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Working your character through the rough patches

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In the wake of my last bit of role-play wisdom, in which I discussed the various evils that come with trying to contrive everything you take part in in-character to where you get some sort of out-of-character benefit, I was struck with a ‘devil’s advocate’ moment. That is to say, that I argued with myself for a moment, because I came to the conclusion that even if people wanted to try not to be ‘what’s in it for me?’ guy, they probably didn’t know where to begin in making sure that didn’t happen to them.

For those of you who need a little bit of a helping hand in kick-starting your role-playing experiences so that you do it with a proper mindset, I’ve decided to offer up a small bit of advice from personal experience in role-playing my most ‘prized’ character out of any game I’ve ever played, and the only one I’ve ever seriously played and developed over any time period of real seriousness.

A lot of people use their role-playing game of choice as a means of escape from whatever hell they believe their life to be, and as such they want nothing bad to happen to their characters because it represents the very hellacious evilness of life that they play the game to avoid. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, hear this: that mindset is positively terrible and naïve to have, and will do more harm than good over the long haul.

It may sound harsh and uncaring, but people who carry this kind of mentality generally ought to consider getting their brain checked, because 99.9% of them are total head-cases who lose the plot at the slightest sign of anything negative happening toward their character, even in the most inconsequential of situations. This is not only unhealthy to a player’s mindset, temperament, and (ultimately) blood pressure, but it also makes for unrealistic characters in the game. This diminishes the authenticity of the role-play experience not only for the one throwing the conniption, but pretty much anyone associated with that player as well.

For those of you who I have not offended by now (and whom I hope are still reading this), my point is this: working your character through those difficult times, while not necessarily the most pleasant thing in the world to undertake, can be just as enriching an experience and will almost always lay the groundwork for more rewarding role-play experiences down the road. To paraphrase a famous rapper, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Of course, he was subsequently killed, but that’s neither here nor there.

At any rate, you may be asking how exactly I know this to be true. Well, I play a prominent character in one of the games this magazine features. My character has lost multiple loved ones, been beaten to the point of death a time or ten, and has all too often felt like he was carrying the world upon his shoulders, and that no one else cared. (I should note that the exact opposite of the OOC-contriving spectrum, ‘Living proof of Murphy’s Law’ guy, is just as deranged as ‘What’s in it for me?’ guy and should be avoided at all costs.)

Now, why in my right mind would I allow something like that to happen to my pride and joy character out of all the ones I’ve ever tried to role-play in any game, in any form? The answer is simple. While it bites for my character to have to go through things that I would never wish upon even the most vocal of enemies, I know that playing my character is an adventure for me regardless of the path my journey goes down, even if the circumstances suck. Put plainly, I make it a challenge to see how my character is going to make it to the next day, and use his survival tactics and coping mechanisms as development for his story down the road.

By putting emphasis on my character to be as real and believable as possible, I’ve had opportunities to participate in a number of role-play plots that have helped me better understand what role-play is supposed to be about, that have shaped my character into a prominent figure in the world’s scope, and that have helped me forge friendships with other players who are like-minded in their approaches to developing their characters. All of this came about because I made myself get my character through those rough times knowing there was something better for him, and the culmination of an enriching experience for me, on the other side of that pitfall.

I understand that these environments are fantasy-based and not bound to the real-life laws of realism, but there is still something to be said for having a character that actually is realistic in having ups and downs, and working through those downs back toward the ups. Having ups and downs in your character’s lifespan helps round it out into a multi-dimensional character, which not only makes it more believable in its actions, but also gives other players an easier time capturing the essence of your character.

This month’s sagely admonition is this: I challenge those of you who are ‘What’s in it for me?’ guy or ‘Living proof of Murphy’s Law’ guy to walk the line for a month. For 30 days, take the good with the bad, and put as much energy into getting your character through rough patches as you do in good times, and vice versa if you prefer the ‘woe is me’ melodrama.

I’m confident that not only will your characters become more multi-dimensional and realistic, but also people will be able to better understand your character because it’s more real to them. By better understanding characters, the player base as a whole has an easier time bringing about more effective and intrinsic role-play, which benefits everyone and makes for a more harmonious society.