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JasRonq

Separation of Aesthetics and Function

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I'm thinking in terms of a single player, action-RPG though this generalizes to any game in which the player picks up items that have function and affect the characters look (where it is assumed the player cares about both). I hate to find items that look great but are either good, but not for my character, or outright crap. I also don't like looking like a clown too much because I'm wearing the best I have found. Not looking like a clown is easy though. Make available sets of items and the player has the opportunity to wear matching items. Unfortunately this only partially fixes the problem. What if the player likes the looks of one set and the functionality of another? This is a conflict that I don't think is a fair one, this seems to me to be a situation where the game and the players happiness with the game will benefit from having the cake and eating it too. So I'm looking for ideas as to how we can stop forcing a player to choose between his characters aesthetics and equipment quality. (NOTE: the MMO solution of allowing the player to change the equipments looks is a misplaced mechanic in most other RPGs, especially action-RPGs and roguelikes)

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I don't think allowing a player to dye their clothing (or hair or skin) different colors by talking to an npc would be out of place in an action RPG. But the obvious other option would be, just don't put stats on clothing. Isn't shopping for and crafting armor with better stats at least as out of place in an action rpg as changing the looks of it would be? Or, make the armor which gives stats invisible, and the clothing which gives appearance visible.

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Consider a game like Diablo2. Lets say the look of the character was a bit more important because we were in 3D and so we had more than 75 pixels to look at. In a game like that the thrust is centered very firmly around killing things and finding loot, getting new skills to go kill bigger things and get better loot. Better loot in this case would mean the stats would win out, but if it were 3d, the player would care more about how they looked.

I'm speaking of more than just dying clothes anyway. Im talking about the armour that makes me look badass when im on the bloodmoor in hell blowing things up. There would need to be something more profound than just redying my green shirt black for this.

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You're right, it's crappy that the "fit better gear" minigame is so often married to the "look cool" minigame in RPGs. It's even lousier in MMO games where your appearance plays a role in your social interactions.

I read about a game that let you wear two sets of gear, one for stats and one for looks. Was it EQ2? You could have all your best rare hodge-podge of crap that boosts your performance, but have a stylish look based on some other set of gear. It allows a diverse group to present a uniform appearance, allows an individual to customize his avatar without sacrificing viability and generally improves the look of the world.

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I believe that in Everquest II (or is it Lord of the Rings Online? Dunno), you're allowed to get the stats from one set of equipment while looking like you have the other set on. It sounds popular from some of the comments about it that I read (one person said that it was the only reason they were playing that game over other MMOs). The game Guild Wars sort-of tackles this by giving you at least three types of armor to choose from that all have exactly the same stats. Since you have to buy your armor, you get to make the voluntary choice of them (as apposed to just taking whatever the random loot system gives you).

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Function is Beauty, Beauty is Function. Its been said by more than a few architects and engineers who styled themselves artists as well and I personally agree with them for the most part.

Now, the real problem in games as far as function and aesthetics goes is how it is often generated. I want my character to be a clean cut, Italian style knight. Smooth rounded edges and clean soft lines. But the designers feel that Gothic style armours are 'cooler' and therefore should be more powerful. Why? Because the spiky edges and harsh lines are 'cooler', so they get the better stats. Same with weapons, the clean, simple sword usually isn't going to be as powerful as the one with random spikes, hooks, and barbs jutting out of it.


Now, how do you solve this? Unlink your loot from a directly usable form. Present the user with an option for different weapons as loot. Simple, mundane things like armour and weapons, along side special magical items, small gem stones engraved with runes of power. Allow these to be popped in and out of your stuff, so you can customized the function of it yourself, while keeping the aesthetics you find pleasing.


You can even get rather exotic with your add in powers. Allow a limited number of upgrades to be used in a single item at a time, all one handed weapons to hold 3 or so, two handed ones to hold 5, armour to hold 4. Then, give your power ups resonance abilities. Let the player have lots of choices. Maybe use a set of 3 'lesser' power ones over another set of 3, because the lesser ones have a better resonance with each other, and together are far more powerful.

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You are actually presenting ideas similar to what i had thought of a few weeks ago and dropped thinking that gem encrusted armour and equipment might be a bit silly. I may well have been over thinking the players reaction since when in a game, the suspension of disbelief can take some pretty hard hits if the game is fun. (why do monsters and demons that are not holding items, or cant even conceivably hold items have them as loot? cus they do, and we chuckle and move on anyway.)

So, very basic stats and then addon modules of some sort to customize the items is one option. Iv also been thinking about the idea of having the loot be materials, or unusable armour that gets deconstructed by a smith and then custom armour can be made. In the process both the look and the stats get chosen by the player.

I may also add in a feature I liked from Baulder's Gate. You could choose your major and minor colors for your avatar and it colored what you were wearing appropriately. I may use such a system as well as any other look customization.

Mainly I am trying to find a way to decouple these two things, the look and the usability, so the player can have the best of both.



What about leaving the equipment very basic, but allowing the player to carry charms that add effects, like the ones from D2?

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I only skimmed over the replies, so forgive me if someone already mentioned this. You could implement a personal armor type skill. Basically, a character would become better and better at using specific armor as they wear it. Similar to the method Oblivion used, but rather than having a "light armor" and "heavy armor" skill, you would have "rough leather armor", "assassin armor", and "steel armor" skill.

So just as a proficient light armor wearer can make better use of a leather helm than a steel helm in Oblivion, a character's favorite armor style would become better and better for their own use as they use it.

I'm sure certain types would start out with higher properties or different traits, but it's not something that couldn't be overcome with enough effort. If nothing else, making good use of flashy armor would be a boast-worthy challenge. You could also add in other features to help, such as Diablo gemstone-like customizations or whatnot.

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I would just completely seperate form from function.

For example if you have a sword that give the character certain bonuses (what they are doesn't matter). However, you then let the player choose what the sword looks like.

As a designer you might have thought that the gothic spikes look cool so you include models of these kinds of weapons. As the designer you might think that the clean rounded edges and that of an Italian style knight was less cool, but you include them anyway as you were going to use them for the weak weapons.

However, what you could do is instead of making this hard coded into the idem designs, you give the player the ability to change them to any of the modles you included for that kind of sword. In essence, the player chosses the style they think is "cooler", you just provide them the means to do so.

Changin the look of an item makes no difference to the function of the item. The player still gets the saem bonuses, whether it looks like something an Italian knight would wear, or something so full of spikes and hooks that it would (in rallity) be completely useless (these are fantasy games after all).

In an mmo you might also inlcude a money sink into this by making it cost a small amount of money to make these changes. The reason being that it then becomes a social play mechanic. styles will change as players seek to make their character stand out from the rest of the crowd. But to do so costs money making anyone who can keep a head of rapidly changing styles someone of social standing (rich), just like we do in the real world.

In a single player game, having a money sink like this is not neccesary (and would probably be just annoying). But in a sinlge player game, giving a player this ability is still important as it helps them connect with the character more. It helps imersion.

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I can see that it can help immersion to look the way you want to (my whole point here really) but isnt this method you have suggested a bit immersion breaking? After all, I just picked up gothic armour and turned it into Italian armour.

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Original post by JasRonq
So I'm looking for ideas as to how we can stop forcing a player to choose between his characters aesthetics and equipment quality. (NOTE: the MMO solution of allowing the player to change the equipments looks is a misplaced mechanic in most other RPGs, especially action-RPGs and roguelikes)

Why not force them to choose? Hell, encourage such situations. The first time I played through Mass Effect, I wore the prissy pink armor because it provided good protection. The second time through I made different armor decisions, and looked and felt like more of a badass, even though (and possibly because) I was less protected. Understand that with modern games, players make their own goals. Don't try to avoid that. You'll only annoy them.

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Original post by JasRonq
I can see that it can help immersion to look the way you want to (my whole point here really) but isnt this method you have suggested a bit immersion breaking? After all, I just picked up gothic armour and turned it into Italian armour.


Then don't. Don't let the functionality of the gear come from the gear itself, but from what you add to it. Basically let the player keep the weapon and armour he started the game with, but be able to swap charms and enchanting runes out on it. Loot based games (like Diablo) become a hunt for the proper charms, and mixing and matching to find what works best. Require that swapping things out takes time/money/effort of some kind, so you can't do it in the middle of a battle.

This should preserve the "Got to find X!" drive of the game.

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Perhaps this is the sort of situation where it's best to have specialized stats. The sort of thing where you simply can't master everything because it's either impossible or impractical, and you're rewarded for sticking to your guns and not trying to be a jack of all trades. In that case, it can be both a matter of form and function, where the smooth contours are simple a different style of fighting from the jagged spikes. The only problem is that balancing all the different classes to be equally adept or at least reasonably so can be a big pain and possibly not worth it.

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Original post by Sneftel
Why not force them to choose?


This was my thought. Maybe one option would be to play up this badassness of being less protected. An act is more impressive if it's performed without a net (some people would even say that you haven't really done the trick unless you do it without a net) and people make this sort of choice all the time in real life. Not that I'm into putting realism before fun, but I think it's an interesting choice, and therefore fun.

Remember Oregon Trail? All the game gave you for choosing the harder game was a higher score and bragging rights. The bragging rights are why most people did it.

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Original post by Sneftel
Why not force them to choose?


Because of course we want the players to be irritated no matter what choice they make, who cares whether they're dissatisfied with their character no matter what they wear? *eyeroll*

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Original post by sunandshadow
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Original post by Sneftel
Why not force them to choose?


Because of course we want the players to be irritated no matter what choice they make, who cares whether they're dissatisfied with their character no matter what they wear? *eyeroll*


In Fallout II, if I took small arms sometimes I'd be hurting for ammo, if I took unarmed/melee sometimes i'd be hurting for range, if I took big guns sometimes I'd have bigger ammo problems and have to worry about not hitting my friends, if I took speech sometimes I wouldn't be able to talk my way out. No matter what I did, I was never completely satisfied with my character. Then again, Fallout II is still one of my favorite games.

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you miss the point entirely. Those are all gameplay challenges. obstacles. things intended to make the game fun because if it handed you the perfect gun and infinite ammo and a huge shield of unkillability then you would have fun for about ten minutes and then get bored. On the other hand, there is no valid reason for not letting a player look as cool as he wants to because you linked those gameplay challenges to his looks. you can provide those same gameplay challenges and provide the same fun and gameplay and also let the player look how he wants. you just have to separate them.

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I can see that it can help immersion to look the way you want to (my whole point here really) but isnt this method you have suggested a bit immersion breaking? After all, I just picked up gothic armour and turned it into Italian armour.

Not really, not if you understood my post.

I made mention that it would take some effort to make the changes. In MMOs I stated that it could be used a money sink (therefore to change the appearence you would need to go somewhere and spend money on doing so). I only said that in a Single player game you don't need to make it a Money Sink. SO the player would have to go and do something to allow them to change the appeaance. this might be traveling to an Artisan that will change the appearence for them, or the player having enough ranks in a skill to make the changes themseves.

Either way it is an active choice by the player, that is they have to go out of their way to make the change. This implies effort on the part of the player.

It is the effort expended that is important. By having the player expend effort, it keeps the imersion because it woult take effort in real life to change something's appearence (althoguh much more than what the player has to do in the game of course).

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Then don't. Don't let the functionality of the gear come from the gear itself, but from what you add to it. Basically let the player keep the weapon and armour he started the game with, but be able to swap charms and enchanting runes out on it. Loot based games (like Diablo) become a hunt for the proper charms, and mixing and matching to find what works best. Require that swapping things out takes time/money/effort of some kind, so you can't do it in the middle of a battle.

This si the opposite technique, but it gives the saemeffect. Here you are starting with the appearence of an item and then letting the players craft the function of it. Where as I was saying to start with the function and let the players craft the appearence of the item.

In fact you could use the exact same method to achieve my concept. If you start with an item that has a preset effects and a simple appearance and then let the player add visual changes to it (spikes, glowing parts, etc), you can then let the player craft the appearence of the item and keep the effects the same.

It is just that with preset effects on an item (my idea), then as the designer you have more control over the game balance.

But you could combine both systems. You could have a a series of Base Items that have no effects and only a simple appearence. Then yuo ahve two types of "Slots", one that lets the player add effects to the item (frst damage, fire damage, better chance of criticals, etc) and the other type alows them to change it's appearence (curved blade, fancy bloom effects, changed colour, etc).

If adding effects like this dosen't break imersion, then why would using the same system to chage the appearence break the imersion?

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mostly because I can think of more rational analogies for the function adding than the appearance adding. Carrying charms, or socketing in magic gems for instance can add function. adding visuals is a more complex issue to tackle, not impossible, but harder.

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Original post by Way Walker
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Original post by sunandshadow
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Original post by Sneftel
Why not force them to choose?


Because of course we want the players to be irritated no matter what choice they make, who cares whether they're dissatisfied with their character no matter what they wear? *eyeroll*


In Fallout II, if I took small arms sometimes I'd be hurting for ammo, if I took unarmed/melee sometimes i'd be hurting for range, if I took big guns sometimes I'd have bigger ammo problems and have to worry about not hitting my friends, if I took speech sometimes I wouldn't be able to talk my way out. No matter what I did, I was never completely satisfied with my character. Then again, Fallout II is still one of my favorite games.

I have a related theory. Role playing is pretty much all about pushing to build your character into an ideal concept. The trick to making players enjoy a role playing game is not actually letting them have a perfect character, but enticing them to play through the game by helping them believe they may eventually develop a perfect character.

Of course, you can't lead them around with a carrot stick forever without actually feeding them. Some parts of perfecting a character need to be given over time as they play (skills, renown). Some parts should be almost impossible, but still reachable with enough determination (powerful weapons, skill mastery). And some other parts should usually never be reachable (all skills mastered, equipment that totally outclasses all other equipment).

All things considered, a role playing game is essentially over when a player is completely satisfied with their character. Everything that moves them far toward perfection should require that something else be left behind to suffer, to keep the balance.

I don't really see armor appearance as something that moves a character's development toward perfection, though, unless it actually influences the gameplay. If someone wants to wear leather armor instead of meta-plastic, because meta-plastic looks like crap, I don't see anything wrong with giving them room to build leather armor up to the defensive quality of meta-plastic. At the same time, I don't really see the entire topic as much of a problem. Armor usefulness and balance is far more important than looking good while you play, and letting players dramatically change the effectiveness of armor will most likely unbalance the game.

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I have a related theory. Role playing is pretty much all about pushing to build your character into an ideal concept.

I would question this. Note that I am not sayingt hat this isn't part of role palaying or that you can't role play with this system. It is just that I feel that it is not the only type of role playing tool that computers can do.

Why can't you start off with a perfect character and just not have character building at all? I feel that it should be the "Actions" the player/character takes that define role play rather than the stats the character has.

Role play is a dramatic expression, you essentially take a character on a journey. This is usually done through stat advancement, but it doesn't just hav eto be about stats.

Sure, you probably will be tracking values of some sort (this is a computer game) but these don't have to be "stats" as they are used now (like strength, some kind of skill level, etc). What about tracking something like Reputation, Honour, or Social Standing.

If the character starts off with only a small value in these, then the journey is in increasing this value (and how they increase it).

Sorry, I know that was off topic, but it does relate to what I am going to say below:

What if you ahve Form and Function as seperate, but both having gamepaly effects?

For example, there might be some way to track fashions in the game (essentially the look of the equipment). This might be done by tracking the Mean or Median looks of various subgroups (like are the warriors wearing gothic styles and are the mages wearing their robes short or long this season :D ).

For the next part you would need to have some way of extrapolating tyhe direction of fashions. One way would be to take the Mean and then use the Median to find the direction (so it might be that they are becomeing more Gothic or less Gothic in style).

You then set a low "Status Symbol" value to the Mean look (that is you are really just following the crowd) and a high Status Symbol value to the outfits that follow the direction the fashion trend is goin (that is towards the Median and beyond it).

What will happen is that fashion will rapidly move to one extreme style, then as that gets saturated with people it's value will be reduced making other style more valuable. There will be a period where virtually all styles will be ranked equally, but then a small change might tip the balance and drive the trends towards (or away) form that style ushering in rapid changes in fashion.

Because there are two feedback loops effecting the status (one increaseing the value of a particular fashion and the other driving it down) and these vary in strength over time and reach an unstable equilibrium. The inherent noise (even just players finding new gear already with a particular style, and players just seaking a look for themselves) in the system, however, will ensure that once that unstable equilibrium is reached, it will be pushed into another unstable equilibrium.

This could then be used to track a social standing of the character adn this can be sued to unlock various features of the game (new quests, areas, abilities, or whatever).

This could be a noncombat feature of the game that can only really be achived by seperating Function from Form. It also adds more imersion to the game and more opertunity to role play.

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Original post by JasRonq
you miss the point entirely. Those are all gameplay challenges. obstacles. things intended to make the game fun because if it handed you the perfect gun and infinite ammo and a huge shield of unkillability then you would have fun for about ten minutes and then get bored. On the other hand, there is no valid reason for not letting a player look as cool as he wants to because you linked those gameplay challenges to his looks. you can provide those same gameplay challenges and provide the same fun and gameplay and also let the player look how he wants. you just have to separate them.


No, it's just that I'm thinking of the game as a whole experience without this gameplay vs. graphics dichotomy. Why should players be disatisfied with gameplay challenges but not aesthetic challenges? And why shouldn't those challenges interact, especially in an RPG?

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Original post by Edtharan
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I have a related theory. Role playing is pretty much all about pushing to build your character into an ideal concept.

I would question this. Note that I am not sayingt hat this isn't part of role palaying or that you can't role play with this system. It is just that I feel that it is not the only type of role playing tool that computers can do.

If we're both referring to the video game genre version of role-playing, and if the player character can not become enhanced in any way throughout the game (skills, equipment, finance, relationships, whatever), then it's definitely not an RPG. I'm sorry, but that's what defines the genre. If you take that out, you may have something fun and enjoyable, but it won't be an RPG.

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Why can't you start off with a perfect character and just not have character building at all?

Because the genre is about character development. A perfect character can not develop.

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I feel that it should be the "Actions" the player/character takes that define role play rather than the stats the character has.

I wouldn't want to chuck them all without question, but most non-violent role playing games would be categorized as part of the adventure genre without character development. The adventure genre is all about role-playing, too. It's just that it's more focused on actions and decisions than self improvement.

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Role play is a dramatic expression, you essentially take a character on a journey. This is usually done through stat advancement, but it doesn't just hav eto be about stats.

Well, I didn't say it had anything to do with stats. Character development can be about anything that enhances the character in a way that allows the player to consider it a goal.

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Sure, you probably will be tracking values of some sort (this is a computer game) but these don't have to be "stats" as they are used now (like strength, some kind of skill level, etc). What about tracking something like Reputation, Honour, or Social Standing.

How does this go against my theory? To repeat the phrase you quoted me with: Role playing is pretty much all about pushing to build your character into an ideal concept. Reputation, honour, and social standing are all character development traits that a player will percieve as goals that work toward an ideal character. You can't just give them maxed out reputation, or all of the fun involved with building reputation will be lost.

That was my point. You can't ever allow the player to be completely happy with their character. Once that happens, the role playing fun is over. It's the very reason rich and beautiful people are so miserable.

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Well, I didn't say it had anything to do with stats. Character development can be about anything that enhances the character in a way that allows the player to consider it a goal.

My bad. I read you post as if you were talking about Stats and Gear as advancement of the character. This was partially caused by my skimming over your post and missin the one mention of non stat or gear methods of character advancement (where you mentioned renown).

However, you didn't explain how methods like renown could be used as non stat/gear character advancements, so in light of the rest of your post, my mistake is understandable.

I think we are actually trying to say the same thing. That Stats and Gear are not the only way you can have character advancement in a game.

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If we're both referring to the video game genre version of role-playing, and if the player character can not become enhanced in any way throughout the game (skills, equipment, finance, relationships, whatever), then it's definitely not an RPG. I'm sorry, but that's what defines the genre. If you take that out, you may have something fun and enjoyable, but it won't be an RPG.

I disagree here. What about this scenario:

Youo are an investigator of the paranormal. You start off with a Revolver and an unlimited supply of ammo for it. The only stat your character has is "Sanity" and this starts off at 100%. You can't improve anything, you can't get better equipment and you can't improve your Sanity beyond 100%.

At this point your character is "Perfect".

However, as the game progresses, depending on your choices in dealing with the paranormal you might become mentally disturbed by it (loose sanity).

You can Role play this and your character is "perfect". In fact there is a whole set of Role Playing GTames based arund this mechanic, the Call of Cthulu series of RPGs (mainly in Pen and Paper). I have even played in a few game of this my self.

This means that having a perfect character is not a restiction on someone's ability to role play. The roel play comes from how you handle the encroaching insanity that is creaping up on you.

This "Fall from Grace" is the exact opposite of "Character Advancement" and it still offers ample opertunity for Role Play.

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You can't just give them maxed out reputation, or all of the fun involved with building reputation will be lost.

What if the game was to avoid loosing social standing. Then you might start out with a maxed out Reputation, but then choices you make could either lead to the Reputation staying the same or it being reduced.

Now these are just example, and because of that are very simplisitic, but this does not eman that you could not make a more complex system that has the character starting off with "Perfect" stats, and the game is about the character trying to avoid the fall from grace.

Imagine a game where you are a police officer, once considdered the best of the force. A "perfect" character. However, the game starts off with them getting mixed up in bad operation and now they are being blackmailed. They have their reputation on the force (and without it the blackmailers would have no use for the character as they are suing that to their advantage). If the character's reputation falls too low, then they will be of no used to the balckmailers and the blackmainers would do something bad (like kill a hostage of the characters familiy). If the character/player fails to do what the blackmailers want, then they will do their bad thing.

So the player is juggling their reputation and the need to keep the hostage alive by doing what the blackmailers want. There is ample opertunity for lots of interesting role play and story here and the character started off as "Perfect" and is Falling from Grace, but trying not to.

The onyl time a "perfect" character is a block is only when you assume that the gole is to becoem "Better". Role play is not only about becomeing "Better" but it is "Playing a Role" (that is why it is called Role Play, not "Character Advancment Play").

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