Originally, I had planned to write about the fun I’ve been having writing up comic characters over at the Mutants and Masterminds forum, The Atomic Think Tank. I’ve been taking some requests and coming up with some fun and interesting builds for characters I’d probably never have chosen to write up on my own. But as I started writing I got distracted by a little idea that felt like a good mid-week post.
When I’m building comic book characters they are very realized. They have deep, rich histories, some extending 50+ years. This makes it easy to get a grip on their personality and complications because you can examine a lot of source material for “who” they are.
Making a new character for an RPG though – someone you intend to play in a campaign, is a different experience though. You might be playing D&D and have your (mechanical) build planned out from level one to level thirty – but do you know who the character is? This is a question that’s been asked many times and a lot of RPG pundits have weighed in on the topic. My usual method is to sit down and really think about a character, to plan out the personality, backstory, connections to the setting and everything I can before the first session ever happens.
But lately I’ve been thinking about some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever played, some of those that really took on a life of their own and became important to me as a player. And even though my planning and writing have created some characters who fit this mold, far more have been the result of happy accidents of evolution.
What I mean by that is, characters that have been ideated one way but then became something else in the course of play. When I first started playing Shadowrun Anniversary Edition, I created a troll mage – a kind of serious, hermetic who was something of a “Sam the Eagle” of his shadowrunning team. Another player made a human rigger – a girl who was all high energy and harebrained schemes – more like the Gonzo of the group. The way our characters bickered and fought, at one point she looked at a ganger who commented on our relationship and she yelled at him, “We’re Twins! Can’t you see the resemblance?!?”
Well, I’d never intended for us to be related, but that started a turn in the game that led to Bertie and Remy. We were now brother and sister, with my hermetic library taking up the top half of the garage where she built her drones. Our relationship changed and deepened in-character to the point where, when my Troll was severely injured on a run and we both almost died, we decided to retire the characters because Bertie didn’t feel like he could protect them in this lifestyle – and Remy had never been all that “stone-cold runner” to begin with.
It was a great game – and the character I played was nothing like what I set out to play, but wound up being a favorite. I’m amazed by how much I enjoyed playing Bertie and how much he grew from his original vision of stuffy, proper, Bertimaus… into a loving brother, careful teammate and ultimately, protector.
I could name many more of these happy accidents of character evolution, where just letting the first few sessions fall where they may and seeing what happens produced intense results, but I think I’ve made my point.
Letting the character evolve without detailing every last nuance of personality and backstory has produced some pretty great results for me over time. How about you?