Storyboard: Only good once

Good to the first drop.  And no further drops.
Truce Sokolov is a character I like to hold up as an example of how characters can take on lives of their own. She was created as more of a throwaway than anything, a Draenei Shaman whose main character trait was being kind of shy. Flash-forward a year, and she was my main character on the Alliance side of the fence, fleshed out into a strong and capable woman hamstrung by her lack of faith in herself and a resentment of her militaristic environment. She defined a large chunk of my roleplaying in World of Warcraft.

So I've tried to port her over to other games. And it has never worked.

To date, I've created about a dozen different Truces in different games, and absolutely every one of them has tripped at the starting gate. Or imploded on the launch pad. So as I sift through the wreckage of yet another incarnation of the character, it seems apropos to discuss characters that only work in a single incarnation no matter how hard you try.

Maybe I just wanted to keep playing Truce.  The rest of the game sort of killed that wish, though.Some characters aren't meant to work in more than one setting, of course. If you tie your character closely to a particular twist of the lore, you know he's not going to be ported over comfortable to another game. But there are also characters that work equally well no matter the setting, characters with personalities and goals that can serve in a variety of times and places... except when they don't.

The problem is that it's not always immediately clear why a character doesn't work in comparison to others. We've all got certain stock characters that we keep revisiting, and many of those characters are the ones that prove themselves as consistently fun or adaptable. Understanding why some work and some don't, however, leads to a greater understanding of both the characters that do work in multiple settings and the ones that just never seem to make the cut.

But there isn't a universal reason. I can think of several, and they're all going to result in different character issues with different concepts.

It's not a runner's game

Characters aren't defined strictly by their abilities, but they're related. Your mage probably isn't solely based around shooting lightning, but the idea that he summons some kind of powerful force in combat is an element of his character. Adapting characters to new games usually involves finding a reasonable approximation of a character's skills within the framework of that game.

This leads to problems when those skills produce a thoroughly unpleasant playing experience. This is, to be fair, the easiest problem to overcome, since the problem isn't the character but his abilities. But it can still trip you up to find that someone for whom archery is a big deal is rolling in a game where archers are miserably unfun to play. Heck, part of the reason you're playing character X might be because of his archery skills. You have a little more wiggle room here, but the game environment can make your character less appealing to play.

Wrong environment

Pranidhi, who got a highlight in the RIFT project, was not original to RIFT. Nor was she my character, for that matter. But she's certainly a character that had been brought over into other games without working. It wasn't universal, but Ms. Lady tried to figure out what made her work at times and not work at other times. Her ultimate conclusion was that Pranidhi needed to be tied to death somehow, that the metaphysical aspects of her character just didn't work in certain settings.

Gauging this is as easy as seeing how much of your character concept works if you remove genre-specific or setting-specific elements. All game worlds have space for soldiers, but not all game worlds have space for honored knights sworn to a dead lord. If your character really requires that oath of fealty in order to keep his core character intact, he's probably not going to work in a game like Star Trek Online.

For some reason, my ditz with an unexpected skill for firearms always works perfectly.Wrong community

One of my favorite characters to play is a real jerk. He's a sociopath through and through, feeling no regard for the suffering of others, and has a fundamentally hedonistic approach to life. He's usually a military figure just because that gives him the ability to get paid for some of the things he'd do anyway.

Here's the thing -- I don't get to play him very often because if you can't tell from the description, he's is not a comfortable character to play around. He comes across as charming at first, but he works only in an environment where I can have him do horrible things to other people for no reason without engendering a lot of hurt feelings. It's not that he's a bad character; it's that not every community is poised for his particular brand of indiscriminate awfulness.

Story is told

This, I think, is Truce's core problem. It's not that her concept can't work elsewhere; it's that she winds up treading old ground from before. When you've got a character with significant developments and a lot of history, sometimes the problem is less the character and more the player trying to recapture older experiences.

It's not universal, but it seems to chiefly be characters who grew significantly from their core concept over their playtime. I have another character who ports over just fine between games, but she tended to change allegiances more than core philosophies. Truce became something very different from her original incarnation, and that meant that trying to just bring her over in a new environment didn't work so well. She was tied in with specific history and developments.

So what can be done?

Not much, except you can stop trying to recreate a character when that character just isn't going to work. Or, you know, you could try to excise the elements that keep the character from porting over... but then it's not really the same, is it?

As always, feedback is welcome down below or via mail to Next week, how do you manage privacy in roleplaying? How much do you share publicly, and how do you decide when a scene shouldn't be in public?

Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.
This article was originally published on Massively.