Impractical Applications: Close, Detailed, What?

One of the things that got me thinking about backstory characters and their categories was finding myself, while designing one of my latest characters, with some in categories I’d almost never used before.

By the time I was done writing her, Juniper had ended up with three decently backstory characters I’d count as detailed, one of whom, her old mentor, is distant, and two of whom, her rival and her love interest, are close (though close in a not on stage yet, please wait while I solidify them sort of way, so the rival probably isn’t showing up until next session, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t even mentioned the love interest by name yet). This is a bit of a first for me—usually, my well-detailed characters are distant, or at least supposed to be off in the shadows being the character’s reason to flick from one plan’s failure to the next’s implementation as if they were pages on a flipbook, A to B to C to D and on into whatever other alphabets, syllabaries, or other writing systems can provide unique designations for further plan iterations. They certainly aren’t supposed to be a plot hook away and very easy for me to tell if the GM is doing it wrong.

Under any other GM I’ve had, I’m not sure I’d even try it. I’ve been burned by a couple of my priors when I tried to create detailed-close characters but ended up never actually seeing them (and then once when I tried to create a detailed-vague character and didn’t get to see her either). One of my regular GMs just plain refuses to play somebody else’s detailed character, citing nerves about getting it right (though given that this is the gentleman responsible for both Carmilla and Procopia, who turned out just fine, I think he underestimates himself a bit). This one, though, is one of the very few people I have seen successfully borrow my custom NPCs. This gives him a certain amount of leeway in my eyes.

But there they are. The teacher, at least, makes sense as detailed, since the GM and I are collaborating on her; when I have detailed backstory characters, that’s usually how they end up coming out, though this one’s lucky in that she was detailed out before the game started rather than way after. (I’m not sure I want the teacher female, I tell him, since all the important characters in this backstory are female, shouldn’t we switch it up a little? And he says no need, the society favors women anyway, and why not do it this way? I find this reassuring, though my instinct for gender-balances responds by making a decent number of the interesting secondary backstory characters male.)

The other two are detailed because there is something I want of them. This goes particularly for the love interest: she was part of the initial, sprouting fully formed backstory, and I wanted to make absolutely sure that if she should appear on stage, she’d be played sufficiently correctly that I could reasonably see the character still being in love with her. I have bad enough luck with romance plots as it is. But the rival also had a few things I wanted to get out of her, even if I deliberately left wiggle room; I wanted Juniper to see her as a standard mean girl in legion colors, wanted to not be sure myself what her actual motivation was, but made it very clear to my GM that as far as I was concerned, it would be absolutely lovely if it turned out she was more helpful than Juniper had thought but just concealed it under hostility and the rivalry between their respective educational institutions. Neither has shown up yet, though I’m expecting the rival to at least make a cameo sometime in the next two sessions.

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