Axial design

I saw an interesting article last week from Mo Holkar on Axial tension character design in On Location. Its describing a design technique of describing the characters using binary or trinary variables, so that every character is a combination of various themes. In On Display (a sort of “Waiting for Godot” on a 1920’s film set), they used fate / will, attachment / intellect, and connected / neutral / alone. For extra variability, they allowed one trait to be dominant, giving them 36 possible combinations (which they cut down to 32, because no-one likes neutrals).

The old Shifting Forest “parlour larps” used a similar system, categorising characters as light / dark, simple / complex, and goal- or emotion-oriented (for 8 combinations). Its a more generic categorisation, which they used across all their games, whereas Holkar’s is thematic for the particular larp he wrote. Another possible area of difference is that On Location had symmetric relationships defined by relation to the trait-space (so if you could map that 4-D space, the pattern of weak or strong, positive or negative relationships would be the same for each character, and just rotate with their position). I’m not sure if Shifting Forest did that.

Its an interesting design perspective, which lets you start with some themes, turn the combinations into archetypes, and go from there. Its miles from where I start (“who might be here?”), but if you like systematic or structured design, it might be worth trying.