One of the best things about role-playing is making and playing an actual character. While there are many types of players and many types of characters, the ones I find the most fulfilling are those who I can feel coming to life as I am gaming. The character I’ve been playing for the last year or so is exactly this type of character, and it is thanks to what I have termed Crunchy Flavor”
The Player’s Character
A living character, at least in my mind, is one that feels like they belong in the world they exist in. This feels obvious, but its a much harder feeling to achieve than I would have first suspected. The problem with many characters, as I’ve had many discussions about in the past, is the difference between making a character and an adventurer.
A character is interesting and fun, don’t get me wrong, but he also, generally, lacks the motivation to get out into the world and interact with the rest of the players and the rest of the world. This type of character, often the brooding and melancholy ones, are a favorite of the younger generation. By younger generation, I mean whichever player is between 10 and 18 right now. This isn’t a sign of an inability to understand what the game wants or needs, but it is the expression of the teenage and younger experience, where they are often feeling either trapped, secluded, defeated, or any combination of the three. It’s no wonder that the characters they create are embodiments of those particular experiences. Some players never leave this phase of character creation, and that’s fine. Many dour and brooding characters are fun and interesting to interact with.
They do, however, often feel like they are in the world, but not of the world. Characters who hate other people, who have an aversion to sunlight, or who are extremely antisocial are hard to work in a group and even harder to work into a story. Many stories that Gamemasters tell are ones of a group of like-minded characters struggling against a greater evil to achieve victory for the greater good. Not all tell that specific story, but there are only a few parts you can flip around and still get a good story out of.
A Group of ______ Characters Struggling _______ a power to achieve victory.
The key component of the sentence that is created here is the main noun: Group. Nearly every time people come together to play an RPG, it’s in a group. There are sometimes where it’s just a DM and a player, but this is the =exception, not the rule. The archetypal character above simply isn’t part of the group, he’s near it, or next to it, but he does not belong. Additionally, many of these characters often have reasons to stay at home and not go out to rescue/destroy the world. Instead, they are much more comfortable in their inertia than a player character should be. They often have deep and engaging backstories, but these backstories don’t push them out into the world. A cloistered monk who’s been indentured to the same monastery forever, the adopted son of the local guild master, the royal seeking to escape the gilded cage. While each is compelling in their own, they often become trapped within the story they created instead of vaulting themselves into the world presented to them in order to better experience it.
And yet, an Adventurer
This is why I like my characters to come alive and feel they are part of the world. Their backstories often end with a shove into the world and built in reason to not come back. Maybe it’s not a negative motivation, but it is a motivation to Adventurers lives are often frought with peril, as they search the land, attempting to overcome deadly obstacles and dangerous foes. They fight dragons and ogres and terrifying beings, yet they often persist in a manner that wouldn’t make any sense to a typical character.
a large part of that is not only the character’s backstory, but also their motivation for leaving and adventuring. As a DM, I was always pleased when a character came not only with a backstory that was compelling and enjoyable but also with an awesome springboard that I could use for an adventure. This isn’t even, really something complicated or even terribly deep, but it does need to be extremely open-ended. Many characters are adventuring for a specific and finite reason, which can cause problems if that reason comes at odds with the games reasons. If a character’s reason to adventure is to find his father, who last was seen marching east into the Blackened Mountains of Karpath, a levied pikeman in the service of King Lormagans armies to fight against the Great Beastly Horde, an army which never returned home, but the King did, then heading to the south to hunt pirates and raiders of the Cresting Bay isn’t really going to bring a character into the group. Making sure that you write a character that has a solid background and an open-ended adventuring reason are the first two steps to making an extremely solid character that lives completely in the world he inhabits.
All that is said to put into perspective that many adventurers feel like they are almost there. That they are part of the world and a solid and useful tool in the actual player’s hands. What, in my opinion, puts it over the top, is the Crunchy Flavor that the character acquires over the course of the game.
Chrunchy flavor is what use to refer to rules that feel tailor built to your character, but only because of the fluff of both the rules and the character, and more importantly because of the actions of the adventurer within the adventure. These are often choices within an adventurers tree that would not have existed had you not been playing that exact adventure with that exact adventurer and done specific actions that lead you to the path you’re on now.
For instance. Clovis the Invincible, the Rogue/Monk Assassin I am currently playing in D&D was a clear and simple concept. He was a dude who punched others to death with his tiny fists, and often via surprise. There isn’t much to it. However, as I played the character through a number of encounters, there became a specific divergent path I could take with my character. I could try and be an assassin and wander along the edges of the conflict, flitting in and out of the shadows, taking down the weak and the vulnerable with well-timed strikes.
Or, I could nimbly and fearlessly dodge my way through the enemies of the fight, find a leader or vulnerable target and completely eliminate them. Each branch required a very different skill set and a different mentality behind my character decisions. Along the way, the group has run into a number of casters, and each of them has been very dangerous to our group. The group we are playing with almost completely centered on dealing damage. We have half a tank, half a healer, and just boats and boats of damage. This often means that the characters at the edge of the combat are completely destroyed before I am able to sneak around and get into them, pushing me towards a character that runs in and assassinates leaders and support. Taking down the opponents who are amping up the destructive potential of their allies is simply something we do not have the ability to withstand. Finally, we ran into a number of spellcasters in a row who simply needed to be removed from the encounter with great speed, and I was able to neutralize them and facilitate their demise. Thus, my path was set in a way that I wasn’t expecting and is unique to this specific group and style.
This is leading me to think not about the character as I envisioned him at the start of the adventure, with a well planned out progression through specific levels of two classes and taking specific feats at optimal times in order to maximize his class. Instead, I’m thinking about taking Mage Slayer, because I am always up standing toe to toe with mages and I’m thinking about taking Moblie because it will allow me to punch a monster in the guts as I run through his space without slowing down in order to get to my target on the other side. I’m also considering which class abilities I want to reach based on my new role in the group. It’s an interesting thought process that I find extra enjoyable because the outcome will almost always be something that both is effective in-game and that reflects the characters further growth and refinement over the course of time.
RPG’s allow us to stretch beyond what we associate our normal life with, and they allow us to explore personalities that we aren’t in our real lives. But, they also allow us to bring a character to life that is uniquely their own, and I think that is one of the greatest parts of these types of games. Discovering the lives of these people, who are often very real to their players, including me, is my true goal when playing an adventurer.
Until next time,