We’ve talked about backstory before on this comic. A couple of times actually. I don’t think we’ve ever discussed this particular pitfall though. I am of course talking about the bizarre PC archetype that I’ll call the “overachiever.” This is a starting-level character that, like Antipaladin, has achieved a lifetime’s worth of adventure before settling in with a band of similarly low-level allies (usually to kill rats in a tavern basement).

The overachiever is often a deposed monarch, retired hero, or other VIP. In their earlier life they hobnobbed with the movers and shakers of the setting, rubbing shoulder with archmages and demigods. They once possessed powers that would beggar belief, but have somehow lost access to their former abilities. Overachievers regard their dealings with the party are a mere speed bump on the climb back to power: a necessary evil given their reduced circumstances. In other words, the current campaign is a mere footnote in the grand epic of their lives.

There are of course ways to explain your vastly reduced powers. Old age is a favorite, and I’ve seen it used to great effect with Pembroke the Potent on the Glass Cannon Podcast. (“I used to love teleportation in my youth. But what with this cushy faculty position at the Acadamae‎, I find that I’ve lost the trick of it.”) Magical power-sucking curses can also do the trick. (Thanks, Odin.) In the most extreme cases, the overachiever may even be a deity or ancient dragon locked in humble humanoid flesh. (Wave at the camera, Naruto.) But even though it’s clearly possibly to justify the archetype, you should think long and hard about what it means to be an overachiever.

When your backstory is more interesting than the current adventure, you’re setting yourself up for B-Plot status. That’s because RPGs are less interested in what you were than in what you might become. They’re about discovering the unexpected as you make interesting decisions. And if the most interesting thing that can possibly happen to you is a reversion to your pre-campaign self, then the story has nowhere to take you. Every choice is an anti-climax, and getting back to start is your ultimate mediocre reward.

Question of the day then! Have you ever encountered an “overachiever” out in the wild? Did they manage to side-step the pitfalls of the archetype, or did they plummet into the spiked depths of “my backstory is more interesting than the adventure?” Let’s hear all about those 0th level superheroes down in the comments!


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