Creating Characters for Character-Driven Games
- 1 Concept & Identity
- 2 Background & Hooks
- 3 Supporting Cast
- 4 Backstory
- 5 Interview
- 6 Finishing Touches
- 7 Statistics & Abilities
Concept & Identity
1. Put down the dice and rulebooks for a second, and think about character concept and what kind of guy your character is going to be.
Before moving on to the next step, did you pick one of the following?
- A brooding loner with no ties
- A psychopath
- An amnesiac
- A wanderer whose parents were killed by orcs
- A thief who presses all buttons and steals from the party
If so, you should probably start over.
Background & Hooks
2. Start to write the background. While you're coming up with the story, make sure you include maybe 2-5 things from the character's past that could affect his present, such as:
- An enemy or rival
- A long-lost friend or relative
- A dirty secret
- A goal
- A rumour the character has always wanted to find the truth behind
- A reputation, deserved or otherwise
- An ongoing relationship, good or bad
- A destiny (go easy on this one, it's the weakest option, and always talk to the GM first)
You don't necessarily have to specify what the secret is if you're using a secret; you can let the GM surprise you.
Don't be afraid to give the GM things like enemies or a bad rep that will fuck you over in play. If you have trouble bringing yourself to do this, look at it this way: The chances are that the GM already knows about the Amazonian Penis Fish, and he already has the power to fuck you over in any way he likes, up to and including Flying Amazonian Penis Fish. So when you write that you have a powerful rival, don't think of it as giving him ideas about how to have that rival fuck you; think of it as distracting him from the Amazonian Penis Fish option.
3. Write down the names of every significant NPC in your character's life. Parents are obvious ones, but don't feel your character has to have parents - they could be long dead or simply not important. But he needs to have a connection to somebody. A loner who pops out of nowhere with a trenchcoat and a katana isn't interesting. Rivals, brothers, war buddies, former subordinates, doctors, lovers, enemies, mentors etc. Give the GM a brief description of each, and don't be afraid to leave details for the GM to fill in.
4. Now you should have a good idea of what kind of person this is. Write up your character history, ideally in the first person. Think about how the character feels about the events you're writing down. It's not too early to start roleplaying.
5. The interview stage. Sit down with the GM and answer the following questions, one at a time:
What is your Name?
What are your Strengths?
Anything your character is good at. Can include moral traits like loyalty, honesty, bravery etc.
What are your Weaknesses?
Things that can throw a spanner in the works. Things you're bad at. Things you don't like doing. Hobbies - if you're an avid collector of coins or have a weakness for fine wine or women or even puzzles, those all count.
What are your Flaws?
These are the things that can potentially ruin you. This can include things you absolutely need - your need to protect your children, or a need to prove yourself. Pride is always a good one. Past crimes. Thirst for revenge. Depression.
What's your Moral Outlook?
What's right and wrong? Why? Does it come from somewhere? Is it innate?
The GM has to think of one appropriate to the campaign. The one we used was this: You find a guard beating up a woman who has stolen food to feed her children, she's begging him not to throw her in jail because her children will go hungry. Despite this the society of the town is generally 'good' and just. Do you intervene, and if so, how? Whatever the dilemma is, answering it will tell you a lot about how the character thinks. Note: If your answer is 'I kill them both, and take their stuff', you might want to start over.
What are your Character Goals?
What does the character want to do? Find his long-lost sister? Become king? Fuck every whore from here to Waterdeep?
What are your Player Goals?
What are your goals as a player for the character? This is the one most often overlooked. Do you really want your fighter to become king, or is it a foolish dream that he'll grow out of in favour of something more down to earth and meaningful? Does your whoring cleric leave a trail of bastards across Cormyr, or is he going to find true love and something worth fighting for? Where is your character's story going? Where might it end?
Don't just answer these questions, talk with the GM about the answers. The back and forth will often give both of you ideas. Particularly for the last question - maybe the GM wants to run a game about feckless rogues wandering from town to town one step ahead of the law and their creditors, in which case the whoring cleric will fit right in; if he wants to tell a tale of epic heroism then you'll be able to discuss with him what it would take to make your whoring cleric sober up.
What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
What do you mean, African or European?
6. Go over your background again and finish it up. During this time the GM should write up a 'cheat sheet' with details of the NPCs from the list you gave him, and anything else you need to know about, for example, your hometown. This serves to let you know whether the GM really has a handle on those characters or whether you need to describe them better.
Statistics & Abilities
7. Now at last you can sit down and write up your character sheet. By this point you should know exactly what skills and abilities to take. If you wouldn't normally be allowed something that is an established part of your background, ask the GM to make an exception for it. He will if he knows what's good for him.