Okay its like obligatory to write posts after events as far as I can tell, however this is mostly going to be egotistical ranting about methods of characterisation, so I’m interested in hearing from people about how they get into characters.
Okay, so as many of you know years and years ago (lets not ask when) I did a bunch of Theatre Studies and looked at the infamous Stanislavski’s system. Now while these days I can’t remember all the details I tended to pick up lots of useful bits and bobs from this, and combine them with other techniques I’ve used over the years.
Primarily I find that most characters don’t really come alive for me until about a week before the event. Before then I’ll tend to read the sheet a few times, and if possible start to pre-process it. By this I mean going through a print out with a pen underlining important points, trying to pick out bits of implied background or looking for holes where I’ll need to work out what the character was doing or what their motivation was.
Jude Scaithgrace for example only had two friends in pretty much his whole life. Toby MacFall, who knew him as a kid and “owed” his mysterious Father something so looked after him and helped him get a foot up as a kid starting his own racket as a teenager, then later the infamous Mr. Lairy, whom I worked with for a decade in Edinburgh, who was less pragmatic but more of an unstoppable force, but possibly less under control and more likely to fly off the handle.
Barring this every other human interaction was through a thin veil of professionalism, Scaithgrace’s whole approach can thus be determined to be extremely transactional. His flaw is “isolation”, and he has the introspective skills to understand that he is a distasteful human being. So I’ll make a note of this approach and perhaps go and see if I can find some articles online about extremely transactional, self hating, isolated personality types.
Also this pre-living stage is where I tend to look for information I need to at least passingly research or ask about. In this case I know that Jude comes from Dumfries, lived in Edinburgh and spent almost all his life alone. I need to at least read the Wiki articles on both these places. He was a career criminal and loan shark so worth a quick brush up on at least ideas of 1920s criminality and the law. He knew about a few secret societies so best to extract those from the character sheet and maybe ponder a bit about who they are and what they’d be like (getting references to tylers and post meeting socials suggested masonic links, names like “The Blue Lotus Society” suggested orientalism, etc).
Once this sort of background information has been extracted and casual reading done I tend to let the character settle at the back of my mind and just occasionally return to it, pondering it, wondering about home life (did Scaithgrace ever go on holiday?) and pondering little incidents and acquiring kit. What does this character wear? Will my currently supplies of bits and bobs do? For the current example Scaithgrace needed a good knife prop as I thought he’d be waving it about a bit, also some braces (which didn’t get enough wear, curse you body) and a nice hat.
The hat was important as (a) it was about a fiver and (b) It was an example of socio-economic status. At the time (according to wiki’s article on 1920s fashion and mens hats there was rigid class stratification on hat wearing pretty much. Now Scaithgrace wasn’t really exactly working class (although I didn’t imagine he was minted growing up) but he was a slightly classy gentleman bastard, he needed to move in circles where he was seen as an upmarket gentleman, a lot of their business was with upper escalones of society, so minor nobs, politicians, rich people and army types who liked to play about with secret societies and occult nick nacks (and then possibly went slightly wonky because of it). But also a lot of the interactions would be with a criminal/black market fraternity and subculture. So to deal with this balance of people Scaithgrace had to present as smart (suit, braces, neat coat) but also as practical and efficient, not to be messed with, and also not quite a toff, and someone who is clearly a bit criminal. Hence the smart suit along with a neat and new, but technically lower class bakers boy cap to give the mix.
Anyway! Then about a week before the game is when I start to think about properly getting in character. By this point I should have accumulated all the actual knowledge I need so I tend to reskim wiki a bit, including the article for the year in question to get current events in mind. I’ll also start to ponder more a “What if” and pose the character into life. Working on occasional bits of posture, switching from other stuff (such as Mythos fiction to get the mood) to in character reading (in this case The Yellow Wallpaper) and also working on an in character sound track while making props.
The soundtrack I find important, you can link characterisation to an album or a genre, in the case of Scaithgrace it was non-verbal stuff mostly. When writing the letter props it was classical music, I could see Scaithgrace as actually quite a non-lyrical music fan, of being able to lose himself to following music without needing to interact with other humans by listening to their voices. When walking (and learning his walk and posture) it was more non-verbal stuff, Wardruna gave a certain wild edge that he would appreciate, more classical also worked, he was aggressive but controlled so metal wasn’t quite right, it was also too fast. Music for Scaithgrace is like his normal methods, slow, pragmatic, methodical. There were echos of bringing in fictional characters as models to steal parts of (Mr. Croup from Neverwhere, Dr. Grey (who I built most of my library of physically intimidating postures and mannerisms for), Hannibal Lector, etc).
When thinking about the character at this point its good to experience them physically, to put on their walk when you’ve got headphones in, to build up to it. Don’t think about, or day dream of the future so much, don’t think about nice little bits you’d like to try and include in the event, dwelling on such things ties you to them, pushes you to try and engineer scenes to force set pieces. Instead ponder them if you find yourself thinking of them then put them out of mind, you need to be trying as much as possible to operate without such scenes stuck in your head so you can respond as the character to the actual plot (for example I thought about the interesting possibility of doing a classic gang-land execution scene in this event as I’ve never done one and it seemed like it was good, so instead of dwelling on it I just recorded it away as “This is probably how Scaithgrace has learnt to get rid of troublesome people and make them an example to others” and put it out of my mind).
New dimensions of the character can also come out at this late stage (and later as you play them). Scaithgrace for this example was pretty much a-sexual, probably not by inclination but by his own self-disgust with himself as a monster and also his distrust of others and fear of intimacy and dependency. This gave a whole tilt to several scenes in the game, but wasn’t something I’d really thought of before about 24 hours before time in when it just made sense.
The other thing is to restate objectives to yourself, to brief yourself on what the actual time-in situation is for your character so you can drop into it running. Here Scaithgrace’s objectives were the artifacts, the money, finding Hansford to give him a warning and of course getting away scot free.. That was the focus, so we hit the ground running and were there making an impression. It was interesting watching these objectives change as even by the time Scaithgrace hit the spider-demon he was bargaining for people to get out (he’d need them to survive the oncoming WTF, this was pragmatism, and that unlike Grey he wasn’t a murdering nutbag except when it suited him. He wanted power, and to enjoy that he needed freedom, just whacking people wasn’t really on his list of things to do) and right at the end Turner had to remind him to rob the study on the way out the door (we’d bagged up the bits and were about to leg it out the back armed up and head over the fields).
Anyway that’s a bit of a ramble, hope there’s something useful in there, and tell me people, how do you get into character?
ObSquee: Yeah we shot a bunch of stuff :) Go the Drummond Street Brokery for being monumental bad arses, we got everything we came for and more, and got out without being shot. Although we were probably quite memorable so there may well need to be some mop up of threatening people to STFU.
ObFanboy: Oh yeah and if no ones read it yet, heres my Recommended reading suggestions for Lovecratian Mythos material its all up online these days, go have a browse and read it! (although I may decide to make another post and revise my order at some point).