December 30, 2019

Weaving Character Traits Into the Tapestry of the Story

This week’s #GMAdvice post is all about the process of weaving character strengths and flaws into the tapestry of the story.

A crucial part of engaging the players in a tabletop role playing game, in playing stories, is to ensure that their characters’ traits, good and bad, are nurtured and pinged within the flow of the story. Prior to the story beginning, during the character creation phase, GMs should be taking note of the player characters’ attributes, traits, talents, goals, and flaws in order to seed the soil of the story’s plot with ways to both test and cultivate the character’s growth and, accordingly, the corresponding player’s enjoyment and investment in the story.

GMs: keep a running tracker of these items as the story progresses. In your worldbuilding, find ways to creatively seed the story world with ways characters can find challenge, nuance, and depth in how they interact with the world and how those events relate to those attributes & traits. And it doesn’t have to be completely 1:1 either; for example, let’s say you have the classic character archetype who is obsessed with revenge. As the worldbuilder & GM, you don’t necessarily have to put the target of that vengeance in the path of that character. Instead, perhaps they come across another character who is also obsessed with revenge and sees its effects, negative and otherwise, on that person. Or maybe they have a dream/vision of themselves where they’re no longer obsessed and are forced to reflect on that new state of being.

Either way, as a first step on the character’s journey, don’t hit them over the head or finish the trip pre-maturely. Build up to that confrontation/moment of growth. Cultivate that moment and you, the players, and the story will reap the rewards. Conversely, you could give the player the payoff early i.e. getting that revenge and the players journey then becomes “what is my life’s purpose now?” – such stories can be just as poignant and all of your cultivation efforts will pay off just as well!

Focus on how those character attributes define who they are and how they interact with the story world. Seed the story world with potential to ping off those traits and via their choices, the players will naturally gravitate toward those elements. It’s an incredibly important part of both your worldbuilding and being the GM/guide of the story. I promise, you won’t regret this extra work if you’re already not doing it!