A Deeper Look at Your Best Game Ever, Part 3: Character Arcs

In the previous installments, I’ve looked at a couple of areas that we’ll be discussing in Your Best Game Ever to give you a better idea of the planned approach to all the topics we hope to cover. (Check out problem players and playing games online).

Today I’m going to discuss one more: character arcs.

Your Best Game Ever ends this Friday, don’t miss out!

If you’re familiar with the new MCG game, Invisible Sun, then you’re already familiar with the character arc concept. If you’re not, here’s the general idea: Character arcs are how your game can invest itself more in great stories and character depth and development. Just like in a book or a television show, characters progress through their own personal story and change over time. Rather than following a quest given by an NPC, PCs with character arcs decide what they do for themselves, and why. Character arcs are like stated goals for a character, and by progressing toward that goal, a character advances. The keyword there is progressing. You don’t have to succeed at achieving the goal to earn advancement—it’s not an all-or-nothing prospect. Each arc is keyed to a single character, but just like in a book or show, characters can take part in the larger story arc that the whole group participates in, while also progressing in their own, personal arc.

Character arcs are how your game can invest itself more in great stories and character depth and development.

Your Best Game Ever will present a selection of sample character arcs, but of course you can create your own too. They are intentionally broad to encompass many different characters and many different stories. For example, “Revenge” is a very simple and straightforward character arc. (“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”) The player who chooses this arc for their character decides who they want revenge on, and why. The write-up of the arc describes the steps involved in progressing through the arc.

Opening: Vow. You swear revenge.
Step(s): Finding a clue. You find a clue to tracking down the culprit.
Climax: Confrontation. You confront the culprit.
Resolution: You deal with the aftermath of the confrontation and move on. You think about whether you are satisfied by gaining your revenge.

In this arc, the “finding a clue” step is likely to occur multiple times. But all the steps offer something significant. Each time a character completes any step, they earn something in the game that allows them to advance—experience points, points to develop their character, or whatever mechanism the game uses. The biggest step is the climax, and it’s likely worth the most advancement.

Illustration by Jacob Atienza

The reward for each step of the arc might not be the only way to earn advancement in the game. It might just be a supplemental reward. Regardless, the idea is that players are rewarded for having deeper characters and development that is more like the stories we read and watch. Best of all, they encourage players to be more proactive. Rather than the GM figuring out what “adventure hook” will entice the PCs into going into an interesting scenario, the players decide for themselves that in order to complete the next step of their arc, they have to undertake a particular action. Character arcs drive play.

Other arcs in Your Best Game Ever will include Earn Redemption, Repay a Debt, Defend What is Important, Earn Respect, and many more.

We’re making a whole new Cypher System Rulebook that’s still completely compatible! Learn how.

They might not be for everyone, but if you choose to add character arcs to your game, you’ll find they enable a deeper level of play while still embracing the familiar mechanics of the game. This is just one example of actionable, usable game ideas that will be in the book. Things that will allow you to tweak your favorite system to truly have your best game ever.

Oh, and one last thing—keep in mind that the revised Cypher System Rulebook, available in the same Kickstarter campaign as Your Best Game Ever, will take concepts like character arcs that are presented generally and apply them specifically to the Cypher System. So the steps of each arc in the rulebook will note how many XP each step is worth. Everything that Your Best Game Ever suggests will be implemented for you in the new Cypher System Rulebook, making them incredible companion volumes. Loads of new material like this will make every existing Cypher System player want to utilize the new book when it comes out.

And if you’re excited about Your Best Game Ever, help us spread the word and get to 3,500 backers. We’re moving toward a stretch goal that will let us create GM and Player Notebooks as companion pieces to Your Best Game Ever!

If we can reach 3,500 backers, we’ll make these awesome GM and Player notebooks, perfect for use in any RPG!
Monte Cook
Monte Cook

Monte Cook has written hundreds of roleplaying game products, along with numerous short stories, novels, nonfiction titles, and comic books. He is probably best known for his work on such notable titles as Planescape, Ptolus, the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (which he codesigned with Jonathan Tweet and Skip Williams), Arcana Evolved, and of course Numenera and the Cypher System. He is a cofounder of Monte Cook Games, and is our lead designer.