OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


Make your character fail a few times before succeeding

Superman vs Batman

Even the mighty Superman has weaknesses and obstacles to overcome

In this article we’ll talk about why things shouldn’t ever be too easy for your character, and how you can do to make things more interesting by putting obstacles in their way.

Your character should be realistic

So you’re playing a PBEM game and you want your character to be as believable as possible. The reason why you want this is so that other members of the game will read your posts and really feel like your character is a real person.

In reality, good things don’t happen all of the time. For total realism, sometimes bad things happen to good people. If you want to do something in real life, there will be things standing in your way. Similarly if your character wants to do something, there should be obstacles that they should overcome before they achieve their goal.

If characters on TV or films achieved what they wanted to straight away, we’d cut out the story, and that’s the interesting bit!

You’re in control

In tabletop RPGs, your character will require a certain amount of experience points and a dice-roll to overcome a certain obstacle. But in a story-based PBEM game, you are in control of the story – in the same way that a writer is in control of the the characters in the novel they are writing. This doesn’t mean you should cheat and make sure everything always goes the right way for your character – because that isn’t realistic. In reality, things don’t always go your way.

To achieve realism, you might have to make your character fail in achieving the obstacles they want to overcome. Lets give a simple example. Your character is a young peasant boy who wants to be a master swordsman. You can’t just write that he becomes a master swordsman easily. For this to be realistic it’s something that you will have to work on over time. Break it down into smaller tasks for him to overcome, like firstly he has to find a sword to use, then he has to find someone to train him, then he has to face a series of adversaries who he has to beat, gradually getting better each time.

This does make it sound like we’re playing a tabletop RPG or an online RPG where we’re gaining XP every time, and it is a bit like that – but instead of building up XP, you’re building up the peasant’s character. Making him go through all these steps makes him feel like a real person, going through a journey which takes him towards where he needs to go. Throw in a few more obstacles, perhaps a returning adversary or some rivalry with another character and you’ve got a great story.

Your character should be likeable (mostly?)

The best people have to struggle to get somewhere in life. The type of people who have everything handed to them on a silver plate are most likely to be annoying spoiled brats.
If your character can’t get what he wants easily, they’ll be more likely to have a realistic sense of the word, and a sense of humour.

Of course, your character might be a baddie. They might be devious or plain evil. Evil characters still can’t have their own way all of the time, and so your baddie character should have obstacles to overcome before they can fully put their mighty evil scheme into action. This also gives the goodie characters some time to thwart their evil plans.

Your character isn’t a superhero. (Even if it’s a superhero)

Superheroes have impressive superpowers. There’s pretty much a superpower for any type of eventuality. This means that your character might be able to:

  • Fly out of a flooding well where others can’t.
  • Fight an army of marauding monsters when others can’t.
  • Deflect bullets with his tough skin.

This can create a problem for the person running your story, because your character might be too powerful and might be able to achieve the goals needed to finish the plot in the click of their fingers.

Superman dying

Superman has a big weakness: Kryptonite

Give your character some weaknesses

With every superpower that your superhero has, they should also have a weakness. For example:

  • A superhero that can fly might not have the strength to lift anyone else out from the flooding well, and have to find another way to save their friends.
  • A super strong warrior can fight an army of monsters, but can’t do anything against people shooting at him from a distance.
  • A guy who can deflect bullets with his tough skin is vulnerable to knock-out gas.

Each of these weaknesses will benefit your stories in some way because your character won’t be too cocky and sure of themselves. Everyone has a weakness and so needs to overcome obstacles to make sure they’re not killed. Think of some weaknesses for your character, it makes things a lot more interesting, as it means you have to work harder as a writer to think of ways out of dangerous situations.
Even if your character is the most powerful being ever created, and it’s literally impossible for them to die, their weaknesses could be the people they love and care about.

It’s all about character building

Sometimes bad things will happen to your character. This builds their character and makes them complex, and a lot more interesting.