A Wayward Son: The Dramatic Arc of One Player Character

I don’t normally like to write about my characters, because its hard to know what will be interesting to other people, because I clearly have a strong bias. I asked for subjects to write about in this blog, and Lauri suggested talking about this character. He too, as the GM, has a bias, but I’m guessing his bias is not nearly as strong as mine, so I’m assuming there’s something about this character that’s interesting to others.

Whatever the reasons, I’ll try to use this as a case study of sorts.

I’ve talked about iconic and dramatic characters before. The character I’m going to be talking about is of the second kind. I think I was going for a more support type of character at first, but as things went further, the arc just came naturally.

In part, the point of this article is to argue for short campaigns. In shorter campaigns the arc is easier to implement, and even identify. In longer campaigns, characters will fall into their “natural” positions and become iconic, never really changing much, and if they do change, its so slow, its hard to identify.

Much of what happens here has been covered in the past by Lauri in his series on this campaign and the AW-hack we are using. You can find those under the Wayward Sons tag.

But, finally, onto the subject, or actually our subject’s backgroung first…

Benny Carson, was a somewhat successful televangelist who was taking a break from work after a scandal of some sort. He believed in god in the same way most people believe in gravity. You never doubt it, but you don’t really put much thought into it either.

With that in mind, Benny used most of his time and resources pursuing all sorts of pleasures. Alcohol, drugs and sex mostly. He never did anything to hurt anyone else, but his morals were definitely flexible. His religion was mostly impetus for seeking experiences seen as more depraved by the “moral majority”, such as homosexuality.

In his attempt to be the “holy man” his flock wanted, he ended up doing exorcisms. They’re just people with mental problems, right? However, one of them went horribly wrong. It was never actually defined what went wrong and what the situation was (although it was hinted that the subject was his own child), but this was the reason he fell into this strange band of people.

This is where our story really begins.

Benny and his friends were contacted by a mysterious man, who pointed them at a locker, which contained some hints of a gold hoard. Being pretty greedy, Benny was immediately in on this. Early on, they met a drugdealing informant, who was living in a haunted house, confronted a paranoid investigator of the supernatural, did their best to kill a wendigo, we’re arrested, and they learned plenty about the misty histories of their families.

Benny got shot a couple times and was kidnapped once. This didn’t really deter him from finding the gold. What it did do, is make him more reckless in other ways. He’s drug and alcohol use got quickly out of hand, although not as badly as with some other characters. However, he had being doing drugs before, so it wasn’t a big deal for him. He could cope, and his basic character didn’t really change at this point, although there were some darker turns, such as when he lied to his most trusted friend (and lawyer) about what happened to his adopted father after hiding the fact for a pretty long time (he was actually consumed by a demon of sorts, which I eventually told the friend, but I did still hide the fact that another character shot the guy multiple times before that, which was the reason he actually was consumed).

I (as Benny) had a habit of doodling stuff related to what we were doing. As Benny changed, this habit became less frequent, until it finally went away altogether.

I (as Benny) had a habit of doodling stuff related to what we were doing. As Benny changed, this habit became less frequent, until it finally went away altogether.

Shortly after that, that very same friend was possessed by a demon. This became apparent in the basemenet that same adopted father’s cottage, where a sigil was used to imprison demons. Now, Benny, being pretty confident of his abilities and more than willing to make up for certain mistakes of the past, was ready to exorcise the demon. But the dice intervened (I actually rolled snake-eyes, the worst possible result) and Benny ended up stranded in an inescapable corner of the basement. To protect his soul, he started to confess his sins to God. Since he had plenty to confess, it gave the other characters enough time to dig him out of the situation (literally).

Understandably, this was a great shock for Benny. Not only did he lose his most trusted friend, he pretty much did so in the most dramatic way possible. He stopped using intoxicants and started to exercise, as well as study up on exorcism. He moved away from the expensive hotel he had been living in and took up residence in the previously haunted house they had cleared earlier, and started to help the locals (although he did not give up his fornicating ways).

Despite a slow period, this is where things began to completely spiral out of control. Not long after, they tried to get into a canyon they suspected would finally be hiding the gold they were after (although at this point Benny was intent on giving most of it to charities, which he never informed his compatriots about). The way was blocked by a manorhouse that twisted the environment, making it pretty much impossible to get where they were trying to go.

After finding out that even leaving the manorhouse was extremely difficult, Benny took the lead and decided to assault the manorhouse. The others went along. Things didn’t work out all too well. They met some resistance, which was taken care of, but they didn’t find the people they were actually looking for. They did learn that the house was pretty difficult to navigate due to some inconsistencies in its physics. Benny did find a book he took along, which later turned out to be very important.

However, another of Benny’s friends died. They used the house as a tomb, burning it down in a quite epic scene. This left Benny a bit of a husk emotionally, and that escalated quickly, when an apparent government agent tried to join the party by basically blackmailing himself in. Benny would have none of that shit. There was immediate conflict.

Then a bunch of pretty absurd stuff happened. One more friend got killed, and they found another guy who had been suspended for about 100 years in order to protect the gold and flying saucers from certain people. Yes, as I said, absurd stuff.

We did get out of that situation, but it was not easy. For some time, some of the characters were trapped in a different dimension, and so forth. Pretty straightforward.

Upon returning, there were some confrontations with the bureau the government agent represented. This culminated in a situation where the agent made a pretty serious threat on another character’s relative’s life. Again, Benny was not happy. There was no way he was going to give the aforementioned book to the agent, so he escalated the situation, hoping that no-one would remember the book, and simply took off after that.

The end. I guess.

The way I see it, for (complicated reasons) Benny was aware that the bureau was not aware of his children, so he had certain freedom to work with. On the other hand, he wasn’t going to stay around for long enough for them to find out and start blackmailing him even worse.

Instead, the way I see it, he’s going to use the book to learn its secrets and wage his own secret war against the bureau. At this point, he’s pretty much lost his sanity.

The campaign ended there (although, its a part of a larger structure). Maybe not as climactic as some people would have hoped, but it worked for me. Benny went from fairly ordinary middle-aged man (well, close enough) to a lunatic, managing to wreck the original plan for the campaign at the same time. That’s a win in my book.

So, how is this a case for shorter campaigns? Well, that partly depends on your definition of a short campaign. This was actually maybe a dozen sessions or so, which is a long campaign for many. On the other hand, many people like to brag about their campaigns that have been going on since the 80s or something.

In any case, if you want a good dramatic arc for your character, you need to limit the time the character is around. If Benny would be around for longer, he would need to change more to keep his arc going. Where would he go? Of course, not all arcs have to be that extreme, and often subtler is better, but in a longer campaign such changes would soon feel forced, or unmotivated. What needs to happen to this guy to change him even more? He has pretty much left his former life altogether, and found a new existence in fighting evil, but has basically become that very same evil at the same time.

Supposing this campaign had been around for years, I would have had to play him as a sociopath with new, darker secrets, which would have become boring quickly. That extreme characters can’t exist for long. We need softer touches. Benny was about that in the beginning, but in the end he was pretty fanatical about his mission, and how many fanatical people lose their fanaticism?

Well, this ended up being a lot longer than anticipated. Hopefully it wasn’t too boring though.

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