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Character-tailored play

In #blorb the game world is supposed to be created independently from the player characters and not be tailor-made to them. If there’s a lock and they don’t have have a lockpick with them, (or if they flub their lockpicking roll), maybe they can’t get past that door and that’s fine. Plenty of other places to go and other things to do.

But there are three types of character traits that play could be tailored to:

Skills and abilities

It’s sometimes a bad idea to tailor challenges to the character’s abilities, to what they can do, because it completely invalidates their choices.

Normally, they’re like “should I make a character that can pick locks or is it better to be able to cast Spider Climb spells?”, but in ability-tailored play, that becomes meaningless and you can just pick anything from the book because the game will then be adapted to exactly match what you picked.

You also run into the flagging dilemma:

The same input (“Alice has a high lockpicking skill”) leads to opposite conclusions! In the tradition of game play that Fate is a part of, it’s common to see players choose high skills for either of those two reasons—sometimes on the same character sheet!

Personality and hangups

Things like “this character is jealous” or “this character is overly gullible and kind” can feel like kind of a waste when they don’t come into play, but I’m not sure it’s worth overly adapting the gameworld to these kinds of traits; it’s hard to know exactly what to change.

A lower-hanging fruit is the third kind:

Relationships and connections

This is something that can really tie a character into the world.

Unlike the previous two methods, this can great.

We’ve seen it again and again in non-blorby games that are tailor made for it (like Burning Wheel or Fiasco), or in shows like Critical Role.

This entire idea was anathema to the early OSR, where a focus on characters was often derided, with a handful of exceptions.

It’s something that’s kind of difficult to work into blorby play where I’m not happy about “leaving blanks” on the map. I’ve managed to do it a couple of times:

What usually happens, though, is that one side of a relationship dies. We’ve had two player characters connected with an awesome backstory where one of them promptly died leading the other character’s relationship tension dangling and unresolved. We’ve had connections to NPCs who ended up immediately getting eaten by stirges.

That leads me to ponder three different conclusions and I’m not sure which is right:

My Experience

When we were first talking about blorb on Story-Games, this was one of the unsolved problems. People loved the BITS in Burning Wheel and how they drove play, or the aspects in Fate.

What I’ve found is this: in a full blorb with no parts of the prep tailored to the characters at all, my players have been perfectly capable of:

Now, are the players “Ouija Boarding”, based on experience from story games? I dunno. I could argue no but I dunno. But the blorb becomes the substrate, the hard landscape for their play. The stage, the consequences, the physics. The DM has a job in blorb already, and the players have their job which is to create characters and portray them and somehow, over nine-and-a-half years we’ve been doing this, it has absolutely been enough. There has been no need to put in extra scenes tailored to them, a la Robin’s Laws.