Have you ever experienced actual character growth with your character in a tabletop RPG? Now, I’m not just talking about getting closer to your goal, and maybe being a little less reckless, but actual emotional or spiritual growth? If not you’re missing out, it really is an incredibly fulfilling experience. Regardless of how much backstory you have, character growth is possible. In fact, sometimes a shorter backstory is easier to use than a longer one.
Do you need it?
Long story short… nope. Some characters lend themselves to grow better than others do, and in some cases, showing a lot of character growth may not be needed by each and every Player Character in every campaign. One of my characters never had any personal growth during an entire campaign and a half (with the possible exception of a newly found phobia of woodland deer). She’s still one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever played, and one of the most memorable to my group. However, within both campaigns that she appeared in, other PC’s showed character growth. And that’s okay. However, if you have a character that you think is ready, there are a few tips that can help.
It Happens Organically
Now you may be asking yourself “How do I get started in having my character grow as a person” (or a rodent, if your playing mouse guard). Really, it depends on the setting, the character, and the situation. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is to not force it, let it happen gradually. The best way is to keep yourself open to new plot hooks or ideas. When something new comes your way, think to yourself “Is this something my character can get behind?”
The Situation Demands It
Let’s face it. Most of our characters get themselves into some wonderful and absolutely terrible situations. Having highs and lows like these will take their toll on any adventurer. It can wear down their trust, dishearten them, give them a new fear, or build up their hope. Tabletop, like life, often has many twists and turns. There is a really easy secret here: follow the path your character takes.
If your character gets married in-game, that will change them inherently. Suddenly there’s one other character that your PC is going to take priority over protecting, as well as a change in outlook. Alternatively, if your PC just lost their spouse to their big bad, a revenge mission is likely to be on the table. These are life-changing events let them change your character’s life.
The Path of Self-discovery
Sometimes your character becomes boring. The tropes you used to create your character have been exhausted, and you need change for them to become more interesting. Don’t roll up a new character yet, instead try to have your character overcome their previous, more boring, pitfalls.
The best place to start, if you hope for a change in your character, is to talk to your Game Master. They may already have an idea in place, but if not, you and your Game Master can discuss how to start the process of character growth. This will allow your character to start the first steps of their personal journey, guided by yourself and the GM.
Before Character Growth
Let’s take a character that outgrew his schtick, Alfred. Now, we’ve talked about Alfred before, but to recap; he’s an honest-to-goodness 1920’s gangster, outdated phrases and all. There was one thing that wasn’t mentioned, as he was a character for a medieval fantasy setting, then again, it wasn’t relevant until now.
At the beginning of the campaign, Al was content with just helping out the crew of the ship the party bought, traveling around and getting in adventures. Now, his character never got boring, but something interesting happened. Along the way, the party picked up a paladin that loved key-lime pie. His name was Tom. Their first exchange went something like this:
The Ghost Don
Over the next six sessions or so Alfred and Tom went on to discuss the Ghost Don, and the power granted to Tom by his deity. Over that time, Alfred and the paladin became close friends. As Alfred’s interest grew something strange happened. Tom’s deity showed himself to Alfred, calling him to action. Choosing him as a disciple.
In-game, this progression felt natural. It wasn’t forced, and it happened without rolls or pushing. After Alfred accepted, his mannerisms, and what was important to him changed. Changing doesn’t have to be hard, it doesn’t have to happen within one session. Honestly, unless there’s a life-changing event, it shouldn’t happen within the span of a session. Without a catalyst, the growth will seem slapped together, and will quickly be forgotten within a few sessions, or at least completely ignored.
Have you ever had a character that experienced some serious character growth?