The “I Have Never” drinking game as character creation

i dont alwaysLast year I was at a houseparty with a lot of roleplaying type people, and among other things we played the drinking game “I Have Never” (also called “Never Have I Ever” and other names). For the small fraction of my readers who have not played this game, it is a turn-based party game. Each turn, someone announces something that they have never done (in the form “I have never X”), and anyone who has done that thing must take a drink. If nobody has done the thing, then the player who announced “I have never” takes a drink instead.

Since the houseparty was full of roleplaying types, some of us thought how to apply this idea to roleplaying games. “I Have Never” is a really good game for getting to know interesting, strange and often intimate things about other people. Could the mechanics be used to flesh out RPG characters?

The first idea was to just include a drinking game within a session of the game, to be played in character. That’s a fine idea in a campaign that is already in full swing, but it leaves open the possibility that characters playing the game will lie and cheat, and also that they won’t make the most interesting “I have never” statements.

To me, “I Have Never” seems much more powerful when used as character creation.

(I do not recommend using alcoholic drinks if you try this at home.)

The first try

I used this idea in a Fate game that I ran called The Red Gold Rush. The concept of the game was a Wild West in which vampires have come out of the coffin and live openly among the humans. The very first thing we did, before any other character creation, even before working out High Concepts, was play “I Have Never”.

The rules we used were as follows: Everyone takes turns. On your turn, say “I have never [done something]”. If other people drink, then your character never did it but their characters did. If nobody drinks, your character did it after all.

I joined in as a GM, which kept me involved and invested, and also allowed the possibility of all players giving the same answer. For example, when I said “I have never drunk blood”, I was giving all the players a free choice between playing a human or a vampire. In this case, it was split two humans and two vampires, but when I said “I have never shot a man in cold blood” they all drank. Everyone had done that.

The rule that the active player’s character did the thing they announced if nobody else decided that they had done it was intended to ensure that people only brought up things that they wanted to include in the game. For example, on Rob’s first turn he said “I have never been addicted to laudanum”, but nobody else decided to drink, so Rob’s character was established as having been addicted to laudanum. This worked for Red Gold Rush, which was intended to be a short campaign (two sessions), but since this somewhat reduces the control players have over their own character I would rethink it for longer campaigns (see below).

Anyway, we went round the table several times and generated a huge list of statements. I don’t have the full list anymore, but they included “I have never been on a cattle drive”, “I have never come back to bite someone”, and “I have never crossed paths with Jessica ‘Bloody Lady’ Long.” It was a great mix between genre-appropriate statements to tie characters into the setting, and statements that created new things in the setting. And it produced some very cool connections and characters.

After “I Have Never”, we went through Fate Core’s standard character creation process. My impression was that playing “I Have Never” actually made character creation harder in some ways. The players had loads of ideas for what their characters were like, but some found it hard to actually condense those ideas into aspects or pull something coherent out of them. Crossing Paths (aka the Phase Trio) was also tricky, since players felt they should hit as many of the established facts as they could. It ended up great but took ages to get into it.

Next steps

Yesterday I found out that Rob (who played Isiah the recovering laudanum addict) liked “I Have Never” so much that he is planning on using it in a game he is going to run. This got me thinking again about the process, and ways I might try to tweak it.

First of all, in a longer campaign, I would want to change the rule that if nobody else drinks, your character did what you said they didn’t do. For one-off games and short campaigns, it’s fine, but for longer play I would much prefer players having total control over their own characters.

However, I don’t want to just remove the rule, because then statements where nobody drinks will have no impact on the game world and become meaningless. My friend Simon, who helped develop the idea at the houseparty in the first place, suggested the following change, which I like a lot: If nobody drinks in response to your “I have never” statement, you must explain why you chose that particular statement: Your character knows someone who did, used to know someone who did, or is looking for someone who did.

The other main change I would make is inspired by a variant of the original drinking game. Whenever only one player is drinking, that player must give a detailed account (perhaps in character) of why they are drinking, i.e. explain the context and circumstances of how, when and why their character did the thing. This might help bridge the gap I experienced between “I Have Never” and the actual character creation process, but on the flip side some of the detailed explanations might be very difficult if they appear early, before players have a firm handle on their characters. This is an idea that needs to be playtested before I’d commit to it, but perhaps it can be used at the players’ discretion. If players at any time want to talk about their responses during the game, whether they drank alone or with others, I don’t see a problem with it.

And if players talk about their responses, these might be useful in a Fate game specifically for tying into character aspects. I’d recommend leaving the High Concept and Trouble until the end, but the other three aspects could be filled in or at least considered earlier, if something has been established as being unique and notable about the character. (I realise this is completely backwards, but I’d want to try it before ruling it out.)

Best of luck if you ever try this idea. Please let me know how it turns out.

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5 thoughts on “The “I Have Never” drinking game as character creation

  1. Limestraël May 11, 2015 / 8:00 am

    Strong ideas in there! I like the idea that you can propose things into the game and just let other people deal with it if they want, or just integrate it yourself into the game if nobody does. It’s a very nice bottom-up idea.
    This way everybody can have control over the elements of the game, and you’re less likely to get short of inspiration since other players will propose stuff.
    To speed up the aspect creation, why don’t you as the GM, when it’s your turn, propose directly aspects that players can adopt, and let the player who does explain what this aspect means to him? If you already some ideas for the scenario, you could use some pre-placed aspects that you know you will use/compel later.

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  2. Simon May 11, 2015 / 8:49 am

    Another variant of “I Have Never” that seems to have merit is: the statement-maker joins in, drinking if they did the thing they said they didn’t, but twice.

    Like

  3. mpduxbury May 11, 2015 / 11:31 am

    Maybe I Have (Never) statements are just aspects. So characters end up with a set of aspects that looks like:

    I Have Never Killed a Man in Cold Blood
    I Have Crossed Paths with Bloody Lady Long
    I Have Known True Hunger

    etc.

    To keep characters distinct, maybe for each question, one is allowed to take “I Have…” as an aspect, and one is allowed to take “I Have Never…” as an aspect. Everyone else still declares if they have or haven’t done the thing, it just doesn’t end up on the character sheet.

    I think this could be a fun way of theming aspects in a high school setting game.

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  4. Stephen February 19, 2016 / 3:29 pm

    Something I meant to post a while ago: one of the players in this game posted about the I Have Never approach to group character creation on his own blog: https://lunarshadowrpg.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/character-creation-i-have-never/

    He wrote his blog post right after the first session, long before I got round to it, but I didn’t know about it until much more recently. It’s a good read, and he remembered more examples of I have never statements from the day.

    Like

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