With Halloween having just passed, many of you were likely to have been inundated with hordes of costumed trick-or-treaters or co-workers. Halloween is a wonderful holiday, and one of my favorites, primarily for the costumes. Donning a costume doesn’t change anything about the person wearing it, but it does change the perceptions of everyone seeing the person. My Indiana Jones costume is little more than the clothes and jacket that I wear to work on a daily basis, with the addition of a fedora. (What, you don’t carry a whip everywhere…) However, social interactions were completely different when I wore it to work. It gave people different aspects of myself to interact with, and I was happy to play up to them. When you think about it, the PCs in your game are kind of like costumes for the players to wear.
Of course the players could go for the very basic, cheap, and off the shelf costumes/concepts to represent themselves in the game.
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but that rarely happens. Even when using the basic concepts, players try to make the options they use special through play and attention to details of how they look and operate.
More often than not, it’s about the style and the looks, and making your characters/costumes unique and personal, not trying to gain mechanical advantages.
Players want their characters to be unique. The characters are the costumes they wear when they game, and they’re not just doing it for one night, unless it’s a one-shot. It’s for a long campaign or at least enough time that they don’t want to play the Genera-rogue. They want to play Asella, the fear of Westhaven — whose wolf headed daggers are left in the walls of the houses she robs as a calling sign. Her dark blue cloak seems to shift in color as the magics enchanting it swirl about underneath the upper-most layer of cloth and the small tear on the left hand side is from the guard who almost, almost, caught her.
The little details of a character, and how they look and act, are like the detailed and intricate costumes that cosplayers make to impress people at conventions, just to be seen and acknowledged.
And that is what we do as players, we want our characters to be acknowledged and looked at. Even the character of the very casual player, playing the most cookie-cutter class or concept is wearing an awesome costume in their head. The “costume” of every players’ character is awesome, even if they don’t get to draw it out or spend hours in creating it in the real world. But they can create it in the game, they just have to be encouraged and given the chance.
Being Open To Having Awesome Costumes/Characters
As the Game Master, you have the ability to help players realize their awesome costumes. You just have to enable the players in showing their costumes off. Here are a few ways to do that.
- Players will clue you in – Be aware of your players choice of unique elements that make up their characters costumes. If a player mentions or asks if they can find/craft a special type of item, ask them more about it. If they ask what kind of bow they have, tell them the mechanical details and basic styling, but ask if they made any custom improvements or modifications.
- Some items are special to the characters – Consider options like letting them disenchant and re-enchant, or remove special customizations, from armor and weapons that they find, transferring the magic or specialties to things that they currently have. This lets them keep unique elements of their character, like their family sword or the gun they kept from their time in the army. The players might not take it, but if it is available they can personalize items.
- Things with history are cooler than mechanics – If the characters do find unique weapons or items that can help them accessorize, help them to accentuate the uniqueness. A staff that shoots fireballs is much less awesome than the staff of Tim the Enchanter, who used it to hold off the armies of rengor. And it’ is even more special if legend says that it has rejected other wielders, but something special about the PC lets them use it.
- Leave it in their hands to describe – Let them describe anything they can. Set broad definitions (found armor – steel, heavy, emblazoned with runes)Â for things they find, but let them determine the specifics (found armor – dragon pattern, legs, arms, big pauldrons, runes are ancient dragon scratchings, etc.)
- The clothes make the character – The cooler the character looks within the game, the more awesome they are in the mind of the player. So, being able to describe the uniqueness of their character’s look (the embroidery on their robe, the custom smithing on their daggers, the pin-up art on the side of their pilot’s helmet, the general look of their character that makes it different from the template) helps make the character unique in all of the players’ minds.
- Give chances to accessorize – Make opportunities in the game for them to accessorize. Describe unique vendors or the myriad options that they might find in the space-marine armory, or bait them in with a shopping trip through a bazaar. And, this is important, let the story give them time to find something nifty. Sometimes, all it takes is the opportunity and knowledge that you can spend a little time making your characters costume unique. “YouÂ go up the steps to the temple, but the arch-mage isn’t ready to see anyone yet. You are told to come back in 2 hours and all your questions will be answered. All around you are the vendors in the marketplace, selling various armors, clothing, etc. This is your chance to do some shopping before you get into the next thing, so feel free to sell off the loot from the last adventure and gear up for the next challenge. ”
- Leniency when it is called for– Don’t punish things that might be outlandish or would realistically stand out about a character, such as the unique tattoo or definitive style of dress, unless you’ve already stated you are definitely running that type of game. Sure, having a facial tattoo would make it much harder for a character to disguise themselves, but if it doesn’t really help them in other situations, why should it hinder them in this one? For the sake of fun, assume that they accommodate for it when disguising themselves, or play up the narrative of them almost being recognized because of the tattoo, while making sure they know that it is separate from the roll in those types of situations if they take basic steps to hide it.
The concept that players enjoy playing more unique characters is something that veteran and newbie GMs tend to figure out pretty quickly. But reimagining the character as a costume that the player wears and helping them take it from a basic off the shelf costume to a well crafted custom job can really change the way people play. Take a look at your current game and try to imagine the characters as costumes. Do they tend to be more off the shelf or more custom and detail? What do you currently do to emphasize the details of players “costumes” in the game? What are some of your favorite “costumed” characters and what details made them especially awesome?
I always got o some lengths to create an identity for my characters based on the way they look. Playing a Whitelander in a friends’ home brew game (Nordic almost giants, average height just under 7 foot) I rolled a background quirk to discover i was tall even by my culture’s standard. So of course to make this even more obvious I described the long animal skin cloak I was wearing as having an extra foot of material inexpertly stitched onto the bottom to fit someone of my size better. That was just one little thing, but it came to hep define the character, and how awkward he found things when living in a city designed for people a couple of feet shorter than he was.