D&D: How to Use Character Arcs as a Dungeon Master
In my previous post on character arcs, I talked about how a player should determine how they want their character’s arc to begin and end. It was from a player’s perspective. But how does a DM write an adventure that will make that player’s arc happen?
First, get the information you need. Ask your players to each determine how their characters will begin the campaign and how they want them to change by the end of it. Then ask for copies of their character’s traits, flaws, ideals, and bonds. Note whether a player’s character is going to die tragically and if they are okay with that. With this information, you can give the players what I call a moral quandary, personalized for their own character’s arc. A moral quandary is giving the player two difficult options that the player must decide how their character would choose. The character should lean to one side of a moral quandary at the beginning of an adventure, but gradually start to lean the other way as their arc comes to completion.
For instance, a cleric might be presented with a choice to kill an evildoer or merely capture them. If the cleric is heading down an arc where their ideal changes from “all life is precious” to “evil must be stopped at all costs” in their character arc is going to make very different choices in that situation depending on where they are on their arc.
Let’s figure out how we can use this info as a DM and where to put moral quandaries using a 9-point story structure. These are not an entire campaign, but you can use each point as a fixed point in the narrative; a story outline based on the characters’ arcs. Plenty of different stuff can happen between each point, but the points must happen to create a robust story.
Call to Action
The player is given an initial call to action. Essentially, a moral quandary disguised as a quest hook. Try to have a separate but related call to action for each player. Ideally, the players should refuse the call to action, as they haven’t been “changed” yet. If they play to their characters’ initial backgrounds and traits, they will refuse the call. You can even enforce this by loading your call with descriptions of how the character is feeling. “You are offended that someone would even offer something so morally reprehensible to you, despite the fact that you could use the money.”
A good-hearted rogue is starting a tragic fall arc and is offered a chance to make millions from some morally questionable actions involving an evil regime, but decides it is wrong. An innocent paladin starting a coming of age arc could be offered a chance to rise against an evil regime, but values their own safety. A studious apprentice wizard starting a corruption arc is offered power in exchange for service to an evil regime, but decides they can get power on their own.
Something happens to force the player to action, whether they are ready or not. Try to come up with an inciting incident that involves all of the players, not just one. The inciting incident can act as where the adventuring party finally meets.
The evil regime in the Call to Action ends up invading the players’ quiet suburb to enforce martial law. The players escape or fight back or else they and their loved ones die or are enslaved. The rogue decides to run from their debts by joining the party. The paladin has seen firsthand what the regime can do, and will now join the party to find someone else who can help them stop it. The wizard seeks out more power to stop the regime.
1st Plot Point
The players learn the first shreds of information about the overarching narrative of the campaign. After the inciting incident, some characters might not be convinced and want to turn back. This gives them a reason to continue onward together, as a team. There should be no turning back from the 1st plot point.
Players learn how this evil regime has been spreading across the kingdom. It still holds many mysteries, but its power is great and threatening. Its power is centered in a capital city, which the players now opt to travel to in order to find the things they currently desire.
1st Pinch Point
A pinch point is the first real display of power from the antagonist or opposing force. In D&D this should be actual combat, though it doesn’t have to be. As long as the players see firsthand what the antagonist can do to their characters, this part will add the tension/drama that it should. If you want to have a 1st Pinch Point for each character, then this display of force should directly target the player’s character arc and spark the desire to change through a moral quandary. It’s an awakening. Create tension by ending a session with this pinch point.
The players come across a thieves’ guild run by the evil regime. The rogue takes note of how rich, glamorous, and lawless the life of a criminal is to spark their tragic fall arc. The paladin realizes how deep the corruption of the world runs and sparks their coming of age arc as their innocence starts to fade. The wizard realizes how much resources the evil regime has, and wonders what sorts of power they had in mind for him sparking their corruption arc.
More info is revealed about the antagonist and the perception of the characters change. They have an epiphany and decide to continue onward through their arc. This can, and most likely will, happen at different times for each character and their varying arcs.
The players learn about the leader of the regime. They have been pushed to the breaking point by the regime’s forces. The rogue decides join the regime and start doing crime for the regime and acting as a double agent against the party. The paladin no longer cares about finding someone else to help them stop the regime, vowing to end it themselves. The wizard gets an unholy tome and decides to learn how to make a pact with the demon the regime mentioned to overpower the regime. They are all still heading to the capital, though now with severely divergent goals.
2nd Pinch Point
The antagonist reveals their full power and threatens the completion of the characters’ arcs. The entire party should, in general, be at their lowest moment and completely without hope. This should happen at the same time for everyone. Ideally, end a session with this pinch point to create a cliffhanger and highlight the hopelessness.
The players reach the capital of the evil regime. The rogue is faced with a moral test, where they will be offered riches and allowed to live if they rat out their adventuring party. They choose to take the offer and are betrayed by the regime’s leader and sentenced to death anyway. The paladin comes face to face with the regime’s leader after being ratted out by the rogue. They fail the encounter and barely manage to escape with their life. The wizard is also defeated and their unholy tome is destroyed in the battle. The rogue is imprisoned and the paladin and rogue escape the leader and are being hunted in the capital.
2nd Plot Point
The last piece of the puzzle has come together in the second plot point. The characters finish their arc and learn how to overcome the antagonist. This can happen at different points and doesn’t have to happen quickly. For a tragic character, this is the part where they finally meet their end. Tragic characters fail to change or their change is self-destructive and they fail to overcome the antagonist of the story (tragic, isn’t it?). Think of this part as a moral quandary that characters’ finally “know the answer” to, as far as their character arc is concerned.
The rogue tries to escape, succeeds, but heads back to the thieves’ guild instead of his adventuring allies, and they ultimately betray and kill him. The paladin’s innocence is shattered and they gather rebel forces over time to take on the regime’s leader, becoming a leader themselves. They also find an unlikely ally in the wizard, who has finally succumbed to evil. The wizard still doesn’t know how to summon the demon, but they have already gotten a taste of evil’s power by performing vile rituals on captured regime members and will now use their power for vengeance against the regime’s leader.
The characters finally face off with the antagonist. The promise set out at the beginning of the campaign is fulfilled. The characters, having completed their arcs, are now changed enough to be able to defeat the antagonist. This should be the players at their most powerful and should be the most epic battle to take place in the campaign.
The paladin’s rebel army and the wizard’s evil magic face off against the evil regime’s leader. The battle is long and epic, but the characters succeed, freeing the kingdom of the evil regime.
The game shouldn’t abruptly end after the antagonist is defeated! There needs to be closure. The players’ characters find out the results and the aftermath of defeating the antagonist, for better or for worse. In the case of an ongoing game, you should now set up the next campaign here.
The paladin and wizard regard each other as unsteady allies who no longer have a common enemy. The wizard seeks more power, even seeking to possibly usurp the void of power left from the regime’s defeat. The paladin and their rebel army gather in defiance of the wizard. The paladin tells the wizard to leave the kingdom and not threaten anyone with their evil, else the paladin will smite them down. The wizard, not having many spells left after the battle and not being ready to face an entire army, teleports away to parts unknown with a puff of green smoke. The paladin is placed in power, and the wizard now acts as a looming threat. Perhaps an NPC and villain for the next campaign?
This character arc outline is not cut-and-dry. You should use it as a guide, not a rule. Some characters might abruptly choose to change. Some will reach different parts of the outline at different times or out of order. Some characters might waffle between two sides of their arc before deciding which side they want to be on. But the more you talk to your players about it, the easier it is to come up with a generalized plan for your campaign’s story. Heck, your story might even change from what you initially intended by the end of it (a character with a bad roll can still end up dying before even finishing their arc!) But hopefully this will aid you in making the players love their characters even more and have fun as they grow and change in your campaign’s world. That’s what it’s all about, after all.
Danil Pogonchik opens up his thoughtful mind on mental health, finding yourself and being youthful in todays society. Captured by Nicole Barbosa. Read the full interview exclusively at Boys By Girls here.
Showing a woman, with what appears to be an aether-fueld (music?) instrument, leading a group of artifact servos through a (Ghirapur?) street.
Most decidedly the allusion used here by artist Dan Scott is that of Rattenfänger von Hameln, or the Pied (or Pan) Piper. The original story is to take place in the late 1200’s in the town of Hamelin, Lower Saxony, Germany. Hamelin was facing a rat infestation, and a piper, dressed in a multi-coloured coat came to the Town. The piper had struck a deal with the Burgermeister and Townsfolk to get rid of the rats in return for a payment. The piper did get rid of the rats by leading them away with his music, but the people of Hamelin reneged on their promise. The piper, very angry, had left, vowing revenge. Later that same year, the piper returned and led the children away, never to be seen again, just as he did the rats.
For graphical comparision, here is a lovely commissioned work (1909), installed at Palace Hotel, San Francisco, by artist Maxfield Parrish.
A/N: Gif is not mine. Requested by a lovely anon: The reader has always been Draco’s girl. This princess. One day at a Malfoy banquet one of his cousins tries it on with her. I have slightly changed it from the prompt, it’s actually at a wedding instead
Today was a happy occasion; food, friends and love. This was a wedding after all.
Draco may not have been originally keen on going, but after much good-natured persistence by you, he happily obliged. Although, it was mainly factored towards his inability to not do things that made you happy. He acted as if it weren’t his cousin’s wedding.
You were surprised to receive an invitation at first but the shock dissipated given the fact that Teddy Lupin was a true Hufflepuff through and through. The guy had a big heart when it came to giving people the benefit of the doubt and loving unconditionally; he got the best of both his mother and father.
Earlier that morning, you had spent the time getting ready, Draco took almost no time at all, you on the other hand had to perfect your routine, which you eventually had.
Entering the front room of the house ready to leave you called out to your husband. There was something about dressing up in formal clothes that makes everyone look great.
That still didn’t prepare you for when a rather handsome Draco stepped out in his black suit, white dress shirt, black tie and shoes to match. You looked away bashfully, afraid you would be judged for staring.
Draco stopped in the doorway before turning his head towards you standing in the adjacent room. Seeing you quite literally took his breath away. Eyeing you up and down as he made his way over to you. A blush made its way to your face when he had said, “Hey beautiful, you look absolutely sexy in that dress."
The wedding was spectacular, you would forgive anyone who thought that this wedding was a real life fairytale. From the colour scheme, atmosphere, and right down to the tiniest details of fairy lights and the cobblestone footpath immersing every guest straight into a children’s story book.
Following the succession of the ceremony the guests were ushered into a snow-white tent with even more fairy lights raining down from the roof. The wedding guests began the search for their assigned seats.
Draco was unimpressed. This look was plastered on his face the moment he realised the table in which you sat was shared with Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione and a medium-length black haired young man roughly the same age as Draco with a blonde girl with gorgeous blue eyes.
You nudged your husband gently and gave him a sad, pleading look begging him to be nice for your sake. He reluctantly obliged to, at the very least, not to say any snide comments or go out of his way to be rude. This did not mean that he would act happy when he wasn’t, nor did it mean he would engage in friendly conversations with his old classmates, especially Potter.
An awkward start was quickly swept away when the girl two seats down on your right had introduced herself, "Hello, I’m Emily Gibbs.” She smiled politely at you, she had such a warm welcome and you were instantly drawn to her. “Hi, I’m (y/n),” you replied back with a matched politeness. “What’s your relation to the bride or groom?” She asked. “I’m with Draco, Teddy is his second cousin.” You smiled at her.
Cutting in, the dark-haired boy to your right answered “I’m Malfoy, Acacius Malfoy.” In an almost offended gesture, as if he couldn’t believe you hadn’t already taken notice of him. He peered through his dark hair with his piercing blues looking you up and down, taking you in.
Unknowingly, Draco smiled at him, “I haven’t seen you since we were, what? Nine years old?"
"Yes, back when we played quidditch on your property.” He replied.
“During school break, I remember.” Draco added.
After a long sip of his water, Acacius took his time in responding, “Uncle Lucius gifted you with your first broom, second to top of the range. The newest model wasn’t available in London, yet. Of course, my Father had my broom imported. Unsurprisingly, I kicked your arse.” His voice was the only thing ringing throughout your table.
Ginny sat picking at her food not giving anyone eye contact. You were taken aback by his comments but tried to remain polite. “It was only by one point. We would have had a fair match had we had the same broom.” Draco, despite being irritated by the fact he was being made a fool of especially in front of Harry, kept his voice friendly, although verging on his true emotions. It was a testament to how much he cared for you, by keeping his promise.
“You’re only as good as your broom, I suppose.” The clatter of cutlery clinked as Draco’s distant cousin began eating his food. Harry chocked slightly on his water he had been nervously sipping. Ginny was furious and had every right to be, she was a fantastic quidditch player in her own right and knew finances was not the only component to a great player. Ron’s mouth was agape, he could not believe someone had a go at Draco. Hermione although shocked herself, elbowed Ron for his undignified expression.
After an awkward silence, conversation picked up from whispers between Ginny and Harry, Hermione joining in as well. Ron was listening while scoffing down his food, Draco sat glaring at his plate picking at some chicken, while you were trying to work up the courage to speak to Emily again. Looking over at her she smiled at you, returning the favour you smiled back which then initiated the conversation between the two of you.
The conversation was going well until Acacius wormed his way into it, taking control. You could tell that Draco, despite being related to him, was liking him less and less, the whole table in fact was liking him less and less. He seemed to gain more confidence the more he heard his own voice. At one moment he winked at Ginny, who just glared back, that didn’t seem to affect his ego at all.
As he continued to talk he rested his arm on your chair. Draco immediately tensed, shooting him a dangerous look, you on the other hand were taken aback. He seemed to ignore Hermione altogether. ‘What a dick!’ You thought, you had encountered his type before. 'Poor, Emily. She’s so nice and he’s so…’ You went to offer Emily a sympathetic smile, she was not looking. She seemed shunned to silence by her partner.
Tension continued to grow so you leant over to Draco asking him to get you another drink, hoping this would ease things from boiling over. Muttering under his breath he left the table to get a drink for you at the bar.
“So, you’re Draco’s girl then, can’t say I ever pictured him with someone like you,” Acacius spoke up.
Already this conversation was extremely awkward, “He’s a really sweet, caring guy I fell in love with.” He laughed, causing you to grit your teeth.
“I assume you two are together, then?” He asked Ginny about her and Harry. “Happily married,” Harry replied coldly, wanting nothing more than this idiot to leave.
The self-titled charmer looked to Ron and Hermione this time, “And you two, blind date gone wrong?"
"Wait, just a minute!" Ron began but was cut off by Hermione,
"How dare you!"
At that moment Teddy appeared at the table unaware of the conversation’s turn, "Hey, how is everyone tonight? Thank you so much for coming, dessert is on the way.” Just as he had spoken it a wait staff came behind him and began placing beautiful looking chocolate mud cake slices with vanilla bean ice-cream in front of each guest and leaving one in the vacant seat belonging to Draco.
Emily pardoned herself with the excuse of getting herself a drink, you could tell by the telltale signs of her still full glass on the table that she was overwhelmed by the current events.
You internally groaned when the voice you began to hate spoke again this time really close to your ear, “You know, Draco just does anything you ask. Just folds and does whatever you say like an obedient pup.” By this time you closed your eyes in distress, you had an intuition that there was something very off, most likely dangerous about this man.
Almost like how a predator swoops in on prey seeing how Draco was still absent he continued “If you ever want to be with a real man, we can always slip out now to somewhere and I can show you everything you’re missing.” Your skin crawled, you felt sick to your stomach.
“Don’t talk to my wife like that!” You snapped your head over to see Draco had returned, the look he wore would be absolutely frightening if you hadn’t been so grateful for his timing. Acacius stood up quickly, knocking his chair over, “What are you gonna do about it? Come on, I’ll kick your arse!” He rushed towards Draco, but the other man stood his ground as they squared off. Both men pulled out their wands and aimed it at the other.
You and Emily exchanged looks, non-verbally agreeing, looking back to the two men who acted more like boys you lifted your wands. Emily targeting her boyfriend, you targeting Draco. In an instant both of their wands flew from their hands and into both Emily’s and yours.
Harry, Ron and even Teddy stood before Acacius, “I think it’s best you leave!” Teddy sneered.
Being obviously outnumbered, the horrid man left still with an air of arrogance around him.
“What a wanker,” Ron stated while going back and sitting next to Hermione.
The guests settled and began going back to their conversations.
The music changed from a soft melody wafting in the background, to fill the tent with a lively ambience. Teddy and his new wife took the floor in a confident and elegant choreograph.
Guests were being encouraged to join in the festivities. Couples and friends alike made their way to the dance floor. Draco offered his hand to you, you blushed and accepted it as he lead you to the dance floor.
He twirled you majestically, then resting his hand on your hip, you placed your hand softly on his broad shoulder, and your other hand had enclasped in Draco’s.
As you danced with the man you loved you saw something that contributed to the smile on your face; Emily was dancing with Neville. You rested your head on your husband as you rocked back and forth slowly.
Towards the end of the song you looked into Draco’s eyes, completely in the moment. “I love you so much (y/n), I fall more and more in love with you every day, and I still can’t believe you said 'I do’, to me."
You smiled, "I can’t picture my life without you. I love you too."
You stopped dancing only for a moment so that Draco could speak these words, "You remind me of a fairy tale in that dress you’re wearing."
You added laughing "Well, I guess that makes you my knight in shining armour.” Draco smiled and looked slightly away in thought before looking back to you, “You’ve always been my princess."
Kissing him lightly on the nose, "You’ve never treated me than anything less, I don’t want to ever be with anyone else."
"You’ll always be mine,” Draco promised before capturing your lips in a gentle kiss.
Heading for freedom! Releases are always the best part of the job, and recently it was time for our newest swan to head back to the wild. With his wounds fully healed, he was given a final sign off from the vets before being taken away with RSPCA Animal Collection Officer, Annie, for release!
(a short lil somthn i wrote after a headcanon by @controv3rsyc0rner ! stingy steals a robert 2 be his father!! srry if its a lil messy im a little behind on sleep :0c)
Robbie turned the corner, his legs moving beneath him too slow to arouse suspicious but, hopefully, to fast for him to be caught. Sweat beaded on his pale forehead as he moved swiftly down the yellow sidewalk, breathing hard from a dangerous mix of adrenaline and fear. He turned a corner and, much to his dismay, was met with a dead end, and his tap shoe-clad feet came to an ill-omened stop. Slowly, with a fear-filled and trembling body, he turned around and his wide eyes landed on the young boy that stood before him.
“Stingy?” he asked, his panic fading. Stingy gave him a nervous smile. “Why were you following me?”