How Your Character Pushes The World

A few years ago, I was eager to chat with a friend regarding a popular movie franchise (one involving a wisecracking raccoon). While I gushed I can remember joking that Rocket Raccoon was “(Character’s Name Redacted) Spirit Animal”, to which he responded “Dude, Rocket is your spirit animal!”

Now, in real life, that is hardly the case. But as I’ve thought back on it, a lot of my characters had fallen around that pattern: a cocky, wisecracking, tech-focused character who was more than willing to risk the overall safety of the party to make things “interesting”. Looking back, I had seen the original Guardians of the Galaxy film just as I had started a character in Edge of the Empire, and it bled through.

Having players choose pre-existing characters from works of fiction to serve as models for their own is a fairly common occurrence. In fact, clones of Drizzt Do’Urden became so popular that its use has been parodied (in Order of the Stick and Goblins, just to name two). For that matter, historical figures are fairly common. A lot of people want to play their version of Rommel or the Red Baron.

Still, I’ve noticed a tendency amongst people who I play with, where people very often gravitate to certain models. It tends to be a mix of the character classes that people like to play, but also in how they play them. Two players might be playing Fighters, and have wildly different approaches as to play them: the dedicated Knight out to protect the honor of his liege versus the merciless sellsword who is in it for the coin. A member of the Faith Militant versus a man who believes in only where his sword can take him. A happy go lucky swashbuckler or the grim, stalwart defender. All of these are valid ways to play a character.

Now, that isn’t to say that players never change the types of characters they play. But, while talking it over with other members of the Cannibal Halfling Staff, Aaron thought up a good model, based on how players push the world around them: Up, where players wants to advance the plot, Down, where players try deepen their character’s relationship to the world, or Sideways, where they want to push the world on the angle so that something breaks.

I know that the phrasing makes it seem like only one of those helps the story, but that is far from the truth.The characters my friend was referring to was a Sideways type, but that caused the plot to twist in interesting ways, as some of the antics, as sideways as they were, created new background events that gave the party a drive later. In one case, it meant creating a criminal alias that our entire group could take credit for as “his underlings”, and led to creating a criminal syndicate around a myth.

Having a type does not preclude you from branching out, and sometimes as you play a character will surprise you. In one Star Wars game I built a character I intended to be a Sideways pusher: a con-artist turned politician, on loan to the Rebellion because Bothans don’t like to admit when they’ve screwed up. After he awakened to the Force, I fully intended him to stray to the Dark Side . . . only  the thing was, another character took notice too. That player had someone look out for my character and, even better, nurtured and protected him and coached him back to the Light. It was well done, so my devious character became an Upper. He found a place in using his epic lying ability to convince a captured Imperial officer that my character was his attorney, and wingmanning (figuratively) to help a fellow player pump Imperials for information at a bar . . . not to mention causing his call to the Force to become a plot hook that our GM used to help close out the game.

This is far from conclusive, but it has been an interesting exercise to perform. I’ve looked back at a lot of characters I’ve played, as well as the more memorable ones, and it has been a useful tool. Knowing a bit about the way you play can help you pick your character, and can help you play against type to shake things up. I hope it can be put to use.

Aki would love to hear about some of your character models. He would love to hear about them in the comments, or on Twitter @WHalfling

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