It’s Not a Mistake, It’s a Character Trait

Unless we’re rolling for absolutely everything, and doing so with loaded dice at that, it’s pretty a much a given that we as gamers are going to mess up somewhere. We’ll say the wrong thing, we’ll react one way when another would do better, we’ll do something that really doesn’t fit what one would expect of someone with that character’s background, you get the idea. For some of us, those who are as prone to testing our own problem-solving with our games as we are for enjoying other aspects, this can get really frustrating, especially when it happens on a regular basis. On the other hand, it does provide us with a unique opportunity.

After all, everything has a reason. Sure, out of character that reason might be that the big dramatic moment corresponded with a massive sugar-crash, or that it was a text-game and we completely missed the tone on what was just said. But what about assuming that what just happened here is really what that character would have done, and trying to figure out why? We all know that a character who doesn’t mess up is no fun either, so why not see if this isn’t something that can add to characterization?

Granted, it takes some doing, particularly if the fallout from our failure is resulting in difficulty with our metagame fun. It’s hard to enjoy yourself quite as much when everything you do fails, or even if you’re doing clever just fine but the world’s set up so whatever you do isn’t enough. Some situations encourage this more than others, too, by providing rewards in their own right beyond the satisfaction of coming up with a good reason; FATE-based games with a half-built (or should I say, half-Aspected) character come to mind and, in fact, I could see deliberately leaving off an Aspect or two in case of just such an event, since then you get game-currency for ‘deliberately’ screwing up and you just have to figure out what the new pattern is. Certainly, one of my least frustrating mess-ups was just such an occasion, with just such a half-built character speaking in anger in a situation that required tact: “I know this is a bloody stupid thing to do, so let’s call this taking a Compel and I’ll figure out what the Aspect was between sessions.” (I believe that was also the situation in which I realized that unlike most of my other PCs, this one actually cussed.)

And certainly, there are occasions on which this can be taken too far. Consider a character who has a flaw that doesn’t just mess him up, but also hinders the rest of the group. They’re fun in small quantities, but when you’re muttering “with friends like this…” nearly every time the group gets into a common type of situation, there’s probably a problem. Similarly, explaining away one such mistake is useful, but explaining it away in such a way that it happens again and again, and the sound of grinding teeth is heard about the table… that’s going to be a bigger problem than the mistake was to begin with.

So if you’re finding yourself in a situation that might be messing up, try to come up with a feasible IC reason for it, and then go with that. It’ll save you some face and give a new facet to the character.

3 comments

  1. Swordgleam says:

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve found myself saying, “Oh well. My character probably would have forgotten to hide the bodies, too.”

  2. Shinali says:

    I recall one time I accidentally invoked an informed trait I hadn’t even mentioned much: Samar speaks Old Realm with an accent but for the sanity of all of us, I don’t show it. One session, I was tired and typing carelessly, resulting in, “I am sure vettin must be done,” and rather than confirm it was a typo, I claimed it was her accent showing and ran with it.
    Similarly, I couldn’t remember her Lunar tag-a-long buddy’s formal name as I had learned his original name first and just kept spacing out on it, so I slipped up, called him Corbin around others. Rather than amending my statement to Aurelius, I had her merely be more familiar with him as “Corbin” than “Aurelius” and only in very formal settings does she consistently remember to call him Aurelius. Most of the rest of the time he’s “Corbin” or “Corbie” to her. To further make it make sense, he knows part of her private name but doesn’t use it – fair’s fair.

  3. Ravyn says:

    Swordgleam: Yep.

    Shinali: Excellent examples. (Though to be fair, I don’t think anyone remembers Corbin’s formal name. Even I nearly forgot it at first because I was so used to calling him, well, Corbin from the design process.)

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