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Character Cliches
May 2nd, 2002

and what to do about them

It's hard to imagine that someone hasn't heard the ROC-wide complaint: that of overused character and story themes. Think of the recent Terrouge article, "RP Soap Opera" (February 2002), written by Tari. It's a parody of the traps everyone falls into sometime or another. The beautiful vixen, the tough and somewhat silent warrior fox, the shrew whose family was killed by foxes and so he absolutely hates all foxes... It probably sounds familiar. The sob stories that most characters have for their past begin to run together after a while, until they're all the same. There are plenty of characters who have had their families/relatives/mates/friends/etc killed by somebeast, and so hate all the creatures of that species uncontrollably.

Everyone knows the character cliches. The problem is, they normally find out about them after they've made their character and grown attached to him or her. Every time the roleplayer reads another article bemoaning the elements overused in ROC characters and stories and roleplaying, he or she feels a twinge of guilt that they've made a character like that. But, who wants to just toss away a character they've grown to like? Even if the character is just a walking cliche, it's hard to kill off or stop roleplaying a character one knows very well. Take me, for example. I began roleplaying at the Sentinels of Mossflower and the Wanderers of Mossflower over four years ago. My first Redwall character- the first character I ever roleplayed anywhere- was a red-brown squirrel fem, named Riala Goldentail for her rust-gold tail. Her past was one that is common around the ROC, though I had no idea how often-used it was at the time: Riala's father, Rilar Battlecry, had been killed by a wolverine named Nightdeath Longclaws, and so she swore vengeance. After half a year or so of roleplaying, I had to leave for a while. While I (and subsequently Riala) was gone from the ROC, I wrote a story about her finishing her quest of vengeance, and she finally killed Nightdeath Longclaws. She still hates wolverines, however.

After I left the ROC for over a year and then finally returning in summer 2001, I realized how terribly cliche Riala's past and her cold, battle-hardened personality was. Even after reading so many articles condemning the overuse of such character types, though, I didn't want to kill off my squirrel character. She held sentimental value for me and I knew her better than any other character I roleplay anywhere else. After all, she was my first character in any RPG... I didn't just want to get rid of her. So, what do you do in a situation like that? How do you get rid of the cliches in your well-developed, firmly established character?

Surprisingly, there's a lot you can do. If you've roleplayed in the ROC for a while, and I know there are many people who have done so for far longer than myself, then you may have written stories on your character early on in your roleplaying experience. If you still have those stories, go back and look at them. I know it's a thing you dread, but if you want to change your character, it may be necessary. Most likely, your early stories are examples of absolutely terrible writing- I know mine were. Hopefully you've improved since then! Go ahead and rewrite the stories, build on them, change subtle aspects of your character as you do so. Keep your character's basic personality, by all means, but add some unusual twists. Incorporate those slowly into roleplaying, missions, and such.

I actually made a few major changes in Riala's personality, although it helped that I had left the ROC for over a year, and was starting over at Fort Ruddler, an RPG I'd never been in before. I was free to make some fairly liberal changes. Riala had originally been your typical goodbeast warrior, straight out of the books: honorable, fighting for justice, merciful towards enemies, blah, blah, blah. Now she's quite different. She'll still defend otherbeasts, and help others out against vermin, but she's not nearly so honorable anymore. In one scene of her rewritten story, she flogs a weasel to get information out of him. In a mission I wrote for Fort Ruddler, she used fire against some ferrets, something most goodbeasts won't do, if Redwall is any example. She's merciless, as well. Whereas most goodbeasts would give defeated enemies a lecture and send them off far away, Riala is far more likely to kill them, though they might be unarmed and trying to surrender. She's quiet, fairly close-mouthed about her past, and seemingly emotionless, though she still hates wolverines with a passion. Nobeast could call her beautiful, nor even pretty - she's a mess of scars and calluses.

I changed her past, somewhat, as well. Her father was still killed by a wolverine and she still got her revenge, but I've long held with the idea that vengeance and hatred easily consumes the one with hatred and the desire for revenge. That's what happened with Riala. Her whole life had been centered around one goal: Kill Nightdeath Longclaws. Once he was dead, she had little to live for. She's still searching for a purpose in life, and perhaps- just perhaps- that search will change her for the better.

Sure, Riala's a whole lot less likeable now. She's actually very easy to dislike, even if you're a goodbeast. However, she's a lot more interesting, and hopefully less of a cliche. Often it's better to have your character be a little less good if it makes them more interesting. Even so, perhaps your character is still too much of an overused personality type and has a past that mirrors that of many others, even if you've rewritten his or her biography and changed a few aspects of his personality. There are still options open to you! Remember that everyone changes and grows, no matter how set in their ways they are. That's not only in real life. Your character is likely to change as time goes by. Change is forced by circumstances, events, and time itself. A guilt-ridden character comes to peace with himself. A vengeance-hungry character can exact revenge - or, more interestingly, someone else kills the character's enemy, taking their revenge from them. A character who hates a certain being or species comes to terms with that hate. Any number of things could happen, changing the character's personality from cliche to the unusual.

A warning for the eager, however: Do not change your character without reason! A cold, seemingly emotionless warrior is not going to abruptly lay down her weapon and became a creature of peace and happiness for no reason at all. There must be a catalyst for change, and even then, the change in personality will take time. One who is set in his ways will change only slowly, a little at a time- not an abrupt personality change, unless they've got a split personality. (Now that would make an interesting character!)

But, perhaps you don't feel your character can change. Then there's two things you can do: Keep playing the character as is, cliches and all, or create an entirely new character. You don't have to give up your current character to make a new one. I still play Riala, although I've also created a mouse bard named Rhett who thinks he's a great fighter, even though he has virtually no training in any weaponry whatsoever. I roleplay Riala at Fort Ruddler, and I roleplay Rhett at the Veiled Lands.

So, what will you do? Rewrite your character's past? Have them go through change? Make a new character? Keep the old character as is? Or give up entirely and quit? I certainly hope you don't do the last one, not if you enjoy roleplaying in the ROC or writing Redwall fanfics.

Happy roleplaying!


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