Characters, be interesting!

Author: Andrew /

I've just had a thought about players, mainly. I realize that a lot of my posts tend towards DM's and what they can do with their games but I want to touch not only on the value of role-playing, but the value of role playing a character that's interesting.

So many players I've seen have these characters that, when you ask about them, the players tell you their job.

"He's a fighter with a big sword!"
"She's a sexy bard who can woo any man with just the sound of her voice!"
"He's a cleric who casts holy healing spells!"
"He's a rogue who steals stuff!"

Are these descriptions? Sure. Are they three dimensional characters? No way. Are they ones a three-dimensional character can be built off of? Yes

The trick, when making a character, especially for D&D, is (contrary to conventional thought by a lot of new players) to look at the class as a part of the character, and an addition, not the base. What you do is a part of who you are but personality is first. If you have a fighter with a sword, that doesn't tell you how he grew up. It doesn't tell you how he got to where he is "today". It doesn't even tell you why he is a fighter. Kids aren't born beating the daylights out of things with bladed weapons. They're almost all born as cute little defenseless beings who want nothing more than to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. How does one go from that, to a hulking, muscle bound warrior wearing plates of metal and beat up leather, facing down a beast that belches fire and hoards treasure that could rival that of entire kingdoms?!

The answer is pretty simple. Life experiences. As a player, there are certain things you don't have power over. The initial layout of the game world, the plans for the game's story in the DM's mind's eye, the price of the ale in the tavern (although haggling is an option always lol), etc. One thing you DO have power over is who your character is. This, I feel, is the greatest part of making a character.

First, think up a name. Find something that resonates with you. Find something that makes you think "Yeah, this inspires me to be this character." Whether the name inspires awe, disgust, strength, loyalty, intrigue, etc; pick something that you'd want to be referring to yourself / your character as for a pretty good length of time.

Usually, for me at least, once I have a name, it almost forces an image into my mind. A massive barbarian perhaps, covered in hair with a knife-blade-shaved head with rough stubble all over his face and hands the size of dinner plates. A hunched over cripple grasping a cane with a deadly gleam in his eye. Perhaps a young girl who's in her 20's who seems relatively innocent, dresses modestly, but with calloused hands, perhaps alluding to something else about her. All these character appearances can present possibilities for who your character is.

After visualizing the appearance (doesn't have to be super detailed, just a general idea so that you can see the character in your head) you can think "Ok, how'd they get here?". Perhaps our big barbarian was actually a young school teacher in a village. There's something out of left field. Perhaps he got fed up with his life, bored and unfullfilled and one night he decided to go for a brief camping trip into the wilderness. While he's out there, he's visited by a vision that leads him, sleep walking, through the forest. The vision is actually a magical enhancement by a dark spirit wandering the wilds. It leads him sleepwalking through an open portal into the Shadowfell (a dark, mirror image plane of the regular world). Waking, he doesn't know where he is, excepting that he's in a dark forest and doesn't feel right. He looks around and realizes that this is where the malevolent spirits live and darkness prowls freely. He's forces into a wild state and ends up honing his body and becoming a beast of a man instead of the intellectual he once was.

See that? All you do is think about a base to where he is and then connect where the character starts, to where he is when the game starts.

To spice things up, you can throw in interesting things about your character. Sure he was a school teacher but perhaps for some reason he's got no sense of smell. Maybe he's always been afraid of squirrels after being bit by one while collecting accorns as a little boy? Perhaps he was helping chop wood one day but hit his leg and they had to amputate below the knee, so he's in great shape, but is missing his right leg from the knee, down? These things make for characters that are original, eye catching, and characters that have some meat behind them. Who cares about a 2D cardboard fighter? But a school-master from a little village with some wander-lust, who's missing his right leg from the knee down, with a fobia of squirrels and no sense of smell... Well, I wanna hear about THAT guy!

So, take a look over all this and really think about the great things you can come up with. Your imagination is the limit. I'm also totally happy to help come up with neat ideas as well. Things can always be enhanced. Role playing an average D&D class is dull. Role playing a character with a background is awesome. Players, this is your chance to make your character and your game experience be the best it can be. A character who's designed well can totally drive a game and make for some memories you'll remember for years and years. Do yourselves a favor and put your heart into it, because you'll get more than that back.




silent stone said...

When it comes to roleplaying, a really bad habit is for players to think of their character as only its class, or even to have the character think of itself as its class (serious metagaming, there). Really, the first step in turning a statblock with a name into a real* character is setting the statblock aside, and thinking of how the character exists within the world it is a part of in purely narrative (as opposed to mechanical) terms.

*for certain values of "real"

Andrew said...

I do want to address a question I saw up on Take Talk just a moment ago. It was "What about those that like the fight/action more than the roleplay aspect?"

My answer to that is this. In the end, they're playing a role-playing game. In my mind, I figure that most people, if they want just action and fights, there are video games that could satisfy that much better than D&D. D&D, while having ample combat, is still centered around roleplay. The fighting itself is done through roleplay. The barbarian up there in the article would fight much differently on a peg leg than on two feet, don't you think?

When you design a character, the RP and the action / fighting parts don't have to be separate or mutually exclusive. They should blend. Yes, fighting is exciting and yes, you're perfectly within your rights to make a character centered around fighting (in fact, I've seen some characters done that way that are absolutely entertaining to watch!).

The key here is not so much pushing roleplay (which, nevertheless, I will always do), but to encourage interesting ideas and concepts that make your characters stand out from the crowd. Put love and time into crafting your character. Don't look at character creation as "What you do before the game." Look at it as the beginning of the game! This is the first part of playing. You get to CRAFT a backstory and a history and build a potential hero from the ground up. How exciting is that?!

RP and Fighting don't have to be separate but creativity and interesting ideas should tie them together and be present in both.

Magus Stragus said...

Oh... I remembered once I created a blind ninja, who was bound by a family oath to protect his master (who was, incidentally, another PC in the party). Or the elven girl who travelled among humans, serving as a spy for the elven kingdom, but who was also secretelly in love with the evil guy (that ended quite bad for her...)

Any roads, giving personality to characters is what makes D&D better than most videogames, IMO. The sky is the limit!

Andrew said...

Magus, the blind ninja idea cracked me up! Also, the idea of the elven girl in love with the villain is an excellent plot point with loads of potential.

You've got it absolutely right, giving characters personality and the ability to really role play however you please is really one of the major qualities that push D&D beyond the realms of conventional games, especially video games.

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