Recently, Jason Morningstar was wondering on Google+ about characters having independent lives from their players. I guess I didn’t really understand what he wanted to get at. It did remind me of two things I’ve been doing in recent years, however.
When playing a Pendragon character, a high trait score (16 or more) will force players to roll in appropriate situations. And once they roll, the roll determines the character’s reaction. Sir Aliduke, for example, is so proud that in any given situation where pride or modesty are relevant, 80% of the time he’ll pick proud. My players come from a D&D background and they all adapted to this way of playing without complaining. Most felt it was a refreshing change of pace.
In addition to that, I enjoy the moment where I, as a player, realize that this particular character would never or always do something particular. I like the realization that the character is not just the player. As a player, I like a certain randomness at first. As things happen and my character reacts in insignificant ways, I take note. As play continues, I treat these fragments as prescriptions (not just descriptions). I’ll note “ORDER AND PROGRESS!”, for example, once my character shouted a vapid phrase in response to a crisis. And suddenly the character was discovered in play to be a buffoon that repeats vapid phrases and likes to shout them in critical situations. The important parts, I think, are not designing or building a character this way, and to write down early random moments as prescriptions.
I few years ago I wrote about this process thinking about “front-loading” character creation: Character Backgrounds.