Gaming My Way

08 Apr

Developing a Character on the Fly

I have a confession. When I do backstories for my characters, they’re very one dimensional to start with. Just enough to justify playing the character in fact. I don’t begin with a direction for a character, I develop the direction as I play, and develop a backstory to match or compliment his direction. From there, I simply have to work to maintain consistency.

Most of the heavy roleplayers I play with absolutely hate this approach. I understand where they’re coming from, and I do see the advantages of having a deep backstory before the game begins. It does help provide direction for your character from the beginning, and makes sure you’ll stick with the intent of your character.

However, I like the mystery behind wondering how my character will develop. Sometimes I really don’t know how I’ll react to a given situation until I’m there, and after that, I’ve learned something new about my character. In that sense, it’s just as much watching a plot unfold to me as it is about interacting with the world. I don’t pre-plan a backstory because I want to learn about what drives my character as I play the game rather than just write it up from the get go. When the big reveal comes up in game, I’m almost as surprised by what I tell the other characters sometimes as they are, since I only thought of it about a minute ago.

When I play a game, I get to learn about my character’s secrets the same as I learn about everyone else’s. I get to be surprised. I wonder what new information will come out next session. Sometimes I’ll even plan ahead a little, though I’m never sure if I’ll actually use something I plan or not. Maybe a new in game development will come up that triggers a new a idea, and then I’ll see if it can be worked in effectively.

Of course, the ability to do this depends very heavily on how open ended a campaign is. The more open ended, the better. If a GM doesn’t want to add new organizations to the world, you need to pick one that already exists. If you can’t retroactively decide to have belonged to an organization and then have quit, then you have to find other things that you can add into your background to develop it. Focusing on personality and past deeds is the easiest way to avoid disruption of a plotline, but those past deeds still need to be in line with what the GM has planned for the world. Of course, some GMs don’t allow anything to be done retroactively, in which case, nothing you do can change your backstory once the game has begun, and you’d better make it good from the beginning.

There’s nothing wrong with doing the whole planning thing either. I just like to be surprised by how my character develops, just as I like to be surprised by plot developments in campaigns I play in or run.


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