Posted by: markfender | July 7, 2015

Amnesia

The most common story trope in video games has to be amnesia.

Planescape-torment-boxIt makes sense. The creators of games want the player to feel like an active participant. And you can have issues putting character traits on a character that the player is directly controlling, especially if those traits are not anything that the player themselves would consider. And videogame developers/corporation overlords are terrified of gamers not feeling invested in the character. So, the easiest option is to present the blank slate character, the amnesiac.

And yet, amnesia isn’t really seen all that often in tabletop games. There’s not really the identification question in RPGs, for one. After all, in most games, you made the character yourself so there’s not a lot of issues with self-identification. And, there’s usually more than one protagonist in a RPG, so having the singular character struggle with memory doesn’t really work as well.

Brief segue (but don’t worry, it connects): Exalted has a Past Lives merit and idea in its universe. You play the reincarnation of a First Age hero and you may not have all the background information on that previous character. In play, this has never been all that interesting, because there are basically two stories to tell involving that previous incarnation: either you were unjustly murdered or you were a dick and deserved what was coming. As I’ve played Exalted a fair bit, I’ve done both stories with my characters. And then what? What’s your next character idea? How does it interact with that facet of the setting?

It’s generally acknowledged that Planescape: Torment is one of the best games at exploring the amnesiac character (and it definitely is one of the best computer RPGs of all time). So, while thinking about that one day and ruminating on Exalted, I realized that I could combine the two and sort of tell an amnesiac character story. So, that’s my next campaign. The players will be newly Exalted characters who have no idea what their past lives were like. And, in the process, I’ve created some convoluted backstories for at least four Exalted-types, so the whole group can experience the joy of rediscovering their past.

Of course, the characters themselves are still designed and created by the players. It’s up to them about how much of that backstory they want to explore. Do you fall back into the sins of the past or rise above them? Do you seek revenge for what happened to your previous incarnation, or just let bygones be bygones? There’s some interesting questions I think can be explored within the context of piecing back together memories. It’s not quite Penny for Your Thoughts, but it’s the closest within a more ‘traditional’ RPG structure.

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