Character advancement vs Character development

Anakin Skywalker's journey to become Darth Vader: Fear, Anger, Hate, Suffering.
Character advancement and character development sometimes go hand in hand… but character development isn’t always a joyful experience for the character itself

One of the great joys of playing roleplaying games, especially playing a single character through a long campaign, is in seeing your character grow and change. In traditional high fantasy games, it’s fun to rise from humble beginnings to be an important and powerful figure in the campaign world.

However, it’s relatively rare in roleplaying games to see the sort of deep, personal character transformation that you might see in books, TV shows or films. That’s because the sort of growth and change encouraged by traditional roleplaying games is different from the growth and change that most popular media is built on.

Character advancement is not the same thing as character development.

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“Why do I hang out with you again?”: The importance of group character generation

I am a huge believer in doing group character generation at the start of a new RPG campaign. I don’t just mean getting all the players in the same place to do character generation, but actually doing it together. Of the RPGs I’ve played in, nearly all of the ones I’ve enjoyed most have made character generation a group activity.

First, a quick explanation

Traditional RPGs seem to work in this way: 1) each player goes away and makes a character, 2) the GM throws all the characters together in the first session and gives them a reason to work together. To an extent, that’s fine, but there are hundreds of stories online about games falling apart because the party isn’t cohesive. It’s not a single unit, just a collection of individuals. In a D&D context, I’m talking about the Rogue who constantly steals treasure from everyone else, or the Paladin who refuses to support the party’s “evil” actions, or what have you.

It’s because, by making character separately—even if you made them separately while sitting around the same table at the same time—you don’t know what the relationships of the characters are going to be like until you start playing. I’ve been in games in which other players have tried to tell me, after character generation was already done, what my character’s opinion was of their characters. And, funnily enough, their assumption of my character’s opinion ended up being wrong.

Group character generation is a process, before or during individual character generation (but not after), of determining collaboratively how the party will act as a unit and how the characters will interact with each other.

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