Sunday, July 5, 2009

Characters with Personality

The very first version of The Fifth World, the version we do not speak of, included MBTI types as part of character creation. Now, coming back to the medicine wheel and using Carl Jung's psychological types as the most stripped-down and generic of wise compasses, I can't help but feel like everything old has become new again. I don't know if the game has room for the extra dimensions of the full MBTI, but I've always thought that the emphasis on balancing opposites in Jungian psychology gave it a good ecological tone. Daniel Noel points to Jung as a valuable starting point for an authentic Western shamanism.

In the last version of the game, with the Prisoner's Dilemma, we wound up with a system that left little room for your character to influence it. My brother once despaired how the game left no place for the fearsomeness of his fearsome warlock to effect the outcome. The color beads mechanic offers several different ways to influence that. Now, I wonder about ways to keep track of that with a minimum of bookkeeping.

Jung's compass plots personality against two axes: one representing how you perceive the world (ranging from sensing to intuiting), the other how you make decisions (ranging from thinking to feeling). You'll always dominate in one; perhaps you perceive more than you judge, or vice versa. So your favored mode of perception (or judgment) would dominate. Jung called this your superior function. Then, you have your favored mode on the other axis: your secondary function. Your tertiary function sits on the other end of that same compass, and opposite your superior function, you'll find your inferior function.

So, someone who senses most of all could have thinking as a secondary function. She'd have a little harder time feeling, and a much harder time intuiting. Jung would represent this with a compass tilted slightly off-center, so the superior function points up, and the secondary function rises a little higher than the tertiary function. What an elegantly simple design for a character sheet!

I haven't decided entirely what to do with it, though. I see three possibilities: really, one of two options, and then the possibility of combining them.
  • Fill your bag with beads according to your functions. So, you get 12 beads colored for your superior function, ten for your secondary, eight for your tertiary, and six for your inferior function.
  • Add two successes for your superior function. Add one success for your secondary function. Subtract one success for your tertiary function, and subtract two successes for your inferior function.

The first means that most of the time, you'll pull your superior function most, and your inferior function least. The second means that you can always count on your superior function, and you'll always know that your inferior function will pose a challenge. The combination would really emphasize your choice: it would make your superior function very superior, and your inferior function very inferior. I think the combination might push it too far, losing that balance I like so much in Jungian psychology.

The last version had names and deeds that you would add up to make a reputation. Reputation never amounted to much in play, perhaps because counting up names and deeds required so much bookkeeping, but I liked the idea of names having mechanical significance. I still like it. I've taken great inspiration from Unconquered [PDF], Jonathan Walton's excellent hack of Exalted. There, the number of words in your name matches your Essence. I wonder if that could make a useful way of keeping track of something like "level"? Maybe, whenever you pull beads from your bag, you can pull a number equal to the capitalized words in your name?

I've also decided that this version needs to move more of the interesting parts of the game from setup to play. So, this version will have more character and setting creation as part of play, rather than something done before play. I have in mind a mechanic where players can add a story about the place where a scene takes place, perhaps something like the "flashback" mechanic in 3:16. That story would work like free-form traits in some other story games; it could give you more beads to pull, or additional successes. To emphasize the locality of these stories, perhaps you can use them once per story, and once additionally in a scene set in that place. Or, perhaps taking part in a scene set in that place recharges it. Perhaps you write down these stories on your medicine wheel, putting them in one of your four quadrants. Maybe, like the "weaknesses" in 3:16, a story associated with your inferior function has to feature your weakness, failure, or humiliation; maybe it works as something that others use against you, rather than something you use yourself.

We also had a problem finding motivations for characters. A lot of that probably comes from the as-yet largely undetermined setting. With an open source setting, I expect motivations to proliferate as the setting gets filled in more and more. But even so, that problem still reveals a weakness in the system. So one part of character creation that I plan to keep in the "warm-up" phase puts a spin on "see-me." After a brief introduction giving us a very rough outline of your character (since we'll really define these characters in play), we take a round around the table, and each player will put out something that your character wants to get from their character: love, respect, acknowledgment, forgiveness, apology, etc. So right from the beginning, we'll have player characters who all want something from everyone else. That seems like a great way to start the story!

All that, and a final game that only uses pieces you could quickly and easily gather, with things you could already have at home, and play effectively around a campfire.

Yes, I realize this has gotten a bit rambly, but I have a lot of ideas pouring out now, so please excuse the lack of structure here. I'd love to hear what you think.