So many of the stories we tell, so many of the stories we read, are about reluctant heroes and passive adventurers. But those character tropes are woefully misleading and destructive when it comes to driving collaborative story-telling. Characters like that work in fiction because the creators of that fiction spend a tremendous amount of time finding ways to force the characters into action. That’s time and effort that you don’t see or recognize when you look at the story as a consumer. It’s time and effort that can suck energy out of gaming groups.
This is about defying those tropes, and having fun while doing it.
You don’t sit down at a diner counter and demand that the waitstaff convince you to buy food; you’re there because you’re hungry. You picked that place because 1) you already know they have something you want, or 2) you want to try something they have.
Besides, insisting that waitstaff convince you to eat something is an asshole move.
Same goes when making a character for an RPG. You’ll get the most from the game when you have in-game desires, when you engage actively. If you tell everyone else that they have to convince you to participate, what the hell are you doing there to begin with?
So when you make your character, BE HUNGRY. MAKE YOUR CHARACTER HUNGRY. Don’t play passively and force other people to push you into the game.
I covered some of this ground in Character Connections and Motivations, but it’s worth restating.
Find something for your character to want, to pursue, that forces them to act. Ask your storyteller and the other players what sorts of goals or dreams they’re thinking of for their characters, or for this story world. Find out what cool things there are to do in this story’s world, then pick some of them as goals. Dream big—unreasonably big. Take a perfectly reasonable goal and then expand it, or chose a goal which can never truly be satisfied. Build connections with other players’ characters that pull your character closer to them, and encourage you to feel strongly about them. Friends, family, lovers, mentors or dependents, shonen-esque frenemies… whatever inspires you.
And as you do this, talk with the storyteller to ensure that what you’re making aligns with their nascent story. They might have suggestions for you, or ask you questions. They might get excited and change everything they’d already made because they liked your ideas.
Now, sometimes we just want to play RPGs to socialize with our friends. That’s a wonderful thing, and I’m not shaming it.
If you are just playing RPGs to socialize, or if you don’t want to—or know how to—make your character hungry, then follow the leads offered to you. Build a close connection or three to the other PCs. Make your character really care about other players’ characters. That way it doesn’t matter whether your PC is excited about treasure or mysteries or the vizier’s sinister nose-hair: you can follow the people that you care about while they get excited about those things.
All of this builds your buy-in, that “enthusiastic participation and shared investment” I mentioned in Consent and Horror Gaming. It gives you as the player something to hold onto, to be excited about. It shows the storyteller where you want to go.
Now, obviously, when the diner food is awful, you don’t have to eat it. You don’t have to put up with abuse. You can tell your storyteller that this story is not to your taste. Don’t be an ass about it, but let them know what you don’t like. That said, remember that in some games and stories your discomfort might be part of the meal. Stories are like that; not everything will always go well or turn out fine, and if it did your meal would be stultifyingly bland. But if the story you were served tastes rotten, go back to the drawing board and ask for something else.
So long as you’re working with the other people at the table, being clear about what you’re asking for and helping others get what they want, everyone will come out better. Just make sure you’re hungry, and that everyone knows what you’re hungry for.