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Tips for the Beginning Roleplayer

Character Generation

by Devon Mannix
Nov 20,2003

 

Character Generation

By Devon Mannix

People often ask me, "Mannix, how did you get so sexy? Your hard, chiseled features excite me in ways that I never thought possible. Also, I'm new to the roleplaying world. Can you give me some pointers on how to make a good character?"

...ok, no one has ever asked me that, but if they ever did, I'd say, "the only way to get a body like this is through a lot of hard work and discipline. It's not something I can just teach you, but I CAN give you some tips on the character thing."

Character generation is a delicate process and something that should be taken lightly. In fact, some people take days or even weeks to work on a new character, sometimes writing pages and pages of back-story, obsessing night and day over the slightest details until they finally decide that the character is "just right." These people are freaks.

Just kidding. Actually, they do have the right idea. I'm not saying you should quit your job to work on the character full-time, but you should definitely put some serious thought into it. This character will be your conduit to spectacular places and events. You'll see and do things that you'd never be able to do without the character.

But before you put any numbers on that character sheet, you should first really get to know your new character. We're going to look at the four major tasks that are involved in creating a character suitable for roleplaying: write your background/determine your goals, pick your personality, know your role, and give details.

You may notice that the previous list does not contain "choose your class," "distribute ability points," "pick your kewl powerz," or anything along those lines. That would be covered in a column entitled Tips for the Beginning Rollplayer. This column, however, is called Tips for the Beginning Roleplayer.

Rollplayer/Roleplayer. What a difference one letter makes. Rollplaying is a term that's used to describe the act of using dice along with your character's stats to accomplish in-game tasks. Or something like that. I won't begin to attempt to give tips for rollplaying; they change from game to game, from setting to setting, and from system to system.

Roleplaying, however, has nothing to do with dice or stats. It's all you, baby. When you roleplay, you take the reins of you character and decide how she'll interact with the world around her. While rollplaying is different for each game, roleplaying is essentially the same no matter what you're playing.

So, without further ado, let's get started, shall we?

Write Your Background/Determine Your Goals

I grouped these two things together because they sorta go hand-in-hand. Often, a character's goals exist because of the character's background.

A background can be something as simple as "my family was killed by a bunch of orcs" to a twelve page back-story showing generations of family history and detailing the character's life from birth to present day.

The one thing that all backgrounds should include is an explanation as to why the character is in the campaign. "My family was killed by a bunch of orcs, so now I wander the land exacting my revenge upon...stuff" is certainly an acceptable option, but keep in mind that it doesn't give the GM much to work with.

The more detail you put into your background and the more defined your goals are, the easier it will be for the GM to work your character's story into the campaign. Maybe your family was killed by orcs, but your older brother's body was never found. That opens up a world of possibilities for the GM. Somewhere along the line, your character might discover that your brother escaped with his life, but his injuries caused him to lose his memory and now he's an evil warlord bent on world domination and other evil stuff. Or you might find that he was actually controlling the orcs when they slaughtered your family. Or it might be revealed that you're actually your brother, who was an orc raised by humans who ate his family, but you don't remember it cuz you're dead.

Keep in mind, experiencing a great tragedy isn't a prerequisite for being a player character in an RPG. The lust for revenge is certainly a powerful motivating factor, but it isn't the only one. Your character's family could be alive and well, enjoying an orc-free existence, while you travel the land in search of fame and fortune. Or maybe your father always viewed you as a failure and you're out to prove him wrong. Or maybe you're just lost.

As with all steps of the character generation process, you should check with the GM first before you get your heart set on anything to make sure the campaign will support your ideas. Nothing would suck more than to hand your twelve pages to the GM and have her look at it and go, "oh, I forgot to mention, in this game, we'll be playing in a futuristic setting."

Pick Your Personality

It's a good idea to decide what type of personality your character will have before you start playing and try to stay true to that personality throughout the game. That's not to say your character won't undergo internal changes during his adventures, but if you stick to a basic personality type, the GM will be able to give your character situations that will allow you to roleplay. For a GM, it's kinda hard to design encounters around a character with no personality.

You may find that some characters will come with at least part of their personality decided for you. A nosferatu is not a people person...unstable. A paladin is all righteous and stuff. Don't make the mistake of letting this be the extent of your character's personality. Embellish a bit. Maybe your nosferatu was sexy like me before he was embraced and now he hates what he has become. Maybe your paladin is beginning to question the rules that govern his actions.

Your character's personality is ultimately a matter of personal choice, but I'll give you a little advice. It's been my experience that it's much more enjoyable to play a character who's personality is as far away from your own as possible. That's sorta the whole point of roleplaying -- to become someone else for a while. If you want, you're more than welcome to use my personality. I'm smart, irresistible to members of the opposite sex, and very, very modest.

However, I think that any experienced roleplayer will tell you that no matter how hard we try to create a character who is different from our real-life selves, we always inject at least a bit of ourselves into the character. Just like a writer injects some of himself into his book, or a painter injects some of herself into her painting, or a porn star injects some of himself into his...umm...work.

It's ok to have a bit of yourself thrown into the character. You'll find that sometimes, that little piece acts as the character's conscience. It will be the character's moral compass as he navigates the seas of blah blah blah, metaphor, blah blah blah.

And I should warn you, there'll be a bit of the character left in you, as well. You'll know you're a real roleplayer when you feel pride or remorse for something your character does.

Know Your Role

A well-balanced adventuring party is like a well-oiled wrestler.

...not really, but a well-balanced adventuring party CAN drop a People's Elbow on anything the GM throws at them.

When thinking about your character's role in a game, you should keep two main things in mind: the roles of the other characters in the group and the type of campaign that you'll be playing. In other words, you need to try and make your character "fit," both in the group and in the game world.

A group comprised of four burglars might sound like an opportunity for some interesting roleplaying and story ideas, but it's very difficult for any given character to shine if all the characters are similar in design.

GM: "Ok Tim, you check the door and it seems to be locked."

All four players in unison: "I pick it."

Of course, just because your character is the same class as another in the group doesn't mean you can't fill different roles. In the roleplaying world, just like in the real world, title should not dictate station. Those same four burglars could decide to take their characters down different paths. One character could be good at picking locks, but not so good at picking pockets. Another could excel at talking his way out of trouble, while another might prefer to stab first and talk later. One guy could completely forsake the "normal" rogue abilities and focus solely on the skills that help him identify and use magical items. It's all about knowing what roles are already filled in your group.

Also, during character creation, you should make sure that you do not choose a character that would force the group to make drastic changes in the way they play. If the campaign you'll be playing in is a hack-n-slash on the run, you might want to consider something other than a character who excels at creating and using custom weapons. If you have to stop every few days to set up shop and build a new plasma rifle, you'll slow down the pillagin' and burnin'.

Meet with your DM and discuss your character's role in the world. Many times, like the personality, this will be determined for you by other choices. Things such as vocation, background/goals, or even race can have a profound effect on your character's role. Ask the GM, "how will people react to me? Will they want to be my friend? Will they shower me with money and sexual favors, or when they gaze upon my horrible visage, will they attempt to hit me in my head with heavy and/or sharp objects?" Sometimes, your DM won't give you the answers to these questions (cuz DM's are inherently evil), but it won't hurt to ask.

Give Details

Unfortunately, this is the step that is most likely to be skipped during the character generation process. This is where you really flesh out your new character. Most roleplayers strive to make original characters, using original ideas. If you threw your character into a campaign without going through this step, I can pretty much guarantee that your character would not be an original one. Someone somewhere would have used the exact same character before.

How does your character dress? How does he carry himself? How does she wear her hair usually? Does he have any prominent scars or tattoos? How 'bout strange growths, sentient or otherwise? So your character uses a gun. That's cool, but where does she wear it? Does she wear it low on the hip, old west style, or does she keep it in a holster under her arm? These little details might seem trivial and they probably won't have any bearing on your rollplaying, but they can speak volumes about your character and they will help you roleplay.

Don't stop with giving the physical details. Flesh out the character internally as well. Are there any classes/races/people that your character just doesn't get along with? Does your character have any interesting quirks? Maybe a nervous tick. Perhaps your character is very forgetful. Maybe he has a weakness for alcoholic beverages. Sure, your character may be an armor-clad mountain of muscle, but that doesn't mean he can't enjoy uplifting show tunes, now does it?

Now You're Done

So that's it. You're done with your character and he's ready to play. Well, you still have to name him, choose his class, distribute ability points, pick his kewl powerz, and all that stuff.

Now, you should know who your character really is. Say hello. You'll be spending a lot of time together. Even when you're not playing.

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