The Return of the Tabula Rasa Character

Yesterday, I expressed objections to an idea: that the tabula rasa character, the one without preexisting social connections, is likelier to form relationships in a story or game than someone that already has a few such connections. Yesterday’s post was directly responding to the comment that set it off, detailing my disagreement with the comments supporting the idea that a tabula rasa was better for creating in-game relationships. These are further thoughts I had on the subject of the tabula rasa in relation to the world.

Moreover, by not already knowing people, the tabula rasa lacks a trait that I have found to be highly beneficial for creating new relationships—people who know people. Look at your social calendar, your IM list, whatever gives you the best sense of your own set of connections: how many of the people you know were introduced to you by a mutual acquaintance? I’ll bet it’s a pretty heavy fraction. The tabula rasa character can’t do that; poor guy doesn’t have anyone to introduce him! Yet another black mark on the blank slate.

Then there’s the half-friendship: an inter-character relationship that exists at the beginning of the story, but either in an early stage or in need of re-cementing. I played a game that was full of these: not only did the main three characters all have pre-existing connections with each other that needed a bit of renewing, but most of them had estranged relatives, potential love interests who’d made rather poor first impressions, and other existing connections. Getting into the second plot arc, not only are the primary characters practically inseparable, but most of the backstory characters have tightened their ties to the PC they were written for, at least one other PC, or both. Which includes such oddities as—watch carefully here—the NPC spouse of an ex-PC (his player quit, though the character still shows up on occasion), originally stuck in a rather messy love triangle with a second PC, finding her vision in helping the second PC, who in turn regards said NPC spouse as somewhere between a trusted student and a confidante. (To add to the confusion, both of them have children.) Why is this? The pre-existing connections provided an excellent springboard; the characters knew each other, knew why they had or hadn’t originally gotten along, and essentially played off of both strengthening the pre-existing connections and the need to accommodate other people’s pre-existing connections.

And then there’s the tabula rasa’s effect on the GM. Now, this one’s a lot more subjective, since many GMs already have pretty good ideas for plots and don’t need the help. But some of us rather like having jumping-off points—parts of what the character’s already done that give us our own ideas. For me, associated characters, even barely known or currently missing/deceased ones, are an excellent source of jumping-off points. The problem with a tabula rasa, especially one that’s truly a blank slate and not ‘blank with hints of chalk from its last use’, is that he doesn’t have such things. No hooks to catch on, no threads to pick up again and weave into the main tapestry. Believe you me, this can make life difficult.

In sum, I believe I can safely say that the tabula rasa character does not have an advantage over more connected counterparts when it comes to creating new relationships and might, in fact, have a disadvantage.

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