Development: Infinite Progressions
specialists, dealing with increased levels of adversity over the duration of a campaign. During adventures, players should pay attention to the general feel of story direction. By focusing developmental direction, a character will parallel its growth with the increasing level of campaign difficulty. Overlay the character’s gamut of possible agendas, and pick one. It’s part of the game and part of the fun. Imagine something and do it.
It is in the gift for employing all the vicissitudes of life to one’s own advantage and to that of one’s craft that a large part of genius consists.
G.C. Lichtenberg (1742-99)
Your character’s bio and motivation infuses the rules of conduct, but the developmental progression is linked to the unwritten story. You, as a player, help mold the character’s fate with a loose association of possible directions ready to pounce on the best choice in any given situation. Skirting the boredom of mere material acquisition (gold, magic items, equipment, etc.), you can develop an agenda for your character for improved development. Setting a character agenda is like billboards on your character map that will help focus attention on developmental opportunities.
Gamemasters should set up adventures that have a main story line with detail contingencies to account for player induced sub-plots. As characters come across them, it’s up to the players to help the GM flesh out an idea. If players react to a particularly interesting campaign detail, the game master can focus preparation on the idea for upcoming adventures. The character and the campaign will become better integrated as players seek out the details of a campaign world.
Following the general flow of the sample character, our buccaneer wants a tavern, and might choose to spend some hard earned booty on a minor campaign location. A player might only do that if there was a motivational desire in the character's design. The buccaneer starts out as a hard working sailor wanting to have taverns in several ports (which could increase the character’s power base) as a merchant-owned outlet for imported goods. The accumulation of contacts and experience points build the character’s power base, spurring character growth. New stories can develop trying to acquire the tavern and all the new NPC’s creates more role playing opportunities. Without a character agenda, there is no desire and no growth. Without ideas of growth and progression, a player can go only so far with the character until it’s totally stagnant. Miscellaneous story parts strung together equaling nothing but a disjointed time line and a bad story. Expand characters by getting involved in the adventure and becoming part of it. Play the role of characters to seek out developmental opportunities and extend the character’s influence and reputation.
Why, Why, Why?
Luke Skywalker was a farm boy who wanted to fight for a rebellion and ended up a galactic savior. Conan was an orphan who wanted nothing but freedom and ended up a king. Directions within directions that led them from simplicity to greatness. They followed their urge to answer intense personal questions and opened up destiny’s door. Their authors had an idea of what was going to happen to their characters as they wrote the story, but many of the ideas came from assessing possibilities as the plot evolved. As the player of a role playing game, you should assess your character’s fateful possibilities to formulate goals that will fill in the blanks of the evolving story. Nothing written in stone, just possibilities to explore. The possibilities that most everyone seeks: an improved station in life.
One way to magnetize a character to certain styles of progression is to genuinely develop an archetypal motive. This archetypical motive is a strong idea that your character can rally behind when moments of adventure conflict call for the character to stand for something. Powerful religious beliefs, political and military aspirations, spiritual quests, high adventure for a cause, freedom; any noble or driving beliefs that can inspire you, and in turn, your character. Game characters are abstract ideas expressed with game mechanics. Complete the circle of character creation by adding the human (or human like) nature element into the equation.
Just ask questions. If your character is a woodsman, does he want to be a guild master or an innkeeper? Does the farm boy want to be a monarch or an artist? Does the wanderer want to be a bard or roving priest? The choice is yours and any or all of the possibilities may become available over the course of a campaign. The external condition of a game campaign is not the only source for development. Players can outgrow their internal condition as a result of ongoing growth. Players should always role play their disadvantages and inner conflicts but also their character overcoming them. As a character gathers and amasses resources, progressively deal with them. Mature the character past its existing internal conflicts and solve the burning questions. With answers, there are always more questions. New questions and new conflicts to be cultivated by the player and thrust onto the character. These very human developments are at the heart of every great role both on paper, stage, the movies and in life.
RIP: Rest In Paper
All good things must come to an end, and no one lives forever. Amidst a world of intense conflict and powerful adversaries, characters sometimes die. Character death is a taboo subject in most circles of discussion and that’s just ridiculous. They are only characters! If you can’t tell the difference between constructive fantasy and destructive reality, it is a problem that needs to be addressed. Get help.
Main characters perish in stories all the time that's why their stories are called tragedies. Just go ask Romeo and Juliet. Sometimes a character death is the climax of a story. The way to deal with it is to write up another character or keep playing the same character in a different campaign. A single character can have many different incarnations in separate campaigns, varying time lines, or even other dimensions. Playing the same character in different situations, especially with different gamemasters, can be an excellent way of exploring character possibilities. Sometimes a character will even run better in different situations and settings.
One way to have characters survive the ravages of time is the same way we do; children. A great many stories and new avenues of conflict and resolution can come about because of children and grandchildren. It’s a natural progression that can unfold exciting new aspects of character development that can bring about more surprises than you might guess.
Another option is to quit while you’re ahead. Adventurers serve on the front lines of good and evil. When the time is right, retire a character and open an inn or space cantina. There is always a demand and an adventure or two will still find its way there. Settle down and leave the adventuring up to the next generation of heroes. Let the PC drift into retirement and become an NPC. There might even be the occasion when the GM might run the character as an NPC and you could interact with a character of your own design! When times get too boring, the character can hang up the tavern apron and ride off into the sunset with his old adventuring buddies for one last epic crusade. There will always be another adventure, another character, and another sunset.
Stepping onto the stage of the campaign gives your character an existence from birth to death and perhaps beyond. The events of a character are ever weaving itself into the campaign thread with crescendos and ponderous transitions that make good stories. A character shouldn’t be overshadowed with mechanics; they are only a means to an end. A good character isn’t produced mechanically, only related that way. Character development happens inspirationally at the spur of the moment. Don’t miss the sights because you were paying attention to the map. What deserves attention is the method of development. Without an agenda of some kind, a player could potentially spend valuable character points amassing resources that are all bark and no bite. As characters develop, they do so as
point and counterpoint discussions in the voices of players and characters, building into a wave of interesting role playing.
Points and Pragmatism
Game mechanics are the tools of character construction and stand over development as well. A player’s desire should always be fictional growth for the character; the evolution of the story and the character’s place in that story. The reward for participation is experience points.
Experience points bridge the gap from an ongoing plot to the growth of the character justifying the means of mechanical progression. Each resolution, whether supportive to a minor story conclusion or contributory to the grand finale deserves a reward. Bits of cheese to fill your character’s belly and keep it going; payment for accomplishment and solid contributions in a cooperative story. The focus of that development falls on the shoulders of character agendas and story climaxes.
Experience points are generally awarded on the basis of presentation, content, contribution, and story relevance to the game world. Presentation is the role playing portion of the game. All the details of a character correctly represented by the player during live table sessions or live acting. Content awards are based on quality. Good plot contributions and not forcing the story toward unproductive directions. The intensity of the story is also important for a GM when formulating experience point compensation. Pulling fluffy out of a tree garners only so many experience points no matter how theatrically perfect it was. Bonus points for extra credit, however, are totally permissible and encouraged. Gamemasters may use different ways to give out XP and should be agreed upon before game play begins. Always know the rules of the game, especially house rules.
The type of experience point regulations differ from system to system, keeping a relationship both to the player and character in synch with a method of growth that can be mechanically measured. In addition, most systems include a ramping of difficulty in acquiring experience points to keep a sense of challenge alive in the player. As each new puzzle is solved, a climax is achieved and works towards a new vista. No matter how it breaks down, experience accrues in the character and the player. Character exploration opens new avenues of role playing. Every character is built differently and blends into a campaign world with scintillating nuances that awaken the player's consciousness. Stick to these areas of judgement for experience points and a player will do well (except in unique game situations that may require something specific). Just keep an open mind and play a good character. Participate in the game with positive (player) cooperation, and try to have fun!
To Temper an Idea
After each session or adventure (depending on the GM’s style) players are rewarded experience points - - points that are used to increase a character’s resources. Building a connection to the player with familiarity and accomplishment strengthens a character for future events. Like tempering steel, the intensity and speed of the process plays into the quality of the character. If a game master moves a story too quickly and/or gives out too many experience points, the character will grow without any sense of fulfillment. The details of the character can’t be explored or interestingly applied to the story. Dull game sessions that break down into structural tactics that diminish the game’s fictional intent. All the facets of a character that could have been fruitfully investigated are relegated to mere tools of shallow interaction. No new comparisons or opinions, leaving the player dissatisfied with an otherwise good character.
On the other end of the spectrum, an overly slow distribution of experience points can be irritating to all players. A poor reward for hard work always puts a cramp on role playing. The best way to handle this situation is to approach the game master. Don’t interrupt the flow of the game and don’t whine. Choose a time outside of the game session in consideration for other players. Keep track of your grievances and prepare them in a lucid manner. Make your case, citing your strengths and contributions requesting what you think you deserve. Stay open to a GM’s assessment and reasoning as each gaming situation is different. Sometimes, the GM might be holding back for a reason that enhances the story. If your efforts are not met with fairness, be patient. In time, a tightwad GM will have to listen the grievances of all the players. If that doesn’t work, go find another troupe or start your own. Experience points are the lifeblood of a character’s growth over the course of many stories and have a direct relationship with game progression. The choices of dispensing XP are up to the GM, but allotting them to the character is up to the player. The balance is struck and should reflect an air of cooperation. Applying them well is part of the game.
Character Development Checklist
Agenda: Have a rough idea of possible story directions personal to the character. Take advantage of these possibilities as they occur within the confines of the campaign.
Motive: Connect characters to story environments with a biography. Outlined by a character archetype within a game system, designed by the GM, or player designed/GM approved.
Progression: Always keep a character’s development in mind. Will the character die or grow old? Is the character seeking nirvana or monetary gain?
Experience Points: Meter the character’s development with the accumulation of experience points. Try to balance development and allot resources for solid character growth.
Without a challenge there is no drive to overcome and the situation is robbed of any sense of accomplishment. A player should always remember that if you start out with a perfect character, there is no potential for development. Omnipotence isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Focus your character to deal with the inequities of the story, they are the underpinnings of these phenomena called role playing games. All the conflicting points of interest (condition, motivations, and goals) swirling into the action of a story will fuel