Writing Characters & Role-Playing Games

vintage computer.jpg

Similar to my first computer.

Today’s post is going to look at how earlier role-playing games (RPGs) introduced the basic concept of archetypes to me when I was younger without me even realizing it.  For those of you who are nerd types, this post will likely appeal to you.  For those of you who aren’t, perhaps you’ll find some of it amusing.

When I was twelve or so, my dad surprised my mom and I with a new computer.  I should preface this by saying my dad was notoriously tight with his money.  I say this in a good way.  The comforts I enjoyed as a young boy were due to my parent’s ability to manage a limited budget.  Regardless, I was awe struck.  It was sometime in the late 90s.  We weren’t the most technologically advanced family out there (I grew up on a farm) so this wiz-bang addition was mind boggling.  The new computer had amazing features!  It came with a mouse, and a color screen was now standard.  This new computer also unlocked a new world for me.  The world of in-depth RPGs.

baldurs gate.jpgThat following Christmas, I received Baldur’s Gate from my parents.  I carefully opened the box with the smiling skull on it and looked at the five discs.  Five discs!  This game was going to be huge.

Christmas was at my grandma’s house.  Needless to say, I was chomping at the bit the whole hour plus drive home.  The game box came with an instruction book and a little map.  I must have read the book ten times before we got home.

I popped in Disk 1 and waited through the installation.  I couldn’t believe how fast it was going!  It must have taken less than an hour to install all of it (if only I knew how technology would evolve).  The game fired up and I was blown away by an amazing cinematic.

Baldur's Gate Intro.jpg

I quickly clicked “New Game.”  The game asked me to build a character.  I would be a sword and shield wielding hero!  Then it asked me to select my alignment.  The question caught me off-guard.  The younger me thought, “Heroes are only good…duh!” I selected Lawful Good and off to the races I went.

baldur's gate logo.jpgAs I began the game (in a state of sheer wonderment) I began clicking and watching as my character navigated around.  I clicked on a person and to my surprise a dialogue box popped up.

[Note:  From here on out I am roughly recalling the dialogue and actions of the game.  If you played the game, don’t bust my proverbial balls too much if my memory fails me.]

The computer character I clicked said something to the extent of, “There are rats in my cellar, if you help me out I’ll give you a reward.”

baldurs gate gameplay.jpgI selected the most heroic option.  “Leave it to me!”  With that, I moused the character to the house, found the cellar door, and brought down the fury of lawful goodness down on their rodent heads.  I nearly died.  My baby character was either using a crappy dagger or his fists.  I can’t really remember.  But I do remember my heart pounding because I thought I was going to die five minutes into the game.

After the battle, I noticed I could click on the environment.  I figured it would be foolhardy to not reward myself with some items from this cellar.  As I clicked a chest and opened it there were a few items inside.  However, instead of saying, “take these items,” it said, “steal these items.”

I quickly navigated away.  I would not be tempted by the fruits of evil.  Nay I say!  I found the gentlemen who assigned me the task and informed him of my glorious success.  He responded, and again, there were different options to respond with.  I could accept a small reward, or just say something to the extent of, “Think nothing of it.  I can’t accept a reward for helping a person in need.”  A heroes glory is reward enough after all…I selected the the no-reward option.  I continued playing the game in this manner.  Never straying from my Lawful Good alignment.

baldurs gate character.jpgAs minutes turned into hours, and I continued to explore and play, the dark side started calling to me.  Wouldn’t it be more fun to have just punched that first guy in the face and stolen his promised reward?  Then I could have went into his cellar and looted it as well.  I considered how much more powerful my character would be if I had chosen a different path.

I saved my progress, went back to the main menu, and created a new character.  This one would be Chaotic Evil.  I would do whatever the heck I pleased and reap the rewards!  The game was much harder to play in this manner.  Suddenly game mechanics popped up and began murdering me.  Magical police forces would materialize and blast my character into oblivion.  It didn’t matter what I tried to do, there was no escape.  Where the heck were these guys while I was getting mauled by rats when I was lawfully good?

baldurs gate map.jpgThen I considered that perhaps a blended option would be best.  Maybe not a total goody two shoes, but someone who was willing to take a reward and cut corners every now and then.  I selected a Neutral Good character, that seemed to fit the bill.  For me, this yielded the most enjoyable results and allowed me to wander in ways that didn’t confine me to alignment.

I noticed that each character gained different benefits/consequences in the game world.  For instance, when I would encounter a shopkeeper how they responded to me would be different depending on my character alignment and my previous actions.  I would click on the shopkeeper and indicate I wanted to purchase or sell some gear and these could be the shopkeeper responses.

  • Lawful Good: I’ve heard of you good adventurer, enjoy this discount. 
  • Lawful Neutral: Welcome to the shop.  Feel free to browse my wares. 
  • Chaotic Evil : Guards!  He’s here!  KILL HIM!

Flashing forward to now, this concept is no real revelation.  Most modern RPGs are carefully crafted and written.  They all have built in mechanics to reward/punish you for the choices your characters make.  It’s standard.  But back then, it challenged my perception of what a hero could be.  After all, even as a chaotic evil character (exercising moderate restraint) I could still win the game and beat the big bad boss.

skyrim.jpgTo this day, when I play a RPG I typically create three characters.  A good one, a bad one, and a neutral one.  I want to see what the game developers and writers built into the game to cope with these types of characters and their subsequent decisions.  For me, it adds a whole new dimension to the game play.

I encourage you to apply this same methodology to your writing.  Especially when you are outlining and creating characters.  Consider how the character’s alignment will impact their interaction with the world you are creating.  Really take the time to fully realize this early on.  Make sure you select an alignment that will offer the most interesting and rewarding results in your story.

The benefit you gain when writing (which most RPGs fall short on) is the characters you create can evolve in your world.  Their world views and alignments can change.  In essence, you control the character arc and can direct it in a way that best elevates your story.  It just needs to be believable.

question markAs for me,  I think I’m going to track down Baldur’s Gate and take a trek down memory lane.  We’ll call it research.  If you are a gamer, was there an RPG that really impacted your view on characters and what they can do?  If you’re not a gamer, do you take the time to consider character alignment and how it impacts your character?  Are there particular character alignments you find especially appealing to read and write about?  I’d love to hear about.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!  (Keep gaming too.)

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