engaged with while playing her was 1) bonded together by their conspiracy and 2) all of them were eventually swept up in each other’s petty—and not so petty—dramas. I didn’t feel like the game worked that intimately in other cross-sections of the player base. For once, I was pretty damn happy to not play a perceived “Important Character.” It was also weirdly illuminating to be on the street-level of the game, watching how information was shunted/stolen/blocked at higher levels of in-game society.
  4. I played with people I hadn’t before. The character I was set up to play—and subsequently hook other players with—had wildly different goals than my prior characters. That meant an entire segment of the game I hadn’t interacted with was now my highest priority to game with.  In my case, the players I was dropped into the game to engage with were all playing characters that weren’t hooked into any plots, be they ST or player created. Because Vampire can enforce very rigid hierarchies in character, those players had been left at-ends because they were perceived as “unimportant” in-game to most of the PCS.
  5. Going “Against the Grain” can feel awesome—and it’ll make you think. When my ST plunked me down into the game, the goal I was handed was deliberately chosen. I was going to do things that would put me in conflict with the goals of more than half the player base—if they figured out it was me.  I wasn’t getting in other player’s resources and mucking about to be a jerk on a personal level, but it became an increasingly hard line to balance fairness and the inclination to competition. Sure, my character was literally built to go knock everyone else’s house of cards down when given an opening, but I didn’t have to be a dick about it. I had never taken winning—or losing—as close to heart as I did while playing that character.

I was handed a sheet with stats and no name, and told to go out and engage players in making their own stories.  I’d do something like that again in a heartbeat, given half a chance. In the end, my character’s goals failed miserably, but she left a bloody, tainted legend behind her. Sometimes, that’s even better than succeeding.


Ever designed a character to be a touchstone for others in your game? Been handed stats and a mission by your GM? Tell us about it in the comments!

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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