Impractical Applications (The Character Arc of Satsu Kiara)

This week, character arcs were at the forefront of my mind. Due to my inspiration being mostly character-oriented, I deal with those a lot; most of my PCs, and even a decent number of my NPCs, have gone through at least one character arc, possibly more. But one of my favorite arcs is that of a primary NPC from my main game, a young woman by name of Satsu Kiara. And a lot of the fun with that is that, while I had an idea about some of it, most of it took me by surprise.

When I first created her, Kiara was quiet, clever, competent and utterly devoted to her work; not brave, but confident in her ability to handle her areas of expertise and capable of persevering. I had about ten sessions in which to establish her that way before a few lucky rolls on the part of the primary antagonist, Jalil, and a bit of hasty plot-logic led to her abduction at the hands of said primary antagonist. When the group found her, months later, she’d changed—not so much quiet as downright timid, working herself into the ground so as not to take time to fall asleep, and prone to freezing up not only when threatened but when dealing with much of anything that was both more powerful than she and not immediately friendly. In short, she’d arced offstage, and for the worse.

What followed was basically her arcing back to where she had started (slightly better, actually, but we’ll get to that), regaining her old confidence. Interestingly, the fact that she was undergoing development that was a reverse of her prior arc meant that there were two sets of reverse arc triggers going on at the same point. On the one hand, there were the things that resisted her initial development—if she was engaged enough on a topic, usually one of her twin passions of The Job and arcane experimentation, she was likely to forget about any differences between herself and whoever she was speaking to and argue it with the confidence she’d had in the beginning. On the other, there were those things that resisted her return to her old self—several environments that she’d been conditioned to feel helpless in, and the conscious efforts of Jalil himself (or rather, what was left of him… it was a little complicated) to keep her in her altered state.

The arc itself was one of those messy conglomerates of arc-types. Logically enough, part of it was a growth-arc, or rather a regrowth-arc. Part was rule-based—Jalil had imposed a number of rules on her worldview and tricked her into accepting them, and now she was testing them, seeing which ones were real and which could be broken. And part, and the most fascinating part for me, was interaction-based. With a remnant of Jalil still out there, it made sense that she couldn’t be finished until she had in some way shown that she could operate as an equal to him rather than an inferior, and even she sort of realized that, so they were in contact quite a bit.

And cue-points—were there ever cue-points. First, of course, was when the group first killed Jalil, allowing Kiara to return to her own range of environments rather than the rather more static one she had been confined to and requiring her to re-adapt to those—that was the growth arc, and it centered more on separating the fear of Then from Now, quelling her nightmares and ceasing to rely on her more flawed coping mechanisms. Second was the realization that there was still some of Jalil left, in a form weakened enough that she might be able to face him as an equal. Third was a misadventure she’d had with one of the PCs, he and she alone in one of her arc-reversal trigger environments, where the two of them had not only managed to stay out of trouble, but had tricked some of the locals into fearing them—it’s amazing what something like that can do for one’s confidence. By that time, she was most of the way recovered, but it was pretty much sealed when there was a task which only she could be spared for (the PCs being off dealing with bigger things), and she succeeded with flying colors using little beyond her own knowledge and cunning, and likely finished at the point where, as part of an attempt to remove the Jalil-remnant from his current host, faced him down within his own mind and told him not that she wasn’t afraid, but that she wasn’t afraid enough to lose, nor afraid enough to refuse to admit she was afraid—and then finished a group plan to make a paperweight out of him.

And the arc shows. Kiara-of-now is still quiet and subtle, but her confidence has grown. Once, she had been a specialist, skilled in areas pertaining to her duty and particularly skilled in those that were her passions; now she’s willing to work on things that don’t pertain to her emphases (including, fortunately for all involved, an effort on self-defense). Once, only things that were within her chosen fields were worth making a stand for; now, she’s willing to offer and stick to opinions in other areas rather than deferring to people who might not necessarily know better. In the beginning, her main political strategy had been “Don’t rock the boat”; now she’s involved in one of the greatest political events this timeline has seen.

The greatest joy I find in creating and playing a character is watching her grow and change; in her arcing and in her influence on those around her, Kiara has been one of the greatest sources of that joy in my game.

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