Names and Faces

Sunday, July 27, 2008 - 12:34 PM

I am addicted to writing new people. While doing some planning for the next session of my DnD group, I came to fully realize how much of the work I do is character-based. My favorite plots are by far character driven, and one of my favorite aspects of RPGs in general is intercharacter relations. There are very few NPCs in the games I run who do not have some kind of backstory. Even if the players never find it out (or care, for that matter), it's there, waiting.

This, unfortunately, also dredges up tons of stories and plots that never get used. This plethora of inspirational bursts all end up in a couple of extensively huge files which I comb over on those occasions where I'm drawing a blank on the next puzzle piece of whatever story I'm running. Not unlike the vast amount of material in my gaming library, I could probably spend a good ten years without using everything in that file. Sometimes it is a bit aggravating, but it's also a source of fascination to me, sorting through these names and faces and thinking 'Where did this one come from?' It's like rediscovering an old book that you forgot you had.

The added layers of interaction provided by an RPG really brings these characters to life, both for themselves and the players who meet them. In the course of the games I've run, there have been many characters who my players remember very well indeed, and I'm pleased to have been able to provide that experience for them. Some of these random characters started out as mere henchmen or local craftsmen, and as players settled into their own roles, they discovered more about these people and thereby discovered more about the world their own alter-egos were wandering about in.

That sort of perspective is, I think, why a game with well-made characters will shine above others. Immersion is a key to any story, and the fastest way to make someone relate to a situation is to provide them with a sounding board in the form of a character they can find something in common with. In a world where the impossible can happen, it can be hard for the participant from our world to really grasp how the thoughts and feelings of those in the impossible will be shaped. When you provide complete people from that world to interact with, their perspective gets shared in a contained way that the player can take in and use.

Added perspective also lets players flesh their characters out further. Character development is often relegated to 'awful things happen, what do you do' situations, and that's a pity; it can be so much more. For example, in my current campaign, the party encountered a rather horrific woman named Corant, who was capable of some ferociously awful things. Certainly the fight against her was a nasty one, but it wasn't the fight that truly impacted the PCs; it was what they discovered much later about her past as a girl. Corant is laid to rest, but the seed of her history still sits in the players, and over twenty sessions later, the girl who would later become a monster still influences their decisions. On a much gentler note, this same group has had their characters grow from conversations with archmages explaining to them what it really means to save the world, from moral dilemmas and debates thrown from one to another, and even merely from one repentant NPC, seen only one session, who offered a PC his sword as an apology for fighting against them.

The progression of the story and watching my players go through the story, changing it as they go; this is a significant part of why I run games. And now, as I describe Tirilan, Jolani's son, in words and numbers, I wonder to myself what new twists he will offer them.

If they ever meet him, that is.

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