In the first, say 15 minutes, of a freeform the players are undertaking an analysis – who are their friends, their enemies, what are they supposed to be doing and so on. By the time the freeform is three quarters of the way done, friends and enemies have been set in stone, everyone knows what the objectives are and are working towards them. As a player, the faster you can figure just what this freeform is (both in type and quality) and get on the front foot, the better game you are going to have - and offer everyone around you.
Stage one – Analysis
The freeform design article has a lot to say about how writers can create a good freeform, but you can use the same points to test what style and quality of freeform you have gotten yourself into. To figure out what style, look at your objectives and any other pieces of paper you have been given. Check the blurb. These should point you straight at the plot. It could be:
- HUMOROUS - A humorous freeform sets up characters and situations where people can be silly and not worry too much about rules and objectives
- INTRIGUE - This style involves a large number of sub plots. The objectives are to find out information and to get specific objects. Everyone has secrets they are trying to hide and others that they are trying to find out.
- POLITICAL - Players trying to get position in a formal power structure. Here groupings and support from other players is vital to success. Having one overall leader or central character is a disaster.
- ECONOMIC - An economic game does not necessary involve money, it means a game where players actions affect the external world and this results in them gaining some advantage
- MODULE - A module freeform has a normal freeform of any of the other styles and also mini modules where players form groups and go off to play a table game.
- TRADING - Players trying to get things, cards, bits, items etc. from each other. For this to work there has to be a large variety of possible things and the trades need to involve a lot of people instead of simple two players swapping things.
The other main source of information is the character sheet. The character sheet should contain (again according to Robert Prior):
- PERSONALITY - something you can hook your acting on for the next few hours.
- KNOWLEDGE - what are you going to talk to people about (or try to hide)? Do you know why your character is here?
- POWER - what ability do you have to achieve your objectives? This could be a position, something to offer other characters (in a quid pro co way) or something else
- OBJECTIVES - do you have clear guidelines on what you are trying to achieve within the freeform? These are extremely important and need to be achieveable. Examples of bad obectives (which may result in a crappy freeform for you) are:
- Marry (or in some way interact only with ) X - if X doesn't' turn up, doesn't want to marry you or marries someone else, you are blocked. Not fun. I suggest you change it into "marry (or otherwise interact) with someone of that type. Sure, you didn't end up marrying Lord Blockington-Smythe, but you married his brother who you were secretly in love with all along / was a noble anyway.
- Stop someone from finding out your secret. You have no control over this, look at leaks in the real world. Besides, if you have a secret, chances are it needs to come out because of the plot or because another player will have the objective to discover it. I suggest you change this one to frame someone else for your secret - for the murder, the blackmail, the heist, or what have you.
- An objective that will happen as part of your character, is inane or meaningless, for example, the town drunk has an objective to "Get drunk", you have an objective to "make mischief" and / or you have an objective to "have fun". These objectives are useful for turning into variations. More on this below.
Stage two – Action
I’d like to introduce you to Morden. He was the major antagonist in Babylon 5. While he was the villain of the piece, the strategy he employed is one which I believe will work for all character types. For those who don’t know the series, Morden met all the major characters and asked them “What do you want?”. He received a variety of answers in return – revenge, restore power and glory, just go away. From those answers, Morden choose the one that suited his own goals most closely and worked to make it happen.
I'm suggesting you duplicate this. Go up to each other character in the freeform and finds out what they want. You too will get a range of replies (including “go away”). The answers will tell you what sort of characters you are interacting with, what sort of freeform you are in and what they might want. From there, choose goals which are either the most interesting or those which closest match one of yours and go make them happen.
For the record, if you find characters with short term goals (such as “get drunk”), you can fulfil those fairly easily and then move on to more long term ones. Ideally, you are looking for something you can play with for the rest of the game. But supposing all you can find is short term, or inane goals. I suggest everyone might be bored very soon and you could then feel free to make up variations on the theme. For example, you find three characters whose goal is get drunk. If you are in a:
- humorous freeform – set up a drinking competition
- intrigue freeform – convince the characters to use their desire for drink as a way of loosening tongues, then gather up what they find out for your group goals of blackmail, with the currency being alcohol
- political freeform – you are unlikely to get a bunch of drunks into a position of power in this freeform. So instead, form a collation of voting drunks and see how you much you can sell your votes for.
- economic, trading or module freeform – set up, or take over the drink supply. In the economic and trading game, you now have a trading power. In the module, everyone needs somewhere to relax in-between (or during) missions. Your place is it.