Two Things To Do Before Planning an In-Game Character Arc

For a lot of gamers, one of the most interesting things to do is watch the character grow and change. A well-invested character will likely do this automatically, as a response to things that go on around her.

But sometimes, a concept comes complete with a character arc. Losing innocence, discovering trust, coming to terms with (or discovering the dark side of) new powers, bringing a fear under control—essentially, there’s a direction the character practically demands to go.

The difficulty, of course, is getting there—and more importantly, getting there without driving the rest of the group up the wall.

The first rule, from my experience, is to discuss this potential character arc with your GM to see if it fits with what she wants to run. If she’s looking for a piece full of human darkness and betrayal, a character made to find faith in humanity might be a bit difficult. Similarly, a character looking for recovering from trauma or stress in a game that skips over everything that isn’t an action sequence, or a character learning nurture over nature in a world where evil is innate are going to have a lot of trouble arcing.

Moreover, this can help the GM avoid things that, while they would be dramatically interesting, would scuttle the character arc entirely. I had a friend who nearly had this happen to him at one point. The character was slowly moving her way towards believing in trust and the idea that the world wasn’t entirely out to get her. The problem was an upcoming sequence in which the likeliest person to have betrayed us was said character’s mother, and that… well, would have ended badly.

Next, discuss it with the rest of the group. Coordinating with the GM and other players will also increase the odds of having events that support the planned arc occur. And yes, I mean players. You can’t really do it with just one, and everyone will probably have a few suggestions to make that might actually improve it.

Moreover, as any GM will tell you, players are oblivious. If there’s any way they can not figure out what you’re trying to do, they will. (This goes double if you’re trying for a loner looking to reach out to the party but afraid to really do it—if you haven’t told them that’s what you’re going for, they’ll just treat the character like her goal is to push them away, and nothing will ever get done. I learned that from personal experience in one of my first long-running games.) And when people don’t know each other’s plans, they will always get in each other’s way. Besides, it gives you a chance to make sure that you don’t have a pair of characters whose concepts will inevitably clash. Those get real old, real fast.

Doing these will allow you to engage the collaborative fiction aspect of the game, avoid clashes in feel (very important), and help you to ensure that the character is guided in the right direction (which should help avoid a character about-face midway through). Make sure they get done!

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