Character Vs. Story Aug 31


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Character Vs. Story

Waaaay back in my introduction, I mentioned that I came to Roleplaying by way of Jeff Hannes’s Dramatic Roleplaying Tournament. Every year since then, I’ve gone to Jeff’s own little “JeffCon,” a weekend get-together with about 30 gamers which is completely dedicated to Free-Form Roleplaying.

After JeffCon this year, the big conversation was about roleplaying a character as it was written on the sheet, vs. making the game an enjoyable/interesting story. In a Free-Form module, the GM hands you a character sheet with your history, attitudes, goals, and relationships with the other PCs. If you don’t play to what is on your sheet, you will affect the flow of the game.

There’s a dark side to this, however. If you ONLY ever stick hard-line to what’s written on the sheet, you’re locking yourself out from opportunities to make the game more interesting for you and your fellow players.


And this is what the game starts to feel like. . . .

For example, in one of the games this year at JeffCon, one of the characters in charge of the group of PCs had a pretty simple goal: Sit and wait for the big boss (an NPC) to show up. The problem was the big boss wasn’t supposed to show up until the end of the module, and sitting around waiting makes for a boring-ass game.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t other things the character could have decided to show an interest in. There was all sorts of evidence pointing to some truly weird shit ala mixed-up realities going on. However, the player playing the leader stuck to the character as-written—trying to achieve his goal of waiting for his boss—so we all sat arguing for much of the module  (except for the times where he told us to shut up) and nothing interesting happened.


I know how you feel, buddy.

There were other problems with the module setup. Only one character in each “reality” (there were three) had any interest in the reality mix-up–becasue it was worked into their background. The others didn’t care. Had ONE other character  in each reality decided to try and fix the problems that were arising, the story would have been infinitely more interesting. Except, nobody did. None of the characters had it written on their sheets to be interested, and none of the other players decided that maybe their character’s priorities would shift in the face of such a bizarre turn of events.

Post module and JeffCon, everyone began discussing the failings of that particular game—and other times when people had felt they had less fun in modules because they  felt their character’s background didn’t allow them to do anything other than stick with the program. Here are my thoughts on this:

The most interesting stories are about characters that evolve. If you go into a story with a character that has a very focused personality trait or goal, you might want to consider how those goals or traits might change in a charged situation—like the one you’re in during the course of the game.


Hopefully not THIS charged, but you never know.

This isn’t to say that you need to BREAK character to have fun. On the contrary, you should be expanding your character, making them more complex. I don’t think any GM on the planet would fault you for not playing a character exactly how they envisioned as the situation in-game evolves . . . provided you’re helping to make the story more interesting and fun. And if your GM does resent you for that—Wow, seriously? Ditch that guy/gal like an evil ring that needs to be dumped in a volcano.

I have a question for you: do you play these games to be bored, stressed, or otherwise unhappy? No? Then why would you restrict yourself to goals or character traits that cause you to be any of those things?

Have fun with your games, and your characters. Don’t sacrifice one for the other.

About Caitlin

CAITLIN has been gaming for a decade--longer if you count her strictly PbP years and playing Baldur's Gate 2 before she knew what D&D was. She came to tabletop gaming backwards, starting from Jeff Hannes's dice-less, semi-LARP Dramatic Roleplaying Tournament, to being wooed by World of Darkness, to finally rolling a d20 with 3.5 and Pathfinder. She now plays a variety of tabletop RPGs, video, card, and board games, while still occasionally dropping all the rules to play in a free-form RPG.