I talked earlier this week about dropping mountains on characters. As I mentioned, I’m exceedingly prone to this, particularly with my own characters—if it isn’t trying to mess with the heads of PCs and NPCs alike in the games I run, it’s cheerfully telling my GMs about how to mess with my PCs’ heads in the games I play. (Sometimes, anyway. One of the more recent games I was in, I found myself rather carefully avoiding providing potential angst-hooks—or at least, providing potential friends and relatives to be angst-hooks. We hadn’t had much time for character development, so I was operating under the assumption that what I’d end up with would be all of the angst and none of the nice juicy chances to poke at the angst, to see what the angst actually does, and to get the catharsis later. That GM hasn’t proven me wrong yet.)
In terms of my PCs, the most fun one to do this with was Tuyet. I’d started it, really, since I couldn’t figure out how to justify her existing personality and the arc I’d planned for her without a nasty bit of history. But then the GM kept managing to set the story up in such a way that about three quarters of what happened hit her where it resonated (about half of it, by my estimates, was deliberate, and half was just really awkward image-clash), and one of the other players was having as much fun as I was breaking the characters and gluing them back together, and between the three of us I think we were clocking almost half as much time dealing with our respective characters’ bundles of issues as we were saving the world. (Much of this was in sidechat, to the relief of the other two players.)
Like I’ve said, I haven’t had as much luck doing this to the PCs. In some cases, it’s because as far as I can tell the player doesn’t want it, and I’m not going to force it; I’ve done completely unwanted (and completely resolutionless) IC angst, and it wasn’t pretty. In some, it’s that the character isn’t the type to get messed up like that, or that if he/she is I don’t really know how I’d get to that point—one of my longest-running players still can’t answer a lot of my usual favorite characterization questions.
And then there are the NPCs in my game, who—well, it varies. Most of the group’s closer allies have something that went horribly wrong, often several somethings, though it doesn’t come up in play unless specifically invoked, either deliberately or accidentally (and the group is very good about trying not to set them off). If someone’s interested in helping them arc, we get it into sidechat or occasionally in main (the latter is most common in the solo game, as there’s nobody to be irritated by the pacing, and it makes perfect sense for the sole PC to attempt to aid in world-saving with the power of therapy, slow though it may be); if not, the characters arc quietly in the background, or not, as suits, and generally keep their angst to themselves unless poked directly. With characters like Ruby or Lirit, it almost never comes up, save as calm or cheerful asides; Olathe would rather nobody knew she had a History, thank you very much, and the worst that’s happened so far with Nandin was having to be talked out of leaving because he’d just figured out some things he really didn’t want to know about his prior incarnation and was worried that it had had more influence than he’d thought on his decisions. Then there’s Kiara, whom I really can’t seem to leave alone—in the main game she’s been arcing back to (and past) normal splendidly, but the alternate timeline for the solo game required not just a certain amount of rewinding, but a bigger mountain, and her close connection to the main PC means that the results of said mountain-dropping have informed the plot even more and spend a lot of time in the spotlight.
And that’s half the fun right there.