Character Development vs. Advancement

Lauri has been bugging me to write my own seasoned playbook for his AW hack, Wayward Sons (see Resources above, and the Wayward Sons -tag on the right). Just haven’t gotten around to it. Also, I don’t really have inspiration right now… which is a bit of a problem.

One thing I’ve been thinking about though: One of the characters has been becoming more and more sociopathic in his paranoia, while two other characters (mine included) have been becoming more and more relient on alcohol to get through their “adventures”.

I’ve written about something similar before.

So, the question is, does development have to be advancement? I guess these people will be better equipped to handle the situations they are getting themselves into, but at the same time, they are clearly losing something else: their sense of security, their income, their connections to the society at large, their trust in others and so forth. They’re probably in constant pain, because of shoddily mended wounds. Constant blows and living in awkward conditions don’t help either.

I know there are exceptions, but historically a characters career has been in a constant upward trajectory. Most interesting characters aren’t like that. Remember the first three Die Hard movies? John McClane is getting worse in each movie. He drinks more, loses his wife, is suspended in the third movie and so forth. This makes him much more interesting as a character. The movies definitely lost something when McClane became just a disgruntled middle-aged overly efficient cop.

Now, if the game is simply about executing missions and characters are secondary, I guess advancement is a good idea and shouldn’t be messed with by “ruining” the only thing the players have to work with. Losing a hand is often paramount to character death, if the character loses some of his or her abilities. On the other hand, if that’s what you are looking for, you do have plenty of computer games for that purpose, so I don’t really see a point for tabletop RPGs like this anymore.

To have players embrace the deterioration of their characters, they need to have a reason to be interested in the character beyond the numbers. If the the characters have no chance to grow beyond that stats, the players will become invested in the stats and thus protect them jealously. If the incentives are in making an interesting character, giving him a few hits here and there is just par for the course and losing his sanity is just part of the character development.

I know Lauri has already been thinking about something like this for his hack. He’s thinking about characters losing access to some basic moves as they become more inhumane. I think its a pretty good idea, although it will be hard to do properly as players will lose some of their best ways to affect the game, and unless they get something to replace them with, they will have to rely on a smaller set of moves, which might lead to characters relying on violence too much.

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