Once we’ve created characters for use, and determined which are going to have a larger role in our stories, we need to develop those that are important to the main character and to the story.
Developing characters is surprisingly easy to do; in fact, it can be as simple as a single phrase.
Let’s take, for a moment, JRR Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Rings. There, he said “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” So if you have a Tolkien-style wizard character, you might give him a development line of “SUBTLE BUT QUICK TO ANGER.” We call these developing lines aspects, and all good aspects are ones that help further a story by both pushing the characters into conflicts and helping them resolve them as well.
All non-minor characters should have at least one line such as this – it helps to define how they will react in various situations. In this way, it’s very similar to how we gave our characters depth in Character Creation, but where those are more about core concepts, development lines outline particular aspects of the character’s personality, which dictates how they react to any given situation.
There are two different ways to come up with development lines – you can fill in what you want the character to be (say, you needed a thug type you might just go ahead and fill in a couple lines: HIT IT TILL IT BREAKS, BIGGER AND BADDER THAN YOU, ANGER MISMANAGEMENT) and they’ll serve well for minor characters, but most likely it will generate something very one-dimensional.
The other way to do it is to think about the character’s past. They had to exist before the story began, and they will continue to live their lives after the story ends. As such, they’ve got at least a few lessons under their belt, and those lessons influence how they interact with the world – in other words, they become the aspects for that character. There are two kinds of aspects: high aspects and descriptive aspects.
Let’s go back to our wizard character. Through character creation we’ve decided that he’s unusually short (say, 4’8”), runs everywhere he goes, and wants enough power to protect that which is most precious to him. Since we know that being a wizard is what he is before anything else, his High Aspect could be as simple as WIZARD. However, this doesn’t indicate a use for him or any other characters; as such, it should be a little more complicated. Let’s say that our wizard used to work for an evil group, but now fights on the side of the good guys. We could go with something like REFORMED WIZARD OF THE DARK ONES – this now gives us things to play with. He could face temptations to go to his old ways, distrust from his new allies because of his past, attacks from his old group, and many other trials as well all based on this aspect.
For descriptive aspects, we think about his life up to this point – what was his childhood like? How did he discover he was a wizard? What was his first “adventure” like? Maybe we decide that his parents were very well off, but distant emotionally, so he’s always looking for love and validation of self to disastrous consequences; we could call that LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES. Perhaps he found out about his magical talent through vigorous study and determined practice; we could call that DETERMINED RESEARCHER. And let’s say that in his first “adventure” ice magic saved his life, so he defaults to it; we could call it EVERYTHING FREEZES.
Now, what do these things tell us about how he interacts with other characters and the story? Well, the first one tells us that he’s constantly falling in and out of love, so anyone in the story that he is attracted to he might pursue regardless of how it affects everything else. The second could say that he spends all his time researching, but that’s boring; instead, it could also mean that he has an incredible recall and knowledge base, making him a superb tactician, and that given enough time he can learn anything. Note, this also suggests a way to push him through the story; either hound him so he doesn’t have time and has to react, or take away his ability to do research (fire, theft, etc). The final one is fairly straightforward – it indicates his favorite way to deal with threats. However, combined with DETERMINED RESEARCHER it could also indicate other things rather than just brute force – dropping a block of ice on the enemy works fine, but what happens if you want them alive? So he could create traps – ice slides into an ice cage, for instance – for the enemy as well.
As the story progresses, these aspects can be added to, changed, or removed as well. However, the more central an aspect is to their life (in general, the older they are) the harder they are to change and the bigger the story event (or events!) to change it will be.
For instance, let’s say that in one of our stories our wizard falls in actual love – it’s a relationship built over several stories, and so now the LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES doesn’t apply. However, since it’s one of his core concepts, it won’t just disappear but will have lasting effects. Therefore, it changes – perhaps now he’s no longer looking for love, but still doesn’t feel he deserves it because of the past, so it changes to UNINTENTIONAL RELATIONSHIP SABOTEUR. Now, he’s no longer falling into the arms of random people, but his subconscious is causing him to continually try to drive away his lover. Not overtly, but small things like breaking dates without warning, forgetting things, arguing over silly things, etc.
Adapted from Evil Hat Productions’ Dresden Files RPG