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Skull132

How would you: update character creation

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The backstory to this really started really, a year or more ago. When I was dreaming up ways to create a new character setup menu. Well, school happened and that plan hit the hay until the contractor spiel was started by the lore team, and picked up by myself in code. I forget my exact reasons behind the PR, but it probably grew out of agitation about lore not being relevant:tm:. SO LET'S TALK ABOUT THAT.

First, allow me to outline the two main goals I see for the process of character creation:

  1. Player expression. This is simple enough. We have a character centric role playing game on our hands, so the character is the main tool the player uses to interact with the world and its lore. This means that the character creation process must allow the player to fulfill a certain range of ideas. It must be open enough to permit the player base to create unique characters from a variety of templates.
  2. Lore expression. Unlike other SS13 servers (well, the LRP ones), we have decided that we want lore to be relevant. Much like the character of a player being a prime tool for the player to express themselves, it is also the most important tool for the lore to be able to express itself. Or rather, because of this, it is. Affecting characters is the most involved way of having lore interact with the player -- for the lore to be relevant and in the forefront. This means that the character creation process must also create and project an image of the setting we are in.

If you think a bit about these two maxims, you will quickly realize that the extreme of the first is ultimate freedom: permit the player to do anything and express himself however he wants; and that the extreme of the second maxim is control over character creation process. Obviously, to follow any mentality to absolution is to be an idiot, so we should be interested in striking some level of balance between these two ideas.

To phrase the status quo, in my opinion, we have been hard nailed on the first side for a very long time. The restrictions placed on character creation have been minimal. You could basically create whatever character you wanted, until it broke the rules an admins needed to have a chat with you. While undoubtedly great for some, it brings with it immense issues, specially when we take into consideration the wish for lore to be relevant.

These issues are that the lore is not visible to the majority (and I do mean the vast majority) of the player base. I have stats to back this up: out of all human characters played over the last 6 months, a fleeting amount set their character background items to anything other than the default. And out of those that did modify these settings, it is clear that the decision was not an informed one: the most often selected citizenship was the Sol Alliance, not the Republic of Biesel, as our lore would suggest. I suspect this to be the result of Sol being a familiar name to most. Biesel lagged behind with a number one magnitude smaller. Any third options followed a logarithmic curve.

The conclusion is that the vast majority of the player base doesn't really know about our background lore. The choices aren't presented anywhere, they aren't immediately elaborated upon. Further, once you do get ingame, there are no clear tells outside of species. Is every neon haired person an Eridani Dreg, or is it just the one? Are all Unathi traditionalist, or are half of them from Oureou and thus not all-that-different from humans? What does it mean to be from Elyria and where do I find out? The answers to these are not even remotely uniform, very much hidden behind a link on the top right of the game panel, and ultimately irrelevant to gameplay for the average player.

So, how do we fix it?

There are. Many ways to approach this. Some I have already demonstrated with my approach to contractors.

  1. Stereotype harder. Stereotypes are not all bad things, specially in our case. Stereotypes are extremely helpful in communicating core ideas to players in a very efficient and succinct manner. All options in character creation, in my opinion, should have a clear stereotype associated with them. This does not mean that all characters should be said stereotype, but rather, that all characters should be a play around or on that stereotype. If you want an easier word to swallow, then consider it to be a solid and concrete theme. All races should have a theme, all citizenship options should have a theme, etcetera. The themes should be well placed enough to allow for expressive freedom, but also clear enough to be able to tell apart.
    • An example of enforcing this was the removal of sub-contractors from the contractor factions during my implementation of the mechanics. We had a lot of fluff about each megacorp having sub-contractors for various ancillary functions that we ended up either removing or rolling into the primary contractor. Thus we could pick a core idea for each contractor and roll from there. Zeng-Hu does medical, Heph does engines and dirty work, etcetera. Though obviously limiting, it communicates a certain idea behind each company well enough. (Also, regarding contractors, tho a ham fisted for the current state of Aurora, I assure you, they will be better placed for the current major project underway. ­čĹÇ)
    • This also means restrictions upon character creation. Sometimes, anyways. It would be counter-productive to let a player choose to make a character that is completely contradictory to the themes in question. While yes, one or two might be nice, there is no way to practically limit this to one or two. So hard restrictions on certain aspects are a go. Though consider that every single role playing game has restrictions, even PnP ones, where the restrictions are the ones placed by the game master.
  2. Present more. More lore in the menus! With links to the wikis. And more lore in-game! The first point is clear enough, and is slowly being worked on. Eventually I'd like to rework the entire character creation window, but that's a bit off. But you have myself and Alb working on improving the current one in the mean time. The second one is again, a bit touchy. In my opinion, certain tells should be tied to certain themes, should be tied to certain entities in lore. This can mean restriction, but it can also mean addition. Have character creation options create a baseline upon which the player can add things.
    • An example of the last point would be home system/origin. Where the choice would, for example, give the player a specific language their character already knows and the player cannot deselect. But he can also choose 1 additional language. This would further engrave the idea that X language is tied primarily with a specific home system/origin. While allowing the player to build ontop of the foundation and integrate whatever backstory he wants on (within reason).
    • One more note about this is from a purely technical angle. As we wish to add importance to these elements and bring more fluff into the game, the ability to have an "Other" option becomes dubious. The more intertwined a certain feature becomes, the less possible it is for us to allow the player to simply slap out a custom name into a field and call it a day. Which is largely the reason why we've slowly been purging the "Other" options from character creation. Much to the dismay of some. To balance this, our lore does provide a lot of freedom in backstory and selection, and we'll most likely try to add some choices which are a bit more open. The Sol Alliance, for example, has a lot of places from different setups, and there's also the Frontier Alliance (unless we killed it, i forgetti). A balance to be struck, but hopefully a sufficient one.

There's probably more, but these are the two key points, IMO.

The ideas in question have received some backlash, specially since they're interpreted as "limiting" the player expression. And to be fair, as outlined above, to some degree they do. But, the ultimate intent is to make said limitations reasonable and have them provide a benefit: making lore more relevant, more interesting, and allowing us to make it more engaging. And to remind you all, we're a server with a very large player base that is not immediately visible on Discord or even on the forums. So thinking about the average player has to be within our interests.

Anyways. Thots, questions, feedback welcome.

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25 minutes ago, Skull132 said:

Is every neon haired person an Eridani Dreg

This isn't really the case, Dregs have plenty of telling signs. They have their slang (which is VERY noticeable in a game that is like 50-99% talking depending on job and roundtype), they have mechanized eyes. 

And I feel like this should be the example going forward. Individual factions/groups of people should have some way of knowing who having a deep conversation about their backstory and views. Though linguistic choices could present a bit of a barrier for entry, there are other options - e.g. you can always distinguish a Great House noble by their surname. Or you could have loadout items. Or really all sorts of other readily apparent and visible things.

13 minutes ago, Skull132 said:

Stereotype harder. Stereotypes are not all bad things, specially in our case. Stereotypes are extremely helpful in communicating core ideas to players in a very efficient and succinct manner. All options in character creation, in my opinion, should have a clear stereotype associated with them. This does not mean that all characters should be said stereotype, but rather, that all characters should be a play around or on that stereotype. If you want an easier word to swallow, then consider it to be a solid and concrete theme. All races should have a theme, all citizenship options should have a theme, etcetera. The themes should be well placed enough to allow for expressive freedom, but also clear enough to be able to tell apart.

Very well said. I'm going to make a tattoo of this on my forehead.

20 minutes ago, Skull132 said:

An example of the last point would be home system/origin. Where the choice would, for example, give the player a specific language their character already knows and the player cannot deselect. But he can also choose 1 additional language. This would further engrave the idea that X language is tied primarily with a specific home system/origin. While allowing the player to build ontop of the foundation and integrate whatever backstory he wants on (within reason).

The main reason why I'm opposed to this is because of Sol in particular. It's a pretty multilingual place, especially Mars, which has a very heavy connection to Freespeak rather than to Sol Common. I personally have a Martian who only knows Freespeak, but not Common. This connection is also pretty important thematically (showing that the red part of Mars doesn't like Sol all that much, and tries to oppose its culture as well). 

Moreover, this kind of buff isn't really significant. We don't have enough languages, or enough uses for languages to justify an additional slot. Skrell, for example, can already pick all languages available. If you give a human Sol Common the additional slot coming with it, they could also select all languages except one (which would be Siik'tau because it's completely irrelevant to anything whatsoever and almost never spoken on station, I await its death eagerly). 

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Posted (edited)

Addendum:

31 minutes ago, Skull132 said:

Frontier Alliance (unless we killed it, i forgetti)

nice fucking lore talk lmao 

Edited by VTCobaltblood

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While a lot of this sounds great, I'm vehemently opposed to making it mandatory to play themes and archetypes straight if you're from a particular place. I personally believe that a big part of what makes for good roleplay and good characters is the opportunity to explore different areas of the lore and play with interesting character themes; forcing people to play to specific themes in specific ways basically cuts out almost everything I look for in roleplay.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that while this can be good for getting people into the lore, representing it in-game better and help (maybe newer) players get to grips with setting and character-focused roleplay, enforcing things like this could lead to a great deal of good roleplay getting de-facto removed.

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1 hour ago, Skull132 said:

The ideas in question have received some backlash, specially since they're interpreted as "limiting" the player expression.

There is absolutely no need to put the word "limiting" in quotation marks. Putting mechanical rerstrictions into place to prevent from creating certain types of characters and/or characters combining certain lore related things is the very definition of limiting something or someone.

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2 minutes ago, stev said:

While a lot of this sounds great, I'm vehemently opposed to making it mandatory to play themes and archetypes straight if you're from a particular place.

It's not mandatory, and it's stated so in the post. However, character concepts should involve main themes somehow, even if it's playing on them. You can't have a subversion if you don't have anything to subvert in the first place. 

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1 minute ago, VTCobaltblood said:

It's not mandatory, and it's stated so in the post. However, character concepts should involve main themes somehow, even if it's playing on them. You can't have a subversion if you don't have anything to subvert in the first place. 

You can quite easily have a good character that plays on a more specific or lesser-known part of the setting rather than harp on the big central theme and still have it fit well and reflect the lore. I'm all for having set out themes for the different backgrounds, it's just a bit shit if a good concept gets invalidated because it doesn't emphasise one particular theme of the culture they're from.

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the sol alliance is no longer our "other" option because its become more and more homogeneous and monolithic in culture and species, with the travel bans. I suggest the frontier remain our "other" option. 

And limiting the ability to go against the grain would be unfortunate. 

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6 minutes ago, KingOfThePing said:

There is absolutely no need to put the word "limiting" in quotation marks. Putting mechanical rerstrictions into place to prevent from creating certain types of characters and/or characters combining certain lore related things is the very definition of limiting something or someone. ´╗┐

Yes, as I stated clearly in my previous paragraphs (the ones which didn't include my personal tone in them):

1 hour ago, Skull132 said:

This ´╗┐also means restrictions upon character creation´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐.

I think I was pretty clear on that fact.

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12 minutes ago, stev said:

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that while this can be good for getting people into the lore, representing it in-game better and help (maybe newer) players get to grips with setting and character-focused roleplay, enforcing things like this could lead to a great deal of good roleplay getting de-facto removed.

Yes, of course it could! The pursuit of any principle past its purpose ends with disaster. But our universe is vast enough to serve as a playing field for most character concepts you could draw up. Yes, you may have to place them a bit more considerately, specifically to make sure that your concept generally meshes with the chosen area/background, but that's the norm for most role playing games that I have touched. The argument could be made that the entire point of lore is to present a play field, and the mechanics in question here would simply help make this play field visible and tangible.

There is a balance to be struct between representing enough lore in-game while giving enough freedom to the players to execute as many character concepts as possible. There's enough overlap and vagueness in our setting for most character concepts to be viable and you have multiple avenues to attack them with, IMO.

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12 minutes ago, Skull132 said:

Yes, of course it could! The pursuit of any principle past its purpose ends with disaster. But our universe is vast enough to serve as a playing field for most character concepts you could draw up. Yes, you may have to place them a bit more considerately, specifically to make sure that your concept generally meshes with the chosen area/background, but that's the norm for most role playing games that I have touched. The argument could be made that the entire point of lore is to present a play field, and the mechanics in question here would simply help make this play field visible and tangible.

There is a balance to be struct between representing enough lore in-game while giving enough freedom to the players to execute as many character concepts as possible. There's enough overlap and vagueness in our setting for most character concepts to be viable and you have multiple avenues to attack them with, IMO.

The thing is, I agree with a lot of what you're trying to do and the motives behind itÔÇöit's totally desirable for more characters to build on themes in the lore. The issue comes when you choose which of the themes┬ámust┬ábe represented, because in doing so you more or less make every other part of that area of the lore inconsequential in character-building, when the secondary/side details are often what provide the most inspiration for interesting characters.

To name an example, I made an Unathi character for my app who was greatly inspired by the theme of gender discrimination among Unathi and the idea of someone of one Unathi gender role being born into the opposite body. This is, at best, a tertiary theme for the Unathi but one that ended up inspiring a character that represents the lore quite well in that, with the Unathi primary theme of duty being explored some but not a core theme of the character. That character, and many other totally valid characters, wouldn't be possible under a measure like this, depending on how it's implemented.

Another issue is that, to be honest, that a measure like this could easily end up making the game far, far more boring. Imagine if every character from the Sol Alliance was to address the issue of anti-xeno prejudice every round. How tiring would it be for ~half the station, every round, to either stir shit about xenos or defend them vehemently? If every Sol character has the same or similar core motivations, shit's gonna get stale quick, especially with how quickly people get bored and annoyed by the same arguments happening in-game.

I think that forcing focus on a single theme isn't a good idea. I think it could do a great deal of harm for character diversity and give an excuse for people to make dull, cardboard cutout characters harping on the same trope over and over again. I think a better option might be to, in character creation, explicitly lay out, say, the three or however many core themes of a background/faction/whatever and encourage people to use them as inspiration. Forcing hugely fundamental motivations or conflicts on characters just isn't conducive to an enjoyable roleplay environment.

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7 minutes ago, stev said:

To name an example, I made an Unathi character for my app who was greatly inspired by the theme of gender discrimination among Unathi and the idea of someone of one Unathi gender role being born into the opposite ´╗┐body. This is, at best, a tertiary theme for the Unathi but one that ended up inspiring a character that represents the lore quite well in that, with the Unathi primary theme of duty being explored some but not a core theme of the character. That character, and many other totally valid characters, wouldn't be possible under a measure like this, depending on how it's implemented´╗┐´╗┐.

The exact specific point you struct is a nuance hidden away on the lore pages yes, but note that this nuance is directly tied with one of the, if not the core theme of the Unathi culture: traditionalism and the views offered by traditionalism. The character you describe is the exact thing that I want to encourage: the taking of a core theme of a species (in this case), and giving it a solid spin or a perspective. Or, well, to use more specific language, the exploration of said core theme through this specific character.

Suppose the word theme has a varying definition. You seem to fear that I very concretely look at them as some specific model. A theme can be horribly large: science fiction is a theme in writing. All the works that fit within that category are explorations upon that theme. Much the same, Unathi have a theme or few, and all characters should be an exploration of those core themes. It doesn't mean that all Unathi characters have to be traditionalists, it moreso means that most Unathi characters should somehow deal with the concept of traditionalism. Much like most Tajarans should somehow deal with the concept of the civil war that is raging on their planet. Or Eridani folk should somehow deal with the concept suits and dregs. Etcetera. Etcetera. It doesn't mean they all have to play the same tune, oh no: all of the concepts I've listed have had multiple sides presented in lore, and players are free to personalize as they want. But they still have to somehow address it. Otherwise your character is literally from that place just by name, and the lore behind that name is worthless. Ergo, why even have lore.

18 minutes ago, stev said:

I think that forcing focus on a single theme isn't a good idea. I think it could do a great deal of harm for character diversity and give an excuse for people to make dull, cardboard cutout characters harping on the same trope over and over again. I think a better option might be to, in character creation, explicitly lay out, say, the three or however many core themes of a background/faction/whatever and encourage people to use them as inspiration. Forcing hugely fundamental motivations or conflicts on characters just isn't conducive to an enjoyable roleplay environment. ´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐

Well, first, it doesn't necessarily have to be one theme per entity. Though I suppose I didn't clarify. I just want them to be clear and clearly presented. Second, again, themes can be complex. Is being a suit from Eridani a theme, or is the theme the economic divided between the suits and the dregs, or is the theme for Eridani to be hyper-cyberpunk within our universe? I will grant you that we have to be careful with how we present this, but the same already applies to how we should work on the wiki and so on.

Ultimately, I would like the in-game information to give you enough to get a solid visual image of what you're about to check, and to link the wiki for further diving for those who are interested. Obviously the latter group would find out more interesting nuances to explore, but the boon here is that the former group isn't completely left clueless: they can now fit in more easily, gain some level of understanding of the lore they're about to be dealing with, and maybe get more people interested in reading deeper. Worst case, I guess you swap out the generic Space Marine from a planet no one knows about for a Space Marine from Sol or the TCFL. No net loss to be had.

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Your clarifications have cleared up a lot of the concerns I had. While I still want places like the Frontier to be left as free-ish space to explore weird backgrounds, I think this might be a step in the right direction. Might want to clarify about your meaning with themes, stereotypes and the like; talking about themes, to me, generally has the implication of it being quite specific rather than the broader kind of stuff you're going for.

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Steves hit it right on the money. The tension of conservatism against modernity is the foundation of unathi. A traditional background fraying with a character bucking the trends is as design because my players tend to retain at least echoes of traditional unathiism.

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11 minutes ago, LanceTheInvader said:

Well.. for the lore and all... add books to the library... its there for that and id gladly read those ingame.

This argument has a few flaws in it, the same every time it's brought up.

1. There's already a shitton of lore in the library mixed in with everything else. Nobody reads it and nothing can make people read it.

2. Most characters have little reason to roll up on the library and brush up on history and current affairs; most people don't do that even when they're not at their workplace.

3. This doesn't help people making characters, it relies on people doing the above in-round rather than having it on-hand at chargen. It's also not helpful for this particular suggestion either, as it has no bearing on pushing players, especially newer ones, toward themes and hooks supported by the lore.

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1 minute ago, stev said:

This argument has a few flaws in it, the same every time it's brought up.

1. There's already a shitton of lore in the library mixed in with everything else. Nobody reads it and nothing can make people read it.

2. Most characters have little reason to roll up on the library and brush up on history and current affairs; most people don't do that even when they're not at their workplace.

3. This doesn't help people making characters, it relies on people doing the above in-round rather than having it on-hand at chargen. It's also not helpful for this particular suggestion either, as it has no bearing on pushing players, especially newer ones, toward themes and hooks supported by the lore.

Oh. Well, if you say so I guess.

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2 minutes ago, LanceTheInvader said:

Oh. Well, if you say so I guess.

It's not a bad thought, that's why it's suggested so often; it's just that it's impractical as a primary means of distributing lore. Having things like that in game is great, especially if it's sorta hanging around places, but really isn't enough to rely upon.

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1 minute ago, stev said:

It's not a bad thought, that's why it's suggested so often; it's just that it's impractical as a primary means of distributing lore. Having things like that in game is great, especially if it's sorta hanging around places, but really isn't enough to rely upon.

Well, when I started playing I was often confused by all of this and still learning the game mechanics. Often ended up walking around not knowing what to do at all and being awkward in general. I just think that if I had this option as a new player... I would have taken it.

Probably not the most "sensical" thing to do in a RP server but then a lot of things are not sensical to cope with the gameplay.

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For background/creation; as long as the restrictions aren't inherently cosmetics (X nation can only have Y range of skin colours and Z range of hair colours), I have minimal complaint. I agree with the point that in particular cases a forced language on home system would be unusual because, as an example, some from Sol may not speak Common. I'd perhaps the 'free language' rather be tied to citizenship since it can be assumed that a citizen of X nation would either speak their language, or if they're working on the Aurora, become a naturalized citizen of Biesel (and thus not need to have the language by requirement).

For contractors; variety is nice and I'm of the opinion that moving more towards contractors will only add to the options one can take ICly for a character, in a wholly in-universe and lore-friendly sense. I'd like to see more contractors, more support for contractors (contractors and independents being able to be visitors), and generally a greater push for people to play non-NT personnel. An ideal outcome for me would be seeing departmental tribalism be replaced with corporate tribalism, though that's not to say I want the proposed 'Contractor faction specializes in X department only', as having a primary focus that still dips into secondary focuses (Necropolis dipping into Science and Medical; Idris dipping into Security and Cargo; Hephaestus dipping into Science and Cargo; etc.) is a nice bit of variety.

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