Controversial D&D: Characters and the Story

What is Dungeons and Dragons? Is it a rule system? A tabletop gaming experience? In my opinion, it is a story. It is not a story told by one person, of course. Instead, it is a story told by many people. Each player has a character they play, while the DM plays the hardest character; the setting. Did I just refer to the setting as a character? Yes, I did.

Part of what separates a good story from a great one is character development. If you read a story with a cool plot, but the character is the same at the end, you will enjoy it, but it will not be an all-time favorite. So, how do you make a story with character development? Each character levels up and learns new abilities as a part of the game, but that is not the kind of story development people look for in a narrative. So what do they look for?

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The Setting is a Character?

Before explaining the details of this philosophy, I should probably explain how the setting can be its own character. If you do not care, skip this section.

The setting has its own personality. This could be the personalities of its gods and their interactions or the forces of nature. For example, some settings have a multitude of fiendish races. This may because of a dark history. In other words, it may have a backstory filled with strife.

The setting may be more or less forgiving of silly actions, depending on who the DM is, and what type of setting they want to play this time. If the setting is serious, the DM will have the setting fight players that damage it, and try to kill them. If it is silly, it will likely channel players into a strange set of circumstances as a result of foolish actions.

The setting and characters interacting is much of how the story is built. This includes villains, which can be part of the setting, or characters of their own.

grayscale cliff
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Characters are Dynamic

Players are PCs are another aspect of this story.

The Player Characters are the main characters of a story, sometimes along with a few NPCs. Characters in a great story are dynamic. They change as a result of their environment, experiences, and aging. This will include some skill development, like level-ups, but the character’s personality should change. If it does not, they are a static character. Static characters are the weakest characters in any plot.

While a DM will try to interest a character in a plot, there are 3-5 characters and only one setting. The Dungeon Master tries to make the setting into a character that everybody will care about. Some may love it and some may hate it, but the PCs need to be on roughly the same page when interacting with it.

Characters Have Purpose

Have you ever read a story and thought that the plot did not make sense? The character was working with the villain the whole time, but the author never explained why they were doing so. What did they get out of it? Perhaps another character showed up out of nowhere when the main characters needed help, and conveniently seemed to know how to move the story in a direction every time? These things make a plot seem forced by making the story less organic.

Now, think about your D&D characters. Why are they adventuring with this party, and what goals are they trying to achieve? If there is no clear answer, the plot will be forced, and will not be as good. You will likely enjoy the game less. Think about why your character has motivation. Rather than asking the DM to rewrite their character, which is the most complex character in the game, consider why your character is interacting with the setting and other characters. If your character would not, they are in the wrong story. They should be rewritten or replaced with a character that belongs in the story. You and the other writers will enjoy the story more with an organic plot.

What do you think? How else can somebody make a fun, organic story together?

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