It’s the fifth part of my Role-Playing Teaching series of articles and I can proudly say that we’re done with theory – today we’re going to start working on a proper RPG. Before we go on an adventure we need to create Players’ Characters. Since we’re going to talk on various topics during character creation, the minimum level required is A2+.
We already have the world where the adventures will take place – since I’ve mentioned my favourite environment (at least for educational purposes) would be urban fantasy, let’s assume the world is similar to the real world (doesn’t have to be identical, though). The place where I’ll start our adventure will be Dublin because I want my players to feel naturally with their English, and besides, I really like this city.
We won’t need game mechanics yet, not at this stage of character creation, but sooner or later we will need a proper RPG system. You will see that game rules are really important to keep storytelling within some framework. For demonstration purposes I will use Monster of the Week as an example of an urban fantasy world. Don’t worry, there will be no monsters.
Before creating the characters, I need to come up with a rough idea of a story. Let’s say, the main heroes of my story will be a group of working adults who live in the same area of Dublin. This will enable me to create adventures in the city, but also in other places (they’re working, so they may be travelling). Sounds good? Great, let’s get to work… or, rather – let’s make our students work!
By now, we know time and place (Dublin now, in my case). All I need to do is to ask my students to come up with new characters and make them speak, talk, interact. Simple? Naturally!
The good thing about character creation is that it can be done as an individual or the whole group activity (which is a good idea if students decide to play a group of friends straightaway). We simply give them sets of “getting to know one another” questions typical for first classes, but ask them to answer as their character. Ask them to come up with a new name, age, place to live (Google Street View may be a great help here!), family, friends etc. Ask them to write down their ideas, because they will need to refer to their “history” during various points of the game.
This is the point where you may use a fake name generator – you can seriously use the email address to improve character immersion (if you want to read about other useful applications of fake name generator click here!).
I strongly suggest giving homework after PC creation classes: writing down a character’s history and personal details will help not only the players, but also you, as a GM (just remember to make a copy or ask students to email you their stories).
Naturally, the higher their proficiency level, the more complex questions you may ask, because this part helps you assess your students’/players’ linguistic skills. Starting with basic “daily routine” questions, moving through “tell me about your childhood” you may end up with the passive (“Have you ever been snatched?”) or reported speech (“How did your parents react when you moved out?”). Something that is essentially a grammar revision and a vocabulary assessment turns out to be a completely new exercise. For this reason, character creation may take more that one lesson, but as long as you’re having fun, enjoy.
During character creation it’s important to create not only a character itself, but also relationships between all players (sure, you may start with everyone creating their own PC and then trying to build up a team, but it’s way easier to start as a bunch of friends). This requires pairwork and work in smaller groups to settle the relationships and common areas.
Relationships may be varied: some people may want to play siblings, couples, best friends, colleagues, neighbours, old flames etc. The more the merrier, as various levels of friendship will allow students to practise communication using various registers (you don’t talk to your brother the same way you chat with your neighbour after all, right?).
When you’re done with the character creation, you may suggest practising fresh characters. Don’t forget to remind your players that the true personality of their characters doesn’t have to be determined at this stage and it’s OK if they decide they want to change some aspects. Below are three typical situations you may use as activities.
A casual situation between two or three players.
Situation: You meet up on Wednesday afternoon and discuss how the day was and what to do next.
Player A: you’ve had a really terrible day at work
Player B: your child/pet got ill and you’ll have to take him/her to the doctor
Player C: you broke your tooth. Ouch!
Very often a problem emerges that needs to be solved by talking it through. This situation implies all characters trying to solve a simple issue.
Situation: You meet up on Wednesday afternoon and want to make plans for Friday evening.
Player A: you want to go to a pub and relax
Player B: you really feel like disco is the best option for Friday!
Player C: there’s a new exhibition in the art gallery and you’d love to see it with your friends
Situation: You meet up on Wednesday afternoon in your favourite café and enjoy coffee and cakes.
Player A: you realise you’ve forgotten your money… again. Ah well, Player B will probably help you.
Player B: Player A seems to have forgotten money… again. It riles you up because somehow it’s you who usually pays for both of you and A doesn’t usually remember to give it back to you.
Player C: You hate public arguments. Player A seems to be rather forgetful when it comes to money, but there’s no need of Player B to make a scene. You don’t like it, but you don’t want to pay for Player A as well.
You will probably notice that the conflict resolution activity takes more time that other scenes, and this is a very good beginning to introducing game mechanics and a character’s sheet, but this is something I’ll write about next time.