Character Evolution: Crisis and Response

Yesterday, we discussed the kinds of internal crises that can occur when somebody’s situation is shaken up.  Today, we’re going to look more at people processing major crises and threats to their ideals.  The more deeply held the conviction is, the more the world moving in opposition to it shakes them up. But it’s how they respond to it that makes the difference between them and the rest of the world.

How people respond can depend on multiple factors. One is how used they are to having their beliefs questioned or shaken up and how they usually deal with it. A cynic whose beliefs have been picked at for years will take a lot more in stride than a relative innocent first discovering that there is darkness in the world. Someone who lives for arguments or looks for the underlying reasons in everything might tend more towards denial than one who believes most of what he’s told by those he looks up to. A more proactive sort, or one who still thinks she can have an impact on the world, will be likelier to resist or try to change the negative discovery, while someone who’s used to not being able to change anything is more likely to fold.

Another is how they came by the realization. Say you’re from a family with a bit of a bad reputation, and you’re trying to clean it up. Are you really going to believe it when one of your enemies starts leveling accusations of demon-worship at your kin? What about when it’s one of your close friends? Your main squeeze? One of your closest relatives who isn’t involved in it? A more distant relative who actually is? What happens when you see evidence of that sort of behavior for yourself? At what point do you admit it to yourself?

Then there’s the question of whether they can do anything about it. This is an important one, particularly for more proactive characters. In general, the more helpless they feel with regards to a certain situation, the likelier they are to deal with it by either running from it or blocking it out. Ability to deal with it doesn’t always result in a healthy solution, though. If the solution is beyond a character but she hasn’t figured it out, she may keep fighting against it long after the time to quit or despite the fact that it’s actually for the best. (For GMs: this is a particularly important situation to watch out for in your player characters, particularly if you run a game in which the PCs know they’re exceptional and capable of altering the plot. Impossible tends not to be in a PC’s vocabulary except when it applies to NPCs.)

Similar to the question of whether the character can affect the problem is the question of who the issue itself negatively affects. Many characters are more devastated by revelations or catastrophes that affect them than they are by those that don’t, and have greater issues with things that affect larger numbers of people than those that only affect a few. This isn’t by far the only possible result, though. Some characters are actually more affected by revelations that affect their families and friends more than the characters themselves, sometimes going to the extreme of wanting to take on the problem themselves to save their loved ones from it. Some consider a small-scope problem a bigger personal affront, or a sign of fate being against them.

The last variable, and the most unpredictable, is the people around them. Friends might mitigate the impact of a revelation by providing support, suggesting solutions, pointing out reasons why it isn’t as bad, or just showing the character that she isn’t alone. Enemies (or sometimes well-meaning friends pushing the wrong buttons) can exacerbate these problems. Others dealing with their own issues might end up being sources of inspiration, additional stress, or something else entirely.

Regardless of the character’s general response tendencies, there are a few general patterns the responses are likely to follow.  These can give you an idea how a character might be changed.  Tomorrow, we’ll look into the general responses.

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