April 27, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

"Conscience is the window of our spirit, evil is the curtain." - Douglas Horton
Obviously, a mirror is not a window, so the looking glass reference may not be the most accurate - but that's why you're reading this article instead of 'Clever and Accurate Blog Post Titles.' But, now that I have your attention, I'd like to introduce you to the . . .

Johari Window

Chances are, if you've worked in any sort of corporate environment or taken any psychology courses, you've encountered a Johari Window - even if you don't remember the name. It was created in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham to serve as a graphic model of interpersonal awareness. The window is a simple 2x2 grid that helps organize adjectives and characteristics that a group of people know about an individual, as well as what that individual knows about him or herself.

The four areas of the grid can be described as:
  • Arena: Traits of the individual of which both they and their peers are aware.
  • Facade: Information about the individual of which their peers are unaware; the participant choose whether or not to reveal this information.
  • Blind Spot: Traits the individual has that he or she is not aware of, but others are. The individual most often learns about these traits only when they receive feedback from others.
  • Unknown: This quadrant contains the behaviors and motives that are not recognized by either the individual or their peers
Below is the list of 55 adjectives most commonly used to populate the quadrants. There is also a negative variant, known as the Nohari Window, that contains negative personality traits:

Application in RPG's
The easiest and most direct application of the Johari Window to a roleplaying game would be for players to flesh out their characters - a player can fill out a window to deepen their character's personal history and background, sharing how family and friends felt about them 'back home.' Each person's actions and behavior are shaped by past experience and relationships. Using a Johari Window for a character can provide an opportunity for a player to define how those relationships affects their character's current relationships and a guide for future decision making and roleplaying. Another interesting application of the window would be in assessing character growth. An initial window is filled out in the context of past relationships, and a new window is completed for the character for his or her current social environment. This brings us to the second use of the Johari Window - relationships among the members of your party.
Inviting the other characters in the party to contribute in filling out a window for a character can help delineate the social roles each one plays and provide some insight into the party's social dynamic. The longer the group has been adventuring together, the more useful this exercise will prove. Players who have just started their adventure might be able to try and fill out the windows based on an agreed upon history or background, but until they have worked together to come through a social encounter and witnessed each others' strengths and weaknesses in action, one cannot really know how a PC will perform in such a situation. I would encourage the DM to state explicitly that such an exercise be kept within the context of the game - the PC's are evaluating the 'characters' in the party, not the other 'players' - and act as a moderator to keep participants objective.
Surprisingly, the Johari Window may be of most use to the DM beyond stalling for time as you scramble to get your materials together for the night's adventuring. In addition to profiling the PC's and determining how NPC's might react to them in a social encounter, the DM can fill out a window for prominent NPC's. How do the townspeople feel about their mayor? What about the mayor's feelings about the temple priest? Does the innkeeper have a bias for or against adventurers, and how will that affect his rates? Using it for the BBEG is especially interesting when you consider the Unknown quadrant. Knowing the BBEG's flaws, insecurity or greed for example, a canny DM might allow for his PC's a way to overcome the villain by exploiting them. Meanwhile, the cruel DM (you know who you are) might keep their PC's from having an easy means of drawing the BBEG out from his Castle of Doom and vanquishing him for the Greater Good.
Finally, I would like to propose one final, more abstract use of the Johari Window. Instead of filling it out with character traits, try putting in plot points. The group columns represent common knowledge in this instance, while the rows can apply to either the heroes or the BBEG. Do the heroes know about the haunted cave that the townsfolk are afraid to talk about? Does the villain know about the underground resistance plotting his downfall? Has no one heard the legend of the dragon that died alone in its cave, its treasure hoard remaining undiscovered?
Over on The Kingworks Creative Blog, I am always seeking to find or invent new and interesting ways of adding spice and variety to a game. What I like about the the Johari Window is that is has something to offer people on both sides of the screen - a tool for players to integrate more closely with their characters and their party; and a means of not only building a richer, deeper campaign world, but of working out plot details for DM's. So give it a try and let me know what you think.

Please welcome our latest guest blogger, Kingworks, to The Core Mechanic. Kingworks Creative Blog is a recent addition to the RPG blogging community; and from what I've seen thus far it is shaping up to be a truly unique place to visit. You may already know of his Monster Cards (which are awesome), but if you're tired of  the all-too-frequent echo chamber effect that often plagues the RPG blogosphere, drop in and visit Kingworks, or even better -- subscribe to his blog. You won't be disappointed. -- Jonathan.


  1. Could you give a concrete example of the Johari window being used in your campaign? I did grok the part with the BBEG, but I didnt quite follow its use for the town NPC's. Im having a hard time seeing how to use it, but it sounds interesting. Thanks for the post!

    Tom W

  2. Ah that is bull! Violent and cynical are definitely positive adjectives!

  3. Tom W: Here's an example taken from a customized adventure I'm wrapping up in my current campaign:

    Garret the innkeeper: Born and raised in a small human town with little exposure to non-humans. As a youth, he fought with the town militia to keep it from being overrun by a force of Orcs being led by a Tiefling Wizard - consequently, he believes all Tieflings to be evil and will not allow one to stay at his inn. Feels that other non-human-looking visitors are only slightly less untrustworthy. He saw many friends and loved ones die during the battle, which impressed upon him the harsh realities of a cruel world. After inheriting the inn, he made a small fortune and fell in love with the daughter of the richest man in town. He hopes to leave the small town behind and elope to the much larger port city on the coast.

    His window would probably look something like this:

    Arena (known to all*): brave, dependable, sensible, humorless
    Facade (known to self, not others): proud, independent, distant
    Blind Spot (known to others, not self): cynical, callous, selfish, cold
    Unknown (not realized by any): intolerant, insensitive, ignorant

    * The term 'all' in this case applies to the collective knowledge of the other townspeople - not the PC's. The players come to learn these traits either by personal interaction or discussion with people around town.

    Since our party contains a Tiefling and Garret runs the town's only inn - there is going to be conflict. Having these descriptions defined and organized helps me to know how to play him when the party tries to negotiate a room for the night. Also, when the players talk to the townspeople, I can avoid mentioning certain traits or make sure that everyone knows about others. Also, if I were to fill out other windows for other prominent NPC's - the town magistrate, the general store owner (a friend of his), his sister, etc - it helps to better define what their relationships might be like; People with similar traits tend to gravitiate towards each other, and those who are radically different move in different social circles.

    Also be aware that you could apply a window to an entire class of NPC's: farmers, soldiers, priests, merchants, nobility, etc.

    Mad Brew: Maybe you should edit Wikipedia on behalf of all the roleplayers out there. :-P

  4. Making me recall my old sociology classes. Something about two states of being - what we project to the world around us, and what the world around us actually "sees".

    Gesselschaft and gesseimschaft maybe? Long time since I even thought about it...the damned TA had GINORMOUS hooters - which might be why sociology always makes me thing of bobies.

    How...freudian :)

  5. Thanks Kingworks, that was helpful! Interesting tool.

    @Donny - isnt that whats really important in the end anyway?


  6. Once again gaming mimics life. So often it seems that good RPG advice can be applied to real life. Careful introspective analysis makes us better people and better PCs. Nice post; Thanks Jonathan

  7. @kristi - glad you liked it.. but this was a guest post by kingworks. =D

  8. I am a Photoshop guy by degree and vocation (as of tomorrow at least). I absolutley love the flexibility that piece by Adobe brought to my laptop.

  9. Hey steve! .. did you mean to leave your comment over here?


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