Thursday, July 15, 2010

Storyteller: Critical Fail: Making Your Characters Suffer

In most d20 systems, rolling a 20 is an automatic success and rolling a 1 is an automatic fail. Rolling a 1 is never good. Because I am a huge dork, I often insert a “Well they just rolled a 1” comment in whatever I’m watching when things go horribly wrong. If you’ve seen the second Dungeons and Dragons movie that was made for Sci Fi (I guess that’d be Syfy now, whatever), that’s a good example of epic fails (and also of a Dungeon Master who is an epic dick to his players)(please, don’t be that guy). The healer dies in their first fight. THEIR FIRST FRICKIN’ FIGHT. Then when they teleport somewhere their wizard fails her roll and gets her arm STUCK IN A FRICKIN’ STONE WALL. And they have to CUT IT OFF. I’m sorry, that piece of crap brings out the all caps rage in me. But, point made that it’s bad to roll a 1.

In some games that I’ve played, a Game Master has the option of torturing their players if they roll a 1. Okay, not literal torture, but they can allow the player’s action to succeed while giving them a “complication.” There is a world of trouble and suffering that can happen from a complication. The hero shoots the bad guy, but then the gun backfires and seriously injures the hero’s hand. The heroine hacks into the government computer system and finds the files she needs, but trips a security alarm and men in black are going to storm her apartment in 30 seconds. The ninja sidekick performs a complicated set of acrobatics to get across the room and through the sea of bad guys…and then falls flat on his face and knocks himself out.

There’s a Jim Butcher quote that I love to repeat that goes, “My business is making Harry Dresden suffer. And business is good.” As a writer your business is making your characters suffer. It’s the C in GMC. (Remember Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Good, you get a gold star.) :) When plotting, take a moment to ponder what would happen if your hero and heroine fail spectacularly in whatever scene they’re in. Think of Star Wars. There are lots of moments of fail in Star Wars. They escape Hoth…and the hyperdrive is broken. They escape Bespin…and the hyperdrive is still broken (or at least appears to be). It’s the “I am a leaf on the wind” moment in Serenity when the ship lands. You know that moment.

It draws out the drama. We expect, especially in a romance, that there will be a happily ever after, but your characters have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get there. Every success comes at a price. Every triumph comes with a casualty. Even if it’s a personal ninja casualty like hurt feelings instead of say a severed limb. (It’s amazing what you can live through in a video game, but I digress…) But there is a point where you can go too far, as I mentioned above about the craptastic D&D movie. You want to be mean to your characters and give them conflict, but always remember Wheaton’s law: “Don’t Be a Dick!” Don’t overdo it to the point where your readers are frustrated on behalf of your characters. Don’t be that guy.

Next week is my last post in this series before the Epic Conclusion. Gasp! I know, where did the time go? Anyway, I’ll be talking about using hex maps and figurines to help you think in 3D for fight scenes. I’ve probably lost most of you at hex maps, but I’ll be featuring Samhain Duckie versus an army of evil Peeps, so it’ll be awesome. Trust me.


morseren said...

You know, even though I so don't get the gaming connections, the writing explanations make sense.

Great job!

Rebecca W.

December said...

I am a leaf on the wind.
NOOOOOOOOO!!! Not fair.

I just wrote my black moment. Things got real bad. Then they got worse. (will they find twu wuv?!)