Vulnerable characters

27 June, 2010 at 7:39 pm (roleplaying) ()

Often, when making a character, one is advised to have some weakness. This may be justified in terms of creating a more compelling character, or maybe because this and that character have some weakness. Superman has a weakness, after all. I think that weakness is not really what people usually are looking for – rather, vulnerable characters are what is wanted.

As a context for this post, Aleksi and I have been working on a presentation on creating good characters and playing them well, to be presented at Ropecon, and Federico Figueredo has been thinking about related material (so watch his space). Further, my character had a nice opportunity of being infected with Chaos (some spirit in Glorantha), and I totally failed to play it as a proper vulnerability.


By vulnerable character I mean one that can be influenced by other characters, player or non-player ones, and by events in the world. Influence is too broad a concept – emotional influence might be better.

Why would vulnerability be desirable? To this I have no satisfactory response. Assuming immersive style of play we could argue that characters experiencing powerful emotions gives the player powerful moments and is thus desirable. On the other hand emotionally vulnerable characters allow creating powerful decision points – the cliched case is that of family or lovers threatened, or Spiderman saving a falling bus or his loved one. (My examples seem superheroic. Odd.) Grand unified theory of why emotionally vulnerable characters are compelling is not something I have, alas.

Anatomy of

Of what consists an effective vulnerability, then? First requirement is for the vulnerability to be something that comes up in play, so it should not be a carefully hidden secret (unless it is on the verge of being uncovered, of course). Second part is the emotional investment – character ought to be emotionally invested to the vulnerability in some way, and further, the player should also be invested or at least understanding and sympathetic. Note that the investment on part of the player is a delicate thing and requires certain amount of trust on other participants.

Raw idea

This is still very much a raw idea. Do you, my hypothetical readers (given this long absence), know of anywhere where similar ideas have been developed? Any comments or questions?

Permalink 8 Comments