Playing the Character: Not So Flawless (pt 2)


My Apologies for the delay.  My current schedule doesn’t really permit a regular time for blogging, and so, even though I’m not extremely busy, it’s easy to put this guy off when i want to work on other things – most namely, working on my own DnD 3.5 adventure to run for my friends after this Christmas break.

In Part 1, I talked about how giving your character flaws (and acting out on them) can improve the story of your gameplay – and thats something that players really have the power to do.  In part 2, I’m going to talk about how negative emotion can come into play that can change the direction of the plot as well.

It seems to me that in many discussions of DnD and other RPGs, the player character is always focused directly on completing the goal set before them by the GM.  Even if the players accept some underlying personality in their character, they’re still working towards the end goal.  But what happens when negative, often distracting emotion, gets in the way?  That is, has your character ever gotten sad, depressed, or angry at something that hindered them from progressing directly forward in the plot?

Not a dromite, but close enough

One of the most memorable moments from a recent DnD campaign, Obre, my character, got depressed.  Allow me to set this up with some quick backstory.

Obre is a psionic Dromite, whose personal character arc (and backstory) involves him questing to gain power and experience so that he may be able to one day become leader of his people.  He is a good-aligned character, and he protects those under him – but he does have a thirst for power.  He believes that the more powerful he is with his psionic abilities, the better leader he will be to his people.

Then, during the quest, he suffered a terrible blow – due to an attack by a Succubus, he got 2 negative levels, and they became permanent.  This is arguably one of the worst things that can happen to a player (fortunately, the players found a scroll of restoration later on), but this blow was especially hard to Obre who believes his core is based entirely on his abilities, experience, and power.  2 negative levels was devastating to that belief.  Obre lost heart.  He became depressed.  He no longer wished to fight.  He felt unworthy to be undertaking this terrible quest.

Suddenly, our party was no longer simply moving forward to the next challenge.  The other players noticed Obre’s emotional state, and they had previously recognized him as somewhat of an unofficial leader in the party.  Suddenly the one who had fought bravely and encouraged all of them through the desperate fight was giving up.  They tried to console him, to reason with him.   They convinced him to at least stay on the quest and not leave, though he continued to be depressed.  He essentially ignored the next encounter, focusing his fury instead on attempting to burn through an indestructible throne (an unfortunate target, as his inability to destroy even an inanimate structure with his base energy type made things even worse…).  The other players had to deal with not only the next encounter, but also with helping Obre.  The plot took its own twist, totally unplanned and unpredicted by the GM.  It did not swing the plot so far out of the way as to mess with the GM’s planning, but it did create a significant part of the story during that session.

Another thing to note?  The players were interacting directly with each other to move this plot forward.  It was no longer a simple “lets decide what to do next” interaction – the players had a new challenge, directly interacting with each other, to solve this problem.  The GM simply sat back and enjoyed our interaction for a few minutes.  And that session became all the more memorable because we, as the players, had built our own plot into the GMs world.

I tell this story to show how You – the Player – can take an active role in the story.  In many games, the main characters march stolidly onward, focused on the challenges in front of them, halted only temporarily to overcome some mechanical obstacle.  In reality (and in the best stories) characters not only battle the world’s challenges, but their own inner demons.

I’m not saying it’s always the best idea to have your character get depressed.  But there are many ways to apply negative emotion to deepen the plot.  You could pursue relentlessly someone who insulted you.  You could be deathly afraid of something and recoil from entering the next room.

Having a solid character backstory can help create these events or open up doors for them, but if you don’t want to invest all the time beforehand, you can always just make up stuff for your character along the way.  However, creating a backstory and providing it to your GM can allow him or her to prepare specific encounters, challenges, and characters to enhance the plot and make it more meaningful.

So… what are your thoughts?  Agree? Disagree?  Specific ways you implement this kind of thing in your campaigns?  Leave a comment!

Also, tell your friends!  More people reading this blog hopefully means more discussion.

I think there’s a part 3 to this topic, but I forgot what it was in between writing part 1 and 2… so I’ll get back to you on that.  In the meantime… look forward to more posts on gaming, roleplaying, and Harry Potter!

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Agree.
    I also recall that memorable trial where Obre becomes uncontrollably depressed. It was an interesting dilemma to conquer as it took real diplomacy between the players and not a roll of the dice. I found it amazing that, despite some prominent discords between a paladin dwarf and a sorcerer halfling, Milo(me), we managed to put or minds together to bring our displaced comrade back to reality.

    Another situation that was will always be ingrained in my mind is when (in the same quest as before) the DM included the characters Insanity in the game. When something extraordinarily twisted occurred, the players rolled for Sanity checks- certain aspects did and did not work, but that is whole new discussion in itself. But when my neutral sorcerer used his “Staff on Necromancy” to cast a rather wicked spell, some characters who failed their sanity checks acted accordingly and the primary mission was put on hold till the other characters could console and calm the more insane players. The DM legislated that the only way to bring the players back to reality was if others went to their aide, but the players really took it to the next level and acted to according what the character would do: my neutral sorcerer did made an effective but evil move at others expense, the insane ones broke down in tears and rambled nonsense, and the responsible leader, Obre, took Milo’s wicked staff and gave it to the dwarf to destroy, so that the party would no longer risk becoming more insane.

    The players played their character and it was a unique experience that I enjoyed and learned a lot from.

    However, I think part of the reason the Insanity thing worked was because the DM’s legislation forced the players to deal with their own character flaws. As I said I am relatively new to DnD and I have never DMed before but making an intentional emotional dilemma may need some ground rules to force the player to act appropriately to what their CHARACTER would do, not them personally. Every quest I am repetitively tempted to do what I see is best, even though, Milo’s personality would not have him make those same decisions.

    Obviously it the player’s must be willing to do what their character would do regardless of if it reconciles with their personal feelings, but to cut back and minimize players mistakenly don’t act accordingly, there could be some ground rules laid out by the DM to compel player’s to play out their character flaws.

    [this is my first blog ever so excuse ANY errors, grammatically and degree of relevance]

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