One of the most fundamental skills for a pen and paper Role Playing Games player to learn is how to create a character. Knowing what dice to roll, how to read charts, how to assign points, how to fill out that character sheet etc. These tasks however are simply book keeping and creating and recording statistics. If I asked you “What Character are you playing”? how would you answer?
I want you to be honest with yourself, when you read the two examples I am about to give and choose which you feel would be closer to your answer. Do that before reading on to the next paragraph.
- “I am playing a Human fighter who specializes in two handed weapons and the cleave feat”.
- “I am playing a Human male named Devero Shen, who grew up in a small village as a blacksmiths son, and after his father passed away, he joined a local mercenary group as a camp attendant, but eventually became one of the mercenaries.”
Both of these are generic examples but here is the point. The top answer is what character class and skill specialization you are utilizing for your character. The second is closer to describing what character you are playing. Most of you will (if honest) have chosen option one. It is rare I ever get an answer similar to option two. You see who and what your character is, is not the same as what class or skill set does he have. Look at the real world. Do you define who you are by the job you do and what job skills you have? I would hope not. I have spent a lot of my time doing the day job of Communications Manager for an Internet Service Provider. If some one asks me to describe WHO I am, I would not say “Hi I am a commercial internet sales person, who has great communication skills”. I define who I am by much more than that.
The fundamental problem for many, is that when they create a character they do so with the idea of performing a role. That’s like being born and your parents training you to be nothing more than a production line worker. Now don’t get me wrong, most games kind of make it seem like that’s all character creation is about. Choose a race, choose a class, pick feats, spend skills etc. The thing is, that is just the mechanical part of your character and the “role” it will play. WHO and what your character is goes beyond that.
My challenge to my players is always to make a character that is memorable. We have fleeting memories of that time we rolled three natural twenties in a roll, or that time we “one shotted” the Troll. The characters that I have long lasting fond memories of, are the ones that came to life as individuals and had, real CHARACTER! I see a lot of people concentrating on character builds. And optimizing their character. To me if this is how you go about creating your character, you have already lost the plot and are missing out on the whole concept of playing Dungeons and Dragons! Imagine if at birth (or in your late teens or twenties, when you suddenly become conscious as a player character) you sat down and planned out every aspect of your future career and life. No one in the real world does that. Yes we may make and set goals for ourselves, and some of these may stay constant or change as we go through life, but we do not set things in stone and strive monotonously towards them. Now before I piss of those that play Dungeons and Dragons much as if they were playing a video game, if you want to play characters that are min maxed, build determined and optimized that is your choice. You may even have a Dungeon Master that is OK with it. Just know that most DECENT Dungeon Masters don’t want you in their games. I for sure don’t! I could care less about your characters stats to be honest. I am more interested in your characters back story, personality, mannerisms and quirks. You see to me your character should be a personality. Not a list of numbers and statistics. I also want to see your character organically develop through game play, and not be preset. As a Dungeon Master I love it when players make choices for their characters based on the events that happen to them. They learn new skills based on the situations that they have recently been exposed too, or multi class into something because it fits the story or an event opened up that avenue for them. I am far less a fan of the guy who says “I am going to make an arcane archer so here are all the pre required stats, feats, and skills I am going to need to have by the time I reach the entry level requirement. SCREW THAT! How about you start out playing a low level character and see where it goes!
When it comes to “rolling up a character” I still believe (especially for newer players) that rolling is what you should do! I am not a fan for the points buy systems. I have allowed veteran players that I know and trust use points buy (all players in a group must use the same system, be it roll or buy), but they used them to create fun characters to play and not min max the crap out of their chosen class etc. I can here some of you bringing up the various arguments for using points buy. “Its more fair to everyone”, “It ensures I can play the class I want because some classes are More ability dependent than others “, “I don’t want to play a gimp character”. My general method is the 4D6 (drop the lowest) method, and the players roll two sets and pick the best set. Rarely does it mean you can not play a certain class, but if that arises then we re-roll or drop and raise a stat to get to the required number if there is one. (old school paladin requiring a seventeen charisma for example). PLAYING a character is about embracing the personality and developing a being. Bringing it to life in a game world. It is less about how much damage you can do, or how many hit points you have.
I have often chosen to take flaws just to have more to role play. I once created a thief and had him start life with his right hand missing by choice. It made it fun to role play. I have had a fighter who lost an eye at fourth level, and I loved the fun it was to make concessions for my lack of depth and field of view. If you are a person that contributes how much fun you have by how “bad ass” your character is, well to that I say, whatever makes you happy. Yes as a new player I wanted these things too. I grew out of it. I realized the true fun to be had in a role playing game, was in the role play itself and in the story telling for both player and dungeon master alike.
Now with all this being said how do we make our character memorable? Well first he or she must be real! OK yes its a character in a game so it isn’t real, but you know what I mean. They must be believable and have their own personalities.
I have said in other articles that I encourage players to write a minimum five hundred word back story for their character. I want to know (and want them to know) where they are from, how they grew up, what events shaped their lives, why did they start a life as an adventurer, what family do they or did they have etc. This gives you the basis for developing a personality. It helps you decide how trusting your character is of others. It can determine your characters demeanor. It can provide future plot hooks and help define relationships. You should do as much work on this as you possibly can. The more the better. Once you start playing you should have this back story in mind. Our pasts are part of what shapes us in the real world, and it should be no different for your characters.
Get yourself comfortable with “becoming” your character. Around the table you are for the most part the character and not who you are in real every day life. Make decisions based on what you believe the character would do, even if you as a player may know it is not the best idea in the world. Embrace the negative things that happen to your character and allow them to shape who your character becomes as much as the positive things. Assign some personality traits or quirks to your character, is he moody, grumpy or happy. Does he have a nervous tick or a habit that manifests under certain types of stress? Above all allow him to emotionally, mentally and physically develop naturally. Do not pigeon hole your character with per-determined decisions.
Playing a real and well developed character (flaws and all) is so much more rewarding than playing “mister perfect”. When you learn to truly embrace your character for all it is, and not concentrate on improving its stats, or doing more damage, you will realize their is just as much role play to be had in your characters weaknesses, if not more so.
When you allow your character to become real and embrace every aspect of it, then the experiences it has have more depth and value. The weak character that somehow survives the battle with two ogres and overcomes is memorable. The max strength and constitution barbarian that slaughters the same is not. One is a triumph, the other is just doing what was expected. As such one becomes memorable, the other does not.
When you look back at the characters you have created and played the ones you will remember years from now are the ones you formed attachments too and that did some truly amazing things. It will be the ones that seemed to truly “live” and had memorable experiences that stick with you.
One example of this is a cleric that was played on Howreroll during the “marks of intrigue” Campaign. He was an abused orphan that ended up in the priest hood devoted to St. Cuthbert. Due to his up bringing and difficult child hood he struggled with the day to day doctrines of his chosen religion. He embraced its core concept, but often went about doing things his own way, much to many others disapproval. With theses challenges in place he turned to drinking a good bit, and ended up becoming an alcoholic. We imposed a game mechanic that caused his character to have negative skill and trait checks if he went to long without a drink, as the “Delirium Tremens” set in. He became disheartened and eventually had to make a decision to help free a friend from imprisonment who was facing the death sentence or stay true to his religious belief. He chose to save his friend and as such lost favor with his deity and was stripped of his powers. The player made these choices knowing it was not the best thing statistically or mechanically for his character, but due to the events that occurred during game play it felt right for the character and the story. I can tell you that already Radovan Renier has become memorable. Not only to the player and the Dungeon Master, but also to all the viewers of the show.
Having a powerful character is fun in the same way that winning all the time is fun. Sometimes though its the struggle we remember and not the victory……….