Character Building 101: Where Do I Start?

Posted on September 17, 2012 by

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Hello everyone. My name is Tyler, and my good friends Kyle and Alex have graciously allowed me to share some insights on character creation and story aspects of roleplaying (because I pestered them into letting me do it). Since so much of The Dungeon Remastered focuses on (excellent) advice for DM’s, I thought a post focused on the role-play and story aspects of PC’s could be helpful. There’ll be precious little dealing with numbers or class mechanics in this column, rather, I’ll be hashing out the ways to make your characters into unique, interesting, well-rounded faux people (or whatever crazy species you decide to play).

To begin with a cliché, there are as many ways to build and play a D&D character as there are players, and there are few if any absolute rules about how a player should play. There are, however, many simple ideas and strategies that can propel a D&D character to the forefront of any adventuring group and establish a well-rounded identity.

Steal An Idea

So, this may sound a little bit sketchy, but bear with me. Novels, movies, videogames, all forms of fiction really rely upon recurring tropes and archetypes. Look to a character that you really like, someone/thing fun and unique that you’d like to pull details from.

As an example, I was playing in Alex’s most recent iteration of his Undead game, and I knew I wanted to be a melee character, ideally someone dangerous and damaged. Needing inspiration, I asked myself one of the most important questions a character builder can ask: who/what is awesome? A lot of things are, but this time I settled on the Marvel comics character Wolverine.

He’s tough in melee, can cut people up, and is the best at what he does (fight), all good, strong character aspects. From there I began filling in the details with his class, his race, and came up with a plausible reason for him to be what he is, an assassin training program, not unlike Wolverine’s Weapon X.

Don’t worry too much about being unoriginal; you’re building from general outlines and iconic themes, and the game will give you numerous opportunities to grow in directions that will separate your character from the source material.

Start Two-Dimensional

We all want to make an interesting, fleshed-out, cool as hell character, but nuance takes time to establish.

If you’re trying to make an immediate impression and really come out of the starting gate running, choose big strong personality features, and don’t be afraid to commit to them. Make your character psychotic, give the character severe past trauma, make them orphans or amnesiacs, give them an unbending sense of justice, make them worship death, get them addicted to drugs. Whatever. Just choose the strongest immediate impressions you can think of, and commit to it.

As long as you start with strong choices, even if they’re just a shoddy framework to build around, the character will grow as you play it. The story will progress. Just commit to your decisions fully and you’ll be there in no time.

Simplify Your Decisions

I often start my character building with class as my inspiration.  It doesn’t get much more simple than that.

You’re a fighter? Well, that’s cool, and it gives you an idea of who your character might be. Elaborate on that. No one’s just a fighter (what, like a dude that just walks up to people and fights them?), people have jobs, and “fighter” informs a lot of decisions about whether you’re a soldier, or a body guard, or a bounty hunter, or even a bar room brawler.

What I’m saying is this: accept and use the stereotypes that the game gives you, and commit to the natural implications of those tropes. Let the game do some of the work for you; your job is to adjust the details, add human depth, and breathe life into your hero.

Work With the Group

The absolute best resources for molding your character are your fellow players and especially the DM. Collaborate with the DM about where you’re character fits into the world. The Dungeon Master is building a setting and writing stories and trying to engage the players; ask them where you’re from, how your particular people cope in the setting, the political and societal landscape, everything. Even if the DM isn’t totally sure, the brainstorming will give you material to build your character from, and will give the storyteller material to incorporate into the game, and your character will become more central and integrated into the story.

Don’t hesitate to talk to the other players; they’re in the same boat as you are, and if you share ideas you’ll both avoid stepping on someone else’s toes and you may find unexpected ideas on how to role-play. Establish pre-existing relationships between characters, if any, and consider how your character would perceive the other party members.

Engage in a dialogue with everyone at your table and you will benefit immeasurably. This is a communal game, after-all, so take advantage of the benefits it confers: other people.

Good. Now get out there and play.

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Posted in: Casual, Game Talk