As I look at what makes characters interesting and addictive in RPGs, I have been looking at taking techniques from fiction and seeing what might apply. Character analysis is a big part of every literature student’s life from an early age, so why not leverage a similar approach for figuring out what works and what doesn’t for PCs and NPCs in a game setting?
I keep coming back to one of my own favorite PCs of the last decade – Didius Cato (“DC”). For some reason, that character just *worked* for me. So taking an objective look at the character, I can come up with observations such as:
- He was an anti-hero. And though he exhibited behavior that might be construed as “good” or “heroic” (trying to free the slaves in a world based on Ancient Rome), his motivations were all internal.
- Motivation-wise, everything stemmed from his treatment growing up as a slave in captivity. He was born a slave. He still sees himself as an escaped slave, not as a freeman. Seeing other slaves drove him into a frenzy and he was unable to resist the urge to free them, which usually caused more problems for the newly escaped folks than it solved, often leading to their imminent demise at the hands of angered slave owners.
- The frenzy would manifest as a random die roll. Would he give in or hold strong against the urge to kill the slavers in the market and free the oppressed? Well, it was 50/50. Sometimes it was worse. It depended on how I was feeling as a player that day about how conflicted DC was about the situation. Far too often the craziness would win out over any self control and the other players would have to bail him out.
- He was conflicted as an escaped slave. He wanted to stay behind the scenes but found himself causing massive amounts of trouble publicly any time he was near the slave market or in public. If captured, he would likely be returned to his prior owner and executed, or at the very least tortured. This led to many elaborate disguises (using items such as the Hat of Disguise in 3.5e).
- The disguises also served to hide his many visible scars from casual observers. The use of a hat, scarf, and gloves were not mere affectations, but served to cover scars on/around his neck and on his hands and wrists from years of shackles and chains. Again, this reinforced his need to stay out of the public eye as much as possible and not even reveal his dark past to any “friends.”
- Because of his status as a fugitive, he tended not to reveal his past as a slave to anyone willingly. Of course, he wasn’t all that bright so sometimes such facts would slip out and his companions would piece together parts of his history, then prodding to reveal more.
Based on these few facts, I can ascertain that the knowledge of the character’s past as well as his inner motivations and outer behavior and actions played a huge part in how successful this character was for me.
How can we take those aspects and work them into a framework for creating more effective NPCs for a particular setting?
Let’s look at that in the next post…