Player vs. character: a D&D tale

"The dragon and the stick salesman" | Art by sandara. Used with permission.
After several months of playing my character, Aravahn—a human fighter who hates goblinoids and searches tirelessly for his long-lost love, Kaitlynn—I made a drastic decision during a turning point of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Reflecting upon this decision later, I began to wonder: Does a player more deeply influence their character, or does the character have a more profound impact on the player?

At first, the answer seems quite simple. Of course I influence my character more—I created him so therefore he must think what I think and do what I say.

It is true that a character is, at the very heart, a work of fiction. However, all fiction is based on some fact. It would be intellectually dishonest not to recognize the facets of a character I’ve created without recognizing the influence of my own personality upon it.

I don’t believe I can breathe life into a new character without some part of me going with it. Even if the designed back story, race, features, traits, class, and skills would otherwise create a character devoid of any trace of their creator, once they begin to actually role-play, evidence of the creator becomes obvious for all to see.

I played him for so long that the part of me that went into him became him.

For example, one of my D&D buddies plays a paladin (an expedient choice for any Christian role-player) in one game and a rogue in another. However, his mannerisms come through in both. The biggest one is his propensity for ending sentences with the phrase, “so yeah.” He does this whether he is speaking in-character or out-of-character, which I find incredibly amusing. It should be noted that this individual is fairly new to role-playing, but even for veteran role-players, 100 percent detachment between character and self is a challenging proposition. So the novice player should not be daunted if it seems like they are only playing a fantasy version of themselves. Like any other worthy pursuit, good role-playing takes practice. After all, your creation is as much a part of you as you are of it.

As evidence of this, I’m reminded of a curve ball my first DM threw at our group once. He wanted to challenge the roleplayers as well as the characters, so in the middle of the campaign, he had us shift our character sheets clockwise around the table.

*Pause for shocked gasps from veteran role-players.*

As you can imagine, it caused quite a kerfuffle at the table (none of us dared object, however). As we continued the game, combat was largely unaffected, as it is almost purely mechanical, but our character interactions became rather disjointed, and the game slowed down tremendously.

It wasn’t until very recently that I was able to reflect on this experience and understand what happened. The truth is, I didn’t have any emotional attachment to the character I was playing. I did not conceive of him; I did not design him; I didn’t care about him as much as I cared about my own character. I could only sit across the table and suffer silently as someone else roleplayed my character (making questionable decisions inconsistent with my plan for him, I might add). I can’t help but wonder if God feels the same way when I, as a Christian, fall away and dance to Satan’s tune. But I digress.

This brings me back to Aravahn. After many difficult battles and a couple brushes with death, he was eventually able to rescue Kaitlynn from the clutches of villainy. However, his beloved was but a shell of her former self, her soul the possession of a powerful demon.

Your creation is as much a part of you as you are of it.
I took her promptly to a cleric, who was able to determine the exact nature of her spiritual imprisonment. That’s when my DM approached me privately with an earth-shaking idea. He suggested that Aravahn could trade places with Kaitlynn via divine ritual in order to free her soul, and I could make a new character. I readily agreed to this arrangement, and as you can imagine, there was a tremendous amount of backlash, both in-game and out-of-game.

Thinking back, I began to wonder why I decided to go through with it without so much as a second thought. I’d put tremendous effort into creating and developing Aravahn, yet there I was, ready to file his sheet away and begin anew.

Then it hit me. My decision to sacrifice Aravahn to save Kaitlynn, when you get right down to it, wasn’t really my decision at all. It’s what Aravahn would have done. I played him for so long that the part of me that went into him became him. There was no “maybe” in my (Aravahn’s) mind regarding this. His love for Kaitlynn transcended even his own well-being, and there simply was no other choice. So thus ended Aravahn’s heroic tale (for now).

While Aravahn may have been my creation, I cannot deny the impact that he has had on me personally. I poured some of my soul into him, and he gave part of his back in return. In Aravahn, I had created a living, breathing extension of my own spirit, in much the same way God created man in His spiritual image, imbuing each of us with a small spark of His divinity. So, without reservation, I submit that a character can have just as much influence on the player as the player has on the character.

Happy gaming, and may God bless.

Steve Schoen

Steve Schoen

Guest Writer at Area of Effect
Steve has been an avid gamer for over 25 years and is a Skylanders collector. He enjoys watching anime and cosplaying on his spare time. Steve and his wife live in New Jersey.
Steve Schoen

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