25 Aug 2016

potatodialogues: (Default)
"What makes for a good character?"

There are countless studies on this in the fiction writing sphere: what is a good character and what makes them good? The usual answer will include good backgrounds, character motivations, personality and personality quirks, and character stories that can and will be developed. There are numerous theses on "Mary Sues" and their indicators.

I then approach this question with a reminder: RPGs are collaborative and not solo fiction writing activities, so a good character in a tabletop game does not by necessity follow the rules of good characters in solo writing endeavors, though they have many overlaps and I would say that majority of those rules would apply. But tabletop roleplaying characters don't grow the same way simply because they don't follow a script or a vision dictated by only one writer. In the first place and speaking as someone who has written and read a lot of fanfiction in the past, I feel that "Mary Sue" is a term that should strictly only apply to fanfiction where one has canon to use as a baseline, because the factors affecting character creation for anything else is too complex to put a reliable rubric on.

There are leeways that should be made available to roleplaying characters from the understanding that most of the time, players have the tendency to make main characters for their adventures. Thus, I don't subscribe to the idea that tabletop characters shouldn't be super special snowflakes, because some games are really designed for you be one, and that is all right. You might not be the main character of the world, but you are the main character in your story.

We're all Mary Sues!

The difficulty of roleplaying games might be, then, is that your character can be good or bad independent of yourself as a player. There are more factors in play, such as the consistency of the world as presented by the GM, or the style and narrative direction of your fellow players that may run counter to your plans. Even the timing of games alone can affect how one plays their character. Thankfully, because tabletop roleplaying is also a social activity, these are things you can communicate with your table about.

Do I think that good characters are those who should have good backgrounds, motivations, and development? Yes. But ultimately, like with any roleplaying game or any game that is social in nature, a good character is really anyone you have fun with and with whom the other people in the table also have fun with as well. I feel that due to the collaborative storytelling nature of tabletop RPGs, regardless of how "crunchy" or "narrative" the game is, a good character is simply one that contributes to the fun experience of people at the table.

On the other hand, even if good characters don't necessarily have to have in-depth backstories or extremely fleshed out personalities, I do find that great characters typically do. Characters can be more than their stats. So while your half-orc barbarian with an axe is fine, your character would be more memorable and may enhance table experience more if you indicate that your half-orc is a maudlin character who likes to eat fine food and likes to pretend he's an eloquent scholar when in fact he's a crazy, raging berserker with a temper as short as a match stick and is endlessly embarrassed by it.

Anyway, narrowing the topic back to myself: A good character for me to play is someone I feel I can adapt to most situations without imposing too much on other players, while still staying true to the character's personality and motivations. For this reason, all of my D&D5e characters are neutral good despite a wide variety of motivations and personality (from the dourest of the dour, to wide-eyed enthusiasm). It's a little harder on my grumpier characters, but I also take into consideration the party composition when I make those ones -- it's easier to go with wild party decisions as long as the goals align, so being a waspish grumpo is all right.

I have a preference for what you might consider "side characters" to a greater story, characters who don't really matter so much in the grander scheme of things in the world, but nevertheless contribute to the narrative in their own way. I've made the potato farmer caught up in mysterious events, and the sailor dragged into situations too amazing for him to fathom. But I've also made heroes when the setting calls for it, like the shipwright so passionate the gods themselves took notice of her endeavors. In the end, as long as I have a good handle on the character, I'm typically satisfied with them. When I can, off the top of my head, come up with an appropriate answer to the question, "What would [Character] do?" without pondering for it for a long time. If you ask me what they are doing at any given period of the day, and I have an answer for you. These are typically the characters whom I feel have a good footing in the setting and the world, such that their growth and, as a result, their actions flow naturally from session to session.