Sunday, 20 February 2011

How To: make a Character

Every system has it's own way of sorting out stats and abilities of the character you are going to play, but this is not making a character but converting a character into a playable format. This guide is about making a character that's interesting for both yourself and the other players within your group, and of course your games master.

Step One: Name

A name has to be interesting, Jim the dragon slayer is not inspiring and is just going to kill the mood, that said the name doesn't have to be original, playing a lord of the rings based campaign with a character named Aragorn, for example, can lead to some very interesting story lines, as your character tries to live up to their namesake, shake off someone else's bad reputation, or gets caught up in adventures through mistaken identity. If your name is borrowed think how your character feels about this, is it a name they have taken themselves to seem more intimidating or deserving of respect than they really are? is it a name they have chosen to honour their great hero? or to mock a nemesis? if the name was given, by parents or affiliation, why did they chose it? And does your character agree with their choices? Above all does your characters name inspire you to lead them to greatness? The legend of John Smith can end with "he saw a goblin once.", but the legend of Braxius Traxtin, lost prince of the Sunken Isles, deserves an epic clash of good against evil, the very earth shaking and dragons falling from the sky.

Step Two: Class (and often Race)

What does your character do, and far more importantly why? A lot of role plays have a selection of predetermined classes to choose from, but many simply list skills a character could posses and let you choose from there, either way the most important things to think about are where you character learned these skills and why? A sword master may have been born into a noble family the warrior elite, raised to know little other than swordsmanship, or they may have been a blacksmith's child, knowing nothing of the sword until barbarian raiders attacked their village and they had to fight their way back to civilisation, learning everything the hard way or maybe they were one of the barbarians not knowing there was any other path to follow. Race, if it's an option, often comes in at this point, as certain birthrights, accessibility of training, and lifestyle choices, lend themselves better to certain races, how has your characters race helped/hindered this training and life in their vocation? Ask these questions for each skill/ability/trait your character has, and soon their history will become full and lifelike.

Step Three: Stuff

Unless your character is beginning the role play utterly penniless, naked and devoid of any useful equipment, (a brave and potentially interesting choice) your character is going to have stuff, (if they don't, why not? is a question you're going to be asked very quickly) so where did it come from? is your sword a family heirloom? or something you bought from a market stall? or stole/looted from another warrior? your clothes, what do they say about you? do you only have one set of well worn, patched and re-patched travelers clothes, practical but far from stylish, or do you have trunks and trunks of tailored finery allowing you to fit in at any high society function. do you travel light or do you take everything you own with you? try to slip in a few personal items into your equipment list, sure you're an adventurer, have the rope and grappling hook "just in case" but also have a book of poetry, or a love letter, in your pocket, a signet ring of your fathers household on your finger. something that shows who your character is, something for them to do/think about in their spare time, preferably something they would hunt to the ends of the earth if it was lost.

Step Four: Why?

Perhaps the biggest question you need to ask is why your character is adventuring in the first place? and why they are still at it now? will they ever stop and settle down? do they have a grand plan or goal? it's all very well to say your character started by fighting their way through hordes of orcs attacking their home, but why didn't they stop when they got through? if you are out to find a great lost heirloom or treasure, what will you do if you find it? Here's a little secret, motivation can be the hardest thing for your Games Master to deal with, if they can lure you with the promise of a king's ransom once, then there is no guarantee they can do it again, indeed with your coin purse overflowing with gold the temptation of money is greatly reduced, a big thing to consider at this point is where your character's heart lies in terms of good and evil, there is nothing wrong with hunting down goblins just because you want them to suffer. Ask yourself why does your character get up in the morning and hunt dragons/run the shadows/defend their homeland?

Step Five: People

Your character probably hasn't spent their entire life in isolation, again if they have that's another story you need to tell, so who do they know? who are their friends? who are their enemies? what do their family think about what they are doing now? what favours do they owe/are owed? where are the people they have met in their life now? are they in love? how did they meet the other characters? how do they respond to new people? are they quick to make friends and trust new people or are they shy, suspicious, or downright unpleasant? do they respect authority? depending on the sort of game you are playing your character's past audiences may or may not come up, but if you discovered that the necromancer sending his undead legions to destroy the town was their childhood friend, how would their behaviour change?

Step Six: Finishing Touches

Sometimes known as the breath of life step, it gives a character a personality rather than just a history, a quick run through of the list of questions to ask at this stage, how old are they? what do the look like? how do they feel about their appearance? what are their hobbies? what are their habits? are they religious? if so how devout? do they stand out or blend into a crowd? do they like being the centre of attention? and a good one specifically for the fantasy genre, if someone was impersonating them how would you tell which was the original? the point is to make a character others can interact with, and try to role play these traits as much as possible within your sessions, so you can get a feel for your character as a living breathing person, and more easily think about what your character would do in any given situation.

These are examples, and by no means an exhaustive list of questions to ask and things to think about to turn a series of numbers on a character sheet into a character that is interesting and fun to play for both you and those you play with. this may seem a little daunting, but take it step by step, you'll find a lot of it overlaps, and the more you know about the history of your character the more things will just slot into place.

1 comment:

  1. Great first post there Luke, nicely thought out and often something overlooked by a lot of players.

    Glad to have you onboard!