It’s funny how the topic of character creation has been explored so many times, yet still remains one of the most challenging aspects of any role playing game. I have read article after article, and sat around the game table for hours talking about the subject. Maybe it is my own exploration that makes things seem this way. Or maybe it’s because characters and games can be so vast and varied that the journey to how best to make a character will never conclude. Never the less, one of these after Pathfinder discussions inspired me to write this post on what I think makes a good character, and how to go about making one. To start it will be assumed that you have a decent amount of time on your hands to really get into making a new character. However later I will address those times when you need to be quick about rolling up your critter (who hasn’t died by the orcish blade?).
The first step I take before I create a new character is to live his life, completely, before I even print a character sheet. I use a few different methods to accomplish this. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and can be used alone or together. My favorite is the first from the list below and I use it when I am particularly serious about the character or anytime I am involved in commencing a new campaign.
Journey of the mind – So I grab my iced tea, mp3 player and a note book. Find your quiet place to have some alone time and let a colorful scene begin to form in your head. Eyes closed of course. Create the backdrop of the world or setting your character will be from and live out his life in your mind. It’s sounds a little weird I know. But with a little practice you can really have fun with this and if you do it before rolling any dice it frees you to explore options that rules can sometimes restrict. Also, this method allows for flash creation and flavor of the individuals and places involved in your characters life. So for example, when he was born get an image of what Mom and Dad looked like? Let the picture, in some ways, paint itself. What did the locale of the birth look like? Who was there? Where were your siblings if any. Was it an easy birth? Continue the life of your character to the next phase. Infancy, toddler, child, on down the line. The critical junction comes when the character in question enters the stage of life where the game campaign starts. This is where you just can’t make up what happens. But it is the best chance to decide what type of game character you want to play and what abilities you would like to see them have. Mainly for me it’s where I picture what powers, holdings, magic items etc. my character will have when he is actually retired. Now with a fairly clear idea of the life your character it will be easy to put him down on paper. Selecting feats and skills will be a breeze because you already know where you want to character to go. Obviously the more time you spend day dreaming your character the more detailed story you will have. I have spend up to an hour doing it. Even better, sometimes I fall asleep. Hopefully to have real dreams about my toon. Remember to grab your notebook anytime you come up with something really good or that you think you will forget and to write down as much as you can remember from the visualization.
A Day in the Life – This one is particularly fun and challenging for me. Grab your dice and, based on your starting race, pick ones that will generate the age with which the character will start. For humans the trusty D20 works well, Elves d100 and so on. So for humans roll your D20. Then in as many words as you like write down what happened in your characters life on the year you rolled. It boggles the mind at how creative you can be with this. If you roll low, what event happened to your character that impacts him still. Got a low constitution? On the year you roll explain the illness or event that could have caused it. For each character I make I do this 3-5 times. If I roll a same number twice. I make it quite a significant year and add to what I have already written. You can even take it a step farther and once or twice grab the D12, D4 and D6 to determine also the month, week and day respectively that you are writing about. One word of caution, this can get a little hectic and more complicated as it needs to be. What you are looking for is a snap shot of a time in your character’s back story.
Interview With an Adventurer – This one takes a one time investment of a little work. You are a reporter for Today’s Adventurer and you have been sent to do an interview with a new up and comer in the adventuring world. Prepare your interview. Write out the questions, keeping in mind that no interviewer goes into a meeting unprepared. So assume that you have at least a basic knowledge of the character and his profession. So if say for example your character is a half-elven fighter named Gus from Ryetown, some of the questions may look like this:
- Gus where did you learn your sword skill?
And do you have any significant battles to mention?
- So what was it like growing up in Ryetown? Do you mind elaborating on your mixed heritage?
- Why did you choose an adventuring career? And why a warrior?
These are just a few examples. But you get the idea. Be sure to include questions about feats and exceptionally high skills or class abilities. Now ideally you will have a fellow player sit down with you and ask you the questions and write down the answers. If that is not available then just go ahead and answer them. The point is to be “in character” and explore details of your characters life when you do.
1000 Words is Worth a Picture – Unfortunately we can’t take a picture of the character. So reverse the old saying and sit down and write 1000 words (okay that may be a little much) on the physical description of your character. I usually start at the top and work my way down. You would be surprised at how detailed your finger description can be when you have 1000 words to fill. Leave nothing untouched and give yourself a little freedom when it comes to equipment. Since this is pre-character sheet, take some poetic license and give your rogue leather armor and daggers and your fighter some chain mail and longsword even though you haven;t bought them yet. You can always revisit the description post character sheet. In any case with a good picture in your mind of what your character looks like putting it down on paper will be a breeze. This step can be skipped or trumped by art work. In fact this to me is a better choice. Draw out a real picture of your critter. Unfortunately for me, an artist I am not.
Hopefully by now you can see how once these tasks are completed, transferring it into a playable character should be an easy task. And if your journey has taken you somewhere other than the rules cover, you will have an easy time convincing the GM how it could be made to work. The bad news is that sometimes unexpected or unfortunate events befall our heroes and it sucks to be left out early to mid game. So what do you do when you need a character fast? Read on…
Application for Enrollment – I hate going to the doctor. I do any and everything I can to occupy my time with gaming. So when I went to the doctor one day I had to, of course, fill out a bunch of paper work. Like every time. But it got me to thinking. Wow they got a pretty good questionnaire that gives them a clear concise idea of me and what’s going on. So when you are creating on the fly, jot down the information you would find on a typical application or questionnaire.
The list actually can be as long or short as your time will allow. But it gives you a quick fast character outline that accomplishes some of the things the above methods do, just not as well or with the same detail.
I love creating characters. It is fun from both a player’s and GM’s perspective. The more you do it, the better and more creative you will get at it. So next time you take a magic missile to the eye or get turned into your favorite undead zombie. Don’t despair. Just smile at the opportunity you have to create a whole new character with some depth, breadth and investment that will make him a true pleasure to play. I would love to hear your comments and feedback on this article. So don’t be shy and comment below.