I have discussed character creation previously and presented my thoughts on the subject in brief. Today, I wish to expand upon them and describe how, and why, I do certain things. If you haven’t read the previous article, it isn’t necessary to do so. This is more of a supplement to that article but it can stand on its own.
This article offers an alternate way to create characters to the method laid out in the earlier post. That method stuck, in my opinion, quite closely to the generic character creation prompts given in most role-playing games and was written that way as an introduction to character creation. Neither that method or this one is ‘wrong’ and, honestly, I’m a firm believer in everyone finding a process that they find easy to follow rather than one hard and fast routine.
With that in mind, here is my alternate method of character creation.
I usually start with the theme of the character. This is most often something evocative that I wish to bring to the table, but sometimes can just be something I’m interested in dealing with in-game. For example, in the campaign I am currently playing, my first character was heavily socially focused because I wanted to deal with my own social inhibitions and force myself to interact with the game and the other players more.
That isn’t to say you always need to use the ‘real world’ and its problems as themes, although I know of a few characters inspired by things from outside of the game that are pretty cool. My current character (the first being retired temporarily to go fact finding) was created because I wanted to explore what would happen if a naïve, innocent person possessed of powerful magic stumbled into the life of an adventurer. If you’re curious, it’s going great. By which I mean, she’s growing as a person in both positive and negative ways whilst having her worldview and opinions constantly challenged.
Which brings me neatly onto my second point, growth. A good character, one that everyone remembers for good or ill, should have room to grow. You should not approach the table with a character and say ‘This is how my character is. They will not change. They will not be altered.’ This can work, but in my experience and opinion, doesn’t make for a great gaming experience.
Characters should have flaws and foibles that they can overcome, just as they have strengths that can occasionally fail them. If you find you have a theme that interests you and that you can see at least three or four ways in which that theme could be explored and developed, odds are you have an interesting character in the making.
This is the point at which I usually start looking at the character creation rules. For some themes, building atypical characters is more apt than building characters who play exclusively to their strengths. Different games have different methods for creating characters and have wildly different character options (like race/species, class, profession etc.) and so this is where I look over what my options are to see if anything sticks out for me.
Something usually does, but if nothing does stand out, it may be because your theme or your ideas for character growth need tweaking slightly. Of course, you are always welcome to discuss with your GM whether or not something in the character creation process of the game can be added or altered.
By now, I usually have a good idea of what my character’s driving force is, what it is pushing them towards and who they are likely going to be when correctly built according to the rules. With these things in mind, I go through the mechanics of character creation and build them for the GM’s approval.
All this gives you, however, is a character sheet and a somewhat nebulous goal for your character’s personal growth. It is at this point that I usually start working on character history. Because you have a character built within the framework of the system, you know what they are doing at this current moment. You know who they are, and you know what they’re good and bad at.
What you don’t know is how they got to this point in their life. That’s what the character history/backstory does, it answers that question. I try to create a general overview of their life up until the present and then fill in one or two key details about their past. Obviously, the more you create at this point, the more well-rounded your character will be and the more information you can draw upon when portraying your character at the table.
I don’t do this for a very simple reason. I REALLY enjoy playing to not only discover where my character is going, but where they’ve been as well. Asking yourself why your character reacts in a certain way in the spur of the moment keeps them from being predictable, prevents you from feeling like your character’s backstory is a rigid frame-work, gives the game fluidity and allows other players to influence the direction of your character.
My first character, the one built with a social focus, had only a few key points of her backstory for a few sessions before I started adding to it as I discovered through play why she reacted to things the way she did.
With backstory and a character sheet, you’re pretty much ready to go. The final step is to note down a few things about your character’s personality. This isn’t necessary but it might give you some help when the spotlight is on you and you have to quickly decide what your character would do in this situation.
While single word notes are good, I try to for three to five short sentences to describe whichever aspects of my character seem important at the time. These sentences may change through play, characters (as noted above) should change and evolve as the game progresses and, from time to time, you might want to alter these notes to better suit your character as they currently are. That’s fine. That’s what’s supposed to happen. But as long as you have some way of remembering the core bones of your character’s personality, you should be ready for any situation.
So that’s my (less generic) approach to character creation in more detail. I hope it’s been moderately useful. If you have any thoughts or wish to share your own methods, let me know in the comments or contact me through the e-mail address in the ‘About’ section.
Bubbles / Ryan