Character development isn’t normally something I would try to dictate to players. However the Set-Up tool in the World of Darkness: Mirrors book gives an interesting tweak to characters. See in real stories, characters have many different arcs. I will talk about three.
First is the characters who make progress in their training, and thus expand as characters and in their abilities through the story. A great example of this is Eddy from the Dark Tower series. He goes from druggie to full blown gunslinger through the course of his travels.
Second is the character who is at the apex of their training and abilities. So they grow only as a character. Maybe they learn little things here and there, but as a whole their capabilities don’t change. The best example I can think of for this is Al’Lan Madragoran from the Wheel of Time series. His character changes, but at the begining he is a blademaster who is an uncrowned king of a fallen land, so on and so forth and at the end of the series he still has the same capabilities.
Third are those that actually regress. They have more at the beginning and as the story progresses they lose power and ability. Normally these are the bad guys, but Roland from the Dark Tower series is a good example of how this might be the hero. He starts off the series as a bad ass gunslinger capable of slaying all in his way, and by the end he barely has the strength left to finish his task.
I’ll skip over the third character archtype for many reasons, but the main one is that a character like Roland is written with a specific task in mind. The author can have the arc preplanned and know how much he must decline to still be able to complete is task, but still show the decline. I do not have the same luxury.
So to go to the first two. Almost all characters in role-playing games are the first kind. They gain experience and progress as characters and in power as time goes on. But what if you want to play the second type. What if you want to be Lan, Aragorn, Legolas, Cort, etc. You simply do not get enough experience to begin with to create a character like this. The Set-Up tool allows us to make this kind of character.
Sure you might not have the experience to build a character like the one you want at character creation, but those are just dots on the page. So you haven’t put in the dots for your athletics yet. But if no one has seen you fall on your ass while running most people wouldn’t be all that surprised to find out your were really a gymnast. So if you keep a good cusion of experience using the Set-Up tool you can buy up the skills as they come into play thus allowing your character to be as good as you woud like.
So let’s use physical skills for the primary example. You have a very limited number of points at first, so you used them to buy up your weaponry, ride, and athletics. You also however wanted to be a master grappler and extremely stealthy. Then we move on to Mental skills, being you tertiary category for skills, maybe all the skill points went into your occult. Well you also wanted to have some academics and be able to perform at least field medicine and so on. Well to actually buy these all up would cost over a hundred experience. However if you hold on to your experience for the first few weeks and have a good pool of 18 you can buy up a skill from 0 to 3 instantly.
You might think that you could just spend those at the beginning which is true. However if you spent them on stealth, then ran into something that needed your academics, well you would be at a severe minus and thus not really go with the character. However if you have that experience lying around you can go back to the scene where you attended the university under the tutelage of a very ancient treant blooded cousin of an Earl and thus now have 3 dots of academics.
Note: I’m writing this at 1am and it makes perfect sense to me. If it doesn’t make sense to you feel free to message me to ask me to elaborate.