Making Characters


Gaming Stories
Stephen R. Donaldson-itis
Glory Days and D&D
Making Characters

As I sit here listening to Queen's Instrumental version of who wants to live forever, it occurs to me that I want to put down some words about roleplaying. By the way. all the music from Highlander is available on an album titled A kind of Magic.

More than numbers

All games have character creation systems. Most of them don't go much further than creating a pile of statistics that profile your character's physical and mental abilities. I like participating in games that have characters that are more than just the sum of their attributes.

Some games give you more points for having traits or character faults that affect game play. People are usually loathe to make a character with a flaw that renders them useless in certain situations, and tend to take character flaws in a last ditch effort to get that one skill up to par.

An example of a character disadvantage:

One-Hand Jack lost his left hand in a wheat grinder as a child. This could have made him useless as a miller, but he created many prosthetics to help him get by. As he grew older, his prosthetics became more mechanically complex. Eventually, he came to the notice of the technologists guild. They took him in based on the fact that he had created an articulated mechanical hand using bits of technology he had scavenged from a site they were interested in.

Since then, he has worked with the guild in many ways. He has gone out to digs, helped restore found technologies, and created new technologies based on information found out about the ancients. As the Technologists guild is a secret organization, he is often mistaken for a thief or other form of low-life. Many of the tools he utilizes can be used as thieves kits. When his artificial hand is discovered, the local constabulary often assumes he lost his hand for thieving.

If you take a disability, you should write down where and how the character got that disability, how it affects them daily, and how it has shaped their way of thinking.

Games with Class

In a class based game, players have an general idea of what certain classes behave like. This can result in a stereotypical character that is pigeon-holed, and no fun to play. You should not let your characters get forced into situations by following too strictly to a character template. Instead, you should consider that the template is a general guideline.

Clerics for instance, often are categorized by the traits of their Gods. Clerics of War Gods are played as blood thirsty club wielders that give little support in healing. If anything, a Cleric of a War God should be the one who counsels AGAINST getting into battle without good reason, might have knowledge of battle field tactics, and could have leadership skills as well as being able to heal the wounded. It is too often assumed that war is just killing. You can add much depth to a character by looking beyond the simple definitions we take for granted.

Games of Skill

Skill based games often result in vague, mostly undefined characters. This happens because there is no real template to work from, and the flexibility given for creating skill sets can lead players into making bland characters that are all over the board.

To solve the problem of having a mediocre character, you should choose 1 thing the character excels at, and one or two things he knows something about. Put the majority of points into the one skill, and most of the rest into the other two skills. In the case of having a bad roll, skip the two things he knows about.

Finally, put the minimum number of points you can into three skills that you have interest in. In the case of the player with bad dice rolls, you may want to only get two of these interest skills.

Do NOT pick multiple kinds of combat for your skills. If you want to be a fighter, pick 1 kind of combat to be excellent in. Combat skills (including magic) are generally the most costly in point based games.

You may think that having only 1 major skill, up to two minor skills, and perhaps three bare minimum skills would make a character very limited. The fact is that the skill mechanics of a roleplaying game are only part of the game. The rest is roleplaying. Your character can have hundreds of non quantified interests. Most games allow for a "minimum die roll" of some sort, so long as you are not trying to create a fireball without a magic skill.

Once you've got a viable character, do exactly what you would do in a class based game. look at the stereotype of your character, and break it by adding details and removing self imposed limitations. Make a fighter that likes something more than loot and swords.

What makes you tick

Now, lets talk about motivations. Everybody has them. It is important to differentiate your daily motivations from those of the character you are playing. This is where the acting part of roleplaying comes into play.

It's fun to play characters that are radically different than yourself. I find that players tend to get annoyed when one of them refuses to get into the game and actually play a character. You could be sitting at a table eating a hamburger and playing a vegetarian healer from Gedi Prime, or playing yet another mindless drone that has no interaction with the game until it's time to kill things. Which is more fun?

Set three goals for your character based on all the traits you have already created. One, is an immediate goal for the session, the next, for the adventure, and the third for the campaign. One-Hand Jack could have a session goal of getting a couple of artifacts he found to the guild, an adventure goal of getting "in" with the local Baron, who has a dig site on his lands, and a campaign goal of getting enough money to get a hand regenerated.

Some of these goals need to be set up with the Game Master, others can be communicated with the players and the game master, and finally, some can be kept just to yourself. Keeping these goals in mind when a situation is presented can affect how your character reacts to a situation.

Goals are what motivates your character to do things that others would not do in the same situation. Jack may decide to take a job guiding a stranger through some dangerous territory because he needs to save money for his hand, or he may decided to not take it because he suspects the stranger is out to get technology from a dig, and use it against the Baron. Of course, he may decide to guide the stranger AND tell the Baron what's going on. Sounds much more interesting than "Wake me up for the fighting" doesn't it?

When all is said and done

A roleplaying game becomes much more interactive, and dynamic when both the Game Master and the players bring something to the table that is beyond reading from a module and rolling dice.

If your having a great time playing hack and slash, then more power to you. But, if you slip a couple of these ideas about character into your game, you may find that the game becomes even more enjoyable than it already is.