Wordplay as Character Inspiration
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #414
- Wordplay as Character Inspiration
- A Brief Word From Johnn
- What’s Your Favorite RPG? Tri-stat dX
- Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Wordplay as Character Inspiration
From Hannah L.
I recently roped a friend into running a Wushu game for me. Wushu characters have a small handful of Traits, and also a Weakness, which can be anything you can think of, from Angel of Death to Charismatic to Kung-Fu to Queen of England to Zoologist.
I knew I wanted Swashbuckling and Skullduggery, but I was having trouble deciding on a third Trait and finding a Weakness. Since I already had two ‘S’s, I decided to go with the pattern, and ended up with a pirate named Saber who is skilled in swashbuckling, skullduggery, and sailing, and has a weakness for seduction.
My friend did the same thing, but with ‘N’s. This was difficult, but turned out for the best, as we would never have thought of Navigation otherwise. We ended up with interesting characters who don’t overlap too much, and between them can take on just about everything.
It occurred to me that a similar method could be used to come up with character traits for other games. While it won’t have the mechanical impact of Wushu’s Traits, it’s still a good way of coming up with a personality sketch for a character you wouldn’t otherwise have imagined.
There are many ways that you can use wordplay to help define your character, besides alliteration. Following are a few suggested tips.
Play a game of Scrabble. Describe your character based on the words on the board at the end of the game. Whoever laid down a particular word gets dibs on using it for their character. If they don’t want it, it’s up for grabs.
This works for similar board games like UpWords, any of the Scrabble variants, and to a lesser extent, Boggle. In addition to board games, you can use spoken games, assuming you write the words down.
Spoken word games involve things like naming a word that starts with the same letter as the last named word ended with. For example, a chain of words might be, “Acrobat,” “Teacher,” “Rebel,” “Light,” “Temple,” and so on. Be aware that this particular game usually ends up including a disproportionate number of words that start with ‘E.’
Online games such as TextTwist can also generate interesting word lists.
Number of Syllables
Try creating a character whose traits can all be expressed in words or phrases that are the same number of syllables.
Let’s say I’m trying to make a rogue-like character. I want Lock-Picking, but now I have to find a way to express Stealthy in three syllables. Silent Strides? Silent Movement seems more reasonable, and that lets me do Acrobatic and Charismatic, but now I’ve lost Lock-Picking and Backstabbing.
This fits easily into Wushu, since you can define your Traits with any words you want, and don’t have to fit into a predefined list of skills. For other games, you can just map your final word list to existing skills.
For example, in most editions of D&D, Silent Movement would fit right in. Lock-Picking isn’t itself a skill, but it fits perfectly with Open Lock. Acrobatic could be Tumble, or perhaps Balance or even Jump. Charismatic might mean I try to end up with a high Charisma, or maybe I just put a few extra ranks into social skills like Diplomacy and Bluff.
If you’re using a point-based system for character building, you might consider offering a few extra points to players who choose an especially adventurous number of syllables, or who find really creative ways of describing certain attributes.
Limiting traits by word length is similar to syllables, but more difficult. “Smart” has five letters, and so does “Quiet,” so I have a good start on an intelligent, stealthy character.
“Strong” is six letters, so that’s not an option, unless I find a shorter synonym. Buff? Too short. Tough? Similar, but not quite. Still, it’s a good trait to have, so I’ll add it to my list of ideas.
At least I know I can’t be a coward, since that’s six letters. Small is five letters, so maybe I’m short or scrawny? Lucky is also five letters, but Wise is not. Neither is Honest.
Sneak is five letters, and it looks like I’m on my way to developing a cunning, unusually tough Halfling Rogue. Hey, rogue is five letters, too! How about rich? No. Wealthy? I’ll work on it.
Rhythm And Rhyme
Find words and phrases that all rhyme with one another, or all fit into iambic pentameter. Or both. This one is tricky, but can be a lot of fun.
A character could be stealthy, wealthy and healthy. Or they could be hale, with skin that’s pale, wield a flail, and wear chain mail.
Perhaps they’re sometimes guilty of haste and waste, but have taken a vow to be chaste. They could be strong as an ox, cunning as a fox, scarred from a childhood pox, and spend their free time scaling rocks.
If meter is more your style, try haiku or limericks to describe your character. This requires having some idea of where to start, but you’ll probably end up coming up with new ideas in the search to find words that fit the meter.
English alliteration might be too easy for you, so what about other languages?
A popular favourite in fantasy is Latin. I’ll pick the words ignis, ingens, ignoscens, and ignavus. These translate to “fire,” “huge,” “forgiving” and “cowardly/lazy,” so I have a character who has fire magic, or perhaps is just a pyromaniac, is tall and solidly built, and very forgiving, but also lazy or a coward.
Something to look out for in certain languages are prefixes. The Latin prefix “per” intensifies the word it is attached to, so if I were trying for alliteration with the letter ‘P,’ I could easily end up with an overpowered character concept.
Any of the other methods listed above can also work in other languages, with varying degrees of success based on the language chosen. Rhyme won’t work so well in Latin, but it has plenty of meters to choose from. Word length? Sure.
If you have a group of linguaphiles, you might even combine them. Sure, your Acrobatic and Charismatic character can pick locks – if you can find a four syllables long phrase for “lock picking” in another language.
A Brief Word From Johnn
The One Sentence NPCs PDF Is Here
700+ entries from the contest are now available for download as a very cool GM tool. Some entries were edited out, and others were changed a bit to suit the format, and now we have a looooong list of fast NPC concepts you can draw from while GMing or designing.
Here you go:
Check Out The One Sentence NPC Generator
I put all the PDF entries into a random selector to help you pick a few for next game. Try it out:
One Sentence NPCs Contest Winners
Congratulations to the random-draw winners of the contest. Everyone has been contacted, and here’s the list to cross-check in case my e-mail to you was filtered:
Aki Halme Alphonso Warden
Ben Overmyer Bruce Greenwood
Dadamh Dave T. Game
Elizabeth Sabin Felonius
Francisco Arriaga greywulf
impClaw Jorge Carajal
Milarky P G
Pahl Paul Darcy
Stanford Prescott StingRay
Ted Swalwell The_Gun_Nut
My Review of the D&D 4th Edition DM Screen
Just got my DM screen for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, and I’m pretty pleased with it. I took some pics and posted a review over at DungeonMastering.com. Check it out: D&D4e Review: Dungeon Master Screen
September has arrived. Time to get serious about RPGs again!
What’s Your Favorite RPG? Tri-stat dX
From Hannah L.
I like kicking down doors as much as the next gamer, but when I want a little more story and a bit less crunch, I turn to tri-stat dX.
Tri-stat has a point-based character building system, with a wide variety of Attributes and Skills that let you create just about any conceivable power. The system scales based on what die type you use, from d4s for caveman-level games, to d10s for superheroes and d20s for gods.
The system’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: you can do just about anything. Powergamers can easily abuse the system, so if that’s your group, tri-stat probably isn’t for you. But if you want to create unique characters with flexible powers and mechanically interesting flaws, tri-stat is fantastic.
The core rulebook is all you need to play. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you get past that, it’s an easy system to improvise with.
It’s published by Guardians of Order, or rather, it was – the company went under, and White Wolf picked up the licenses to at least some of the games. Luckily, the core rules are still, as they always have been, available as a free PDF:
You can also pick up the print version of the core book, as well as settings for fantasy and cyberpunk, in a variety of places online.
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
Suspenseful Sound Effects
I’ve seen plenty of good soundtrack tips for games. Here are two suggestions: “The Truth and the Light, Music from the X-Files”, by Mark Snow, and “The Call of Cthulhu” soundtrack, by Troy Sterling Nies, Ben Holbrook and Nicholas Pavkovic. The first is the official TV series soundtrack, and the second is from the 2005 fan movie adaptation (both of which rock, by the way).
They’re both instrumental – X-Files features some occasional dialogue, but it’s mostly for mood – and they’re both tense. Each of the CDs has approximately 20 songs, which is plenty, and they all set a different mood.
So about 40 moods in total. They fit (obviously) for sci-fi and horror, respectively, but they’re very good for any suspense, horror or otherwise tense atmosphere.
Further Thoughts On D&D 4th Edition
From Brent P. Newhall
A friend of mine sat down at my table last night, and DM’ed 4th Edition for the very first time. First, a quick summary of the session’s events:
Our characters (an eladrin rogue, an eladrin cleric, a dragonborn wizard, and a dragonborn warlock) were summoned to the house of a local lord. His head servant explained the lord had angered a hobgoblin slaver, who has threatened to enslave the lord’s teenage daughter. The characters were engaged to escort the daughter to a town on the coast, and an NPC warlord went along with the party.
We took a mountain pass, where we were ambushed by a large party of hobgoblins, and an eladrin who spirited away the girl from our midst. We killed the hobgoblins and captured the eladrin, who explained that the lord’s head servant had ordered the attack, at which point we returned to the city.
We convinced the lord’s guards the lord had been betrayed, so we could sneak into the lord’s manor. We were surprised by the head servant, who attacked us. The chief hobgoblin came out with the girl in his arms, at which point we fought a pitched battle, and managed to knock out the head servant and the chief hobgoblin, and saved the girl.
My friend liked how much HP everything has. Neither the enemies, nor the players, drop in two hits. This allows the battles to go on for at least five or six rounds, which keeps them interesting.
He also likes that it’s not as bad when a character drops. The two times our PCs went below 0 HP, they were back up and fighting within two rounds.
We talked about how difficult it is for the DM to keep track of everything during combat. He felt he could arbitrate more quickly in 4th Edition than 3rd Edition, because the rules are simpler.
While he can’t remember all the powers in 4th Edition yet, he still couldn’t remember all the rules in 3rd Edition. And once you get used to the powers, they remain the same and work consistently, as opposed to the often conflicting rules of 3rd Edition. So, an overall win for 4th Edition.
He is concerned that players who are used to 3.5 will resist 4th Edition. Certain classes can’t do as much massive damage as they could before. They’re more fun in 4th Edition, but some existing players will grumble.
4th Edition will be significantly more fun for younger players, since you get to use fun powers, and the rules are simpler and more consistent. It should also be more fun for older and more experienced players, once they get used to it, because many powers reward coordinated teamwork.
Bloggers’ Opinion On 4th Edition
I made a little survey among fellow (and also well-known) RPG bloggers, asking them to express their opinions on D&D 4e, in three sentences. I must admit that writing on such topic in just three sentences could have been tough to some of them (Hello Chatty!) but they (nearly) all made it.
So, here, in no specific order, I present you: Bloggers’ opinion on 4th edition.
Mary Sue Characters
From Simon Ward
Mary Sue, sometimes shortened simply to Sue, is a pejorative term used to describe a fictional character who plays a major role in the plot on such a scale that suspension of disbelief fails due to the character’s traits, skills and abilities being tenuously or inadequately justified.
Such a character is particularly characterized by overly idealized and clichéd mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors.
Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as “Mary Sues” is they are too ostentatious for the audience’s taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly.
The author might seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the “Mary Sue” character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an “author’s pet.”
There are some interesting litmus test links at the bottom:
Medieval Name Resources
From Mike Bourke
The very reasons why it’s unsuitable for the purposes of the group maintaining this website makes it a useful reference for the rest of us.