DMs and Players: Give Your Characters Arcs

DMs and Players: Give Your Characters Arcs

Giving arcs to player characters and important NPCs will lead to greater engagement, higher player retention, less campaign burnout, and an increased desire to see how the story develops.

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I like to make a quick list of a recurring minor or major NPC's art and just make sure I check off a box when time has passed between meetings with that NPC. This ensures I hit the characterization that must have happened. So, like, for a minor NPC:

RETHILDA SUNNISDOTTIR
_Proud, haughty raider
_Mourning loss of husband in raid
_confused and lost, but finding religion
_Renewed pride, training as a cleric
_Fully fledged cleric

JonB:
I like to make a quick list of a recurring minor or major NPC's art and just make sure I check off a box when time has passed between meetings with that NPC. This ensures I hit the characterization that must have happened. So, like, for a minor NPC:

RETHILDA SUNNISDOTTIR
_Proud, haughty raider
_Mourning loss of husband in raid
_confused and lost, but finding religion
_Renewed pride, training as a cleric
_Fully fledged cleric

This is awesome.

Oh, it's you, Jon, hahah. But yeah -- I love this checklist method. Such a great way to track this stuff.

THis is actually why I've gravitated towards the FATE system recently. Aspect changes in that system are a great representation of a character going through a change fundamental to their nature.

As for D&D, our GM noticed our party was acting pretty against what a normal party does. We get powerful new magic weapons to replace our old ones? We gave them away to other start-up would-be heroes. We get loot and gold for a job well done? We gave a good chunk of it away to towns and people so they could rebuild and live on after the adversity was suffered. We were very selfless, but it lead to moments where our number cruncher who was all about optimizing our builds were looking at us like we were crazy. Our GM had to keep track of all the of the good deeds we did and the ripple effect it was having on the world, and the phrase "I loot the bodies" became a four letter word.

For the record, this was 4th Ed. THe one everyone says has no real roleplaying value or is only for murderhobos. Yet our characters were negotiating peace, giving away our hard-earned gold to help others, and traveling like Bruce Banner, doing good while we could. Our Dwarf Fighter eventually retook his kingdom and became its ruler. My Warlock, who made a deal with the Fey for vengeance against a Necromancer, slowly became a bonkers combination of Gandalf The Grey and The Eleventh Doctor on acid figuring out plans within plans to a greater cause past petty revenge. Our Barbarian was an exile from her tribe due to her killing one of her own in blind rage became my Warlock's lover. Almost all of this was thanks to clever uses of the GM tweaking certain mechanics and having more dynamic effects occur from our actions. My Warlock actually lost his contractor so my GM made it that my Daily spells would not recharge until I found a new patron. Instead, I went on a crazy expedition to revive the Fey Lord.

This was also my very first D&D character ever. Amateur hour. So with all due respect to your article, this felt like an absolute necessity, otherwise, the game just becomes dice rolls and number crunching, and that's no fun. Also helps that our GM is an student in Accounting so he tries to escape it as much as us XD.

Great read.

Man, this is the second time this series has resonated with me. Character growth makes the game worth playing. For me, the best character development I have participated in came from our pathfinder kingmaker campaign. We started with six level one characters; a ranger, an alchemist, a paladin, a loreacle, and a spellblade, with a barbarian joining later. We all had different starting points.

The ranger was taciturn, gruff and had OCD. It took them twice as long to track, and since so much of the early campaign starts with exploration, this led to frustration with the party as a slower pace meant missed opportunities. The character was pushed to a breaking point, and was able to perform at normal speed (the flaw was bought off), but it left them slightly unhinged and a few points closer toward neutral. We also had a character leave part way through the campaign and had to resolve that situation by having them take a passive role and bringing on a dumb-as-bricks barbarian. Our paladin almost died in our first encounter, taking a critical arrow through the neck and was overly cautious thereafter, as well as little indecisive. Our Oracle started blind, became the butt of many jokes, but was able to divine almost all the answers we needed and we grew to respect them. Our alchemist's solution to everything was "bomb arrow" but they learned a modicum of diplomacy after enough splash damage had been handed out. We didn't have arcs so much as complex functions graphed out into strange non-euclidean shapes. We grew in multiple directions but usually headed towards the same goal. We shaped each other as much we did ourselves.

By the end of the campaign, we were no longer a ragtag group of heroes, we were the leaders of a nation. We had seen war and plague, we had been tested with the tough decisions, internal conflict, and external threats faced by many nations in history. Our responses to those threats were informed by our growth and in turn changed us so that each new choice was the product of our journey. To me what makes kingmaker so much better than most campaigns is that not only do you write narratives of character's lives, you also write the history of a nation which is character narrative writ large. The overarching story is so broad you can almost make it anything, it reminds me of elder scrolls in that regard. The world shapes you and you shape the world.

 

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