How to Create a Great RPG Character

If you’re not an experienced tabletop roleplayer, or if you’re jumping into a system that is new for you, it can be a pretty daunting experience. Just looking at a fresh, empty character sheet can be enough to give you a headache, never mind playing the actual game! All those numbers, all those different boxes – it’s like some secret code! Well, don’t panic, we’ve got a few tips and tricks to help you get your character built and ready to play with the minimum of fuss.

Talk to your GM.

This is first on the list for a very good reason. Your GM will be familiar with the system – they will have studied the sourcebooks, they’ll already have some NPCs and villains made up, and as GM it is their job to make sure you have fun playing their game. So use them! Talk to them about your character ideas, ask them for help if you’re stuck, and absolutely do get their help in putting all the numbers on the sheet. And if you’re really stuck, there’s no harm in giving them your concept and letting them do the numbers part for you. They are there to help!

Don’t Start With the Character Sheet.

Those character sheets look awful. They’re daunting, complex, and full of numbers – and they’re not the heart and soul of your character; they’re more like the joints and the bones. You need them to move about and do things, but they don’t make you you. When making a character, start off with a blank sheet of paper and write down who you want your character to be. Think about the things that don’t translate to numbers on the sheet, such as their beliefs, memories, opinions, training, past experiences, and so on. These are the things that make a character a person, not just a dice-rolling monster slayer.

Play What You Know.

Similar to the old writer’s adage of ‘write what you know’, you should always play characters that you are familiar with in some way. There are several approaches: playing a character based on yourself makes your decision-making and moral choices easy to decide upon, which leaves you free to concentrate on the mechanics of the game – really useful if you’re new to the game. Or you can pick a character from your favourite movie, book or show, and base your character on them. If you’re ever stuck on a decision, thinking ‘What would Jon Snow do?’ will help you figure it out. (Though you should probably change the name for the sake of avoiding all the ‘you know nothing’ jokes!)

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If you’re an experienced roleplayer and you want to try something a little out of your usual comfort zone, that’s fine – but remember to do your research beforehand. If you want to play an expert hacker, read up on the subject; learn some technical terms and get a basic idea of the processes. It’ll help you figure out what your character would and would not do, and it’ll make you sound brilliant when spout these terms in character!

Use the Archetypes!

Different systems have different ways of approaching archetypes, but however they handle it, those archetypes are there for a reason. It is hugely helpful to have a one-word or one-line phrase that summarises your character’s mindset to look back at if you get stuck. Obviously it’s not going to sum up everything about your character – people are much more complicated than that no matter what game universe they dwell in – but it’ll serve as a great reminder and jumping-off point for you. My current favourite is the approach taken by 5th edition D&D; there are spaces on your character sheet where you are encouraged to write a short quote the summarizes your character’s feelings and beliefs on several key tenets. If you don’t want to write them yourself, you can pick from a list in the Player’s Handbook, or even roll a die to assign them randomly!

Another good tool is looking online for random character generators. At the click of a button, you can have a basic character concept to use as a starting point for your character. Who the *@?#!* is My D&D Character is a good one (but it’s a bit sweary, so be warned!), and it’s been adapted to use for Shadowrun characters as well. A more generic fantasy generator can be found on Springhole.net which goes into a little more detail. And these are just what we found with a preliminary search – there are loads out there, including some that will fill in your character sheets for you!

Visualise Your Character.

Cg6Q5IdWwAA7psmIt can really help to have an idea of what your character looks like; it helps make them real to you, and that helps you to figure out the details. It’s also really helpful to the other players if you can instantly describe your character when required; it helps to flesh out the world you’re playing in. Again, picking a character from a movie or tv show can help; or if you’re artistic you could draw your character.

Be a Team Player

This one is important. Yes, we’ve all wanted to play the lonely, brooding, mysterious stranger who is strong and independent; after all, they make great protagonists in books and shows. But RPGs are a team game. Your character needs to be capable and willing to work as part of a team or they’re going to be a real hassle to play. That’s not to say that you can’t play a mysterious, brooding type – just make sure they’re not so busy brooding that they end up sat at the back, missing out on the action. Additionally, quiet characters, hostile characters, and characters with strong prejudices against other races in the game are also tricky, and will not fit well in every party. Speak with your GM before you decide to play one of them.

Remember to Keep it Fun!

That’s another thing about the mysterious, brooding types – they can get really boring! I rolled a mysterious, dignified druid for a D&D game recently, thinking she’d be really cool and heroic to play. I spent a couple of games looking down my nose at the rest of the party and saying very little ( and doing very little as a result), before I realised that everyone else was having way more fun than me. I got the druid killed off, rolled a wise-cracking ranger, and instantly starting enjoying the game much more! So don’t feel like you need to be the Aragorn of the party; it’s fine to be the Merry or the Pippin too.

What’s Your Motivation?

Another important one is to consider your character’s motivation. If they don’t have a reason to go off adventuring with the rest of the party, it’s going to feel really forced and kind of stupid when they do! Is your character fighting to liberate his oppressed village? Great! What’s he going to do when the village is liberated? Is your character obsessed with protecting their family, or chasing after one specific treasure? They’ll be in trouble in the game’s plot takes them away from those things. You don’t need deep, complicated reasons to be an adventurer, either – gold, travel, and fame are great ones – heck, even boredom works! How many rich trust fund sons went expeditioning to Africa in the early part of the 20th century just because they could? (That’s a great premise for a Call of Cthulhu character, by the way). I’ve played characters that have been picked up by a party halfway through a game and stuck around out of curiosity, or because the party saved them from danger, and that’s been the entire reason they’ve been there.star-wars1

Finally … Backstory is Important … For You.

Have you ever sat around at a game while someone gives you a half-hour monologue on who their character is, where they grew up, what happened to them to turn them into the man they are now? It’s not fun, is it? And GMs will rarely call on their players to share their backstories for that very reason. So the temptation can be to not bother too much with backstory; why put the effort into something that you’re not going to share with the other players?

Here’s why: the backstory is important for you. It’s what will help you colour your choices and reactions; it’s what the GM will use to add bits of plot that are personal to you; it’s what your characters will talk about (or avoid talking about) while they’re keeping watch around a campfire at night. If you write out a detailed backstory, you’ll have it to hand to draw upon through out the game, for inspiration, for help if you get stuck making a decision, or just to bring up the odd interesting fact to make your character intriguing to the others. Everyone has a past, even if they don’t talk about it; your character should be the same.

So that’s a few things for you to keep in mind while you’re creating your RPG characters; hopefully it’ll help you navigate the common pitfalls and come up with something really cool and fun to play!

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