“Oooh, heloooooo. Anythiiiiing I i can dooooo for you today?” By simply elongating my o’s and i’s on the ends of words, I can bring shudders and threats of violence from my friends and players. For they know this odd phrasing heralds the return of one of my recurring characters. The spice merchant was an incidental character in a superhero investigation game when he just took on a life of his own. A fellow who’s had a fair too much of his product, his stilted speech pattern and habit of staring off into space mid-sentence merrily drove my players to despair as they tried to get information out of him.
Since then, he’s returned in several of my games, selling spices, information and long silences to whoever has the patience to deal with him. Maybe it’s the same character who can travel between stories making sure the characters get the information they need at crucial moments. Or perhaps he just likes to get high and the magic pipe he inherited does really weird things. I don’t have a name for him. Or her. Or it. Part of the mystique I encourage to shroud the character is that all you ever see of him/her/it is their eyes, so wrapped are they in cloth and fabric. With a neutral voice and no use of pronouns, the players generally come away knowing less about the merchant than when they started.
Why do I keep using him? He’s more than just a fallback character whose wide-eyed mannerisms are easy to adopt. He’s part of the narrative fabric that is my history in gaming. We all have these characters who we find ourselves drawn to, perhaps you could even say typecast. The narrative that we tell as our hobby is weakened by characters we as players can’t develop or properly articulate. So I have no problems with recurring personalities, because is it through personalities that role-playing rises above being a statistical exercise.
If nothing else, the players might need to buy some spice.
Image by Khalid Almasoud CC-BY-CS