Think of any story, film, or novel. Quality-wise, those with the most success have something in common (special, memorable heroes). Well, I’m here to define those character formulas and relate them to your player characters. Ready?
Formula 1: Personal Demons
The character who carries personal demons is not the ideal hero (far from it). However, he has the potential to elicit the greatest emotional response from his audience. This character has something of a negative nature that he needs to eventually overcome, and is the most tried-and-true winning formula for novels and film. This antagonist is not only not perfect, but he has a negative quality that, should he eventually turn around, will make him the ultimate hero.
You could say that Darth Vader is the pinnacle of the “personal demon hero.” Think about it – he has this tragic history, making him the worst of the worst. His only real, ultimate, believable-worth-watching final outcome is to either die horribly as a major villain, or die gloriously as a redeemed hero. Which has the better story? I know, I know, “but he’s a bad guy.” I’m not saying to take it to the extreme and play a major villain, I’m just saying that he is the ultimate hero. Your character (should you choose to play the personal demon hero) has to have some major negative thing to overcome, some obstacle that we can all feel as being real.
Sure, the most extreme is playing the really bad guy until the end, when he sacrifices himself to save his kid, while the other end of the spectrum would be a normal guy who eventually overcomes his addiction to smoking. I don’t suggest trying to play either, just something in between.
This character is unprincipled, selfish, or evil, and his actions are fueled by that trait. Normally, characters with any of those traits will die that way, or learn his lessons after it is too late (Darth Vader learned them just in time). For you, it is the events, emotions, and other characters in your campaign that might teach him the error of his ways. This is the guy who
- goes on adventures looking for loot, regardless of how he gets it
- is hired on as a mercenary
- is forced to work with the other player characters
- or has no choice but to work with the other player characters.
It’s from the things he’s seen, friendships he’s formed and perhaps lost, and milestones that he’s achieved and missed, that will eventually lead him to the ultimate crossroad. You can’t change a man – all you can do is give him options and hope he chooses wisely. Will he die the unworthy death, or finally find redemption?
One thing that is important: for this transformation to mean anything, for us to care about whether this character makes it to the good side, he has to have some sort of quality that we like. We have to see something in this character worth saving. In the case of Darth Vader, we know him to be a once normal, likable kid. Even as a young adult, we saw that he was unfairly taken advantage of and turned to the dark side by a great evil. We know there’s good in there, because we’ve seen it. Even if you’ve only watched the last three chapters, you know that he is the father of at least one child. So even that could be the quality (being a father) that makes us want to see him saved (father and son united).
Here are some examples:
- Jayne (from Serenity) eventually learns trust and loyalty, and then finally shows a bit of heart.
- Jake Sully (from Avatar), as he goes from marine to savior.
- The bank robber who goes against his buddies when they start hurting hostages.
- And yes, Danny DeVito’s character from the movie Twins, who finally shows his heart in going back to save his freakish brother (eesss nod uh toomuhr!).
These are all heroes that we like, but they have some very deep demons to overcome in order for their stories to be completed. I don’t know about you, but these are the characters I care most about, after having seen them rise from so low, to so high.
What are some Personal Demon Heroes that you can think of?
Thanks for reading Part 1 of the Best Character Formulas! I’ll see you all later for part 2 (Hindered Heroes)!