One day I will have a full post on the subject of editing in roleplaying (which is a real-time form of media, and thus operates under some interesting constraints). I think I’ve talked about the subject twice: once back in April, focused on design (RPG Design is like editing but backwards), and once more recently talking about remixing (Low permanency and remixing). The ideas I was working with back there are going to be at work in today’s post.
One of the reasons that a character with an existing play-history is more powerful is based on simple refinement. It is rare in my experience that any character in a roleplaying game turns out in the end to be quite what the players thought they were when play started. Generally characters evolve as players strive to catch one anothers’ interest and mold their characters in personally meaningful ways.
Playing a character over time gives you more time to edit and revise that character in order to make them as powerful as possible. A brand new character does not have the benefit of all those hours of work invested in improving and sharpening his or her coolest features. Consider how much cooler most characters seem at the end of the first session than they seemed at the beginning of it, the process of play allows you to cut out the parts that looked cooler than they were, and to solidify the emergent coolness of the character.
This time-based editing process also allows you to shape the character to better fit the dynamics of the other characters, as well as to better fit the other players. It is in these interactions that a lot of the emergent coolness comes out. With a character sitting in isolation it is often hard to get all the cool parts figured out, but when you mix in other characters you can suddenly start playing with relationships and foils. (This is one reason that group character generation is so powerful, it lets you start with a character already playing with relationships and foils. That said, even this does not net you a perfect character because you still end up with ideas that look cool in theory, but are flat in practice.)
Simply playing a character puts that character through the editing process.Â The longer you play, the more editing you get done.Â This simple dynamic is another thing that contributes to the narrative power of an established character.Â There are, of course, interesting work-arounds.Â Playing archetypes gives you access to more-edited character forms, for instance.Â What other techniques let you get some of the benefits of editing up front?