Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dynamic Persistent Characters

Dynamic persistent characters have become a topic of interest for me as of late. (to make life easy, we'll just say DPC) A DPC -in my mangled explanation of it- is a character who appears repeatedly throughout the works of any given creator. While there are plenty of recurring characters to be found in the world of literature, games and movies, the dynamic persistent character is a harder creature to pin down.

I know I may sound a bit confusing but I couldn't settle on a suitable term to describe what I mean, so allow me to elaborate. I promise, it IS game related!

DPCs are different than recurring characters. True, they can be recurring characters, but they don't have to be. A dynamic persistent character is one who exists across many stories yet are not necessarily the same person. They often share significant similarities with their other versions and oftentimes are identical but still somehow... different.

Are you getting me? I hope so, because I'm hardly getting it myself!

 Kilgore Trout: "Life is no way to treat an animal."

Kilgore Trout is a great example of the dynamic persistent character. He is a character who appears throughout a few of Kurt Vonnegut's works of fiction. Many of Trout's portrayals are very similar, some not so much. One thing is for sure though, while reading the various works of Vonnegut I always grin when a Kilgore Trout is introduced. Even though he is not the same character as the last Trout, I already feel like I know him.

At first I thought these characters were out of the ordinary, but they happen far more often than I thought! Rowan Atkinson's portrayal of Edmund Blackadder for example, Biggs and Wedge in the Final Fantasy franchise; and I know it's a stretch, but even Doctor Who has a few elements of dynamic persistence.

The many faces of Edmund Blackadder

We've had quite a few dynamic characters in our RPG's over the years. No matter the setting or campaign, DPCs offer a great way to make players feel involved and familiar with the game world.

My first DPC was stolen from the pages of Dragonlance. I merrily plopped Fizban the wizard in whenever the players seemed a little down or the game was taking too bad a turn. Sometimes I intentionally wrote him into the story. Nothing brightens a party's day like discovering their favorite bumbling wizard just so happened to fall asleep outside the dungeon they were about to explore and nothing makes a GM happier than to hear the party shout "Alright! Fizban's here!" in delight.

By far though, our group's most popular DPC has to be Sgt. Reginald Slawter. A strange mash-up of past NPCs who have evolved into a wholly new character. Reginald was already a DPC who the players had encountered many times over the years. Sgt. Slawter was a separate character, a nameless NPC with the rank of sergeant. A player asked his name and I spouted out the first thing that came to mind.

I had no idea the name would stick...

Sgt. Slawter became legendary in our games. He was a stalwart ally of the party and became separated from them in one particularly nasty encounter with a group of yuan-ti snake men. The party had no choice, they were outnumbered and ran away. Sgt. Slawter's screams echoed in their ears and there was definitely a long awkward silence when everyone at the table realized that they felt bad. I'm not saying they role-played remorse. There was a real sense of loss and the PCs felt responsible for the death of a person who wasn't even real!

That's some Jack Chick $#!% right there.

Years later, the players and their new characters were introduced to Sgt. Reginald Slawter. They were thrilled, like seeing an old friend again. Or I guess it's more like seeing two old friends who just happen to be stuck in the same body... gross.

Anyway, what do you think about Dynamic Persistent Characters? Do you have any in your games? Is there already a name for this that doesn't sound as ridiculous as the one I've devised?

Until next time, happy gaming!   

1 comment:

  1. I know that it's not quite the same thing but this post made me think of some of the assorted fictional characters, created by multiple authors,that were modeled after Jorge Luis Borges. My response when I encounter them in fiction is certainly as you have described it. Perhaps, in the spirit of the conundrum that also bears his name, fictional blind librarians that were created before his birth have begun to adopt traits familiar to Borges.