December 29, 2019

Character Arcs

Last week’s Game Master advice centered on the idea that you should be tailoring your story to the players at the table. Today’s tip takes that advice a step further by breaking down sessions and campaigns and designing arcs for your characters. For the uninitiated, a session is synonymous with episode in the RPG world and a campaign is most closely analogous to a season in a TV show.

Once you have a solid handle of whom your players are and what makes them tick, you can start to design arcs for your player’s characters. And the best thing about these story arcs is that they don’t have to be awkwardly shoehorned into your story; instead, they become these beautiful threads which, when sown together become this wonderful tapestry of story.

Using an example from a story I’ve been playing with a cherished group of friends for a bit over a year and a half, my character Xavier, a scion of a once-great noble house, was lost in a land of darkness for many years. As he was freed, he became convinced that purifying that tainted land was the key to uniting the world against the horrors which had beset it since the dawn of time.

The GM Luke, the amazingly talented and multi-dimensional GM of StoryTogether’s The Couriers series, noticed my conviction and paired that with my backstory to lay out this journey for Xavier that ranged from saving his family from poverty to leading an army to retake the great Vampire capital. But that’s the thing about a great storyteller: Luke designed this rite of passage for me/Xavier sure, but he did it all the while honoring and appreciating the other players/characters journeys as well while we pretty much failed our way to the top.

An over-exaggeration to be sure but kinda not that far from the truth either…

Mikayla (Rue in StoryTogether’s The Couriers) character’s family was murdered by a giant elemental kraken. Jared’s (Jax in The Couriers) character is the 7th son of an ancient evil demon whose death would spark the end of civilization and somehow has to teach a horcrux-like being how to love.

Amoula’s (Raya in StoryTogether’s Temple of Kings) – character is the princess of a forgotten people destined to be the inflection point in her culture’s history. Friend Keenan’s character’s family was slaughtered by vampires and now obsesses over revenge. Izaiah’s character seeks an accepting community.

And Brian? Good God, where do I even begin?As the GM, Luke consciously and thoughtfully wove all of these disparate and complex pieces together with the threads of his world and his vision to create the story we played. That’s great storytelling and exactly the type of forethought that StoryTogether advises its GMs to have about their players.

The rewards, both in story and in community, are absolutely worth that investment! So next time you start/play a story as a GM, put yourself in the shoes of each player at that table and see what wonderful results you’ll get…