Telling Stories: You need to make the money

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Let’s be real here – no matter when your game is set, professional murder is not a particularly good way to make a living.  Sure, the definition of “professional murderer” is a bit more limited than the usual catch-all of “adventurer,” but the number of characters I’ve seen in games that are actually purely adventurers is pretty small.  However you’re making your money in a mechanical sense, your character is probably finding a way to make money that doesn’t involve roaming around outdoors and swording small woodland creatures for cash.

This is usually glossed over, mostly because no one wants to come home after work just to pretend to do more pointless work.  (Pointed work is a different story.)  But you can get a lot of mileage out of having a character with a job that isn’t either an offscreen concern or a de facto license to traipse about and kill woodland critters after all.  So let’s talk about that.

Rough entrance exams, mostly.

“Jedi” is a decent career choice, but it’s pretty hard to get into.

From a roleplaying perspective, there are three things that are really important about a job – money, freedom, and responsibility.  The axes, if you will.  None of them require exact numbers or details, but understanding how the three play off of one another is important.

Money is, obviously, the driving force that keeps everyone employed, in fiction or in the real world.  You have to buy food, shelter, clothes, diamond-encrusted watches, all of that.  It’s tempting to throw around real in-game money here, but the fact is that numbers don’t matter so much as economic strata.  If your character makes $300,000 a year in The Secret World, that isn’t actually relevant; if you peg your character as being functionally able to pay for most anything he wants if necessary, that says a lot more.  Yes, some jobs will always pay better than others, but the point is in figuring how much disposable income your character has and how hard any unexpected expenses will hit him.

Freedom is the part that people don’t tend to think about a lot.  It’s also a complex concept.  Retail jobs don’t have a whole lot of freedom in the real world – don’t show up, you don’t have a job any longer – but you often don’t have a fixed schedule, which means from a roleplaying perspective you have space to explain why your character is or isn’t at work.  An artist has no schedule beyond getting art done, but a clerk has specific hours she has to show up for every day.  Of course, that clerk can also get some time off by asking for it on shorter notice than the retail employee.  Take all of this into account.

Responsibility is sort of the double-edged part of the freedom sword.  I have a lot of freedom in how I do my job, but my pay is entirely based upon what I accomplish.  A lawyer has plenty of money and freedom, but if he doesn’t take cases or doesn’t have a decent record of winning them, well, he quickly loses the money and (in all likelihood) his job.  At the same time, someone whose occupation boils down to being nobility or an inheritor has pretty much zero responsibility on top of money and freedom, which… proves that life is terrible, basically, but that’s not the point I’m making here.

What was that point again?  Oh, right, jobs.

Some games strongly imply your character occupation just based on character choices.  If I play a Trooper in Star Wars: The Old Republic, well, the job is sort of implied.  But it’s neither a hard-and-fast rule nor something that you can’t fuss with a bit.  Sure, the game states that your character is a trooper, but you can just as easily say that your character is a bounty hunter (more freedom and less regular money) or a private security guard (less freedom, less responsibility) or whatever.  You always have options.

And all of those options lead to other character choices.  Our hypothetical security guard probably has scheduled shifts at a specific location, so he has to be there at certain times and be ready to do his job.  At the same time, once he gets out, he’s pretty much free and clear – he’s a private citizen with military training.  If you make him an in-character bounty hunter, he doesn’t have to go as many places on a regular basis, but he has to hunt down targets and bring them to justice, coloring what he does during his free time – if he has the money for free time.

Does that mean shooting the source of the trouble or whatever looks like the trouble?  The answer, of course, is yes.

“Troubleshooter” is a job. As in one or that which shoots trouble.

Not to mention, of course, that your choice of job can easily relate to which of those scales is most important to the character.  If you’d rather have more freedom than more money, better pay wouldn’t lure you to an occupation that doesn’t offer you leeway.  Prefer to feel responsible?  A job that lets you do less for the same amount of money isn’t as interesting.

You also have duration of employment to consider.  There’s nothing saying your character has to start with one job and keeps it forever.  Maybe your character changes occupation.  Maybe he does so repeatedly.  Maybe he never seems to hold a job down for more than a few weeks at a time.

All of this is important to think about when you’re creating your character, because it makes for an extra dose of verisimilitude.  (Take a shot, if you’re still playing that game.)  Your character does something to earn money.  There’s a reason why she has some of her skills.  She doesn’t just pay for things through unspecified means, she has a jobh working hard at a shop as a saleslady.  Or she’s a lawyer.  Or she’s an engineer.  She’s a person, employed, doing something, and sometimes she has to deal with obligations and responsibilites that come from that alone.

Or you could just vie her a job of professionally killing woodland creatures, if you want.

Next time around, I want to talk about moving from the tabletop to the online arena – what still works, what doesn’t, and what can help make the process easier.  After that, let’s talk about post-mortems, why you want to do them, and how they can improve your roleplaying on the whole.

About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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