Basic Character Arc Mechanics

May 26, 2006

Last night, I was thinking about how you could do character arc mechanics in a kind of object-oriented computing format. Normally, I’m not this much of an uber-dork, but I do have some background in JavaScript and a little Java, so go with me here.

So, like all games, you have mechanically supported play and non-mechanically supported play. For now, let’s leave the actual enactment of links as completely freeform (mechanically unsupported). You declare that you’re performing the “get my ass handed to me” link, but it’s entirely up to you to decide how you wanna hand yourself your ass. This will probably get its own mechanics later.

The mechanically-supported stuff goes like this:

Characters have to be working through at least one link at all times. If they have no declared link, they cannot be in a scene. So players should probably declare a new link for any character that have just completed one, unless said character currently has a lot of links “open” and the players are trying to resolve some of them and simplify the current drama. Characters do not have to be actively working to complete their current links at all times, but open links provide guidelines for what a character purpose currently is. If a character has no purpose, why the hell are they in a scene?

This holds true for major characters (in the case of Avatar: Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, etc.) as well as minor characters (Apa!) and guest stars (Random Hot Boy #7, Element Master #3, Wacky Villain #26). A character like Apa can go through several episodes without resolving a single link. That’s okay. They still need to have one open so we know where they’re going, development-wise. That way, if the group decides they suddenly want to do an entire episode all about Apa (which would be awesome), they have some support.

There are things besides individual characters that can have links. Groups of characters can collectively possess links that they are working through. I’m not sure if episodes or locations can have their own links, because I tend to think that episodes and locations are driven by the problems of the characters in them. If you want to have the characters deal with a problem, either give them a related open link or create a character for them to encounter who has a related open link.

Links do not form “chains” (or development arcs) on their own, because they are not necessarily thematically related simply because they all belong to the same character or group. Sokka might have the open links “prove I am worthy of my father’s trust” and “win Yue’s heart and physical affection.” These could be part of the same chain (a chain about Sokka growing up and becoming a man, perhaps) or they could be a part of two different chains. Or both could be true. One link can be a part of several chains, if necessary.

Chains have to be declared and defined, just like links. Here’s where the Java stuff comes in. Imagine:

    new Chain [scope][name]
    add [link 1]
    add [link 4]
    add [link 5]
    add [link 7]
    Chain completed

The scope of a chain is who it belongs to, a group or an individual. The name of the chain is the theme that you’re expressing with it. And then you add relevant completed links to the chain until you complete/resolve the chain. Then you set it aside, it becomes a record of character development (and might be connected to mechanics where you gain new powers or abilities), and work on your other chains and links.

I’m imagining, if you’re playing something like this in IRC, you’d keep an extra chat window open for people to declare new links, new chains, completed links & chains, and the like. So part of it might look like this:

    Jon: new Link [Sokka][get Yue to admit she likes me]
    Jon: completed Link [Sokka][get Yue to admit she likes me]
    Jon: new Link [Sokka][figure out why Yue won’t go out with me]
    Jon: new Chain [Sokka][lovers seperated by fate]
    Jon: add Link [Sokka][get Yue to admit she likes me] to [lovers seperated by fate]
    Shreyas: completed Link [Katara][get rejected for being a girl]
    Shreyas: new Link [Katara][find a way to learn, despite them]
    Shreyas: add Link [Katara][get rejected for being a girl] to [win respect as a waterbender]
    Shreyas: add Link [Katara][get rejected for being a girl] to [fight sexism]
    Jon: completed Link [Sokka][figure out why Yue won’t go out with me]
    Jon: new Link [Sokka][convince Yue to follow her heart]
    Jon: add Link [Sokka][figure out why Yue won’t go out with me] to [lovers seperated by fate]

Sometimes you may have some completed links that are not part of a chain yet. That’s okay. If you don’t immediately have a good idea of a chain for them, make note of them, but let them sit around for a while. You may discover that, by piecing some of your unchained links together with some links that are already in chains, you can create a new chain that connects several development arcs together. Or you may be inspired to create a new chain or add the unchained links to existing chains somewhere down the road.

I’m considering the possibility that each episode is constructed from a limited number of links, say 40 or so. And these links can mostly belong to a single character or group, or may be divided evenly or (more likely) unevenly between several characters/groups. And when you’ve completed 40 links, the episode ends. There would probably need to be other pacing guidelines in place to make sure that worked, or maybe it could just be a general guideline for episode lengths.

Other things to consider:

Be like Vincent and get rid of strict player control over character. Now every player can declare and resolve links and chains for any character or group. Shreyas may be responsible for playing Katara in this particular scene with Sokka, but I could pick up on something Katara says or does and declare or resolve a link. Maybe I need that link to complete a chain about Katara and Sokka’s relationship, so I was trying to push Shreyas into having Katara do something. If you want more Pull, I could declare a new link for Katara or Sokka, based on what I wanted to have happen in the scene (“Katara Slaps Sokka”), and then, depending on how Shreyas wanted to play it, that open link may or may not ever be completed. If we did something like that, we’d probably want some way for excess open links to be declared “no longer valid” after a certain amount of time.

Okay, I think that’s all for now.

2 Responses to “Basic Character Arc Mechanics”

  1. Kaare Berg Says:

    Thanks for opening this door fo me. I’ve been bashing my brain against the whole plot clock thing.And here you go and find the fix I was looking for. Great! Thanks.

  2. Mo Says:

    Heh.I was reading down the post and at the beginning of the log, I said the same thing as your last paragraph: this could be interesting in combo with co-ownership.


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