Uncertainty in Games: Development Anticipation

Building characters is sometimes one of the best parts of a game. You get to explore the game’s mechanics, prepare your best for what is to come, and set off on a path of advancement. That path has many possible forks, however, and it’s that uncertainty of what will come that makes character development so intriguing.

The min/max player may already have their entire advancement path planned out. I would argue that if you’ve purposefully removed this uncertainty from your RPG game, you’re missing out on the excitement of various possibilities. But, even when planned, the anticipation and uncertainty of when development will happen still leads these players down the road.

A new character class or special ability that results from a surprise plot twist or random event feels alive, and is ultimately more memorable than one picked ahead of time. Likewise, an item looted from an ancient crypt or dragon’s hoard feels more rewarding than one bought from a town shop. Lastly, NPCs that the characters meet can end up being important and powerful allies, and those that you meet organically are the ones that we talk about years after the game.

Most RPGs draw heavily upon development anticipation to entice players. It’s distinct from narrative anticipation in that it focuses on how a single character evolves over time. Games that embrace this change can get the most out of the very start of all tabletop sessions: character creation.