September 11, 2020

Helping Breathe Life Into The Players’ Characters

Whenever a tabletop story begins, Schrodinger’s character exists: are they just words on a page? Or are they a real and tangible being? As GMs/DMs, we’re tasked with providing the story canvas from which these characters can truly be brought to life.

So this week’s Friday GM Advice post is all about the process providing that first breath of air into each of the characters by weaving their strengths and flaws into the overall tapestry of the story.

Nurturing Character Traits

During character creation and the subsequent Session Zero, GMs/DMs should be taking note of the player characters’ various attributes, traits, talents, goals, and flaws. What are the characters looking to accomplish? What’s influenced them in their backstories? What roles will they likely be playing in the party? And how might they relate to one another?

The answers to these questions are the fertilizer in the soil of your tabletop RPG’s story. They provide numerous ways to both test and cultivate the character’s growth and, accordingly, the corresponding player’s enjoyment and investment in the story.

A character obsessed with revenge, for example, would do well to pick up the scent of their quarry early in the story to further their quest. Or a character desperately looking for their lost spouse, separated in a tragic accident, might also begin their journey there early. As the GM/DM, you now have what you need to seed the plot of your story with exactly what the players are looking for – and you can marry their perspectives into the natural flow of the TTRPG.

Track The Progress

As the story develops, keep a running tracker of these story threads. And in your worldbuilding, find ways to continue to creatively seed the story world with ways the characters can find challenge, nuance, and depth in how they interact with these various facets of their respective journeys. Add milestones to their quests, use conflict to create dramatic tension, and put various dilemmas in their way they must overcome.

And it doesn’t have to be completely 1:1 either. Let’s say, for example, the character obsessed with revenge. You don’t necessarily have to put the target of that vengeance in the direct 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. And by so doing, has their life changed. Or maybe the character has a powerful dream/vision of themselves where they’re no longer obsessed and are forced to reflect on that new state of being…

Either way, as the character’s journey begins, don’t finish the trip prematurely. Build up to that confrontation/moment of growth. Cultivate that journey and you, the players, and the story will reap the rewards. 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!