Characters - Planning, or Evolution?

edited September 2010 in General Discussion
So! I have a very interesting question, about which I'd like to see the insight of the denizens of the OP Forums.

When it comes to a character: is his path predetermined, or does he evolve?

I know a great deal of my characters had intricate backstories, goals and drives, and every time I played them, those goals and drives got changed and warped into something I never quite imagined. I wanted my character to advance to be the greatest fighter to ever be known, but suddenly he was taking levels in ranger, and a few in mage-craft! I was baffled at myself until I discovered - the character had taken on a life of it's own, outside of my own creation: There was no metagaming. No plan to go from Power Attack to Cleave to Greater Cleave. The character decided that his personality, his fighting style, would subtly continue to shift, as did his personality. And I loved every minute of it. It seemed completely natural, and completely organic.

How many of us have been completely, utterly taken aback by something we *knew* our characters would do, but never expected it? But looking back, we know that it never _ever_ could have gone any other way?


  • FemmeLegion
    Posts: 521
    My biggest "where the heck did THAT come from?!" moment didn't actually affect game play at all, but it was still quite surprising to me. During an email interlude, my character suddenly decided that she wanted to go back to her room and sketch a mural on her wall. She was really frustrated with things and that was what she needed to to in order to calm down and get her feelings sorted. I'd NEVER had any sort of indication that she was into drawing, but y'know, when my characters want something that badly, I tend to roll with it.

    As to your actual question: since I tend to just go into games expecting that the experiences in the campaign will change the characters, *everything* they do could never ever have gone any other way. However, I did surprise the snot out of my GM once, and he good-naturedly joked that I ruined his tragic ending for one of his NPCs.

    The NPC in question was an old dear friend of mine whom I thought had been killed. (He had been; he was now a vampire, but I promise this was before those Stephanie Meyer books got all popular.) Happy reunion, NPC and my character became lovers, he begins helping out the party, blah blah. Turns out that NPC had been thoroughly duped by the MeanVampire who brought him back, and those things MeanVampire told him to do that would help ended up killing about half a million people. NPC found this out, tearfully confessed to my character, and waits for the inevitable breakup from me and recrimination from the rest of the party.

    'Cept you know what? My character had been defending NPC's ass to the rest of the party from the beginning as someone who is not a bad person, but who is someone that would act without full knowledge if he thought the act would help. I'd already proposed to the rest of the party that NPC was the sucker at MeanVampire's proverbial poker table, and had never once lost faith that NPC had really and always wanted to do the right thing. So my character explicitly forgave NPC to his face, and kept on loving him.
  • RaseCidraen
    Posts: 890 edited September 2010
    Completely excellent! As a DM, it's terrible when the PC's do something like that, but it's terrible in an unexpected, good way. I had the same "What is going on here" moment when, on a whim, my namesake decided that what he *really* needed to do was to walk into a music shop and buy a violin. With *no* ability to play whatsoever. The DM rolled with it, and eventually, due to Roleplaying reasons, a bunch of songs and skills were learned that had *nothing* to do with the character at all, but enriched the story tenfold. I mean, it also makes keeping watch much easier if you've got a violin to play with rather than just sharpening sticks (As pretty much all people on watch end up doing after an hour..) Of course, it kind of broadcasts where you are...

    I did have a similar moment, though, when my character's best friend ended up stealing the "love of his life" at the time, causing him to spin into a deep depression - but no matter what, he couldn't hate his best friend. They'd just been through too much together for something like that to come between them. Of course, the feeling was almost entirely one-sided, and caused some severe drama, but not everything can come up roses.
    Post edited by RaseCidraen on
  • arsheesh
    Posts: 850
    That's an interesting question Rase. I imagine the answer will vary from person to person or even for the same person in different contexts. If you are the type of person who doesn't really go in for getting into character but who likes nothing better than to squash his foes like bugs, then my guess is that you'll probably end up with a one-dimensional character whose actions are fairly predictable. On the other hand, if you have a lively imagination and enjoy "role" playing then I think that over time you will find your character taking on a life of his own. I've read authors who have said the same sort of thing. They begin writing a story with a specific plot in mind, but when they populate their novel with various personalities, they find that the plot needs to be adapted in response to the unexpected actions of the novel's characters.

    It's an intriguing phenomena. On the one hand, the characters are fictitious elements of the authors imagination, so one would expect their thoughts and actions to be directly dictated by the one who dreampt them up. However, in order to create lifelike believable characters one must think long and hard about the believes, values, hopes fears and in a word, motivations of that character. As the character both reacts to their environment and forms their own projects and agendas, some of these will, while being perfectly consistent with the character's identity, nevertheless be things that the author had not thought about before hand. As the author writes and becomes more familiar with these personalities they find that the characters motivations compel them to react to situations in completely unexpected ways which can, and sometimes does, affect the pre-determined storyline.

    In the context of D&D, I think that this is a very good thing. It is the sign that you are fully engaged in the role-playing process.

  • JimTriche
    Posts: 483
    I have done both. What usually happens is a mixture. During creation I tool the character where he/she would be at that stage in life for his/her profession. Afterwards I tend to improve somewhat organically, based on what the character has done. Recon has horse riding, for example, not a common skill in Shadowrun, but he was in a stable for a few weeks and picked it up. I like to have an evolved/organic feel to the characters. And later on when I find an old character sheet I can look at the stats and skills/proficiencies and I can remember a bit of what the character was doing at the time.
  • RaseCidraen
    Posts: 890
    I wasn't even aware that horses still existed in Shadowrun! (Shows my lack of familiarity with the setting, I suppose.) And riding can be useful - horses tend to be much quieter than cars.

    I completely agree Arsheesh - I'm currently reading the Ciaphas Cain novels, and the author flat out states that she finds Ciaphas completely astonishing - she was in the middle of writing him running away from any number of things, and then realized that despite being a complete and utter coward, he actually would stop running and be heroic, for what seemed like no reason at the time, but actually turned out to be justified by virtue of his other traits/flaws.
  • FrankSirmarco
    Posts: 250
    In a perfect world, players create characters with beliefs, morals, motivations, etc., and GMs provide watershed moments for the characters that help build depth. This is much easier to achieve in role-playing groups that have been together for long periods of time.

    However, there's also something to be said of creating a singularly-motivated character for a one-night dungeon crawl. There's not a lot of reason to supply character depth when your character's sole purpose is to bash in skulls, disable traps, provide healing, cast spells, etc.

    Both methods can be rewarding, provided players know their roles and don't divert too wildly from their character's normal behavior (i.e., your normally-chivalrous Paladin decides to start raping every woman in the temple of "Pelor":
  • miditron
    Posts: 1
    I usually begin with a very clear identity. While I love writing the back story and getting into my character's head, it usually leads to me resisting the sort of phenomenon you describe - the character wanting to be something you hadn't planned.

    The most recent example comes from a campaign I just completed, in which I played a half-elf cleric of Ioun. He was a charismatic teacher and storyteller, but didn't really have any sort of direct connection with the divine. Yeah, he loved books and learning and knowledge and teaching and all that, and he worshipped Ioun because their temple raised him, but he wasn't really a true cleric in his heart. The story, however, kept putting him face-to-face with gods and their servants, evil and hatred. Before I knew it, I was giving him the Radiant Servant paragon path (D&D 4th edition) and he was critting on religion checks and hearing the voice of Ioun. Big change, but it worked really well. Also, because my character was willing to be shaped by events around him, it meant that the DM made him an integral part of the story, which is always fun.

    I just used this really interesting guide to help develop the backstory and personality for my newest character:
    Can't wait to see how much of it ends up changing over time!
  • okami00
    Posts: 4
    Evolution is what works best for me. You start with a base character, with a backstory (general or detailed) and he becomes shaped by the events of the game.

    That often puts my PCs behind others in terms of power, as I am not focused on "metagaming" (or "min-maxing" as it can be called in some circles). But it is certainly more enjoyable, makes them come alive and generally provides flaws as well as benefits. And this can happen in a role play intensive game or a "tactical miniature" version of RPGs that focus more on combat / task completion.
  • JonathonVolkmer
    Posts: 114
    Random thoughts fueled by too much coffee:

    I've generally found that starting with a clear plan in mind really helps me create a workable and believable character in the first place - that is, I go into character creation thinking about where my character has come from and where he/she is going (both in terms of character development and game stats), and derive my starting statistics with those things in mind. On the flip side, I treat this plan as a loose framework which gives me fallback options when it comes time to level up rather than sticking to it no matter what; if the story goes in a different direction, I just adapt the plan.

    Probably the most surprising event in recent play came earlier this year. I was playing a blind, sword-wielding, darkness-summoning monk named Tommy Zatoichi in a homebrew campaign. Tommy's initial motivation came primarily from his past - he had taken lifelong vows of poverty and self-sacrifice, and became an adventurer only after his monastery was destroyed by a tyrannical monarch. He traveled around doing good deeds and whatnot, and eventually fell in with two other adventurers (of less righteous, though still generally good, motivations) and together they formed the Torchlight Guild. The twist came when we were shipwrecked in a town being assaulted by a horde of undead. Though we took swift and deadly action, the walls were overrun and we attempted to cover the townsfolk as they fled to the ships; unfortunately, this challenge resulted in a TPK. The GM had prepared for this possibility, and the cavalry arrived in time to resurrect us - but Tommy made a choice in the afterlife. He, realizing that he was not powerful enough to confront the undead menace in these lands, chose to remain dead and donate his body to an unnamed vengeance demon with a penchant for slaughtering unnatural beings.
  • RaseCidraen
    Posts: 890
    JV -

    That's actually a really awesome character development, and I can totally see how it evolved. I had a somewhat similar event happen where my character, struggling to reunite the divided clans under one banner, as was his right since he was the (recently discovered) descendant of the last king. He spent a long time and a lot of blood trying to reunite the kingdom, and when he finally got the throne, he pretty much abdicated and gave the rule to someone else, because he realized that he was hardly capable of running a kingdom. Although he did get it reunited.
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