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The Play's the Thing

Let Me Tell You About My Character

by David Goodner
Feb 19,2003


The Play's the Thing

Let Me Tell You About My Character

By David Goodner

Welcome back. This time out, things will be a little different than usual. I recently had a really interesting experience, and I thought I'd share. There's not really any advice per se, but maybe you'll enjoy it anyway. We're returning, briefly, to the exciting world of character creation, or more accurately, character development.

If you've been reading so far, you've probably reached the conclusion that I think characters are important. You'd be right. For my style of gaming, well-realized, detailed, plot-hook laden PCs are as important as a compelling setting and interesting, vibrant NPCs. All of which is more important than a really original, amazing plot.

Unfortunately, it tends to take me 2-3 sessions to get into character. The rest of the time, I have a bunch of ideas that don't really hang together. I have to muddle through for a few sessions before my character "comes to life" and sometimes the result is a lot different than what I started with. Like my guilt-ridden, honor-bound Pendragon knight who started play as an affable bastard, for instance.

This is a flaw I've been trying to overcome. I've done it by writing long character backgrounds (which tended to be fairly lifeless, and to nail down details I'd rather leave vague) and by writing fiction (which is a lot of work to do well, and not worth doing poorly). This time out, I decided to try something new.

I just started a Buffy game. My character is Tomika Juri, a Potential Slayer from Japan. I started with a basic idea for a very serious, studious girl who had already dedicated her entire life to being the Slayer, and would realize fairly early in the game that she'd missed out on some good stuff to do so. If you're a fan of the show, you might be reminded of Kendra, who was a major inspiration. I also wanted a slightly different take on the idea of the Slayer, which is why I chose a Japanese Potential. Juri sees the Slayer as something like a Samurai, and that colors the way she does her job. For example, in our first run, the group was patrolling, and ran into a small pack of vampires. One of them got knocked down, and before Juri killed him, she let him get up and compose himself. (The barbaric bloodsucker ran instead of facing honorable combat)

I really didn't have a lot else to go on. So, after the first session, I decided to try something new. I conducted an interview with my new character. It was kind of an exercise in role-playing, and kind of a story. When I started, I didn't really know where I was going with it. I stopped when I got to six pages. I'm thinking about doing some more later.

The text of the interview follows. The interview is completely out of game continuity, and doesn't even stick to a single moment in time, since I put in some questions that Juri wouldn't know the answers for yet. I initially thought about doing a completely In Character interview, either by a fictional student reporter for the school paper, or a member of the Watchers' Council checking up on her, but I decided fairly early on that either of those options would be limiting. The Watcher wouldn't ask all the right questions, and the student wouldn't know some of the ones he needed to ask.

I also want it noted that I know about as much about Japan as a slightly more than casual Anime fan. Any inaccuracies are the result of ignorance, rather than malice or design. I hit close enough that I don't think I'm wrecking other players' SOD, though.

I've appended the interview with comments in italics to clear some things up, and to expand on a few others.

Interview with Tomika Juri

First, let's set the scene: a coffee shop in downtown Littleton, Co, on a cold, February morning. Music by someone who thinks the Celts were nicer, cooler, and above all cleaner than they really were is playing from speakers in the ceiling. The place was decorated with eclectic furnishings, mismatched chairs and tables, and some overstuffed leather sofas. There was a pool table over on one side, and a big TV on the other. Most of the clientele on this blustery Saturday were high school and college students.  (This paragraph was done when I still thought about doing the interview IC. I like it, so it's staying)

Tomika Juri was already waiting for me, sitting at a table with a cup of coffee in front of her. She was wearing a white blouse, a long, gray skirt, and a blue wool blazer. Even on Saturday, she looked like she was on her way to school.

Since I'm told we might not get an accompanying photo (more's the pity), I'll provide a brief description. I might have anyway, because Miss Tomika is a pleasure to describe. Her hair is as black as India ink, very silky, and today parted to one side and held in place with a heart-shaped hair clip. Her eyes are blue, the color of sapphires in bright light, almond-shaped, and very expressive. She has an elfin face with a cute little upturned nose, and a figure to match. If I didn't know better, I would have found it hard to credit that she could take a vampire in hand-to-hand combat. (I'm told that she killed two, and finished off a third, mostly single-handedly in a recent hunt. Impressive.) Of course, the blazer hides her musculature. All you see is the adorable face and the fact she's not much more than five feet tall.  (Speaking of the accompanying photo, anybody got any suggestions for a young, teenage Japanese girl, preferably with blue eyes - but I know some people with Photoshop skills, and for that matter, I can easily change that detail.)

She was watching the door, and I saw her size me up. It took only a moment for her to figure out who I was, at which point she smiled bright enough to melt butter and stood up.

I ambled over. We made our introductions. Tomika's accent is a strange, but very appealing mixture of proper British and Japanese. A waitress stopped and took my order. I pulled out my recorder, and we began:

RDG: Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

TJ: I'm glad to do it. What would you like to know?

(Direct, isn't she?)

RDG: Well, everything. Let's start with where you were born.

TJ: Hiroshima.

RDG: What was it like?

TJ: It was very nice there, but I only lived there for a few years. My father had an apartment over his store. He sold groceries to the people in our neighborhood.

RDG: What about your mother?

TJ: (pauses) She died when I was born. My grandmother helped take care of me. So did my aunt, Aoi.

RDG: I'm sorry.

TJ: It is all right. I never knew her. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a mother, but I don't really miss her. Papa did, though. He was always very sad.

RDG: So, did you have a lot of friends? What did you do for fun?

TJ: There were some other kids in the neighborhood, and Aunt Aoi had two sons. They were stupid-heads, though. We did normal stuff, I guess. Played in the park, flew kites, went swimming in the summer, played video games and watched TV. Uncle Genjo worked in an electronics store, so they had a big TV and lots of games. Even if their kids were stupid-heads.  (The cousins kind of came out of nowhere. So did the step-siblings who show up in a little while. That was kind of neat)

RDG: But you left later, right?

TJ: I was seven. Some men visited Papa. Later, they talked to me. They said it was my destiny to be trained as a warrior, to protect people from creatures of the night.

RDG: And you believed them?

TJ: Why wouldn't I? They were adults, in suits. One of them was a monk. They wouldn't lie. Besides, I was a little kid. I still believed in faeries, and that a monster lived in my closet, but he could only come out at night if the door was open and the nightlight was off.

Anyway, they were right. There are creatures of the night, and people need to be ready to kill them.

I don't know what they said to Papa. Maybe the same thing they told me, I guess. I didn't really understand it at the time, but he was seeing a new woman, and I think he thought it would be easier if he didn't have a little girl underfoot. Later on, he married her, and they had two kids.  (In my original background write-up, all I knew was that Juri's father had given her up to the Watchers. A new wife was a good reason he might do so)

RDG: Have you ever met them?

TJ: Once, when they were little. My stepmother is kind of uncomfortable around me, and besides, I was usually too busy with training.

RDG: So you went to...?

TJ: The temple. I don't think I'm supposed to say where it is. They may have moved everyone anyway. It wouldn't be hard to find, though. It's kind of out in the boondocks. I thought it was really isolated until I got to America and saw how spread out everything is here.

The temple was a monastery, very old. The plumbing was always dodgy, and there was no TV. Most of the people there were men. There was one girl, a lot older than I was. She left after a while. I kind of wonder where she went.

RDG: So what did you do there?

TJ: I learned to be the Slayer, if I am the one Chosen when the current Slayer falls. At first, I was too little to spar. I learned normal school things, and how to speak English and old Latin. I practiced Tai Chi and Aikido. When I got older, I started learning more martial arts. Kenjitsu was my favorite, and Kyudo. Being a Slayer is like being a Samurai. You have to give your life to a greater cause. I studied art: calligraphy and flower arranging, and tea ceremony. And I learned about the occult, of course. Lots of old, musty books that had pages so fragile you had to use tweezers.

RDG: What did you do for fun?

TJ: Sparring was my favorite. Training exercises, like Capture the Flag. For my thirteenth birthday, the monks gave me a special party. I got my own swords, and they brought in a vampire for me to kill.

He was faster than I thought he'd be. He broke a couple of ribs, and the monks had to hit him with a tranquilizer before I could cut off his head. It was very embarrassing, but they said I did a good job.  (The whole "vampire birthday party" thing came out of nowhere. I was completely surprised that the idea was lurking in my subconscious, but it was really so perfectly logical. That bit was one of my two favorite in the entire interview)

Oh, and Sensei Brody bought me a Hello Kitty Fairy doll.


TJ: What?

RDG: Just processing. You killed a vampire when you were thirteen?

TJ: Yes, with my new katana. And some help from my teachers.

RDG: And that's what you think is fun?

TJ: Well, I also like reading manga, and since I moved to America I watch TV and play video games again. There's three different DDR machines at the arcade. That's fun.  (This bit is not strictly in synch with the rest, having theoretically only been in town for a couple of days, Juri probably hasn't been to the video arcade yet, but she will be eventually)

RDG: About that, why did you leave Japan?

TJ: My teachers didn't say, exactly. The location of the monastery, or the fact that a Slayer might be there, must have leaked out. They said it wasn't safe for me to stay at the monastery anymore. They needed to get me out of Japan, and Lane-Sensei said I could stay with her in Littleton. I had my visa and school records and things in just a few days, and I was on a plane the next day.

I thought it would be a big plane, but it was just a little one, a Lear Jet. We stopped in California for one day, but I was too sleepy to really enjoy it. Hayden-Sensei bought me a Hello Kitty address book from a shop near our hotel. The next day we landed at a little airstrip, and Lane-Sensei met me and took me to her house.   (Just as a point of interest, the GM gave me a Drama Point when I had Juri pull out her Hello Kitty address book to call her Watcher.)

RDG: So, how are you liking America?

TJ: It's very different from home. I've only been here a couple of days now. I'm not really used to such a big school. I had private tutors from the time I was seven. Trying to remember where to go and when is difficult.

I love Lane-Sensei's house. The Watchers sent over some of the things from my old room. I'm still getting used to sleeping on such a big bed, and having so much space. The dojo isn't as big, and there's no firing range. I hope there's Archery at the high school so I can keep in practice.

Lane-Sensei cooks huge meals. I like American food, especially fried chicken.

The town is much bigger than I'm used to, and there's an even larger city not far away. It looks like a nice place.

RDG: Any friends yet?

TJ: Lane-Sensei is very nice. She lets us patrol, with weapons. So is Marian, even though she forgot to drive me home from school. She has her own car. That's so cool. Theodore is very brave, but he breaks lots of rules, and he always seems so angry. Simon is nice. I met a cute boy named Travis Evans at school. He said he'd drive me home from now on. (Giggles) I was surprised to find out he knew what vampires were. The Watchers said mostly people don't know, that they don't want to know.  (These are other characters in the game. Nailing down Juri's reactions to them was one of the things I intended to do from the start. It's also one of the things I want to expand on, maybe through a diary or something)

RDG: Let's talk about your work. Do you think you'll be Chosen?

TJ: I don't know. I hope so. Whether I am or not, it doesn't change what I have to do. Good people have a responsibility to fight evil. I don't have the strength to fight a demon on even ground, but I have the teaching to find its weaknesses, the knowledge to exploit them, and the skill to take its advantages and make them mine.

I would never go against my teachers, but sometimes I think the Watchers are too concerned with watching when they should use their power to do something instead. I will hunt the monsters for as long as I can.

If another is Chosen instead of me, I might seek out another source of power. Most of them are dangerous, too dangerous, but there has to be a way. I read about Gwendolyn Post and what she did. She was a bad person, but I do not completely disagree with her.  (Most of this is stuff I knew when I made up the character. It helped me to find Juri's voice to have her state it, though)

RDG: So for now you patrol? What do you like about it? What do you dislike?

TJ: It's fun. I know that's a scary thing to say. You don't have to look at me like that. In sparring, you have to exercise control so you don't hurt anyone. And in the back of your mind, you know it's not real no matter how well you pretend. When you're really fighting, it's real.

I understand that it's dangerous. The first vampire I fought could have killed me. Even with the monks watching, he might have got lucky. The one last night cut me, and it still hurts. He would have killed me, or one of his friends would have. I know the danger, and I don't want to die, but...

... When you're on the edge of death, you're alive like you can't be any other time. Everything is clear, simple. All day everything is hard. It's hard to remember where to go and what to do, what language to speak in, who knows what, who likes you, who doesn't. When you're fighting, there's only you and them, and all that matters is your strength and skill.

And you're helping people. Last night, we saved a woman's life. Who knows how many others after that? Those vampires would not have stopped killing until someone made them stop, and we did it. I did it.  (First fight, about 1/4 of Juri's life points on a good hit. Fortunately, I had an extra Drama Point.)

Besides that, I've been training to do this since I was a little girl. I lost my father. He barely knows me now. He used to send me a birthday card. I don't know if he will now, since the Watchers moved me. It's what I do. Why teach me to do it, if they weren't going to let me do it?

RDG: Do you ever wish you had something else? That your life had been different?

TJ: No. Yes. Maybe. I don't know. 

That's a hard question. I like being who I am, but I wonder what it would have been like to grow up with a mother, and with a father who wasn't so distant. I miss Japan. I miss the temple and the village, and I miss Hiroshima, even though I don't remember it very well.

There are things in life that I've had to give up, and sometimes I wish I had them, but that's selfish. Some people have to make sacrifices so that other people can be free and happy, like soldiers and policemen. 

I got other things in return. Knowing what I know, I would rather be the one keeping secrets instead of the one living in a world made of them. Most people go through their lives being afraid. They ignore the truth because otherwise they couldn't live with it. I don't have to do that. I know there aren't very many people who could beat me in an even fight. I know how to even the odds, or tip them in my favor. I don't have to be afraid.

That doesn't mean I can be stupid, though. An old vampire, or just a man with a gun, could kill me easily if I'm not careful, or maybe even if I am. But at least I know who I am and what I can do.

For that, I guess it's worth not having a mother.  (This is my favorite piece. I realized just after I wrote it that [a] it's exactly what Juri would say in character, and [b] it's a lie. She doesn't completely realize it, but she really craves a "real" family. She's going to try to build one as the game goes on, and the way she feels about different characters will really influence her actions. For someone she sees as "family" she'd probably throw away everything else she cares about, and would definitely throw away her life...)

RDG: (sniff) Sorry, something in my eye. Let's talk about the future. What do you want to happen next?  (...Which struck me as being both sad and sweet)

TJ: Well, I want to be the Slayer. (Grins) If not me, it would be neat if it were Marian. I want to patrol more. I want to get used to high school. I'm thinking about joining the Kick boxing team. Wrestling might be interesting, but I've seen it and I find Aikido generally superior for practical applications. I hope there's archery. I want to try miniature golf. We passed a place on the way into town, and that looked like fun. Go-karts, too.

My future is at once nebulous and very clear. The Watchers Council will take care of me. If I am not Chosen, I will find some other role with them. I would like to finish high school, either here or back home. I do not know about college. If the Watchers can fund my activities as a hunter, that might be time better spent elsewhere. Something inside me wants to go, though. I would like to study art, perhaps.

RDG: Do you have any goals that aren't practical?

TJ: Doesn't miniature golf count?

RDG: You've got me there.

TJ: I... I think I would like to go on a date with Travis. He's very handsome. Maybe we could play miniature golf. (Grin)

I want to learn to drive. Everyone drives here. That might count as practical, since it would make patrolling easier. I think I need to buy some new clothes, too. People dress a lot differently here. I need more pants than the ones I patrol in, especially blue jeans.

Do you have any other questions?

RDG: Not right now. Thank you, Tomika. It was a pleasure speaking with you.  (The last part revealed a little bit of her sense of humor, which is very subtle. Juri is a lot more likely to feed straight lines than crack jokes.)

So anyway, that's it for this month. Not much in the way of advice, but I hope you enjoyed it. If there's anything you'd like to see in future columns, please let me know. I'm thinking about following up character goals with character advancement, a column or two on the subject of experience and Experience and what to do with either.

See ya' next time.

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What do you think?

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    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg