- Gnome Stew - http://www.gnomestew.com -
PC Transformations: Or How Gandalf Became A White Wizard
Posted By Phil Vecchione On September 21, 2009 @ 4:00 am In GMing Advice | 13 Comments
One phrase from a player that strikes fear in the heart of a GM is, “I don’t really like my character.” A player who does not like his character is an infection in the group. If left to fester too long, his commitment to his character and the game starts to break down, causing disruptions in the game. Worse, his discontent can make others start wondering about their own characters, leading to total campaign collapse.
It is a problem that is a balancing act. On one side you need to address the player’s discontent. On the other side you need to protect the fabric of the campaign. Too radical of a change, and you may disrupt the believability of the campaign. At the same time, you cannot ask the player to play a character he doesn’t like. Something has to be done, and as a GM it’s up to you to do it.
Before you put your pen to your notebook, let’s look at where the PC transformation comes from, how to create one, and where to place it into your campaign. First thing, don’t blame your player, because the whole thing is Gandalf’s fault.
While it cannot be proven, the origin of the PC transformation goes back to one of the literary foundations of our hobby: Lord Of The Rings. I imagine it went something like this:
Player [to GM]: Oh man, I was just looking in that new Middle-Age’s Magic supplement, and they have the coolest class: White Robed Mage. Can Gandalf be one?
GM: What? No man, you are a Grey Robed Wizard, right from the core book.
Player: Yea, but they did not have the White Robed Wizard in the core book. The Grey is ok, but it does not have all the cool white magic powers.
GM: Well we can’t just go back and make you a White Robed Wizard, there was that whole story arc with Bilbo and stuff, remember?
Player: Yea, but is there some way he can change into a White Robed Wizard?
GM: Well not right now, you are in the middle of that Dwarven dungeon, remember? You’re taking that ring to the mountain to destroy it.
Player: <groans> Come on! It’s such a cool class, and I don’t want to wait until this story is done. Couldn’t you somehow write it into the current adventure. It’s what I always wanted to play.
GM: <thinking> Hmm…well there is that bridge encounter… Ok, I think I have something, that might work.
Joking aside, the dialog above highlights the crux of the player’s issue, which is: he does not like his current character build, and would like to make large-scale changes to the character like his class, powers, feats, quirks, etc. The changes proposed will have profound changes on the character, the group, and the whole campaign.
There are a number of ways to deal with this issue. The character can leave the group, he can die, you can ret-con the character to fit better, and finally the most radical: the PC transformation, and the focus of today’s article.
The PC transformation is different from the PC ret-con. In the PC ret-con, the GM allows the player to make some edits (often minor) to the PC that take place in the past which the group agrees to overlook. In the case of the PC transformation, the PC’s past is left intact, but something happens (the event) that causes a change in the PC (the transformation). The end result is that the PC emerges from the event in a new form and the campaign continues forth.
The PC transformation is not always the best solution to a player who is unsatisfied with his character. A PC transformation works best when:
When those criteria are met, the PC transformation becomes a usable plot tool. Because the PC transformation is such a radical plot device, if the first two criteria are not met, you are often better off performing a ret-con or writing the character out. If the first two criteria are met, the next thing you need to do is to determine if your setting and your campaign has elements that support a transformation.
The PC transformation will take place through an event where the old PC will be taken and transformed into the new PC. You need a mechanism that can fully transform the PC and account for changes in class, powers, feats, etc. Here are some suggestions that can work for a few different genres:
The most important thing about the event is that the mechanism used for the transformation is believable for the system you are running and the campaign you are playing. Take some time to think about the transformation, and don’t be afraid to combine some of the options above to make something unique.
Once you have decided how the transformation will occur, you then have to plan for the transformation and fit it into your campaign. The difficulty here is that you want the transformation to occur soon, because you want your player to start playing his new PC and get back to enjoying himself. At the same time, the transformation needs to fit into your current story, and by the nature of the event, it is not one that is trivial. Three suggestions are:
Once you select where you want to place the transformation, you should review your plan with the PC, and get his input. Don’t be shy about having the player help the transformation storyline along by taking certain actions in upcoming sessions. The player is going to be very motivated to help bring their new PC into the game.
You will also want to start discussing with the group the upcoming change. The new PC is going to be a change for the whole group, and getting their input and helping them transition will be just as important in maintaining the stability of the campaign.
The PC transformation is a radical story tool for allowing a player to change elements of his character while preserving who the character is and without altering past storylines. With a little thought, planning, and care, the PC transformation can be a dramatic moment that removes the infection of discontent and puts your campaign on the road to recovery.
I would like to dedicate this article to Sargon, my player who has made me an expert in the PC transformation after many campaigns, and just as many transformations.
Have you performed a PC transformation before? If so, what techniques have you used, and how did it go?
Article printed from Gnome Stew: http://www.gnomestew.com
URL to article: http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/pc-transformations-or-how-gandalf-became-a-white-wizard/
All articles copyright by their individual authors. All rights reserved.