Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Potential Problem With Complete-able Goals

May be a short one today - I'm honestly not sure. Today though I wanted to talk about being a player, namely running a Player Character, and one of the common traps laid out by goals that I see a lot of characters fall into when their player isn't fully paying attention or just doesn't think things through the whole way. This isn't a flaw with the Player's process either; they're just trying to make a fun character, but it can quickly rob a character from the game or worse: take the fun out of the character. Lets begin.

Short Term, Mid Term, and Long Term Goals
Most "build a Player Character" advice I've read talks about needing a mixture of goals at some point. You need things for your character to aspire to. These goals give the character a reason to be pro-active about something and they give the GM easy plots to dangle in front of the player. You want the mixture so that you can build up to something with the character but also to track progress and get the reward of moving along milestones while the game is in session.

For the purpose of this post I'm going to use Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride. Young Inigo has the short term goal of "learn the sword." He has a mid goal of "become a strong fencer. Finally, he has the long term goal of "avenge his father's death." Now, obviously, Inigo should have other goals in there, but these three form a core character arc for a level 1 character coming into a game.

What Happens After Step 3?
So, I bring Inigo Montoya into a game. The early levels I focus on learning the sword. I do stuff with the group, but I am driven to becoming a great swordsman so I practice a lot, seek out other fighters and learn from them, and otherwise study the sword. The mid game comes around and I get into duels for practical experience and to test my abilities. Some are friendly matches. Some are not. Either way I get quite good and I manage to grow my reputation as a fencer. Strong enough that I get to compete in the King's court where...surprise surprise, the man who slew my father is. I arrange a fight between us, I tell him who I am, we fight, and I kill him. Now what?

I can imagine a lot of people reading this saying you continue with the character. My question is though what happens to him now? Inigos story was one of revenge, finding the man who killed his father, and getting vengeance. That has happened. Now, yes, Inigos story could continue into life after revenge (presumably he is still part of a party of adventurers) but the core thing that made Inigo Inigo is now gone. He has sated his core goal, and if I can't find a new one then I am going to have issues with the character and feeling fulfilled, challenged, and like I am still progressing.

Not A Problem For Everyone
I want to point out that this isn't a problem for everyone. Some characters - and some players - are better at moving along to a new goal than others. However, some goals are also better at removing a character from the game then others. For example, in a GURPS Infinite Worlds game I was in at one time my character entered the game as a lost dimension hopping traveller who needed to get home because he was needed for a war effort. The character lasted several sessions and then, just by the way the game was going, the means of getting home showed up. I was left with the choice of breaking the character's core concept or leaving the game. I wasn't having as much fun with the character anyhow, so I opted out and brought in someone with less reason to leave, but it was a powerful lesson.

So Complete-able = Bad?
I want to be clear. I am not saying that you don't want objectives for your character that are complete-able. I am saying that you want to have more than just those, and if you make someone with just those as their long term goals then you want to be aware of what is going on. For me, if I was playing Inigo, I might retire the character after that story. Why? Because he is done. Odds are he has some wealth and fame from being an adventurer for years, but either way he has achieved the goal that shaped his life. It might be time for him to slow down, relax, and see what else is out there. There is nothing wrong with a character ending their story and leaving the game. Just don't let it broadside you.


  1. I would definitely retire Inigo. Sometimes it's just time to do that and it's so rare to actually complete a character's story in a game that the moment should be valued.
    I have a 7th Sea character who may well retire in the foreseeable future (well...a year or two) and I'll be glad to do it because one way or the other, the story I wanted to tell with him is done.

  2. A game I'm GM'ing starts in a couple of weeks & I hadn't considered urging the players to have goals for their character.

    Only one of the 5 players has played this system before (Dark Heresy) and none of them has played with each other before. So I think I will let them get comfortable with each other, the system and world first...but at some point I do like the concept of player goals.

    Good post A.L.