Why GMs Love Products of Their Culture

Making a character truly belong to his or her culture isn’t just a way to give her depth, color and a distinctive style. For the RPG player, it’s also a way to score points with the GM. What’s so great about a PC who’s clearly been shaped by her environment?

First, it shows a willingness to really get into the world. While I’ve seen people who’ve managed to create quintessential but interesting members of whatever culture they were assigned to by utter accident, it’s very rare; usually getting a character that fits, and isn’t just the culture’s hat pulled so far over the character’s head that it goes down to her ankles, takes research and consideration. And if the culture is one created, adapted or heavily modified by the GM herself—in short, if most of the salient details are her idea—that’s a compliment to her as well, that you find the culture interesting and engrossing enough to play in it and make it work for you. If it brings you into collaboration with her, increasing the feedback quotient, that’s just an added bonus.

Second, it creates a context that your GM can utilize to help keep your character in the overall narrative. If you’re buying into the culture, that means all the things that come with it; the rules and regulations, the superiors and inferiors, all sorts of things that can be used as plothooks. This pulls double duty as a benefit for you as the player: if the GM’s got other sources of plothooks, she’s less likely to pull the old “dead NPC” standby, so it’s safer to have a character with friends and family.

Third, it gives the GM a chance to be able to predict your reactions and tailor things so they’ll be a better motivation than if they were directed at world-generic [bearer of Template X] #93, and so they’re less likely to fall short of the mark and require you to step out of character to work with them. If your PC’s from a family that considers being targeted by assassins to be a right of passage into adulthood, she’ll know that it’s going to take more than just paying a couple masked killers to go after you to make her antagonist an enemy of yours; if she knows your character considers predestination to be an old wives’ tale at best and more likely something to be struggled against Because It’s There, she’ll know better than to just play the Destiny card without anything backing it up. And that makes for a better, or at least a more satisfying, experience overall.

Last, but definitely not least, it overall adds to the realism both of the character and of the game as a whole—the idea that in a world with rules such as these and context such as this, this sequence of events would happen as they went, without requiring some sort of outside contrivance. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just awesome on general principle.

Contextualize your characters! It’ll do both you and the GM a world of good.

2 comments

  1. Sean Holland says:

    Very true. The satisfaction of a good character/player buy in to the setting is great.


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