Good Characters Grow

2007 August 27
by Vanir

One secret to good roleplaying is empathy. How would your character, with his background and experiences, feel about what is going on? Once you’ve decided that, then decide how he’d react.


Let’s start with a very simple example: a headstrong barbarian type who likes to swing first and ask questions later. This sort of character is very easy to “roleplay” — at first. “CRUG SMASH ORCS! CRUG HATE GUARDS! SMASH!” His actions are pretty much set in stone and there’s not a whole lot to empathize with (unless you’ve had a hard day at work). You don’t roleplay this character, you follow a rule – CRUG SMASH. However — as this character continues to survive, he might note that the number of incidences of his rash behavior seem to correlate directly with the number of out-of-body experiences he’s had. A player who continues doing this may well “roleplay” his character into a pine box.

An experienced warrior is not just called that because they have more feats and HP, you know. They understand battle and teamwork. They do not typically SMASH until the time is right. They know why it’s good to be the cleric’s wingman at the tavern — dibs on the support spells. And the character at the end of the campaign acts a lot differently than the character who started.

Challenge Their Beliefs

That’s how you can apply character growth in battle, but what about roleplaying? It’s perfectly OK to give your characters strong beliefs. It makes them interesting, and gives them very real reasons to act the way they do. It is also perfectly OK to allow those beliefs to be challenged along the way. In my Nascrag games over the last couple years, I played an aging fighter who hated magic — and had a sorceror for a son. In last year’s adventure, he did nothing but question his son’s manhood for not being a warrior and wielding ‘unnatural’ forces. This year, he still hated magic, but realized he was reaching the end of his life and loved his son. So he was trying to reconnect with him, while still hating magic. I was completely engrossed with trying to figure out how to make my character embrace both concepts, and I had to put myself in his shoes to do it.

Thusly, I found my character encouraging his son and praising his accomplishments, but trying to get him to do things the non-magical way. It made me invest myself in the adventure much more. This character, despite having very strong beliefs, had grown. Nascrag is a little different in that they pre-write your characters’ motives from year to year, but there is nothing stopping you from doing it on your own.

If you’re tired of playing the same old characters over and over again, let one grow outside the confines of what you’ve decided he’ll be. You’ll likely enjoy the results.

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