The Ties That Bind – Post event post!

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).

14 thoughts on “The Ties That Bind – Post event post!

  1. evilbilbo

    He was an interesting gent that Elizabeth never wishes to meet again. Though should the opportunity present itself a gun to the back of his head might be very very very tempting.

    1. mostlyfoo

      Yeah I wasn’t sure how that was all going to play out in the end… I think I solved the problem by legging it at the first opportunity once the peril was over.

  2. lentilthelegume

    I do like Stanislavski, but I actually go for a much more spontaneous method when I’m roleplaying (as opposed to acting in a pre-written play).

    Some research helps a lot – for instance, for Sophie I did a fair bit of looking into what poetry was around at the time, mostly to gain a sense of what was current and modern, and who she might consider her peers. I also looked into birth control and abortions because those would be pretty relevant to someone who was having a lot of sex in a time period where such things weren’t public.

    Clothes and accessories are pretty important to me – I bought her two dresses from ebay, and although they weren’t my first choices, combining them with the tights really helped me get a sense of her style. Most important was the Book Of Poetry, which I created in the week before the event once she was already speaking to me, going through old anthologies to pick out a few pieces that seemed right. Writing the IC poetry was also a big step, and I tried a few different styles and threw them out before finding her ‘voice’. One of them was inspired directly by an Emily Dickinson poem I’d already decided to include.

    Beyond that, though, most of what I did was on the day. I’d planned for her to have a French accent until about two weeks before the event when I realised that actually she places more value on her English heritage (from her mother) than she does her French, and so would only use an accent if it was to her advantage. Everything else – walking, tone, all that, I just step into her as we left the car and see what happens.

    With longer term characters I do like to find a hook to get me into their headspace – Eve, my old VIP character, for instance was all about the hair. I’d let my hair fall over my face from behind my ears and voila, Eve-thoughts. Wearing the corset as Rashel does a similar thing, just as wearing a different corset for my succubus did.

    1. mostlyfoo

      Well true, but I’ve always felt that Stanislavski’s system is partially there to try and create spontaneous ability to live in the character, but I can see what you mean, theres only so much textual analysis you can do on a character sheet.

      And the book of poetry was awesome :) Yeah I didn’t even think about finding the characters writing style as a method of getting the character when I was writing this post because Scaithgrace’s criminal background make him unwilling to write down too much incriminating evidence, but I’ve played writey characters before (ask the YS Refs, there are running gags about the amount of notes and papers I often show up with). My favourite one of that was me and Jonno exchanging letter correspondence between Eskmeals 2 and 3 (we got about 10 letters done I think, where I was also trying to infodump occult wisdom as I knew they’d show up in character and hence I wanted to drop something that may help the players out).

      The only thing I did this time was to work out what his signature looked like as I had to sign a couple of letters and knowing how to effortlessly (well relatively) sign as a character is something I’ve found can be useful and tells you a lot about them.

      I’m interested by the accent thing (I’ve only ever played one (recurring) character with an accent, and while I find my vocal style changes for each character I tend to stay with my accent because I’m shakey on doing others reliably) I think it could have made Sophie more obviously foreign and other, which could have been interesting in a way, now you’ve mentioned it I wonder if it would have been interesting to phase into French when drugged or threatened, or to learn some choice swearing for cussing people out :) On the subject of hooks for drawing into characters I’ve not really done that except for Enoch Satterthwaite (worst poet ever) who I had a reset phrase for his bad Yorkshire accent rather than the rest of him.

  3. lentilthelegume

    Also, I found Scaithgrace awesome fun to bounce off – Sophie’s opinion of him switched quite a lot. She found him sinister but reasonably likeable at first, then there was the very sudden threat that rather took her aback and she was a bit more suspicious of him after that. The practicalities of working together to resolve the situation raised him in her esteem again, and the encounter with Niles pissed her off.

    Ultimately, she would probably share a drink with him because she thinks he’s interesting, but would not want him to meet other people she knew.

    Mind you, she doesn’t really object to a bit of head-fuckery, like when he was trying to get the Opium dealers’ names.

    1. mostlyfoo

      Yeah I was hoping you wouldn’t realise quite what I was fishing for and would think I was another addict, but Sophie was clearly way too on the ball, hence why he fished for a bit then lost interest when it was clear he wasn’t going to get anything useful out of her.

      Similarly I found Sophie interesting, I’d written her off initially as just some silly poet, then when you started showing people the san-effecty ruins and ponder hugging jellyfish I started to worry you were going to be trouble by being so enthusiastic and getting in the way of the debt collection by prying, however I think Scaithgrace ruled her out as a threat in the end as she didn’t seem the type to dob him into the law, and I think he was hoping she’d just enjoy her encounter with scary types and use it as inspiration then they could go their separate ways.

  4. almighty_weasel

    Interesting thought…

    I tend to start with one of five specific archetypes, some of which get more play-time than others. 1: Child-like and earnest, 2: chaotic, impulsive and usually with a high sex drive, 3: extremely nerdy and focussed with a tendency to talk a lot, 4: ditzy and care-free, usually female, and 5: arrogant, controlling and self-assured. Technically I suppose there’s a sixth, who’s bitter, twisted and sadistic, but oddly enough I tend to connect them to number 1, just if things had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

    In fact, trying to write later stages of getting into character, all of it feels like just an extension of that first stage. There are a number of patterns of thought, speech and judgement that I can fall into with relative ease. Choose one of those, and as long as I’ve got the character’s background, everything flows naturally.

    The background, actually. Where does this person come from? What made them who they are today? That diverts a character into one of the archetypes. Everyone is the way they are for a reason, context matters very much, and that goes double for fictional characters. If a real person’s actions don’t make sense, well, that’s just people. If a fictional character doesn’t make sense, that’s poor character design.

    1. mostlyfoo

      Ahh so you feel you can use these archetypes as a base for then setting up the character background and motivation off, or rather you examine the background and work out which archetype it’s likely to push them towards?

      Not really a stagey thing just a kind of gradual absorbing of the character over time?

      Well the background material thing is interesting, because sometimes you realise what part of a background is missing based on how the character acts. Renfield (my character from Jez’s long running DG) had a background with some gaps in it, I knew the shape of it (he was squaring off against a long lived mythos threat, which he found due to its attempts to pass things from one identity to another generated what appeared to him to be wire fraud) but later on it emerged that while it was trying to kill him it had gotten his parents instead and he blamed himself for their deaths, this fleshed him out and gave him his motivation for extreme self-sacrifice in an effort to safe humanity.

      But when I’d started the character he was a bit less defined, it wasn’t quite clear what was going on to me, but the character seemed to have a shape… so it was initially “bad writing” on my part but I find that sometimes the bad writing smell draws you to the things the character pivots on (man this whole reply is all over the place).

      1. almighty_weasel

        Sometimes the archetype comes first, sometimes the background. Florica from Ars Magica was specifically designed to be 4, Yusuf from M:tA was 5. Sometimes the background comes first – Templeton was written for me, but was a very clear 3. Sometimes I’ll design a character, and then they’ll fall into one or the other as comes naturally. It depends on whether there’s anything I specifically want to play.

        It’s not really absorbing the character as classifying patterns in my own behaviour. Each archetype is an expression of a series of thoughts and actions that I know I can easily bring out from my mind. All my characters are me, only different and more extreme. The key is finding which bits of me fit into the outline of the character.

        Filling in bits of background as one goes along, or working out things about the character in play, are all entirely reasonable actions. The thing to remember is that in a very real sense, the character does not exist outside of the game. Their past is, in many ways, as mutable as their future, defined only by what the GM/Refs and the other players know about. Filling in the blanks in ways that don’t break character consistency, or in ways which make the character more consistent, are entirely reasonable and a standard part of the role-player’s arsenal.

        1. mostlyfoo

          Ahh indeed that is the important thing to consider, that as long as a character is consistent with themselves and the world then anything can have happened that fits and fills in the blanks in their history :)

          Malleable pasts (almost wrote pastas) are a valuable tool for characters to have, and I find they sometimes help drive and create the characters future or present actions, as I said sometimes its not clear to me what happened in their past until I need to rely on that part of them, then it crystallises and becomes formed.

  5. evilbilbo

    How do I get into the character’s minds?
    It kind of depends on who I’m trying to convay but generally what I quiet often fine is if I locate the part of myself which is reflected in them, open it up and see what happens.
    Elizabeth was I guess the part of me which is the anti-social sit in my room and keep everybody else outside, the bit of me which is intensly private. I pull that bit up and out from whatever little box in my head it’s lurking in and let it have reign and see what builds around it.

      1. evilbilbo

        It’s the method I’ve always used, but these days they’re based around smaller and smaller bits of me and more and more a new character.
        Though some it’s hard to identify the starting link once I look at the end character.


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