by Jeff Freeman
Background: I'm Evil!
Ed wants me to make a character. In advance. Ugh. He says I need a `background' and a `personality' and a `character name' before I can even start.
Whatever happened to the good ol' days? You `rolled up' a character and decided, more or less willy-nilly, what sort of person it was as you played. Well, except in the end they were all the same, weren't they? I mean all of Joe's characters were basically Joe the Elf, or Joe the Dwarf or Joe the Whatever, but they were all Joe, all the time.
But how is that so different from, say, Robin Williams?
Look! It's Robin the Alien. Robin the Scientist. Robin the High School Teacher. Robin the crazy homeless person who went nuts after watching his wife's face get blown off by a shotgun-weilding psycho' yuppie-hating loser.
Used to be, you could play a game and a half before you even had to think of a name. Then you only had to glance at your character sheet every third game or so to remember what it was. And if you were a monk, you didn't even need a name. You were just The Monk.
I'm sitting there fiddling with the dice while Ed drones-on about the need to develop a three-dimensional character with a unique personality that is distict from my own and blah, blah, blah. Can I roll the dice yet? Okay, what do I roll?
"First off, decide what sort of character you want." he suggests.
"Chaotic evil," I snap back.
Gigi looks up from whatever gothic dark romance trash novel she's reading just long enough to roll her eyes. Ed says, "This game doesn't use alignments."
Huh? How the heck am I supposed to justify that whatever I feel like doing at any particular moment is `in character' if I can't say "I'm chaotic evil!"?
"Look at it this way," Ed explains, "Evil people aren't just evil. They have motivations, coupled with a disregard for others - or in extreme cases a total disregard for human life - and *that* makes them evil."
I blink. Give Ed the stupid blank expression. Look over to Gigi. She's back in her book. Glance to Tim, he's giggling to himself while reading a Justice League International comic book.
"What does your character want? What motivates him?" Ed prompts.
"Uh," I say, "he wants to be chaotic and evil?" I offer.
"But *why*?" Ed asks, "That's the real question."
"Oh," I say, finally understanding. "Because he's a jerk, of course."
"So you'll just be playing yourself?" Gigi deadpans. I think she's being sarcastic.
All this is entirely too much work. Ed agrees, "Maybe we should take a different approach." he surrenders. Now what do I roll? Am I trying to roll high or low? "Let's start with the character history." he says.
"What history?" I ask, "We haven't even started playing yet."
"Well, childhood." he points at me when he says `childhood' as though he's just coined a new phrase. Ooh, I can see it now... the Next Big Thing in RPGs... "character childhood".
Except that's not really new. I always liked the old Traveller with rolling to survive character creation as part of the process. "Oh darn, I was still-born."
I do my best Steve Martin impersonation, which really isn't very good, "I was born a poor black child..."
Gigi snaps her book closed and leaves the room. Good riddance. She wasn't being very helpful anyway. Tim snickers.
Tim's been sitting quiet the whole time (well, up to this point) flipping through a stack of Justice League International comic books. Now what sort of man still reads comic books at his age? "Well, that fits `The Jerk' background." he grins.
"Wouldn't say he was Chaotic Evil, though." Ed challenges.
"Well, maybe not. But on the other hand, he had a disregard for his fellow man, even though in his case it was the result of stupidity rather than maliciousness. Behavior wise-" Tim debates.
"Oh no", Ed shakes his head, "Look, he sent money home to his parents-"
"But that was his motivation!" Tim looks giddy, as though he's laid a careful trap and Ed just blundered right into it.
I myself just sit there, wondering where my life went so wrong that I would find myself, almost thirty years old, witness to a conversion in which a man reading comic books has a debate with another grown man about whether or not Steve Martin in The Jerk was playing a chaotic evil character.
I leave them to figure it out and wander onto the patio for a smoke.
On the way back inside, I pass Gigi. She's sitting on the couch, curled-up into a ball with her nose so close to the book that she looks like she's trying to physically crawl inside of it. I'm baffled that she doesn't just admit her need for glasses, but I suppose vampires don't wear glasses - and she does so want to be a vampire. I absently suspect they might wear contacts.
Apparently Tim and Ed resolved their debate. Tim is back in the stack of Justice League International comic books and Ed is carefully writing secret background notes for the next big adventure. I don't even wonder as to the outcome.
Everyone knows The Jerk was Neutral Good.
"Maybe I'll play a thief." I say.
Ed looks at me, "That's a good start," he encourages, "Now what about motivation? Why is your character a thief?"
"Sometimes," Tim pitches in, "It's a good idea to think up a character name first. Might help you to think of a background and so on. Or maybe a nick-name, then think of what happened to get that nickname."
Ed nods. I suggest the first name that comes to mind, "Kleptomonkey."
But Ed says that's not a name. Tim almost explodes, "What parent would name their kid Kleptomonkey?!"
"Well what's your name?" I shoot back, "Oregano? Maybe we have the same parents."
"It's `Sellari'", he claims.
"Whatever. Celery, Oregano... I knew it was some kind of vegetable."
He's not amused, so of course I push it, "Maybe I'll be Carrot."
"I think Oregano is an herb, actually." Ed corrects. Tim deliberately forces himself to ignore us, goes back to reading the Justice League.
"Herb's a good name." I nod, pronouncing the `h'. It's settled. Herb the Thief. Herbie the Thief. Makes me think of Herbie the Love Bug, for some reason. Wasn't a thief though. Maybe I don't want to be a thief. Herbie the Love Machine. Still could be a thief, though. Stealer of Hearts. Yeah.
I like that.
And he's chaotic evil, too.
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