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Article - 'The Frame of Mind' by Guest

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Oct 7, 2004

Blurb

This article will cover the reason why your characters do those crazy things they do.

Body

This small article will cover the reason why your characters do those crazy things they do. I’d like to cover not only the PC characters you might have in your game, but also the villains, run of the mill NPCs and all in-between. Remember that when making RPGs that people play because of the characters, they play to see these people who they’ve been connected with to the end of their quest happy and healthy (that doesn’t necessarily mean the story has to have a happy ending), so character development is very important in any RPG, it doesn’t matter how cool the crystals you collect sound or how pretty your maps are if all the characters are mindless sprites and pictures…


Beyond Good and Evil
First we need to look at the basic structure of humanity. When was the last time you’ve met someone who was perfectly good? Can you think of any one who grew up wanting to be evil? No one is 100% truthful and genuine, and no one is true evil. Every one has the desire to do good and the will to do evil. Although you may think of a few examples of people who are saints and a few who are so loathsome they’re not worth piles of regurgitated lima beans, but you can rest assured that neither where through and through good or evil.

It’s boring if a hero/heroine never does anything wrong, make him/her a kleptomaniac, a beer swilling womaniser, a corrupt cop who takes bribes, or an egotist, anything that gives the character a little contrast to his/her heroic side.

The same concept can be applied to villains. Why does the big baddie want to destroy the world? What can he gain from it? Remember that self-preservation is the strongest human emotion there is, and it’s more than likely that your villain would be killed along with the rest of the populace when he uses the ‘Orb of the Phoenix’ to destroy the world. I’ll explore the hero and villain a little later but right now we need to further learn the basics of the mindset of your character.

Self-Preservation and Selfishness
Now, you probably already know about self-preservation, and if you don’t I’m sure you got the gist of it just via the word itself. It’s the desire to keep yourself alive, this is likely the strongest human trait, but it can be willed away, unlike joy, sadness, or anger. In extreme cases self-preservation can be ‘overridden’ and with a few individuals the will to help others, even strangers, can overpower their own self-preservation impulse (I.E. a man jumping in the middle of a street to pluck a baby out of the way of a speeding bus despite the lack of super-powers). Another example of self-preservation being eliminated is during points of pure selfishness, such as the act of suicide.

When making your hero, decide how self-preservation sits with him. Would he jump into a foaming river to aid his companions? Would he take an arrow in the chest rather than let harm come to an innocent bystander? Would he never risk his life for another? These are all valid questions you must ask yourself to jump into the frame of mind of your character. Don’t assume that a true hero would do one of these, because you can’t address what kind of hero your character is until you decide his personality, which is what we’re doing. All these traits can also be applied to NPCs and even to your villain!

Selfishness is another trait you must address, especially with your villain. Does he think poorly of others and never aid them, is he so selfish that suicide becomes a valid action within their frame of mind, or is he kind and generous? When a villain is so selfish that he would destroy the world, he included, then you get the classic madman. He has been so wronged in his life that he feels the need to seek revenge on the world. This is a good villain, but very rarely is it used. If your villain is selfish enough to take what isn’t his then it’s likely that you’ve got yourself the classic power monger, these guys are generally the true baddies, nothing is worse than a selfish man with an army working for him. Just look at Hitler, he was a perfect example of a power monger (with some very strong traits of a madman); we’ll further explore in the next section.

‘Me Wantie!’
Goals are on of the most difficult parts of character development, but with out a doubt the most important. A goal is the effect that a character wants to achieve, either long term or short. Whether your character wants to stop the destruction of the known universe or find a key to get into the next room goals make up 100% of the story. Let’s talk about the hero’s main goal, this is usually always the same for every person; To live a long and happy life, but he can’t do that because that mean old king done been starting up a war and drafting people left and right! This both provides a goal and a conflict, then we need to provide another goal to solve the conflict; To go the castle and kill the king and become heir to the throne in his place but he needs to fight off the soldiers to get to the king. This again provides both goal and conflict, repeat this process until the first goal was met, then you’ve got all you’re problems solved and you can go back to sipping lemonade on your throne while your sexy hand maids rub your feet…Huh? What? Oops! I was daydreaming…Mmm, lemonade…

Goals vary for each person, but usually the first goal is always the same; live a long and happy life (unless the character is a suicidal madman). But the road to getting to that point is different. Power for example is a very common goal for villains, especially the power-monger types (duh), but usually it’s only an end to a means. Some people can only be happy with power, where as some are happy with just a quite life with a family in a rural farming community. While creating goals and conflicts the best way is to make a graph, here is one for a generic hero:

Goal 1: Live a happy and long life.
Conflict 1: Can’t be happy if villain takes over the world!
Goal 2: Stop villain from getting staff of Ra!
Conflict 2: Villain already knows where staff is!
Goal 3:Stop Villain from getting key from the dungeon in volcano
Conflict 3: To late, villain already has key.
Goal 4: Go into the temple after villain and stop him from getting staff!
Conflict 4: Must catch villain!
Goal 5: Kill villain.
Conflict 5: Villian already has staff and now is super-strong, now they fight!

This is a very rough outline, but this method is very useful for mapping out your story and creating your characters. Remember to do this for all your characters! The hero and all his companions, all the villains and major NPCs will all benefit from this train of thought. Using the same method you can create a classic power-monger’s goals as well:

Goal 1: Live a happy and long life.
Conflict 1: Can’t be happy with out true power! Bhahahaha!
Goal 2: Find the all-powerful staff of Ra!
Conflict 2: Can’t get into the temple of Ra with out the key.
Goal 3: Find the key inside a dungeon deep in a volcano.
Conflict 3: Must race the Hero through the volcano to get the key…
Goal 4: Dungeon Crawl through the temple of Ra to get the staff
Conflict 4: hero chases after villain
Goal 5: Kill hero after getting staff
Conflict 5: Hero and villain fight

As you can see these are extremely vague and really leave a lot of room open. When you make your main characters goals and conflicts you should have about forty of both, but it’s really all about how much time you want to put into it. These tricks are useful devices for developing story, but they fail to mention how the hero learns about the villain or why he is the only one who can stop him, this isn’t a replacement for the story outline, but it is a good starting point.

The big wrap up!
Well, it’s been fun. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as yours truly has enjoyed writing it. If you’ve got any suggestions or comments then you can email me at rlkarnes@msn.com. But no flame mail please, I’m delicate. You can use these ideas in other articles if you want, because to be honest these aren’t MY ideas, they’re pretty well known. Catch you later, and remember:

…Strength alone a hero does not make…