Thursday, May 14, 2009

Please Select Your Character!

I get in debates all the time about how to make a character in a roleplaying game. Most people I talk with suggest that concept is the most important thing about a character and that everything else should fit around it.

I dislike this theory. I'll be talking about RP-oriented characters here, so mostly pen and paper characters. However, if you roleplay in other games such as MUDs or MMOs or whichever, this is also valuable information.

My belief is that one must take a balanced approach to character building. You can't be happy with a character if your guy or girl isn't fun to play in game terms. You'll also be less happy if your character isn't interesting in roleplaying terms. Separating roleplaying even further, your character needs a good, interesting personality and enough backstory to look into as the game progresses.

The first thing I recommend is a style. You don't want it to be too specific, but you want to help shape what your character's class and abilities will be, and give you an insight into their personality. If you have no idea on your character's personality, skip this step. We'll come back to roleplaying design in general later, so this is just a kicker to get you started.

Your style is mostly your character's general attitude (cocky? shy? smart? funny? wise?) combined with a few little things about what your character does in adventuring (hack things with swords? magic? sneakyness? diplomacy?). Don't be too specific at this step. No backstory, period. If this step results in you being only able to pick one class or build or whatever at this point, you've gone much too far.

Build is the next important thing. If you're not good at this step, ask someone who is. I cannot stress this enough - it is a total pain in the butt to go through a whole campaign as a character whose abilities you decide aren't fun.

First, eliminate anything that doesn't fit your character's style. This step should be pretty obvious. If this narrows your choices down to one thing, ask yourself very seriously if that's what you want. Then ask your pro minmaxer friends if it's a good idea. I've been asked before if some top tier build or strategy would be good by roleplaying friends before. I explained very indepth that it was, and why it was. They went on to make characters that they had a blast playing.

Anyway, even if you think you're a pro minmaxer it's good to ask friends for advice anyway. When I wanted to make a particular character, I asked one of my good pro minmaxer friends if it was a good idea, and he talked about his experiences and how he thought my idea would not be fun. In the end his advice helped me make a choice that I would enjoy.

Anyway, through trial and error (talking with pro friends) you should come to a character class and spec that you will be happy with. Most roleplayers scoff at me when I suggest this step. However, when I go over this step with roleplaying friends they come to me and say how fun playing their character is. When I go back to the people who scoff at me, they are playing their concept characters and being like "well I like my character, but I don't really like this or this" to which I reply "well you should have taken these abilities instead, and it would be more fun for you."

So after you have your style and basic idea for character and a concrete (set mostly in stone) build, you get to the fun parts. You can do the next two steps in either order.

What is their personality? Now that we know their skills and such we can think more clearly on who they are as a person. What drives them and motivates them?

One of the big tests I do for each player in my PnP games is to have them sit down and do a MBTI type analysis (in character) such as the one on Even if the end result isn't exactly what the player is expecting, letting them answer the questions helps put them in the mindset to play that character better. All of the players I've run this through have said it's an amazing tool as long as they're not being held to exactly what the test says. That's not the point, though. The point is to aid you in 'thinking in character.'

As with the build portion you'll want to probably ask people about this sort of thing. The GM will be able to give you advice here but that's more important for our last step. Other players will be able to say "this sounds fun" or give you suggestions for your personality.

The last step is backstory and justifications. This is the fun part for me. It's fun to minmax, sure, but it's much more fun to make up why all the minmaxing actually occurs. At this point we know your characters' abilities and probably their future ones too. We know a lot about their personality, although maybe we don't if you skipped step 3 (you'll need to do it after this).

Go over everything your character can do and ask yourself, "why?" If you can't figure out exactly why right offhand, come back to it. This should be organic, really, and it can take place during Step 2. If you've got certain skills you picked out, ask yourself, "Why did I learn them? Who taught them to me?" If you've got certain powers or abilities, ask yourself exactly why they are what they are. What do they do outside of the world of game mechanics?

This is the best time to hook up with the GM because he can give you tons of details about your world. If this is a MUD/MMO environment, get with a fellow player who knows a lot about the game world. If you do this then you can more easily integrate yourself into the game world. It gives you more hooks because people don't have to interact directly with something about you - they only have to be interested in some other aspect of the already existing game world, letting you get involved more easily in roleplaying.

The other trick is that in a pen and paper world you can actually create parts of the game world this way. The GM most likely doesn't have his whole world designed, so any bit of it you want to include into your game helps his job a lot. Unless he is the DM of the Rings, anyway.

Lastly, after our four steps, we want to finish up. Add some finishing touches to your personality or backstory, and fine-tune your abilities to better match up to your character's history. Sometimes this involves making small sacrifices in ability, but don't worry about that as much as you should worry about the overall concept. Talk with your powergamer friends about any choices you make (sometimes seemingly small choices are huge) and talk with your GM about any tweaks to your character or backstory.

Every little bit you let your GM know keeps him in the loop. More importantly, it lets him know you're excited about playing, and that helps keep him motivated. When I have players that are really into my game and want to do things in it, it really motivates me to make new and cool stuff for them to explore and discover.

I'm going to go over my player group now because literally all of them used this method and all of them are extremely excited about the characters they are playing.

Fejn is a samurai who hears the spirit of the sword. Her people live in the forest, and hear the spirits of the trees, but not Fejn. She listens to the heart of the sword, instead. The spirit of the blade guides and protects her. In game mechanics she is a dual wielding monstrosity that can handle literally any threat, and she has tons of HP, too.

Maximillion (yes the 'o' is intentional) is a young, naive engineer who grew up under a family of traders. He's curious about the world and incredibly optimistic, and his gadgets are always handy to have around. In game mechanics, he's incredibly number crunched and he has the potential to do the highest single hit damage of any character. He also produces a number of different gadgets, each with some gamebreaking special effect in the form of either buffs or debuffs.

Seanna is a blind mage from the same people as Fejn, and she is relatively naive compared to most mages. She has impressive magical talent, though, and is a natural expert at all forms of magic, both offensive and defensive. In game mechanics, she also deals ridiculous damage from the main types of magic available to her class, and is reasonably durable despite being a 'squishie' type of character. Her blindness is done in the sake of minmaxing but creates awesome character drama.

Kalenreth, or Kal is a wolf-man thief with ties to the local thieves' guild. He's got a skill for literally any scenario, thanks to his guild training. He's a big loudmouth but his mouth is equally good for getting him out of a jam. He's relatively loyal to his party but his first loyalty is to the thieves guild. He won't hesitate to do whatever it takes to get the job done. In game mechanics, he's got a skill for everything, he's nimble and hard to hit, and he often supplies the party with stolen goods.

Spencer, although that's not actually his real name, is a bounty hunter. His goals don't really mesh well with the rest of the party, but in Spencer's player's case that's sort of the point. He creates a lot of interesting drama, and his practical advice often tempers the rest of the team to consider things they otherwise wouldn't. In gameplay terms he's also an offensive beast, but he has flexible damage types and control effects added in, giving him some added punch to make up for his less-than-Faen/Max single hit power. He can also use his control effects while still tearing stuff up, which is highly effective.

Eddie is kind of the exception. He's an older sorceror with the power to summon incredible creatures. He's the most powerful class in gameplay terms but he is kind of a wallflower. Still, he has fun playing his character despite being kind of a wallflower player. He built his character mostly around being strong but has no idea what is strong. He is by far not having the most fun out of all of my players.

Thus! You should use this method whenever possible! It will let you make fun, enjoyable characters and everyone will have an awesome time playing with you.

No comments:

Post a Comment