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jedipotter
2015-02-04, 09:40 PM
So part of the fun of an RPG is Character Story Arcs. Characters can change - that's a fundamental part of any story. Stories should change characters, after all it gets kinda boring just being the same character always. A character that goes through role playing story arcs is much more fun to play then a character that just roll plays through a game.

Now I wonder how everyone does Character Story Arcs, and why they do them that way? I see three ways:

1.GM Arcs As part of world creation the GM makes Character Arcs too. The player can ignore them if they really want to be a stick-in-the-mud, but the arc(s) will still happen around them. And sometimes even force the character to change.

2.Player Arcs The player decides that ''he wants to start a story arc where his character starts questioning his previous actions, and starts trying to become a better person'', and does not tell anyone, he simply plays his character that way.

3.Together Arcs Where the DM and Player together come up with an arc. The best side is the players having the idea and then just asking the DM to add it in. The worst are where the player Co-Dms the game.

I do GM Arcs all the time, I'm always ''changing'' and ''teaching'' characters. I love getting players hooked on arcs. I try to encourage players to make their own arcs, but it's rare any do. And when a player does want to make an arc, they all most always want to Co-Dm it. I'm not a big fan of the whole Co-DM idea. It's far to stiff and fake and unnatural. Unless done with just the best way of the slight suggestion.

So, how do others do it?

zinycor
2015-02-04, 11:19 PM
I do it very slowly whenever am able to. Am just not a big fan of big changes happening way too quickly, but i can see my character changing a little over the course of an adventure that went hella bad for him.

lytokk
2015-02-05, 08:48 AM
I pretty much use all of the above options, though I would add option #4, though it is similar to #3. Backstory arcs. The players put something in their character backstory that eventually sparks an idea with me to put it into the overall game. The players don't get any say in my interpretation of what they wanted, or how I run it.


So, two of the players in my game (husband and wife in real life) felt it would be interesting to make it so that their characters would be from prominent houses regarding to commerce and warriors. This was an addition to my world on their part, but I rolled with it. The two characters would be betrothed to each other, having never actually met. They both escaped the city on a caravan using fake names. They eventually wanted it to be found out who each other was. I could have ignored this, but instead I used it as a way to get them to leave another city when their respective families tracked them down. A few wisdom rolls from every member of the party and the characters are able to put 2 and 2 together. I had them use wisdom rolls as a way of separating OOC knowledge from IC knowledge.

DigoDragon
2015-02-05, 09:20 AM
#3 was the rarest one for me as a player because the GMs I had cared more about their own NPCs shining than us. :smalltongue: I've had ideas for good arcs but the GMs would not really put any effort into making it happen. It might then turn into a #2, but unless the arc is independent of NPCs, it usually falls flat. Incidentally #2 would probably be the most common in my old groups. Sort of falls into the 'If you want character development, you do it yourself' mindset.

I did have a really good #1 arc once! Cause even I occasionally got to play with a really good GM. :3

It was a modern X-Files campaign and my character had as part of her background that both parents died in a house fire when she was about 5 years old. I left it as 'Authorities ruled it as arson'. I didn't expand on that further, but the GM took it and ran with it. During the campaign my character started finding snippets of info about her parents and the kind of 'hobbies' they had. Turned into a neat arc where I discovered both parents were part of a private organization that dealt with fighting off the occult, so the fact my character was part of an X-Files team made the connection pretty neat. The campaign ended before we could do more, but had it gone on I think the next part of the arc was to find other members of this former org that are still alive.

Thrudd
2015-02-05, 09:22 AM
Completely up to the players. How they choose to develop their character's personality traits and whether they grow and change over the course of their career is a player decision. If later adventures include callbacks to previous events or recurring NPCs or villains, this might give players a chance to reevaluate their characters reactions to things. but generally the game is about characters exploring a world and pursuing their goals, which are not heavily reliant on pre-game back stories (which I prefer players not spend much time on).
They develop goals through play, develop personality through play, create a character story through play. The "back story" is what happens in the early levels.

Red Fel
2015-02-05, 10:12 AM
My method involves sort of a hybrid of the three.

When I play a PC, I prefer to offer a (brief but thorough) written background, which includes a quick bullet-point list of named characters from my PC's past, mentioned in more detail in the background (which the GM can use or ignore), and several potential plot hooks based on the PC's past and emotional state (again which the GM can use or ignore). That way, if the GM wants to weave character histories into the game, he can; if he doesn't, that's fine too.

Here's an illustration. I make a character who was raised a soldier-slave, raised to kill for his commanders, who had a sudden change of heart on the battlefield and fled. He underwent a ritual to change his appearance, and has dedicated his life to redeeming for his past actions. I include as several possible NPCs: a survivor of a slaughter orchestrated by the PC before he fled; his former commanding officer; the syndicate that raised and trained him. I offer as possible plot hooks: the organization that gave him a new life needs his help; the former commander tracks him down (he's still petrified of the man); the survivor tracks him down.

Once gameplay begins, however, it's rather hard to prevent character development. If a major part of my character's background, for example, to seek out and train with sword masters, and the GM puts a sword master in the party's path, it can be expected that my PC will want to spend time with that NPC. If no sword master appears, my PC is likely to spend his down time gathering information on local sword masters. Yes, if the party is in a rush to save the world, training can wait, but when there's down time, my PC is going to pursue his interests. (Whether the GM provides any suitable NPCs or not is a different matter.)

When I GM, I prefer to sit down with my players in advance and discuss, if possible, what they see their PCs doing and becoming. I absolutely love it when a PC gives me a written background with hooks I can use (see above). I try to include elements of my PCs' backstories in the plot, to ensure that each PC has a personal reason for being involved, whether it's to further his pursuit of lost knowledge, to master the sacred relic he carries, or to find out what happened to his parents on that terrible night. But rather than have a story arc for one PC at a time (I was a player in a campaign where that happened, it sucked), I try to weave them all together, into a sort of overlapping braid. Yes, in any one scene, one PC might take the spotlight, but my goal is for every player to go home feeling like their PC, for just a moment, was the star.

neonchameleon
2015-02-05, 10:21 AM
5: Emergent Arcs. Arcs which are not plotted out in advance by either GM or player - the situation merely makes inevitable that there will be an arc because it twists the established setting, leading to change. What the arc is is left to play.

Keledrath
2015-02-05, 11:12 AM
I like a mix of all 3.
GM Arcs: These are the main plots in most games. Especially early on when the character don't know each other, this is what keeps the party together.
Player Arcs: These just happen. Not even really a plot arc, since they only really involve one person changing their attitude.
Co-op Arcs: These are the best. Hands down. When the player writes the outline and the GM runs with it. I try to leave room for at least 3-5 of these in every backstory I write, from the gnome who was sent to explore a new land (only gnome on the continent, was actually a very polite exile [he didn't pick up on that]) seeking the ancient Wendersnaven and their lost artifacts (this developed into a secondary plotline), to the warforged who left Fantasy Nazi Germany when he was going to be decommissioned after an injury (intended to return once he was back to fighting standards) to the tiefling who was willing to do whatever it took to slay the Demon Prince who had sired his line (up to and including mass sacrifice of innocents) who would have been killed by his own party members (after they saw the mass sacrifice of innocents) and returned as a Hellbred Paladin, having realized that the ends rarely justify the means All of these characters require a few specific events to occur. I don't have control over when, but I know what the end result will be.

Another example is in the campaign I started recently. One player is a Dhampir, and wanted to eventually become a full vampire. I looked over his backstory, picked a method, and am now pointedly not telling him how I'm going to do it.

Raine_Sage
2015-02-05, 12:50 PM
When I GM I tend to use number 4, as outlined by Lytokk. I ask players to put one or more character defining things in their backstory which I can mine for hooks/arcs when I need a quick idea but they don't get to define how or when this thing turns up.

When I play I tend to do emergent story arcs. What happens happens really.

kardar233
2015-02-05, 03:36 PM
In our home games we use every type, except for 1. We've had far too many GM Arcs fall on their face because of disconnects between the player and the GM, or because of imperfect understanding of the character. Every "development" arc (meaning those that are intended to bring about a change in the character, rather than the world they live in (which would be an "advancement" arc)) gets discussed by the DM and player long before it actually takes place so that all the kinks can be worked out.

It's primarily the player's responsibility to come up with character development arcs to play. The GM often has good ideas that end up working, but it's the player who knows their character best and it's their responsibility to decide what sorts of arcs would work, and which would not.

Beta Centauri
2015-02-05, 03:43 PM
Not really at all. I find that arcs inhibit my ability to improvise, both as a player and a GM. I look back to see arcs I'm made, not ahead to see arcs I'm focused on making.

Jay R
2015-02-05, 09:45 PM
One of the best campaigns I've ever played was a Flashing Games campaign in which my character had something unexplained in his back ground.

In Flashing Blades, a musketeer-era game set in Paris, each character has one Secret. The name is a misnomer - it's really a Disadvantage. There are nine proposed in the book (Secret Identity, Secret Loyalty, Duelist, Inveterate Gambler, Don Juan, Sworn Vengeance, etc.). But you are encouraged to design others. So I designed a new one for Jean-Louis, a Parisian street-rat. He was an orphan, raised by the nuns of Notre Dame, until he fled at age eight, upon hearing that he was to be taught Latin. Since then he lived by his wits, developing the skills of a cutpurse and thief.

Jean-Louis was a foundling, left at Notre Dame in a basket. Nothing is known about him except that he was left with a satin blanket with the monogram "JL". Is it a clue to his parentage? Is he the bastard son of a noble with those initials? Or was he born to a servant girl who stole the blanket? Is he the inconveniently legal heir that somebody wants dead? He does not know, although he still has the blanket.

Note to GM: Neither the character nor the player has any idea what this means. If you choose to clear up the mystery, the secret could easily develop into a Secret Identity, Sworn Vengeance, or Blackmailed, depending on the details. Feel free to use it any way you choose. A monogram cannot be traced (how many JLs are there?), but it might be recognized by a family member, washerwoman, or the original embroiderer. It could also be a blind to the child's identity.

The GM developed a background involving nobility, elopement, religious wars, family feuds, family tragedies, and more, which took many sessions to slowly unwrap, each time getting deeper. It was incredibly satisfying.

goto124
2015-02-05, 09:53 PM
If the DM and player didn't clear up how they want the character's backstory to develop in the campaign, it can go ugly. If the bad guy in my PC's backstory turned out to have good intentions, I could be disappointed because I didn't want the bad guy to be sympathic. You could argue the DM did it well, but that's besides the point, which is that DM and player expectations often differ. When it's as personal as backstories, toe-stepping is likely to ensue.

I imagine the examples of it working well without prior discussion, is due to the DM and player knowing each other well OOCly, on a personal basis.

Absol197
2015-02-05, 10:30 PM
In the games my group runs, it's very common for players to leave hanging threads in their backstories, so the GM can come up with an Interesting plot that involves the characters directly. So far, it's worked everywhere between "decent" and "amazingly".

The best example was in the campaign that we just finished.
Two players combined their backstories: one was a gnome illusionist whose father was protecting a piece of an artifact. The other was an elvan rogue who was caught trying to steal the artifact. The gnome's mentor erased the elf's memory and replaced it with the memory of being the gnome's longtime friend. So one player didn't know their backstory, and the other knew only part of it.

I developed it so that the elf's erased memories would be very useful for getting information about the main antagonists in the game, as she was working for them for a long time, but the character was nervous about restoring her memories, because she (correctly) feared that she wasn't a very nice person in her past, and was worried about what sort of person she would be after her memories were restored.

Then, in a forest of primordial fear where people's worst fears, sins, guilts and so on come to life (a la As Above, So Below), the forest revealed the gnome' s guilt over erasing her memory. That stained their friendship to the breaking point, and added a new twist to the elf's decision.

It was glorious :smallbiggrin:

Jay R
2015-02-08, 05:19 PM
If the DM and player didn't clear up how they want the character's backstory to develop in the campaign, it can go ugly.

They really just need to agree who's in charge of that decision.

In Jean-Louis's story above, we didn't agree on how it should develop. I specifically wrote "Note to GM: Neither the character nor the player has any idea what this means. If you choose to clear up the mystery, the secret could easily develop into a Secret Identity, Sworn Vengeance, or Blackmailed, depending on the details. Feel free to use it any way you choose. A monogram cannot be traced (how many JLs are there?), but it might be recognized by a family member, washerwoman, or the original embroiderer. It could also be a blind to the child's identity."

It was totally the GM's decision, and Bob handled it gloriously.


...the point, which is that DM and player expectations often differ. When it's as personal as backstories, toe-stepping is likely to ensue.

Exactly. We don't both have to know the development. We had to have the same expectation. In this case, that expectation was that Bob would take it places I didn't know about.


I imagine the examples of it working well without prior discussion, is due to the DM and player knowing each other well OOCly, on a personal basis.

There is that too. Bob and I had been friends for more than a quarter century at the time, with similar outlooks in history, literature, and gaming.

DigoDragon
2015-02-08, 05:30 PM
When I'm the GM, giving me a background on your character guaranteed you'd get a minor character arc somewhere in the campaign. How good it is depends on how much info you're willing to divulge in your background. ...which led to my former group having the running gag of "Your chances of survival are inversely proportional to the length of your background."

Romantic arcs I clear with PCs first though, cause not everyone wants one and I want to ensure they're comfortable with how far they want the relationship to go.

goto124
2015-02-08, 09:24 PM
So I just have to keep things simple, and lay down restrictions. Like 'My PC came from an Evil family. Make sure the family is evil- not good, not misunderstood, not grey, not neutral, just evil' ?

Phoenixguard09
2015-02-08, 09:48 PM
I run a fairly even mix in my games.

I told every player that they can include as many hooks in their background as they like and I will be sure to address them all at some point in the game.

To this point, we've covered most of those.

Then there are other arcs which have come about from past events in the game following the characters.

There's a few of these which will come up later in the story.

Then there are a few events which I have been told by the players what they want to do, and I have facilitated it.

prufock
2015-02-09, 08:10 AM
5: Emergent Arcs. Arcs which are not plotted out in advance by either GM or player - the situation merely makes inevitable that there will be an arc because it twists the established setting, leading to change. What the arc is is left to play.
Yeah, this type needs to be included. You can't really plan for it, don't see it coming, and in a good, cohesive group can work out really well.

As a GM, I never plan a PC's character arc unless they express interest in working on something together. It isn't my job as GM to determine how a character will change, that is up to the player. All I do is just put situations in front of them to challenge them and let them choose how their character will react.

neonchameleon
2015-02-09, 09:13 AM
Yeah, this type needs to be included. You can't really plan for it, don't see it coming, and in a good, cohesive group can work out really well.

As a GM, I never plan a PC's character arc unless they express interest in working on something together. It isn't my job as GM to determine how a character will change, that is up to the player. All I do is just put situations in front of them to challenge them and let them choose how their character will react.

You can't plan for it - but you can set things up that they are more likely to happen - you just need there to be a "point of no return" decision point. And a number of modern RPGs have this built in. Notably the groundbreaking My Life With Master starts off with the GM playing the evil master and the PCs playing minions. At some point one of the minions is going to snap and try to fight the master to the death. And more subtly Apocalypse World and most of its hacks (with the notable exception of Dungeon World). In Apocalypse World and Monsterhearts after someone's reached five advances you may take an advanced move when you advance - and this can include changing your class and reworking from the ground up (classes in MH are what sort of supernatural you are, and in AW are your position in the world - e.g. local boss of town, ruler of the local mob, biggest badass around, etc.) or improving/fixing your basic moves.