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Originally, Are you really DIPpy?1

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to developing your character in play (DIP) compared to developping at the start (DAS)?
  • What experiences have you had with DAS or DIP groups and players?
  • Have you seen friction between those who are intolerant of DIP/DAS or just can't get along with one or the other character creation method?

As usual with this sort of question, answers supported with examples from personal experience work well.


Reading through the the WFRP 2 "Bringing your character to life" section, I noticed something that seems to be a little considered part of character generation:

          Some people like to develop their characters during play
and that's a perfectly reasonable approach.    ...    Many players,
however, prefer to work out background and personality before play
begins.

During my first decade of role-playing, I only met DAS players. People who would revel in crafting intricate back stories and who would look down on those who weren't as creative during character creation.

Then I met a group who were almost entirely DIPpy and it completely changed the way I looked at character creation. When asked

  • "How can you play your character without having defined his/her personality and background?"

the reply would be

  • "How can I define my characters personality and background without having played him/her?"

With that answer I realised that DIP was as valid a way to create characters as DAS, and held a number of advantages as long as people didn't break Rule 7 3.

These days I still DAS characters, but I DIP others. Even when creating a DAS character, I'm less bothered about setting things in stone. If in the first few sessions I find a better way, I'm happy to change things, as long as the group/GM are also happy with it.


1. Dippy is a colloquialism for foolish or stupid in the UK.

2. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition, Chapter II: Character Creation

3. Rule 7, generally defined as "Don't take the piss.", see the at the Urban Dictionary

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10 Answers 10

up vote 21 down vote accepted

As a long time gamer, I've noticed that I loved creating my character's past and personality, but typically abandoned what I created anyway as I got to know my character better through play. I wanted to believe in DAS, but ultimately leaned toward DIP.

In the last few years, I've become interested in narrative writing and have learned why this is. In storytelling a character's past, education, appearance, intelligence, mannerisms, etc. (the kind of stuff that exists on a PC's character sheet) is considered characterization not character. True character on the other hand, can only be determined by the choices a character makes particularly when the choices are risky or bear a price. This kind of thing tends to happen in game-play not character creation.

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+1 for character determined by choices made. –  Joe Nov 3 '11 at 20:28

I prefer DAS, but I've tried both.

As a GM I like having some time to prep before the game actually starts. During this time I read through the characters' backstories a whole lot and try to write material appropriate for them. If I don't have this time I end up writing generic adventures for generic characters. Were I to run a DIPish game, it would probably start out generic and move toward something tailored for the characters. I'd rather just skip past the generic phase and play the part that interests me.

As a PC I'm a little unusual in that I like writing lots of backstory. If I know a GM wants it, I'm the guy writing a 14 page backstory. But it's not all biographical information. Most of the story ends up being about how the character got to where the game is starting. When I write that kind of story, especially if I include dialog, it serves the purpose of solo roleplaying. It's a chance to find the character outside of game time, before the game sessions even begin. So for someone who asks "how can I define my characters personality and background without having played him/her," during the backstory I am playing him/her.

I have experienced some friction with DIPpy players. As I mentioned I like having backstory when I GM. DIPpy players balk at this. Until I see them develop a character, I can't tell in advance if they're actually going to develop in game or if they're just trying to weasel out of having a personality. Of the players in my current group, two opted for DIP. One of them has grown a personality. The other sits quietly on the couch and waits to roll dice. I suppose it isn't fair to DIPpy players to say that I've had friction with them over this one case. He isn't actually DIPpy. NOPy (NO Personality-y) would be more accurate. But until the game has progressed a fair bit, I can't tell DIPpy from NOPy.

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1  
Interesting. I think NOPy characters could equally come from both DAS or DAP character generation. I'm pretty fortunate though, since I can't think of a single example with people I play with these days. Some almost have too much character. *8') –  Mark Booth Apr 27 '11 at 20:33
    
I'll agree that they can come from both places, but it should be immediately obvious if a player is NOPy if they're DAS. –  valadil Apr 27 '11 at 20:59
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Not always, you often have to give even DAS players the time to settle into their role, especially with less confident players. –  Mark Booth Apr 28 '11 at 9:05

HeroQuest and FATE deal with both really well, allowing you to start off with nothing but a name in mind, as well as allowing you to develop a character background. Both have their strengths in different areas.

HeroQuest has 3 character generation options.

1) Write a 100 word paragraph describing your character, you then draw a certain amount of stats out of the phrases in the paragraph, and assign numbers (base is 13, and you have a certain number of abilities to set higher)

2) GM sets a set of abilities to choose from, you have a set number to choose, arrange accordingly.

3) Sit down, write a name on your character sheet, when you encounter a situation that requires an ability, make that ability up, state it's level, keep going until you've filled it up according to option #2.

This is pretty brilliant, because you've got traditional covered with #2, you've got the storyteller background option with #1 (while preventing 3 pages of backstory that nobody else wants to read), and the easiest create as you go option out there.

FATE doesn't have anything resembling option 1 for HeroQuest, but it has a far more robust version of Option 2, based on the Skill Pyramid, and Option 3 is done the same way, again, filling out until you have completed #2. You don't get all your FATE points (which are really valuable given the FP economy) until your character is fleshed out, so front loaded characters actually have some advantage.

There's also an advantage that FATE has over HeroQuest, in that you can modify as you go with an already complete character, whereas with HeroQuest, it's more suited to sticking to what you've chosen.

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Thanks, it's nice to see that other systems acknowledge DIP/DAS, even if they call it something else. –  Mark Booth Apr 27 '11 at 22:16
    
HQ Option 3 doesn't me the characters are generally shaped in the first adventure style? If you plan to follow a combat story with an intrigue one, I bet you'll have more combat oriented characters than in the opposite. –  Flamma May 17 '13 at 19:30

I think the question should rather be: which parts of your character do you create when creating it and which parts do you define in-game?

There are several components of a character that could be defined (I'm thinking of background, personality, stats, gear, for example). Not all of these components have to be present before you begin. It all depends on your style and what is acceptable by your GM. You, as a group, should be capable of filling in the gaps whenever necessary, though.

We even had a group where we started with 75 out of 100 Character points in GURPS, everyone was free to distribute the rest in-play, he just needed the approval of the GM ("oh, I forgot leadership for my admiral, mind if i give him 4 poits?").

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I'm not sure that it's considered polite to answer a question saying what you think the question should be, so no up-vote yet. It wouldn't take much effort to rework the answer though, or create your own question. *8') –  Mark Booth Apr 28 '11 at 14:12
    
The last thing I wanted to was to offend you (or anyone else here). I just think you're asking yourself the wrong question. I don't think that one has to write the entire character background (or character sheet or equipment list etc.) before play. These things can all be left incomplete and finished in-play. –  soulmerge Apr 28 '11 at 16:10
    
I think that your subsequent points are valid ones, but are devalued by questioning the question at the start - that's what comments are for IMHO. –  Mark Booth Apr 28 '11 at 19:23

I'm going to address the Character Development angle from a purely story aspect, since that's what's mostly mentioned in the question.

First off, I think that there is always going to be character growth with both of the play styles you outline, so regardless if you have a DAS character built, there's always going to be some aspect of DIP.

What that means for me is I'm always playing a hybrid of the two types. I can have a huge character background planned out, but personality traits and inter-player interactions don't ever get fleshed out until I've played. So, I may come into a game thinking I want to play a character who is Elitist, but how that actually works out in game never gets worked out until we play.

The Dresden Files RPG handles this really well. It is a FATE based system, but at character creation, you are required to come up with at the very least a general back story for your character, in 5 "Episodes". The first three only deal with you, what you were like as a child, what changed, and your personal "pilot" episode (as this is based off of the Television show). The last 2 "Episodes", you hand off your pilot episode to someone else, and they add themselves into your story, thus creating ties to the other players off the bat. This way, you have a pretty well fleshed out character concept before beginning the game, with links to the other characters, but you also have not worked out the interactions between your character and the others. Additionally, there's a mechanic for changing your character's core values as you go, which is basically built in DIP play.

Another example I like is Smallville. The beginning of the first session, all the players gather around and make a giant map of how all the characters relate to each other and various NPCs that they create during the process, and at points the other players can define your interactions for places and people, then you have to work that into your character concept. Again, a DAS style woven into a mechanic that also forces DIP.

So, ultimately I think that the most flexibility in character creation is a hybridization of the two play styles, where you might have a simple concept in mind, and then you work the details out as you go along. Feels more organic to me.

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Thanks. Regarding character development though, it is by definition developed though play, so was rather outside of the scope of DIP character creation. *8') –  Mark Booth Apr 27 '11 at 22:39

I tend to prefer DAS and tend to encourage it in games I run.

GM Reasons:

  1. Some percentage of "DIPpers" are really using that as a cover for disinterest in any sort of character development, and I'd rather weed that out early on.
  2. It is harder for me to come up with campaign plots and NPCs that incorporate people's backstory if it hasn't been established.

Player Reasons:

  1. I like to roleplay immersively (in character), and the more metagaming I have to perform - and DIP is a form of narrative metagame - reduces my play enjoyment.
  2. There's plenty of character development to do in play based on the amazing events the average campaign brings to my character without also having to develop my history at the same time. It's distracting.

In my play groups, we have people that do varying amounts of DAS. Then we'll sometimes have inspired moments of DIP - maybe guided by using a SuperPoint (Fate point, hero point, infamy point, plot point, whatever) if the system supports that and maybe just recognized by players and GM as particularly fun and devious.

An interesting anecdote about a confluence of the two - in one campaign, we had two PCs that collaborated on a DAS backstory where their characters knew each other from before. Well, it's unclear if one of the players was forgetful, or the other was more into the DAS than he was, or what, but when we started play one PC insisted he had a close relationship with the other, who was like "I don't even know you." PC 1's careful DAS turned into a DIP where he was a crazed stalker. "I've been standing here watching you sleep. Your turn on watch."

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I've read of a DM inventing backstory for plot necessities for a character that had chosen not to develop his character at start. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Apr 28 '11 at 14:14
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@mxyzplk, could you explain why DIP is a form of narrative metagame? My interpretation of the OP's definition is that DIP is "in character" play. –  cr0m Jan 28 at 22:57
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@cr0m no, DIP and DAS are about your background. Of course, as a character moves forward they are, in character, making new background for their character. "Remember when we all went to Thornkeep?" "You mean, right now?" But "Now I say I'm originally from Chicago! And this vampire's my brother. I just made that up" is not in character activity, because it is not within a character's power. It is authorial and thus by definition metagame activity. –  mxyzplk Jan 28 at 23:00
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The confluence of DIP and DAS has always been "a given." Maybe I don't understand how a wall could exist. Especially in the example of WFRP2. Bringing Your Character to Life is about seeding creativity in both development styles. Not picking one over the other. –  javafueled Jan 29 at 2:30
    
@mxyzplk, great explanation! I understand what DIP is and why it's metagaming now. –  cr0m Jan 29 at 23:46

If the question is limited to character creation, with DAS meaning players begin with the concept and then assign the traits, while DIP means assigning the traits and seeing what ideas are sparked, then I would say a fairly objective definition of what is better can be identified for some clearly defined circumstances:

Player Satisfaction: Chargen Quirks

In terms of what is better, the system chosen will ultimately have a strong influence on player satisfaction with their choice of approach.

Not all systems are equally capable of producing a proper analog of the character a player has in mind. This is not really dependent on the system, although some are more flexible or open-ended than others, it is dependent on the concept and the grasp that the player has on the setting and ostensible course for the game. You can tell when you have one of these cases when the player does not have 'enough points' (or whatever build mechanic is used) to put their concept on paper. This forces them to redesign the concept and by default, forces them into a pattern of developing the character as they go (DIP). This tends to lead to dissatisfaction and an increased focus on the limitations and negative experiences of the character. By default, that makes a DIP approach 'better' as there are no expectations to get in the way of satisfaction with the conception or implementation of the character.

Example: A player complaining about choosing to forgo dots in Drive for her Vampire: the Masquerade Toreador character in order to have sufficient musical and social skills to have (from her point of view)ever been believably chosen for the Embrace...sigh

GM Satisfaction: Campaign Development

If character concepts are produced through chargen, this requires the GM to either limit creation options, ensure cooperative group chargen, or wait until the character group has been defined before developing the initial hooks and character-dependent setting details of the campaign. Each of these is more than capable of producing dissatisfaction somewhere in the playgroup ranging from having to request multiple character revisions, being required to accept a fractious PC group, or being prevented from developing a significant amount of depth to back stories as more time has to be devoted to basic story elements. By default, this makes a clearly expressed base character 'better' as it does not negatively impact on the GM's freedom to engage in extensive campaign development and pitch it to the players with reasonable confidence that it will actually be what gets used when play starts.

Example: A GM pitches a Trinity Campaign for Psion fighter pilots and winds up with a Vegan Pacifist Conscientious Objector whose player promises to bring the character around to conform with the basis of the campaign after a little experimentation.

So...

The tie-breaker for me is Communication: I tend to lean toward developing the complete starting character concept during character generation, but I feel that to do so in order to facilitate actual IC roleplay (immersion) I need to have a clear understanding of what type of campaign the GM would like to devise, what sorts of characters will enhance that, what sort of characters my fellow players wish to run, and where we all want the thing to go (adventure, mystery, building/development, adversity, upbeat, oceans of angst, etc). The only way to really get at that information I feel, is to have the whole group together to create the characters cooperatively with the GM. This process, by its nature leans more toward DIP than DAS - if it is truly cooperative - making DIP technically better in my eyes.

While it is certainly possible to go about this in the reverse way (a player produces a fully developed character concept, approaches the group and they set about making it happen), even in that case, a considerable amount of the process will be DIP.

Please keep in mind that this answer is based purely on the idea of character generation, not on how characters progress once play begins. DAS means approaching the chargen process with an idea and making the system try to accommodate that idea, while DIP means using the chargen process to generate the character concept.

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That's an interesting take. If you consider the group as a character, then as a GM you want that to be developed at the start, with an understanding that however the DIPpy characters turn out, they are intended to fit with the DAS group. I've seen this, both where GM defines what the campaign if going to be, but also where the players define what sort of campaign they want. Of course you can get players who play against the group concept, but that often makes games better (like a Dark Heresy character trying to subvert an acolyte cell from the inside). –  Mark Booth Apr 28 '11 at 9:00
    
I think playing against the group concept has to be planned, consider the size of the group (not doing it if the group is too small to support the special snowflake), and have some overall benefit to the group - not just that player. Your parenthetical example of Dark Heresy is a good one. One in another vein would be a Sabbat Vampire with vestiges of Humanity whose player enhances the experience of the group by grasping the tenets of a new path, or the loner/emotionless killer learning to view the group as family, etc: specific change predetermined to reinforce rather than buck the setting. –  Runeslinger Apr 29 '11 at 6:29

A good character is both DAS and DIP.

I made a great Vampire character for oWOD. I DAS a background that he is a brujah who was embraced from back in the 1960s and 70s and was a punk singer in England. Great character, very strong personality, the rest of the party really liked him from the get-go. But as the campaign started he didn't like the Malkavians. At all. But as events progressed, the Malks tricked him into signing a "contract" (a piece of paper with crayon scribblings on it, the player signed it "F___ Off", then the Nos changed his driver's license and other "official" paperwork to be "F___ Off"). The upshot of that contract is that when another character wanted to diablerize him, the Malks booked his band out of town when the hit was supposed to go down IN town. Now the player has a positive opinion about Malks.

A great DAS character will lead to longer campaigns which facillitate DIP. At the end of the day, it's all about balance between the two for me.

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This answer is more about character development than character generation. Having said that, Vampire had a nod toward DIP through it's prelude mechanism. I played in more than one game where character generation created the stats of the human, the prelude detailed their embrace and then the character was reworked as the vampire between prelude and first session. –  Mark Booth Apr 28 '11 at 14:02

(Answering the question introduced by Brian's title edit)

DAS and DIP are both tools, and as such they each apply to slightly different situations. They also have quite a lot of overlap: DIP characters can often benefit from having a DAS skeleton, while DAS can benefit from being tweaked through the first few sessions of play.

Before getting further, it's important to note that DAS and DIP are both extremely unimportant compared to character development. While a skilled DM will weave your character's chosen personality and background into their narrative, what you did in the actual campaign proper will be remembered long after your written backstory is forgotten; how you reacted when you were sitting at the table will make a stronger impression than how your character sheet says you should have reacted.

Character creation is a starting point -- A means to begin the character creation process.

DAS

The primary strength of DAS is that it facilitates communication between the player and the GM. It tells the GM exactly what hooks exist in your character's past, and spotlights what you're interested in following up on. It gives the DM something they can refer back to throughout the campaign, and gives them a better chance of surprising you.

The other big advantage of DAS is that it allows you to enforce consistency on your group. People play RPGs for a variety of reasons. DAS allows you to cull players with a different outlook on the hobby quickly, based on what their character descriptions sound like (or if they exist at all).

The D&D 4e DMG actually has a pretty interesting analysis of different types of players. I highly recommend to DMs frustrated with people who are playing the game wrong.

Finally, DAS helps you analyze your own patterns and push your abilities. It's a lot easier to stretch your acting ability if you have a written goal. And it's a lot easier to notice when your characters are blending together when you have written back stories to analyze.

DIP

DIP helps create a more organic party. The typical DAS workflow is as follows:

  1. The DM describes the campaign in very loose (and often ultimately inaccurate) terms.

  2. The players work out in loose terms who's doing what ("I'll play the healer").

  3. Everyone goes home, and writes their own independent background and personality.

  4. The DM gets a copy of everyone's personality and background (if they're lucky), and writes the introductory adventure.

There's no real emphasis on group dynamics. The world, and all members of the party, are each created in a vacuum by different people. How the personalities interact with each other is rarely, if ever, addressed.

By contrast, DIP is a collaborative process. Emphasize what gets the best reaction from the group. Downplay what causes tension. Even if players aren't specifically consulting each other, they do still base the end result on the actual realities of the gaming table.

The other main advantage to DIP is that it makes it harder to over reach. With DAS, it is very easy to create a character that you're not comfortable playing. The result of this, in most cases, is a character with little or no personality (it doesn't count if it's only on the sheet). With DIP, you'll quickly spot where you're hitting your limits, and adjust to compensate.

Finally, DIP is very non-intrusive. Many players will balk at writing a lengthy character description, but can be coaxed into developing a character through play. It allows the player who WANTS to write the elaborate backstory to do so, while the player who's mostly along for the ride (or to kill monsters and take their stuff) can go about their game in peace.

How I do things

Like most players, I mix and match. I'm a very flavor-oriented player when it comes to developing new characters, so I usually start with something out of the books that seems cool (class or archetype).

I come up with a sketch of the character in my head as I'm filling out the sheet. When I'm done, I give the DM the 10,000 foot overview of my thoughts on the character (mechanically and personality-wise).

Most of the character's actual personality then comes from the first few sessions of gaming. I start with sketch I worked out during character creation, but modify it to whatever seems interesting.

If the flavor and personality of the character particularly interest me, then the DM gets a written background a few weeks after starting.

How much DAS is involved for me also varies depending on the nature of the campaign. Starting characters tend to be pretty incompetent in most systems, so elaborate background stories don't make a lot of sense. On the other hand, characters starting well beyond the default starting point in the books need some background to explain exactly how they got to be so good at what they do.

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I'd much prefer at least some significant development at the start, because it can help me create plots and subplots that will tie in with PC backgrounds. Unfortunately, what I've found is that most of my players have no attachment to the background they produce at the start, and even forget large parts of it. They do get attached to the background that they expose through play, and come back to it all the time.

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It helps if you have a GM who is willing to brutally mine your background for material to use against you — it becomes hard to forget when it keeps turning up to get you into trouble. I've only had a couple of GMs who have been good at that (and I try it myself when I take the big chair), but their games have been the among the most fun I've had. –  Quentin May 5 '11 at 13:11
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I am the DM, but I often find that when it turns out that the evil duke is their long-lost brother for whom they claimed to have spend seven years questing... the player says, "Oh, right. I had a brother. Huh." It's a player/DM mismatch, which is why I've changed my strategy. ;) –  rjbs May 5 '11 at 13:27
    
That's an interesting perspective, even if players DAS their character background, then it still might only be used as a hook to get them started on their in play character development. –  Mark Booth May 5 '11 at 14:05

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