February 1, 2021

Cultivating Character Development During Worldbuilding

If you’re a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) story creator, you naturally invest quite a bit of time and energy into worldbuilding. Settings, characters, plot threads…a great deal goes into ironing out these details.

Obvious as it may seem, in contrast to film and TV, you need to keep top of mind that you’re going to have people play a story within your world. To that end, because the players at the table will have characters, it’s crucial that you create opportunities for those characters to grow and evolve.

As important as it is to focus on setting, plot beats, sources of conflict, levels of difficulty etc. during your worldbuilding, it’s equally as crucial to weave in paths for natural character progression. So today’s Worldbuilding Monday post is all about leaving that healthy breathing room for character development during your worldbuilding.

Ways to Evolve – Opportunities for Both Success & Failure

TTRPG stories are rich soil for character development and evolution. As the GM, the upfront cultivation of that “soil” is your responsibility. To that end, you should be actively incorporating opportunities for character evolution into the foundation of your story’s plot. Whether it’s through struggle, success, or just basic character interaction, you need to ideate ways the characters can grow.

As in life, tabletop RPG character mistakes/missteps/misfortune are often the best learning experiences of all. Characters need to struggle; they need to experience trials & tribulations. Use each character’s motivations, wants, and desires to test their development during these scenes & arcs. Every now and then, force the characters into difficult decision-making. Get them to reconcile what they’re willing to sacrifice against what they need.

And on the other side of the coin, the characters should also be given opportunities to thrive. Struggle and failures are great teachers and motivators, yes. But characters should also be given the opportunities, through good choices/decision making to reach that pinnacle – and succeed. Add & incentivize these arcs/journeys. And invest time in making the payoff at the end special and fulfilling.

If you’re able to integrate these opportunities into your story’s flow, you’ll find that the characters – and their players! – are the ones who evolve in the best and most special ways.

Journey > Destination

Many of the characters who play a story in your world will have goals. Whether it’s revenge, becoming king or queen, or perhaps finding their true love etc., and anything & everything in-between. But as with most stories, that final end-point is not nearly as important as the journey it took to get there.

The degree of payoff in reaching those goals is directly proportional to the corresponding level of struggle. The more thought, effort, and journey that goes into reaching that apex, the more impact it has on the player and the table as a whole.

So you need to be focused not just on the end, the players’ goal(s), but rather the many milestones that pave the road along the way. Be incisive and thoughtful about these stages. They’re the foundation and building blocks of the payoff you’re looking to give the player!

These character journeys and payoffs begin with these worldbuilding best practices. They take time, energy, and thought. But everyone – the GM/DM very much included! – reap the benefits. So go out there and make it happen!