…Will Always Win Because…

We’ve all run into characters in our or other people’s narratives that are just stupidly hard to put a real challenge to, let alone defeat. I know I’ve often tried to design good villains, only to realize that I’m not entirely sure what exactly is going to lead to their defeat. Or someone else is brandishing a character whose greatest “flaw”, something supposed to keeping them from being downright overpowered, is little more than a character quirk—or just one who’s supposed to be in an ensemble but doesn’t seem to have any real need for teammates. On the flip side, occasionally we have characters we just can’t find that plot-pushing spark for—they’re decent, they might have interesting personalities, but we can’t really figure out how to make sure they can do what they need to aside from shoving plot devices into their hands and hoping for the best.

That’s where this exercise came from.

The premise is simple: it only takes one sentence. Pick yourself a character, and, for that character, write the following: “[The side this character opposes] will always win because [the side the character aligns herself with] is/does [thing specifically appropriate to the character in question].” (If you can’t think of anything better, feel free to just simply this to good and evil in some order; we know what you mean.) That final part, the thing specifically appropriate to the character, is the most vital piece of the exercise: it needs to be something that you can be held to following through on. For the character to triumph in such a situation, rather than just doing/being whatever it is and getting trounced for it, needs to require other factors, mostly external. A real flaw, if you will; something that will actually create conflict.

For example: Evil will always win because good is too trusting. Good (as I noted while watching a couple of my antagonists a half-session ago) will always win because evil is too busy playing with its food. Order will always win because chaos is cooing over chameleon hatchlings (okay, that’s pretty reliably obsessive for a champion of chaos, and rather hard to make plot-important without seeming like you’re stereotyping, but you get the idea). Things like that. When used on the villain, it gives a way for the heroes to win; when used on the heroes, it creates actual midplot conflict rather than boring invincible hero syndrome.

You can also use a variant to emphasize a character’s greatest strength. Just begin it “[Opposing side] will always lose because…” and then fill in something that the character can win with. (For instance, I once played in a game in which “Evil will always lose because good has common sense” was practically the order of the day, and my game groups seem to live on “Evil will always lose because good has a Crazy Plan”.

So who’s winning (or losing) and how does who the characters are reflect that?

6 comments

  1. Michael says:

    A fun thing you can do with this is give two sides faults that are exact opposites. For instance, Cassandra will always win because everyone else is too trusting; she is expert in exploiting this, doesn’t matter who or what you place your trust in, she will find out about it and find a way to use it against you. She will also always lose because she isn’t trusting enough….

  2. UZ says:

    A perennial favorite in fantasy is that good will always win because good is purely reactive and it’s easier to louse up someone else’s plans than to try and accomplish something yourself. Oddly enough this is played straight most of the time.

    In anime this frequently leads to a hero who is a complete bonehead, the better to facilitate lousing up the plans of evil. As a result, the presence of heroes too idiotic for reflection or worry is pretty common in anime, leading to a character trait I sometimes refer to as Nerves of Stupid.

  3. Swordgleam says:

    Interesting. I think my last game went along the lines of, “The party will always win because the other side is too busy standing around going ‘wtf?’ over the party’s strategy.”

    The game I’m currently playing in is more along the lines of “Evil will always win because Good doesn’t think through the repercussions of its actions.”

  4. Ravyn says:

    Michael: Would be interesting to see how things would go if she ended up face to face with some of my more cheerfully paranoid types.

    UZ: That’s odd, I’ve always found lousing up people’s plans to be more amusing when done by someone who’s got the intelligence to louse them up at the fracture point. Maybe there’s a cultural dislike for wanting to identify with the viciously smart types?

    Swordgleam: I think this exercise works better when applied to individuals rather than groups, particularly as a flaw-finder. But I know what you mean about the wtf.


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