Name: Justin Dunsworth
Campaign: Wrath of the Cosmic Accountant
The phrase “player character” conjures up a certain mental image. PCs are usually heroic (or charmingly antiheroic), capable (or charmingly inept), free of emotional and personal baggage that affects play (except in systems where said baggage is mandatory), and dedicated to whatever career PCs follow in the relevant system. Intentionally violating that mental image in one of these ways is a quick path to a memorable character, for good or ill. Violating all of them is different.
Justin was one of those characters you assume must exist in high fantasy but never see: a magic contractor. He worked in construction, using his spells and summoned allies to put things together more safely and efficiently than mundane laborers. He was not a fighter or a survivalist and generally had no skills befitting dungeon crawling. He also had a wife and kids and a house and everything. The only thing about him that read as “player character” was how he carried a large, obvious staff with which he gesticulated when casting spells, even though his actual focus was a ring.
I could probably do a whole post about character design decisions made to trick imaginary enemies.
However, he did have a good character arc. The campaign started with a call to action by a powerful outsider, gathering a group of people who could band together and combat the evil pervading a specific city. At the sessions went on, Justin became more and more heroic, doing less construction and more explosions (not to say that he did actual explosions, mind you) and moving from a quiet “do good when the opportunity arises” to a more overt “do good, even if it’s hard”. Other characters in the campaign started as heroes, but only he grew into it.
I like Justin because of how strongly and intentionally he violated the standard D&D character of a powerful loner who joins up with a group of other powerful loners and makes it work until they forge a permanent “I will die for you” bond through virtue of sharing loot. He was a seinen character in a seinen campaign in a shounen system.
I didn’t tell Justin’s player at the time, but I had no designs on punishing her for that decision. I’d never planned on attacking Justin’s family or business unless he intentionally put them in harm’s way, and in fact he did the opposite, sending them out of town when the plot picked up. I don’t understand the mindset we have in gaming where having a family means giving the DM something to hold over your head. If that’s the type of game you want, fine. If it’s not, you shouldn’t have to be an orphan just so the DM won’t drag you around by your ear.
Justin was in the same campaign as Danny, so his story also never got a proper resolution. I’d like to believe they conquered evil and everything turned out great, and that’s what I’ll tell my players until I send them to that same city in a future campaign to find out everything is even worse than before.