While a lot of players prefer to just sit down at a table and let their character go wherever the dice take them, most of us have at least some vague idea of what we're trying to accomplish by the end of a campaign. Maybe we want to earn a knighthood from the king, defend the realm from a dire threat, or to avenge the death of a loved one, but whatever it is, we usually have some idea of what a resolution to our character's story looks like.
However, getting too caught up in a single idea of what the end of your arc can look like might narrow your vision, and leave you trying to push against decisions that could, ultimately, make for a better story. Which is why I'd like to recommend something for all my fellow RPG lovers out there.
Ask what your character's good ending looks like, but also ask what their bad ending looks like, and what it would take for them to go down that path instead.
Paladins and Their Promises
A long time ago I penned the article 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins, and one of the most important pieces of advice I gave in that article was to ask what it would take for your paladin to break their oath. Because obviously these oaths are deep, meaningful things for these characters, not just mechanically, but also story-wise. And while it's all well and good to say that a character will never betray those oaths, you should at least be able to conceive of a situation where they would be tempted to do so. A situation where they might feel making that sacrifice was worth it.
Consider Lancelot. He had the strength of ten men, and was all but unconquerable... but he lost much of himself in bedding Guinevere. Not just breaking his oath of chastity (which had surely been tested many times before then), but breaking his oath to his king, and his friend. Through his affair, he fell from grace... but it can argued that he did it for a love so strong that even his convictions couldn't withstand it.
Now, the arc of a character like Lancelot is typically that he swears his oath, fights his battles, and will at some point be tested. The good ending of that story is him refusing the temptation, holding to his oath, and maintaining his purity, though he may long for what might have been (which is the arc we see played out with Sir Tristan and Isolde, by the by). The ending we see, where he gives into temptation, breaks his oath, and is shamed for his betrayals is the bad ending... but that doesn't mean it isn't the more interesting option, given the choices on offer for the story.
But if we're too focused on what we perceive as the good ending, then we simply won't consider other paths that might branch off of our narrative.
So when you look at your character, ask what you see their end state like if they get a "good" ending. But then ask what circumstances might derail that journey, and turn them into something else. Do they recognize the hollow grandeur of the nobility, and lead a coupe to overthrow the monarchy in the name of the people? Do they realize that vengeance is never-ending, becoming a dark reflection of the hero they saw themselves as with every new death added to their tally? Or do they forsake the vows that once meant so much to them, in favor of something greater?
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That's all for this week's Fluff post!
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