Anybody who knows me knows that I love to make characters. I like to create them, and craft personalities for them. I like to sit and ponder how they would react in any number of situations. I like to plot how they would develop over the course of a story. Role-playing games are a terrific vehicle for me to do this in. For one, I don't have to worry about the story at large because the GM is there to do just that. They provide things and circumstances to react to. And for another thing, the effects of the dice (those marvelous little devils) can be a great cause for good and/or evil by providing a little bit of the unexpected. A few twists of fate as it were.
I am starting to develop the firm suspicion that dice are sentient beings and happen to be gifted with a sense of irony, humor and a certain degree of genre savvyness. In general I know people have their own theories regarding temperamental dice, voodoo hexed knucklebones, minor RNG dieties, pookas, gremlins, and even physics and crit quotas. Mine just like good drama. And making a general fool out of my characters, but mostly drama. Today, I ramble on about character development influenced by dice, or Better Roleplaying Through Roll-playing. (sorry. I had to.)
So here's the deal. When you craft a personality for a character, it's not uncommon to want to see that particular character develop and grow in a way that seems natural and most often towards some ideal version of that persona. Let's say for example, an average fighter may want to be a complete badass in combat while the mage may want to appear to only grow more wise over time, and the thief by all accounts foresees himself as some rich potentate by the end of a long arduous campaign. Keeping these ideas in mind we may see our fighter as someone rough around the edges, aggressive and fearless. Probably ready to challenge all comers. The mage might talk down to intellectual inferiors and have a general know-it-all kind of attitude. The thief is no doubt going to have a bit of greed seeping in every sleazy sentence he speaks. He'll no doubt center his thoughts and plans to stealing everything that isn't nailed down. Basic examples to be sure, but here's the next bit: The dice just won't let you have your way.
That's right, the dice say "No". The fighter can't hit a beachball with a tennis racket and runs and hides from anything that forces a WILL save. The mage can't cast a single basic spell and his intelligent conversations come to halt as people realize he really can't tell the difference between his head and his own ass. (if I polymorphed myself into a burro I couldn't either.) The thief on the other hand is having a wonderful stay in the pen having been as stealthy as a circus clown playing the bagpipes while picking the pockets of several high ranking officials.
So what's a player to do? You could throw the vengeful polyhedrals across the room. Or you could roll with it. Obviously, you're going to have to improv the situation when things go South. That's not exactly what I'm getting on about. What I mean is the concept of the character you're playing. You originally had imagined your badass fighter one way, but you just got a humongous string of bad luck. Your badass looks like a tool. Or maybe he was always just a badass in his own mind. You've just evolved into Don Quixote, or Dan Hibiki for you Streetfighter fans. Take the bad luck and roll it into the character. Mage can't pass an INT roll for the life of him? Maybe he's getting a lesson in humility. Attach him to a wiser NPC as a mentor or something. Or play it off as eccentricity or insanity. Thief failing stealth checks? Maybe he's developed some allergies and keeps blowing his cover when he should be blowing his nose.
Granted these are some pretty basic examples, but let me show you one from last Sunday's FantasyCraft campaign. Hopefully this will demonstrate my point better. I ended up playing Syrinx, a female Martial Artist who, by shear virtue of in-character conversation, ended up a complete bitch. She has a very gruff exterior and can come off as a bit strong-willed. Enter the Moon-beasts. As our campaign trundled on, we ended up facing Moon-beasts which to the un-initiated have no face, just a writhing mass of tentacles where their mouths should be. (for all those who've seen hentai, we made those jokes already. =D ) They also have some mind-affecting abilities. In the case of this FantasyCraft conversion, Natural Spell: Insanity.
What happened is that this beast reached out with it's tentacles and on contact granted her visions of alien landscapes and twisted realities, Stunning her for a few rounds. I blew that roll by a mile, and it wouldn't be the last. Another attack later, it touched her mind and she flew into a Frenzied rage, attacking everything around her. The combat ended with her and our Scout both attacking each other under the influence of mental violation. The conversation after was extremely awkward for the characters and consisted mostly of starts and stops and very few complete sentences. As we explored the complex, some of the more disturbing features caused her to stress out and take a grade of Shaken, later cured by a shot of liquid courage. Cue boss fight. After the boss is done his traditional monologue, yet another Moon-beast steps out of the door we just came through. More mental fun and one more botched roll later she's a quivering mass, running down the hallway trying to make it through a door, any door, to get away.
The reason I went through all of that was to demonstrate a natural arc that, to be honest, couldn't have been better if it had been planned. The character went from stunned to shaken to frightened all on randomly rolled outcomes. All from things with tentacles too. She's definitely not eating calamari anytime soon. In the course of one session, this character went from brazen to broken in such a natural way that to not play with this would be criminal. She just got pantsed (in the proverbial sense for those who've seen hentai) in front of her peers, and made to look rather vulnerable.
Considering what just happened and what came before, I have to ponder to myself if Syrinx's attitude was actually a front for something much deeper that I hadn't really written. Was the prickly exterior just a defense mechanism covering up a much softer personality? Was an exceptionally strong fighter made weak for the first time in ages? Was this place just too grotesque for any mere mortal to behold? How will she react to other things with wriggling appendages? This was an awesome character moment and all of it because I couldn't roll higher than a 5 on a freaking d20.
I'm certain this isn't a rare occurance, and it happens to everyone now and again, So I pose this to you dear reader: Have any of your characters been derailed due to the roll of a die? How did you play off some bad rolls? Have you ever altered a characters backstory because of a few die rolls? Have you really seen hentai and think you know where this was headed?
From the heart of Hell, Stay Classy!