Happy Character Accidents

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?

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2 responses

  1. *grins* oh, RG. You actually just took an entry right out from under me! I was going to debate the merits of writing out pages and pages of back ground over letting these accidents happen and letting the back ground evolve over time. I think that, as fun as creating this gorgeous, full-fledged character and playing them right from the start is, I think that it can also be terribly restrictive. You want to do them justice. You want to play them “right.” this can be absolutely exhausting.

    With Remy, I just… let her be what she was going to be. I let her react naturally. If I could add something new to her past for humor’s sake, then I could do it. She was one of the most original characters I’ve ever created. She DID start out as this zany, hair-brained girl, barely outlined, but with lots of promise. By the end, her insecurities had come out full-force. She could be shy, and terribly naiive which made her rarely see the big picture of things. She was brash, and quick to anger, and not very good with people even when she really, really wanted to be.

    It’s not necessarily the size of the back ground that makes a good character. In this situation, it was the people we were playing with. They were ready to role-play, flexible, funny, they were just, all around, a fun group of shadow-runners, and we just happened to have a perfect dynamic as those characters.

    I would live in squallor, sleeping in a hammock above my drones with wrench in hand, any day of the week.

  2. That is kind of the interesting thing about the role of the group dynamic in character development. It can really diversify the characters if the group is good. Sometimes though the dynamic can push characters into a bit of a developmental rut if the group plays several different games together and members of the group are a little unimaginative. Mostly I think about the group I played the most extensively with and how it always seemed like no matter what situation was, the dynamics always turned my character into the buddy cop partner of my friend. I think in part it was because the two of us were the only ones who consistently showed during most of the three years we were regularly playing(she happened to be the main GMs girlfriend). Also because no matter what, our supporting cast regulars played the same sort of thing thing (ie a borderline villian and a noncombatant who isn’t all that usefull outside of combat either) all the time regardless of what we were playing,which sort of made interaction limited (this doesn’t include the two dozen or so individuals that wandered into our games for brief periods over te years). It led to several pairings that read like bad action movie descriptions. I’ll list a couple, since I’ve plaved in a couple of your games RG, bonus points if you can guess which ones were my character.
    1 Taciturn paladin with a giant axe and put upon wizard hunt the man who imprisoned them.
    2. Functionally illiterate criminal and intern with the D.A hunt monsters in Charleston
    3. Mrrshan warrior and a human diplomat try to keep the peace on a space station in contested territory.
    4.Ventrue neophyte and Gangrel combat monster try to solve the murder of a Justicar.

    Sorry about the length

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