Reasons to live

Oh, this title is really melodramatic, right? At least I caught your attention!

This post on a really good other blog got me thinking about character-driven plots. The author states that, basically, there are two kinds of plots in role-playing games: character based and world-based. Character-based plots are founded on the motivations and drives of one or more characters, and are about the trials and tribulations these heroes or villains go through to reach their goals. World-based plots find their roots in large-scale events taking place in the world, and the characters are somehow linked to those.

Personally, I prefer the first kind of plot. Players give you so many hooks to play with, so why not use them? But many Gamemasters forget to get the full potential out of the PC’s, so here is my little guide to the creation of character-driven plots!

Characters and You – How not to be boring!

This little guide consists of a set of questions you should ask your players about their characters before you start your campaign. The answers they give can be used as the base for major plotlines, or just minor “side quests” to spice up the chronicle. This list is also handy to deepen the background of your own role-playing character, no matter if he’s one for an MMORPG, or your normal table-top game.

  • What is the greatest fear of your character?
  • What is the most precious thing your character posseses?
  • Would your character steal to survive?
  • Does your character have a very hindering physical flaw?
  • Does your character have a very hindering mental flaw (i.e. amnesia)?
  • Does your character have a very hindering social flaw (i.e. sexist, racist)?
  • If your character had to choose between great power or the love of his life, what would he choose?
  • Does your character believe in a certain god, or follow a certain religion?
  • Does your character have a strange hobby?
  • What games is your character good at (i.e. chess, poker, darts)?
  • Does your character like animals? Does he even own a pet?
  • What is your characters greatest ambition in life?
  • What is your characters “kryptonite”, or his greatest weakness?
  • Is your character superstitious?
  • If your character would find a mighty artifact that could change the course of history, what would he do with it?
  • What skill would your character want to perfect?
  • Is your character a talented leader?
  • Does your character have a family?
  • A fiendish sorcerer has mind-controlled your entire family, and forces them to fight against you. What would you do?

These 19 questions are not all you could ask a player about his character, but these give you a good impression of his soon-to-be hero. Use the answers to create plotlines that incorporate the character. Players feel more integrated into the world when they see that their character matters. In a plot about the annihilation of an entire world, where the characters are “just” officers in the army of the Golden King, players might get the feeling that they are just one gear in a gigantic machine that might as well work without them. When they notice that their characters MATTER to the plot, they will feel more motivated to take part in it, and bring their piece to the puzzle.

But how do you get characters involved? The easiest way, and the way I do it, is by doing it painful. In other words: taking something away. This can be a character’s family heirloom, his magical sword he needs to save his father, or his twin sister. Taking something away triggers a certain psychological behaviour, namely that of trying to get it back. It is now the task of the Gamemaster, to make this quest interesting and challenging, but NOT unfair. If the character, and the player, is doing his utmost best to succeed, and just fails because of a bad roll, don’t be a jerk and let him fail. Instead, let him get closer to success, but not close enough. Progress is a slow process, but it is still better than stagnation. The climax of the plot should be all about all or nothing: the character either succeeds in getting back what belongs to him, or fails bitterly. Both outcomes should lead to new, exciting stories, which are for the Gamemaster to design.

It’s an eternal cycle, you see, and making that cycle as interesting as possible is key. I wish you the best.

Signed,

Aki!

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