Impractical Applications (Ruby in Crisis)

We’ve spent most of this week discussing how to develop a character through conflict. Enough telling, though; it’s time to actually get a decent demonstration. Since it’s been working so well, I’ll be using Ruby as today’s demonstrator.

When we first saw her, she was a hyper innocent working towards the end of the world, the primary bodyguard and assistant for her mentor Lirit, fully confident in her identity and her own ability to take on any problem. As noted on Tuesday, she’d already had her role a little bit shaken up by competition for Lirit’s attention and the right to be her bodyguard, and had to deal with an interloper who seemed to be going for the parts of what “spot” in the group she had left.

What shaped her more, though, were the situations she ran into over her time dealing with her new friends. It had begun simple, with the betrayal and murder of her ultimate overlord by one of said overlord’s equals. This was more Lirit’s crisis of confidence, but when your moral compass is someone else, and that someone else is starting to have doubts, it’s hard to stay stable. Ruby found herself in a fight she couldn’t win, but it wasn’t enough to shake her identity; the foe was way out of her league, so losing was all right.

What really shook her up happened later, in a conflict against Krata and Esemeli, the twin children of the plot’s major antagonist. In a span of about twenty-four hours, she’d been yanked out of her cabin on the group’s boat, pretty much overpowered by Krata (particularly embarrassing given that one of her old teammates, a bookish fellow whom Ruby could take in a fight without breaking a sweat, had made a considerably more impressive showing against Krata’s much scarier father), and then, scarcely six hours after making her escape, nearly lost Lirit to one of Esemeli’s attacks, then got reduced to a pulp again.

Essentially, the situation struck at a number of issues. One was a matter of confidence; her functionally perfect record was broken, and she hadn’t even managed to touch either of her foes. Another was that of her role. She’d been trusted to protect Lirit—the last instruction she’d been given by her overlord, the purpose she’d been given when she lost her old identity—and not only had both of them nearly been killed, but she’d had no effect whatsoever on the fight. Had the group not been neck deep in trouble, it’s quite possible that she would have spent the next week in utter self-pity mode once she woke up. Put simply, for the first time since Lirit had recruited her, Ruby was confronted with her own weakness; she had to think now, to plan, to make contingencies around the idea that she might fail. She couldn’t fight the problem directly, she certainly couldn’t run away from it, so she had to plan for it, and worst of all, her plan was something Lirit wouldn’t like. So she found herself having to stand up to her mentor in order to do her duty. The whole mess led to no small amount of tension between them, as their dynamic itself actively shifted to accommodate the new development.

Her other major turning point, not long ago, involved her difficulties with her cause. When she’d been recruited, her work hadn’t seemed that bad, as almost anyone who died by her hand or Lirit’s either went peacefully and something approximating happy, or richly deserved it. And this worked, even through Lirit’s crisis—that is, up until a spell backfire led to Ruby discovering what a large number of people simultaneously meeting an unpleasant fate sounded like. Instant crisis of morals. Again, her first step was to withdraw until talked through it by her friend Luath; that tends to be her default option when the situation doesn’t require immediate action.

Because of these situations, Ruby of now is more actively thinking through how she relates to the world and how to handle what goes on around her; she’s also a lot more independent and self-driven. As a result, and due to various other factors, I think I can safely say she’s the best-developed NPC I have.

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