The two flavors of D&D prestige classes

Here is my response to @kiltedyaksman on his blog DISCOURSE AND DRAGONS. I thought it might be usfeul to any D&D DM who works with presitge classes.

My response

It seems to me, it entirely depends on the games you run as to what kind of prestige classes work.

Mike implied that, in fact, there were two kind of prestige classes, and I'll name them here: There are Organizational Prestige Classes (OPC), where you are taught interesting skill sets, spell, etc. from your membership in a certain group, and there are Specialization Prestige Classes (SPC), where your character gains different skills based on focus in a certain discpline.

When intrigue is the name of the game."Chess" by Moyan Brenn
The OPCs are, indeed, difficult if you are intending your PCs to be active dungeoncrawlers. Your mage will not be able to attend meeting in the Arcane Order when he's fighting in the middle of a dungeon. Most adventuring parties are travelers afterall, and would be hard presses to find one place their home for very long. Even when roleplaying is emphasized, dungeon-centric adventuring can make it hard to be part of the club, and its the club that holds the key to your characters advancement.

Where OPCs are useful though, are in campaigns where the PCs are involved with intrigues or politcally motivated adventures. Plots such as "The PCs are hired by the local king as a 'strike team' to cripple a rouge nobles rise to power" could easily see a need to become specialized, and very interesting political potentials come in with OPCs. Say a Order of the Wyvern wizard is hired into this strike team: the Order could say the local king owe them a favor, like that graveyard full of old warriors, which makes the king wary of this Wyvern Wizard. If you run those kind of adventures, OPCs provide a ton of new NPCs to add to the mix.

On the other hand, SPCs are merely manifestations of a PC's personal desire to get better at doing something or connect with a different source of power. Ravagers, Dread Pirates, etc, don't need no damn organization, and probably don't have one really. These prestige classes are easy to integrate into dungeon crawls and quests, becuase you take the tools to advance yourself with you. (Dungeon Image: "Tomb of the Guardians by William McAusland, via Elfwood)

That being, said, if you do have a intrigue based plot, these SPCs will work great too. However, that PC won't be part of a "pretisgeous" club, and therefore wont have those contacts and other NPCs to lean on. Not bad at all, especially if your plot is more like "The PCs are a band of sherrifs coming to clean up this evil town..." kind of story.

As a note, OPCs work great for NPCs, especially antagonists, becuase it adds flavor, complexity, and contacts to the bad guys. Nothing like making a Arcane Order mage a bad guy, and watching as the PC's bust down the doors on their next budget meeting.

Thus and therefore, I think there should be more of these specialist type prestige classes than organization-based ones, since the specialization can be used anywhere. But, OPCS are useful for intrigues, politics, and antagonists, in my opinion. 


When it comes to Duet gaming, I think either prestige class type is great, but one can really explore the intrigues and politics of an organization based class with a one-on-one type game. Not to mention, but the organization itself becomes a source of adventures, as the higher ups in the org could suggest/command your pc to go on missions, and the PC's membership alone could cause other factions to become the PC's enemy...


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How to use (and abuse) politics in gaming.

I'll admit one of my more naive thoughts from yesteryear: "Politics has no place in D&D"

For me, politics was impossible in D&D, because
when the Noble starts to yak, the warriors attack.
Still from the movie "Rob Roy" courtesy of IMDb 
For the most part, adventurers in that august game, no matter the edition, are too busy struggling through dungeons and hacking up enemies for that boring jowl-exercising. Even in game where higher, less dice-driven role-play is king, politics is still treated like bacon at Miss Daisy's breakfast table (i.e. Driving Miss Daisy). Often I have heard, and said, "What is the point of putting skill points into diplomacy?"

Yet DM's, and GM's of every stripe, may benefit from the use of politics. If you aren't using politics, there is a big facet to any world your playing in that your missing, and missing an aspect of your setting means you miss all the plot hooks, devices, and twists you could be using.

Maybe one of your PC's is an assassin doesn't care for diplomacy (or talking in general, because he's just that cool), but another one is a bard who, yes, did put major skill points in diplomacy, sense motive, bluff, etc. Your bard will feel like a moron throughout most of your game, and will be down right p'od if you don't let him trade these skill points, which he never demonstrated in game, for something more slashy. And not to mention, assasins are HEAVILY used by the politically powerful, especially in the middle ages.

And what if your playing Vampire the Masquerade or Vampire the Requiem? Those game books practically demand that you run clandestine intrigue and courtly caterwauling or the Gods Against Billy Badasses will come in the middle the night and bludgeon you with hardcovers. Nobody wants that.

Don't worry, I was in the same place. I was blind, but now I hear. I hear the cries of " I want it my way!"

What is Politics (in gaming)?

Poli-Sci majors and current office holders, plug thy ears.

For a gamer's purposes, all politics is the powerful using their power to get what they want (or what they think is good for their nation, organization, company, etc.), all while reacting to other powerful people trying getting what they want at the same time.

Put yourself in a real-world game setting. Politics could be as dry and boring as a senate meeting in which Republicans and Democrats are arguing over the budget or can be as emotionally charged as the President arguing with his highest general to quarantine and sterilize a town struck with Ebola, while the general says they should give $1 billion dollars to a terrorist group in exchange for the cure they stole an allied nation's labs.

Both examples, however, can mean hundreds of plot implications that can hook the characters into the story. In the first, the government may be so desperate that they have a "garage sale" of old weapons (including nukes) to a trusted ally. Unfortunately, the other nation has budget problems too and sells them to a not-trustworthy enemy of the first nation. Now, you have a stop-the-nuke plot for a spy game. How about the second example; if it were a superhero game, wouldn't practically every hero that could fly or go really fast be trying to steal the stolen cure from the terrorists?

As I said in my last article about using NPCs in your game, that the plot is often forwarded through PC's and NPC's reacting to each other. Politics is often nothing more than powerful NPCs flexing their muscles to manipulate what they can influence. Every good and bad guy with power can use it to forward the story.

The following is an example of how politics can roll in D&D, the game where death usually comes before debate. Little may you know, though, that middle-ages politics can be downright heroic.

Rule by the sword - A D&D political story idea

Castles in the middle ages were designed for many reasons, here are two important ones. One, castles we a place to run to when the nearby village was attacks. Two, grand castles like this one are symbols of wealth and power (like a giant "Don't mess with us" sign). "Castle Wyvern" by Ona Loots, Elfwood
Imagine if you will, that you and your family and 9 other families are living in a little village by the sea. Its mostly a human village, and your a spunky 18 year old growing awesome beets in the valley. Everyone loves your big, swollen, red beets, especially the buxom daughter of ye olde farrier.

Guess what. Sea-faring, teeth-gnashing Orc barbarians love your beets too. In fact they want to mash your big swollen beets with rusty spiked war hammers to make their pie filling and they aren't interested in paying for them. So they sail across the ocean and sack your tiny village, burn your house, steal your beets and girlfriend.

You. Are. Pissed. No beets, no babe, no house. But remember, I said you were spunky. You're also an attractive guy, a decent fighter and an excellent tactician. You rally the people together. You tell them your plan, to build a castle on top of the hill, to make a place where everyone can run when the barbarians attack again. While they build the castle, you recruit your best buddies and train them in the ways of sword-fighting. Your friends think swords are cool, and this castle thing might work, and they don't want to lose their lives to barbarians: from thus comes your knights.

The barbarians come next year, and chase all the people into the castle. Your villagers whoop their green butts with arrows, tar, rocks, speaks and lots of screaming. The barbarians lose so many people that they never come back again; afterall, your neighbors to the north are much more vulnerable...

You, being smart though, know that they may come back anyway. So you promise your people "If you raise me up as King, and feed me and my knights (who I will call Nobles) your produce, then I and my Nobles will protect you and your families." They agree: you become king, and your buddies become nobles.

Then those neighbors to the north that I mentioned hear of your infrangible castle. When the barbarians attack them, your northern neighbors flee to your castle, beaten, bruised and bludgeoned. You let them in, and promise their ninny-pants, limp-wristed leader that his people can hide in the castle whenever they want to, if he swears allegiance to you. Ninny-pants does, and thus lends you his people.

You get real ambitious. Maybe you can raise an army to go across the ocean to beat some barbarian asses and destroy the threat once and for all. You travel the land with your knights, leaving the syncophant in charge. You talk with other great kings: some agree, and say that they will make arrangements with you when you get back to your kingdom. Others would rather have your land, and try to kill you instead. Your knights protect you, but one-by-one they die at the hands of assaisns, wizards, monsters, and warriors in your long journey back home.

You come back to your kingdom without any knights, and find it taken over by the syncophant. He convinced your people that he had a better idea: instead of fighting the barbarians, Ninny-Pants told them that he would give those Orcs every third girl that turned 18 in his lands, along with a third of the food grown, in exchange for their loyalty as warriors. Why? Cause Ninny-pants want to conquer the other kings to the north and west.

Your castle is overrun by Orc mercenaries, who are not stupid, and would rather have the syncophant's throne for themselves (and they would be even harder to beat than the syncophant, whom is surrounded by big strong Orc guards ready to betray him). Your people are oppressed, their daughters raped daily and weird Orc blood cults are cropping up everywhere. Things suck, and its all your fault, and their nothing you can do about it, for you are alone. Even the allies you made aren't going to come to your rescue until you prove you can get your throne back.

You stumble into a bar, for a very, very stiff drink. Off to the side, you see 4 weird folks, all fit and trim. One carries a huge sword and talks a bunch of smack to a priest of your people's religion, the mace of his office hanging on his side. A dark woman sits in the corner quiet, wrapped tight in leathers and daggers and is giving dagger eyes to the Orcs that are admiring her lovely shadow. And a pointy-eared elf, in a thick cloak, with a staff eteched in symbols, with a black cat on his shoulder and an elecrtic look in his eyes, is looking straight at you, wondering why your staring at his friends. The staff-bearing guy's cat leans over and says in his ear "Boss, is that dude checking you out?"

You decide to talk to these people. Maybe they can help you….

As Emerril says, "BAM!" There's your D&D plot. Brought to you by mere, limp-wristed, yak yak politics.

Manipulating the Manipulators: Integrating Politics into your game

So now, how do you use politics to your advantage in D&D or any other game system. Try these simple suggestions.

Know your power structures

Note I say power structures not governments. You don’t need to be in government to be in politics, you just need to be able to make policies (policies = rules, regulations, laws, and command that people must follow). Anybody who can command or influence someone can participate in politics. Its important, therefore, to know who has power in your game.


An important thing to remember: what you 
cannot enforce, you can't command. Thus, 
vampire princes must makes sure 
everyone knows that they are the most 
powerful vampire in the room. "Vampiric Throne" 
In Vampire :the Masquerade, the power structures are laid out quite nicely. Camarillia Princes and their Primogen make policies on their vampires concerning keeping up the masquerade, enforcing these edicts through fear and bribes. Elder vampires use their influence to tell other vampires what to do, make moves against their fellow elders in their great game. Elder vampires can influence other vampires for several reasons:

  • They can whoop almost any other vampires ass. If a younger vampire refuses to do something, an elder can simply threaten to rip his guts out.
  • Elders usually have more money, and money makes people do things they otherwise would never do.
  • Elders have been collecting allies and minions over the years, and these allies and minions can beat up insolent vampires or make things difficult in their lives. For example, Venture elder tells a Toreador in his court to kill one of his favorite patrons at an art show because he's in the way. Toreador raises his middle finger. Venture has ghouled the editor of the local paper, who gladly publishes an article about how some reliable sources say he's a pedophile. The Toreador has police banging down his door at 11:00 am the next day.

Who are the "politicians" in D&D?

Story Idea: Here, a powerful wizard is about to get jacked
up by his apprentice. Not really knowing the books value,
the apprentice goes to sell that book he is
flipping through to your PC's. The drow wizard's mother
wants that book back, and find out from beating
the apprentice that your PC's stole the book. "At Study"
 by Chris Malidorewww.epilouge.net 
Here are the people I usually think have power in D&D and other fantasy-genre type settings, listed along with what kinds of people they can effect. They are not in any paticular order, but they do have typical spheres of influence, or kinds of people or things they can manipluate. Knowing what a NPC can command can tell you what kind of plot they can bring about.

Note: what I mean by "influence" doesn't mean the powerful people can tell the other groups what to do. It merely means they have the power to make those groups react. A cult can hardly tell the High Priest(ess) what to do (unless they kidnap him…) but its existence can inspire him(her) to hire an adventuring party to destroy them.

This list of groups of people who have power in a typical fantasy game is also not exhaustive; doesn't even have pirates on it.

Powerful groups of people in Fantasy Settings - type of people they can influence

  • Kings and Nobility - peasants, nobles, kings
  • Organized religion - worshipers, outsiders associated with their god
  • Barbarian chieftains - their tribe, their tribal allies, their tribal enemies
  • Powerful spellcasters - their apprentice(s), their magely organizations, outsiders, local villages
  • Epic level characters - practically any individual they meet (due to high charisma, high skill checks, and general butt-kicking abilities)
  • Thieves guilds - any individual in town who can make them a profit, nobility, law enforcement
  • Dragons - other dragons, local populations, outsiders
  • Liches - undead armies, their apprentices, outsiders, local populations
  • Vampires - undead armies, their vampire children, other vampires, mortals under their bondage
  • Fae - other fae, people within their forest, forest animals, forest plants, druids, rangers
  • Cult leaders - their followers, outsiders, law enforcement, Organized religion
  • Drow Priestess- eachother, other underdark creatures, visitors to the underdark 

Exert that power (and create story hooks in the process)

Now that you know who has power, have them exert it.

Say your playing Vampire The Masquerade. You give your vampire prince a problem: a Brujah elder (who actually has a brain) challenges a Venture prince to a non-lethal duel, in order to contradict the Venture vampire's implication that he was the greatest swordsman in the Ural Mountains in 1640. The Prince gets his frill laced butt handed to him, in front of the prince's court.

Why does this matter? Think about this: If you’re a vampire, you know your powerful. You can rip most people in half. Why would you listen to anyone's commands, much less someone who thinks he's prince? There are only two real reasons a vampire would listen to a Prince: because they have something to gain for him, and because the Prince them is way more powerful than them. Same is true with all government. The Camarilla provides stability, resources, and elegant vampire chic to the vampires that join in. Camarilla princes also whoop anyone's ass who doesn't comply.

So now, the vampire prince has been proven to be weak by this Brujah. One of his two reasons he is listened to, i.e. half his power, is gone. The vampire prince is desperate, because all his former allies are thinking about jumping on the Brujah's boat, especially if he can offer the same stability, or even something better, than the Venture.

The Brujah needs to be brought down a notch or two, so the prince can regain his power. Here's where your story hooks come in...

  1. The Venture could find the most billy badass fighter in the city and pay him lots of money to challenge the Brujah to a duel and win. (good for a solo game)
  2. The Venture could cripple the Brujah's power by killing his mortal minions (great for a ghoul game or Assasin troupe game)
  3. The Venture could have the Brujah seduced and destroyed by his harpies (harpies are like product reviewers, except for people. Whoever they don’t like, nobody else likes)
  4. The Venture could frame Brujah for a crime that will make the other vampires not like him, like demon worship or Sabbat alliances. (good for a socialite game)
  5. The Venture could have the Brujah's rave bombed, killing most of his vampires, and putting the blame for the attack squarely on his shoulders (not the smartest idea on the prince's part, but a really exciting one)

Now they're in trouble- Have your political NPC React to your PCs

Now that your vampire prince has acted through the PC's, have your NPC's react to the PC's actions. Say you pick number 4, linking the Brujah to a cult of Baali by doctoring some photos, which the prince shows off at the next Elysium. The Brujah elder is pissed, and sends his Lasombra ally (double take here: Lasombra only like antitribu Brujah…) to try to find who took those photos. In the meantime, the Baali cult hears about this, and think to themselves that someone violated the privacy of their skin-peeling sermon, which doesnot make them happy. The PC's get found by the Lasombra ally, who promptly tries to capture them and bring them to his master, even while the Baali send one of their spies to Elysium to find out who took the photos.

Making that backstabbing feeling last...

How do you fill your game to the brim with politics? Continue to have your political powers duke it out. Its best for your political powers to have a big goal in mind: for vampire elders, it may be as simple as bringing a Sabbat town into Camarilla control, or as epic as bringing a Methusla into power over a whole state. In D&D, it may be that a nation seeks to oppress a race of people, a cult seeks to become a state religion, a wizard wants to settle a fertile mountain valley with half-demons from another plane, or a dragon wants to double his annual crop of virgin sacrifices. Your NPC's having a goal means your PCs can build their goal around it.

Don't get mad, GET EVEN!

If you need more political ideas, just turn on the news and pay attention. Politicians are everywhere, in every country. Steal ideas from real life. Pick a thing you like about life, like clean water, and think about someone could destroy it, protect it, make money off of it, or celebrate it. You think up things for your politicians to work on.

Make sure though that whatever issue it is that it’s an issue your PC's would care about. Billy badass cares about nothing but his guns? Try Gun control regulations. Got a pacifist PC? Draft her. Cloistered librarian? Defund his library. Aesthetic monk lives in the middle of no where? Cut a highway around his monastary and throw grant money towards building another version of Las Vegas. The ways government can annoy or infurate your PC's are endless, and you will know you hit the jackpot when your players nostrils flare and they start telling you OOC "He/She cant do that!".

In response, merely say "What's your character gonna do about it…" and let the adventure (in politics) begin.

Gaming bloggers of the world! Have you got any political story ideas? Drop them in the comments along with links back to your blog!


NPCs, Game failure, and Pinball

Between a prison sentence and a NPC-starved game, what's the same?
No one to love, no-one to blame. Picture Credits:"Where Angels Cry", by D Sharon Pruitt  (2007, djibnet)

Atlantis is a Ghost Town...

I don't play pinball: rather, I run duets. Sometimes though, I run the most crappiest duets. Sometimes I run games, wonderful games with rich settings and twisty-turny plots, straight into the ground. How is it that great games, almost Atlantean in scope and detail, sink into a crud-ocean of boredom?

Think about that analogy, and you find the most come answer: Atlantis, like any city, couldn't exist without people?

Your game, whether solo or crowed with players, may be suffering from that same disease of dispopulitis (aka, lack of NPCs). This disease particularly incubates in GMs that focus on crafting those extremely rich settings, complicated plots, new mechanics or new rule sets. A lack of NPCs causes the PC's progression along those neat plotlines and cool settings to slow down or even stop, building frustration in the GM and in turn the player. The game, like a girdled tree, dries up and dies down.

Mugging Gandalf
Why does a lack of NPCs do this though? Shouldn't a player be able to push their PC along without anyone's "permission" or "prodding"? What about ultra badasses that "don't need nobody *gunshot*".

Think about this though. In Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, one could argue Frodo was the main character (since the novels focused on him for a significant portion). Yet the little guy was surrounded by a wagon-load of characters. When Frodo was visited by Gandalf, he revealed to him a dark secret. That secret led to a grand adventure filled with dozen of other players, so many that the focus of the story split in half for much of the time. The power of the story is so great that people that people have analyzed the Gospels of Christianity though the lens of those books (see The Gospel according to Lord of the Rings).

Now for a thought experiment: lets take Gandalf the Gray out of the story entirely. Rob him, strip him naked and leave him for dead. If Gandalf had never come over, Fordo would have whiled away his time in his village, creating quite boring story.

Same is true even for the "dark badasses" that seem so independent and self-driven. Take Batman. No guy-in-the-dark-that-shot-my-parents, no kindly Alfred, no bats, no bad guys (especially Joker), no Batman. Hell, nearly every character in the Justice League, especially Superman, brings out more interesting aspects of the Dark Knight. Double hell, lets consider other badasses and their head-butting counter parts: Wolverine/Sabertooth or Vampire Hunter D/his talking palm. Every buddy cop movies in existence has this dynamic!

"Help me, help you!"
If you are thinking to yourself that your player is being lazy, and resisting the plot, think to yourself if there are any NPC's actually associated with this plot. You want your character to discover his father's killer all by himself, you need to at least introduce the first clues, or a motivation, or a threat, from another NPC.

I duet I ran recently went incredibly, incredibly well, I think, in part for about 60 distinct, non-cookie cutter NPCs. All my favorite games, in fact, had dozens of NPCs. Look at any movie credits, for that matter, and even for the most laser focused film on one solitary character, you will find most likely more than ten real creditable characters.

Blow up the punch-clown
This being said, these NPCs that need to be sprinkled in your game don't need to be pre-fab. They too, need to have life: they need to be fleshed out a enough for them to be able to make their own decisions regarding the PC's actions. NPCs are partly put their to react to the player, preferably in interesting and un predictable ways.

You don't need multi-page bios for all your NPCs to do this. An NPC who has a stake in a multi-million dollar business that pollutes the area in which the main character lives is sufficient. A wizard who has no apparent back story other than knowing the main character's uncle is sufficient, if he has something to say.

Often, this meanings squeamishly putting your NPC's in harms way, allowing that flesh you put on them to be wounded. This could mean that the NPC resists the PCs actions, perhaps with violence, perhaps with only words, perhaps even with the words that would encourage the PC to be violent to them. These interactions between NPCs and PCs are important to any story, even some more hack-and-slash type games. 

The great NPC's that I have made are somewhat like those annoying inflatable punch clowns: they provoke the PC to react to them (i.e. punch their lights out), but they just come back for more, and provoke him/her again. That being said, let you PC pop the enemy NPC (or win them as an ally) at some point. But allies can betray...

Gaming ecology, behind the pinball machine glass...
Imagine a PC, a girl who works at a Pizza shop, and an NPC, a filthy rich vampire actor. Actor comes into her pizza parlor with his friend, and is captivated by the girl's expert ability to toss pizza. He tries the typical "hey baby wanna go out with a big shot actor? I gotta BIG surprise for you..." business and gets no where.

But, the thing is the plot involves the PC falling for this sexy vampire man. Both the Player and the GM know this. How does this romance get started?

Fate intervenes, and then the characters act on fate. That's how.

Some nameless unseen thief steals the pizza girls car (this is fate). The Pizza girl's culinary school is having a major test today (more fate). But, the vampire sees his way into her heart: by offering her a ride (this event requires  an NPC with enough development to be able to decide to take a ridiculous risk).

So what though? The vampire swoons the girl, then what? Conflict gets introduced, when the PC tells her new boyfriend that her father has killed her boyfriends before (here, another NPC gets introduced). Her father is a oil hand in a oil-rich part of the country, booming with new huge oil companies and somewhat rough-and-tumble oil field workers and small town scenery. The introduction of that NPC not only created conflict, but it created more setting, more plot, and most important, MORE NPCS.

If you think of your games like an ecosystem, think of all your NPCs being linked together to occupy certain niches in your story. The Vampire provided the lover, the Father provided the antagonist. Children usually have mother and father at least biologically, but this father had a family: his wife provided the Voice-of-reason, one brother was the Dark-Bad-Boy, and so on. Even details like the Fathers place of work creates NPCs (his evil vampire CEO, that evil vampires CEO's master, that vampire master's enemy, that enemy vampires minions...)

Each of those NPCs reacted to what the PC did when they found out. They spread information about the PC's actions continually. The PC reacted to their reactions. Some were favorable, others unfavorable. The PC, a pinball, bounced among the other pinballs, the PC's, in one massive pinball machine called the Game.

The paddles at the end are manned by the GM. Used judiciously, they keep the balls moving, and therefore the story moving. With a plot in mind, one can eventually maneuver even the most unpredictable players along and leave behind a story that can be remembered well past the last day.

Keep Gaming-


My story is broken. How do I fix it?

Junk Truck
Junk Truck by Eflon, Flickr


Before you pick up that infernal wrench stop! You may already be done.

Take this metaphor. A person dedicates her life to restoring an old pickup. She wants to see that cherry red paint gleam again, hear the throaty mantra of the diesel engine pounding. She goes in, tears an old dead lawn ornament apart, implants new shining parts. If any of the parts are broken, or have defects, her ears will know, and she will cut out the problem part like so much cancer. She is done when she can sit in the driver's seat and listen to her engine purring clean and perfectly.

We writers, like her, want to create something, some time recreate things. We want to create lives. We put in parts we know (themes, archetypes, well placed cliches) in the order their supposed to go in (introduction, crises, climax, conclusion) to make our engine (plot) purr.

Then we hate it, hate our little perfect children who did what they were told. Why? Because if we want to create lives, we must remember that Lives Are Broken. The Christians know it, the Buddhists know it, even Atheists know people are imperfect little things.

Why do we need flaws in our characters? Save for our mechanic, most people don't notice when things go right. Perfectly running breathing machines are rarely noticed. No, for some inscrutable reason the quirky, jerky, herdy-gerdy ones get all the attention. Same for people. How does Assholes Finish First get sold? Because he's a threat, and he gets your attention.

Don't make up these flaws though, just open your eyes to them. Realize just how prodigal, how unwashed, how petty, how dumb, or how arrogant your main is. Watch the world around you, especially your heroes. Find their dirt, and let your character have some too. Make a broken machine, make a rusty lawn ornament, then let that ornament restore itself through the breadth of the tale.
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