One of the most enjoyable aspects of tabletop RPGs is bringing a character to life. If I had to guess, I would say most of you have created more characters then you have been able to play. Sometimes inspiration just strikes! Be it from a piece of art, or a movie, you just have to create this character stuck in your head. It’s just a fun part of the game, and an aspect I love to plan for weeks on end before starting a new campaign. So, as someone that takes this way too seriously, I thought it would be interesting to explain my process for creating characters. It’s always been fascinating to me to see how different people approach a creative endeavor. Feel free to share your process in the comments, and try some of these tricks for yourself!
Choosing a class is my starting point if I don’t have a specific character in mind. I have a few favorite classes, but overall I am more attached to the character than any mechanical systems or game-play. For that reason, I like to know what the group is thinking of playing, and fitting into that dynamic. This also encourages me play something I hadn’t before. If I’m unaware of the other player’s choices, then I will lean toward a marshal character with minor casting abilities. Both Cleric and the Trickster Rogue are two of my favorite go-to classes when in a pinch. Honestly though, my enjoyment comes from working together as a party, and as much as I may like a given class, nothing would disappoint me more than showing up to a game with a similar character concept as another player. The feeling of stepping into someone else’s spotlight would cause me to hold back more often than not. For this reason, I am a fan of the session zero, where the group creates characters together. Not always feasible due to schedules, so a text string works just as well. A character’s race is a little more fluid to me, and largely depends on the class more than anything else. I am a visual person, so this character needs to make sense in my head. I love Dragonborn, but it’s hard for me to picture a massive creature like this as a sneaky Rogue. A large and intimidating Dragonborn Cleric of Bahamut sounds more accurate! Of course, now that I type this, I can absolutely picture a Dragonborn with a smaller frame and jet-black scales, which could make a great Rogue. Mainly, I’m looking for the race to enhance the visual of the class I have chosen, while also fitting into the party dynamic.
Since the visual component is so important to me, my next step is to search for art of the race or class I am aiming to create. The tabletop RPG community has so many talented artists, that simply scrolling through Twitter or Instagram will spark ideas. Recently, I was starting a small side adventure with friends and I knew we needed a healer, but little else. I was leaning toward Cleric, when I saw a piece on Instagram of a Dragonborn in black plate. Just looking at this image, I knew his name had to sound sharp… something that reminded me of a dagger: Nith! I saw the black armor and thought: that doesn’t feel very holy. I pictured him serving as support for a front-line army before leaving his home to become an adventurer. Being all black, maybe he was attached to a special force’s unit? Does that have something to do with him leaving home after years of service? All of these ideas just came flooding in simply by looking at the character art. If a character has been with me long enough, then I will try to get an original piece commissioned, because even from the first editions, I feel tabletop RPGs have owed a great deal of their success to amazing artists that bring these worlds and characters to life.
Once I have the art and character basics, then I try to come up with a personality. Now, most of the personality will be fleshed out once I get into the character and have the opportunity to bounce off the other players, but I like to have an idea to work off of. This could simply be his/her temperament: Are they quick to anger? Are they more likely to try and break up a fight? Starting with little questions like this provides a base in which I can refine during play. However, I am never married to the personality that I come up with beforehand. If the group dynamic is going a different way or my original idea feels forced, then I leave myself room to take the character in a new direction that feels natural. Be adaptable and read the table, honestly, this is the best tip I can give any player. This advice goes for voices too! Though they aren’t required by any means, I find that a voice or speech pattern helps me get into a character. When coming up with a voice, I will often go for a walk and record a few lines in different voices on my phone. In doing this you will have a few cringe-worthy moments, but I have also discovered many of my favorite characters by testing in a save space. Again, it’s important to read the table and adapt, but having this mold of your character sets you up in a way that allows you to find the character and encourage social interactions.
Many of you are aware of the power gamer trope. Well, I fall on the extreme opposite end of that spectrum. I care very little for my character’s optimization or “build”. My character is of course an adventurer, and I have an idea of how he/she will handle combat, but, as far as numbers go, I have little interest. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy picking feats, spells, and abilities, but the focus for me will be: does this make sense for the character? This often causes me to take more situational abilities that feel in line with the character’s personality. This is just my personal play-style, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with optimizing your character. It’s just not how I approach it. I do enjoy picking out starting equipment, but like to approach it from the character’s perspective. Again, I will use an art piece for inspiration, so if I see a giant two-handed hammer in the character art, you can safely bet my character will be taking said two-handed hammer. Aside from war-gear, most people simply take the adventures kit that includes the basics, but this is where I get pretty nerdy. My character is an adventurer. What situations has he/she seen that would shape the items they carry? Have they ever been lost in a dungeon? Then it’s a safe wager that they are carrying chalk, rope, and a grapple! Going back to personality, what other personal items would this character carry? For the example of my Dragonborn, a symbol of his unit seems fitting. Perhaps he is homesick and didn’t want to leave, yet something forced his hand. So, by all means optimize your character, but I would encourage you to keep his/her personality in mind when choosing builds and equipment as it will create narrative bond with these items that can be used in role-play.
I always thought this one was just a weird me thing, but upon becoming involved with the tabletop RPG community, I realized I wasn’t alone here. Music has always played a huge part of my life, and it’s not until I was older that I realized how much I used music to feel connected. In this sense, making a character’s playlist that includes songs I think they would relate to, just came naturally. I select the songs by the mood or perhaps a lyric that resonates with the character’s personality or background. When I have a more detailed backstory, a few songs may convey how those past events affected the character. Themes of betrayal, loss, and hope can all be strong motivations that can feed back into the development of the character. If you haven’t tried this technique, I would recommend giving it a shot. Using a playlist has enhanced my grasp of a character, and been a boon to my play experience.
My process may fall on the odd-side, but it has always helped me get into the skin of a character. That being said, I would be incredibly interested to learn from the RPG community how you guys/gals create characters? What tips have helped you in the past? Is my playlist idea just as crazy as I thought? When making characters there is no right or wrong way, and I find it to be a fun and creative process. This may be why we all like doing it so much!