Monday, January 01, 1990

Storymap Preparation--Character Exposition

By now, it should be obvious that Legends of Alyria does not have anything resembling an equipment list or a chart of weapons. Moreover, the information on the various cultures is intentionally vague, with only hints at the appearance of characters within these imaginary cultures. However, this does not mean that the way that a character is dressed, what he is called, or what weapons he wields are unimportant. Quite the contrary. In Legends of Alyria, these and other details about the character are perfect opportunities to express the character’s nature.

Here is a simple example. Imagine a tall man, wearing old clothes and wrapped in a worn black cloak. He wears an eye patch over his left eye, but his remaining eye is dark and piercing. At his belt is a long dagger and what appears to be a strangling cord. His voice is low and gravely as he rasps out his name: “The name’s Rat.”

This is not a lengthy description, but the details that are provided paint a vivid picture, not only of the character’s appearance but also his personality and character. Rat is most likely a thief and cutthroat who has seen many desperate days. He is probably not possessed of a strong morality and would be willing to do dirty deeds for very little money.

On the other hand, all those traits could have been chosen for irony. After all, Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings is first described as a shifty, mysterious character, whose goals and purposes are unknown. Nevertheless, he turns out to be a fast friend and have noble character and intentions. As Tolkien put it, “All that is gold does not glitter.”

Either way, the traits that are selected to describe a character are important means of providing character exposition. Through the various details that you give him, you are telling the other players how they should perceive this character.

This is particularly important when naming a character. Alyria does not have an invented language or a particular linguistic feel. Rather, names should be chosen for symbolic meaning, providing additional character exposition. So, for example, even the name “Rat” expresses something about the character.

Now, it is true that you should work within the broad parameters established by the setting of your story. For example, all Arkites should have some sort of mask. However, do not feel bound to some form of cultural norm. Instead, you should create your character so that every detail about him describes his inner nature, thus adding to the depth and enjoyment of the story.

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