I’ve covered character improvement already, so now I’m going to talk a little about character development. The distinction, to me, is that the former is tied to the levelling mechanics of the game being played and the latter is tied to the narrative.
When entering the hobby, it is entirely okay for you to focus more on engaging with the game through a mechanical approach and learning the ropes before diving into the role-playing aspect of things. The D&D game that I’m typing up in the Actual Play section of this website remains focussed on the player characters and not their backstories for this very reason.
It is important that you feel comfortable with the game before increasing your engagement with it. As such, if you don’t feel able to deal with matters beyond what your character is currently experiencing, tell whoever is running the game. They’ll understand. There is a lot of trust needed around the game table, so to speak, and if one player isn’t comfortable with what they are doing, it will show and the game will suffer.
Assuming a certain level of comfort and familiarity with the game, then, how can you further develop character?
There are, as ever, a few ways to do this, and I shall try to explain them to the best of my ability.
The first method is the most obvious; through role-play. This is what you’ll find yourself doing through the course of play as your character reacts to the events of the game. You’ll find this method to be a constant drip of development as your character (guided by previously established facts of their personality) responds to the situations they find themselves in.
Something else to realise about this method of character development is that other members of the party will play a large part in how your character develops. Inter-character relationships and interactions are a huge factor in how they will grow over the course of the game. Whilst you are under no compulsion to allow these things to impact your character, it’s generally better for group morale to follow them through to their end.
One of the most enjoyable things, in my experience, is to see how your character reacts when other party members put them in impossible situations.
The second method is tied to the first, but definitely separate; through play. As you play, you will discover what aspects of the game you like, and which ones your character feels like they thrive in. At the very least, you should have a good idea about which aspects of the game you would like your character to improve in.
Just by taking an interest in these aspects, you’ll be signifying to the person running the game that you want to see more of them and, all being well, they will likely plan on involving them more often. In this way, you should be having a self-directed manner of character development that evolves organically over the course of the game.
The third method is something that requires you to step out of the game and, as such, should only really be done when you are a) comfortable with doing so and b) when you are comfortable with whoever is running your game. The latter is important because this method requires you to talk to the GM about what you want for your character.
A lot of the time, this method will also involve clues and hooks you include in your character backstory. If you are comfortable with leaving your character plans hidden in the backstory for your GM to uncover and elaborate upon, that is perfectly fine.
If you want something more, however, you need to arrange some way of talking privately to your GM. When you are able to do this, tell them what you think the future of your character could involve, what aspects of their personality you want to explore and whether or not you want anything else to happen. Really, if you get the chance to do this, you should tell them anything you want to regarding your character and the game, but I digress.
By telling them any of this, you are letting your GM know what you enjoy exploring and playing. As a result, they will hopefully try to incorporate more of it into the game.
One benefit of this method is that, in your discussion, the GM may suggest things about your character and their development that haven’t occurred to you but that you like. Another is that they may include things in the game that you’ve never thought of but which act as a good springboard for character development.
As a coda to this, you can also talk with your fellow players to discuss how their characters can help with the development of yours for roughly the same benefits.
Whatever you choose, it is important to remain comfortable with your choices.
These are only a few possible methods, of course, but hopefully they are informative. If you can think of any more, or have any other comments, let me know below.