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With me, characters are like relationships, and the kind of character you choose to spend your time playing says a lot about you, just like the kind of friends and romantic relationships you choose say a lot about you.

I've never understood the folks who like to play a game by jumping from character to character, exploring a new personality (or a new set of stats, possessions, and cyberware) every few times they play. I know some players that are like this, and as far as I can tell, they seem to have as much fun bopping from troll decker to dwarf mage to half-dragon samurai as I do from playing the same character practically since the dawn of time (at least Shadowrun-time).

I've been running Winterhawk as a player character since 1990. We play about once a month (our group has become a bit far-flung lately, so getting together for beer and gaming on a Tuesday night is not an option anymore), for about twelve hours at a stretch. As you might have guessed, our campaign is more cinematic than deadly; we use the Low lethality rules, so player character death is as rare as the demise of a well-loved character from a favorite TV show. So far, only one player character in our campaign has "died," and that was only because his player set it up with the GM to fake his own death. We've lost one popular NPC, and I'll tell you, the team was broken up about that for weeks. People, at least important people, don't die in our game without a damned good reason. It's almost like a breach of trust: we do our best to complete the run, be true to our characters, and not do anything colossally stupid, and in turn, the GM cuts us a bit of slack. So far, nobody on our team has tested the "colossally stupid" hypothesis—I suspect that slack would go away real fast if we took advantage of it.

'Hawk was originally a character I created to run in a game that was being started by a friend of someone Dan and I worked with. I mostly used the Combat Mage archetype, because I was intrigued by the concept. I'd always wanted to run a British character, so that much of his personality was set. I didn't know how long the game would continue, so therefore I didn't spend a lot of time on him back then. Dan, at the same time, was designing Ocelot.

That campaign fell through rather quickly. We played two or three times, but Dan and I had a few philosophical and other differences with the game (too many people, too much character redundancy, and the idea (accepted by the group) that other people could play your character for you if you couldn't make a session). So we left, but shortly thereafter, I managed to talk Dan into starting up a campaign of his own. It was at this point that 'Hawk became real for me.

Just a little aside: characters don't often become "real" for me. In my whole gaming life, I've had less than ten characters that I cared enough about to get into their heads. Quite a bit fewer than ten, actually. I have gone through dozens of characters in almost that many game systems; most of them get played for awhile and then discarded (usually because the person running the game quits; sometimes just because I get tired of the game). The few that "stick" have to have that extra something that make them intriguing to me.

So what makes 'Hawk "real" when other characters do nothing for me? Well, I can answer this for me, but that's it. This kind of thing is absolutely 100% different for each and every person. For me, there are a few things a character must have to appeal to me. One is intelligence. I can't play a stupid character. A second is charisma. Not necessarily physical attractiveness (though I do like to run physically attractive characters), but some quality that makes the character stand out in a crowd. A third is primary effectiveness. I cannot play a "support" character who stands in the background providing the means for the active characters to get out and do what needs to be done. I'm not happy unless I'm running a character who has a strong area of effectiveness. 'Hawk can be pretty inept sometimes (his lack of physical strength is a joke among his buffed-up teammates) but when brains need to be fried or spirits whacked, he's there in the front ranks. He is definitely not the kind of character who would hide and maintain the invisibility spell.

Over the years, he's developed a whole series of little quirks and idiosyncracies that make him come alive in the game: his dislike of dirt and muck; his ability to sift through ghastly carnage without batting an eye (or turning a stomach); his sarcastic wit; his preference for the finer things in life; his "magic purist" attitude; his love of mid-to-late-20th-century British rock-and-roll; his peevishness when he gets in a bad mood; his contempt for stupidity; his strong dislike of children (tempered recently by certain events that have occurred in his life). Each of these, and more, make his personality come easily to me in games: I know exactly what he would do in almost any situation. I sometimes joke that I'm not running 'Hawk in a game—I'm channeling him.

So okay, you're thinking about now that I need to get a life, right? But the funny thing is: I have one. Shadowrun is a part of it. As a writer, I find that my characters are in some cases as close to me as my "real life" friends. Sometimes closer. I'm just happy that I can have as much fun as I'm having while pretending to be a fictional character.

Hey, it keeps me off the streets.