Character Creation made Overly Complicated - Stolen from Cyrus on HGMux.org which I have now appropriated from the WoW forums
Characters. PCs. NPCs. FCs. OFCs. EFCs. OEFCs. Whatever your favorite acronym is, they're all the same. They're characters. They populate the game worlds and drive plots and storylines. They're created to live and breath, learn and explore, and to be killed and die. They're also a great way to kill a few boring hours on a bus ride home or terrible excuses to sit there and ruin a gaming system. Yes, I'm talking to you, Eddie.
Whatever the case may be, my skill lies primarily on the ability to drum up a character at the drop of a hat. While this skill isn't useful on any real practical sense (I've yet to see it help me do, say, my taxes), it does make it easier to run games, or play in them. Coming up with a decent character concept isn't hard once you know how. In fact, I'd go so far to say as it's almost shamefully and embarrassingly easy once you know how.
That aside, let's get to the meat of things rather than have me ramble endlessly, waxing philosophically about the joys and pitfalls of the esoteric points of generating a fictional character. A lot of this information you canp robably find in some form in writing manuals, but hey. I'm a hell of a lot funnier, and you don't have to pay anything to read my bull$!@%. So on with the show.
CHARACTER CONSTRUCTION 101: The Hook.
So, you've decided to make a character. Good. Doesn't matter what game, unless it's a Vampire LARP. All you need to know is that you need to not shave for a week, put on a black trench coat, develop an unhealthy limp wrist, and learn to wrap your mouth around words like 'Malkavian'. Then act like a character from a soap opera, except your dialogue has been written by a chemically imbalanced thirteen year old Goth girl.
For those of you still left in the room after the sissies have now pranced out, let's get started. Characters can be made in a variety of ways. But since I'm me, I'll be talking about the way I tend to do things. Let's call it the 'Right' way.
Character construction for me starts with something I and about fifty billion other GMs/Game Manual Writers call a 'Hook'. The Hook is a defining trait. It can be very simple or complex as you like, and can be anything from an attitude, occupation, look, or origin. However, the hook is the most important part of the character; it's what draws the interests of others. Some examples are as follows:
Cyrus: Soulless Industrialist.
Marlene & Darlene: Insanely Hot.
Caroline: Prim & Proper.
Robocop: Police Cyborg.
Ash: Extremely Angry Man.
Beetlejuice: Undead Con-Man.
Tenchi Muyo: Wussy.
Heero Yuy: Angry.
Shinshi: Really Wussy.
As you can see, there's a lot of things going on there, all under the handle of 'Hook'. The important thing is to definitely try for simple, but more usually doesn't hurt. Also, try to keep things reasonable and use your best judgement. This guide is for people that are smarter than the dip$!@% that puts 'Shoots Stuff' down as a hook, especially if he's dealing with a genre where nobody shoots anything. If you're not smart enough, put down your dribble cup, and go watch Dragonball Z. Now, let's discuss a few aspects of the Hook. Actually, it's more like something the FOX Network would talk about: when Hooks Go Bad.
HOOK ISSUE 1: The Copy/Paste Method.
A common way to do Hooks is to grab from movies, comic books, cartoons, books, and other source material. Now, most people just take general ideas and concepts. A character that looks like Neo from the Matrix, or a guy that has the same accent as Death's Head. That's fine and innocuous enough not to be too ostentatious. The problems begin when you start violating copyright laws and grab the character in it's entirety for use in your game. There's a certain amount of risk in that, but if executed right, you can pretty much go and make yourself a sandwich. This article is over for you. Essentially it's the direct transliteration of a character from another source to the genre you're working with. The only thing here that limits you is your skill. If you swear to God your own mother thinks you're Spider-Man, then by all means, freaking play Spider-Man in your game. However, let me be the first to say this: You can't do Spider-Man very well. Marvel Comics can't even do him very well, and they made him. Keep that in mind. I don't care if you've researched every tiny nuance of Heero Yuy. Your capacity to play Heero at best is going to be fair to middling. Why would I say something like this? Simple: if you care enough to port over a character into a roleplaying game directly, 100% with basically no change save for maybe a name switch and a few minor adjustments, you like the character too much to play him or her correctly. Not only that, it reeks of unoriginality, and most likely if it's popular enough to make into a 100% port, I probably hate the character mostly because almost everything glorified by popular media today is insipid trash.
HOOK ISSUE 2: The Polymorph Method.
So you've been diagnosed with ADD, and can't even concentrate when peeing. Then I can forgive you for this capital crime in character creation. The bottom line is, a character's Hook needs integrity. Find a Hook, stick with it. If it doesn't work MAKE A NEW CHARACTER. Unless you happen to be, oh, Chris Claremont and you're attempting to !@!#& out your latest X-Men taste sensation for this year's hot, hip new audience, you generally don't have a good excuse for doing this. What's more, there's no justification for practically reinventing your characters over and over again unless you want to piss off your GM or just generally be irritating. Nothing is more disconcerting than having a paradigm shift in the middle of a game. If all of a sudden your kindly old Wood Elf shaves his head and starts talking like Mr. T for no fathomable reason other than you got tired of playing a kindly Wood Elf, then my friend, you are a retard.
HOOK ISSUE 3: The 2D Method.
"Dude! Wolverine is so KEWL! He like, beats up people and stuff, and he's got a cool healing factor, and those adamantium claws! And he like, beats up stuff!" Also, Wolverine has the personality of a cardboard cutout, and is a victim of the patented Marvel 'Krazy Kut-n'-Paste Coolifying Background System'. The Hook is named because it's a defining trait that the rest of the character's features hang off of. Some yahoos forget this, and proudly walk into the arena of roleplaying proudly brandishing the Hook. This is the Roleplaying equivelant of showing up to school in your underpants. Everyone needs underpants, true, but if that's all you're taking with you, expect a lot of problems. Basically, don't forget that some elaboration is needed. Getting a character down is more than 'he has a cool looking gun'. If you want flat, boring, uninteresting characters, play a Street Fighter Game.
CHARACTER CREATION 101: You've Got Personality.
So you have shiny new Hook. Good for you. You've managed to get through the step most people end at. Look at it closely, because from here on out, everything depends on that one Hook you've got. If you don't think you want to be an angsting doofus that talks to himself about snorthing drugs mined straight up from the waste products of giant worms, go back to step one, and keep working 'till you find something you like. I'll be here when you finish.
Okay. Odds are if you're reading this paragraph now, you're done re-evaluating your Hook, or are too dumb to know any better and think that 'Guy That Kills Stuff' is a decent hook. Whatever the case may be, it's time to look at the character's personality. Again, look back at your Hook. How does the Hook effect your character's existance? For early Superman, he's a flaming do-gooder who felt that his Hook, that of being woefully indestructable, meant he was responsible for saving depressingly whitebread farm people from death by Commie. Spawn's Hook of being a vengeance driven demon thingy defined the fact that he was a brooding, angsting boor that wasted a lot of time on money shots and no substance, most likely because Todd MacFarlane is a pretentious little %@$%.
So, what is your character? Happy? Sad? Contemplative? Cruel? A personality can be as simple or complex as you like, but keep in mind that the simpler your character is, the less versitile the character becomes. Think of it like this: remember that one kid in High School that only played football? Nothing but football? Day in, day out, football? Odds are, like most kids that did nothing but play football, he's got a job with his name on his shirt someplace, and still his only real skill is football, and I defy you to call him vaguely interesting. My advice to you is to stay away from boring one trick personalities unless you're the type that's easily amused by a character that responds to every situation by doing the same thing, even if that thing is completely inappropriate such as putting out a birthday cake, attacking an enemy, and attempting to engage an attractive woman in interpersonal relations all by hitting them with a club, you intellectual neanderthal.
Also, keep in mind that even though this is your character, the personality has to be at least somewhat palatable to others. You DO want to play, right? Unless you're roleplaying with the Pope and Mother Theresa, most gamers don't have a lot of patience for characters that act sociopathic towards everything and everyone, or sits there and angsts all say, or otherwise has a personality that makes an annoying nuisance out of themselves unless it's done for sheer comedy's sake, and even that gets pretty stupid after awhile. If you want to do that, I hope that you're bringing the beer and snacks to the game, because nobody's going to want to deal with you for very long.
If your character hook is 'Fluffy Wuffy Baby Chicken' and you're giving him or her a sadistic, cruel personality, more power to you. Bear in mind, that the Hook and the Personality need to fit together. And how do you do that? Why, that's easy. It's...
CHARACTER CREATION 101: Background In Motion.
The glue that holds the Hook and Personality together is the Background. Basically, what needs to be done in this step is the careful explaination of how your character with that particular Hook got to be a particular way. If your hook is 'Gun Toting Paramilitary Man', and you've given him a personality of a deranged street bum that speaks to plastic sporks, there's going to have to be an awful lot of 'splainin' to do. Most likely if you're capable of feeding or clothing yourself, you'll tend to pick Hooks and Personalities that are at least somewhat plausible, such as 'Kind and Loving' for nuns, or 'World Weary But Fair' police officer, or 'Jive Talkin'' pimp. Depending on how complex your personality is regardless, you should explain pretty much point by point how he got that way. If he's smart but gets dumb around women, explain to me why. If she wants to succeed in business, explain. If he has a fear of cheese, tell me why.
However, avoid cliche's. Avoid them as if they were going to infect your personal regions with a hideous disease that cause the important bits to turn green and fall off. Why? Well, aside from being dull, hackneyed, boring, trite, unimpressive, and downright stupid, they're cop outs. They don't exercise the brain, don't provoke any thoughts, and have since ceased to be interesting. The point of making a character is to make sure that you'll get some play out of it. If someone can basically figure out your life story in fifteen seconds, put down the glove, turn in your bat, and change out of your jersey because this game is done. The point is lost, and nobody gives a crap.
To help, here's a short, hardly exhaustive list of stupendously crappy and ovedone background concepts and phrases ever to walk the face of the Earth:
-Is an Orphan
-Is Seeking Revenge
-Is a Certified Genius In X
-Went Crazy After Witnessing X
-Is a Mutant
-Ran Away From Home
-Had an Instant and Totally Groundless Revelation
-Was Created To Be The Ultimate X
-Has A Dark, Mysterious Past With So Many Plot Holes And Uninteresting Generalities That Implies The Writer Was Too Damn Lazy To Staple Two Ideas Together
If you have more than one of the above, go outside with your character sheet, take it to a wide, quiet feild, and shoot it.
CHARACTER CREATION 101: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!
Got a Hook, got a Personality, and got a nifty Background that holds it together. Sounds like you've got a pretty good sandwich there. Be proud. If you've gotten this far and haven't thrown your hands up in disgust wondering why you did all this work for no pay, then you're obviously the kind of sick, deranged individual that can probably be a good GM someday. However, that's covered in another article.
But wait, we're not done yet. Now that we've determined who and what your character is and how he got that way, we need to figure out where he's going. Every game is lost without a plan. Unless you know where you're going, you'll always be lost. Take a look at your character's background and personality. What would they want to do next here? Get married? Take over a company? Summon the Dark Lords of Shoggoth to ask to regrow his hair? Goals are where you have the most fun, and can range from anything from just surviving till tomorrow, or conquering the world. The character needs some kind of drive and ultimate finish line to reach. Otherwise they're just that fat, sweat and grease stained uncle you have that spends all day watching 'Dukes of Hazzard' reruns on TV.
Goals are basically attainable and unattainable in terms of gaming. Both have their ups and downs that you need to be aware of and think about before you assign them to a character, because they can really define how the character interacts and also the overall lifespan of the character.
Unattainable goals are just that. A character desires to have something, and may or may not be aware that the goal is impossible. Nonetheless, they try for it anyway. The pursuit may not always be totally fruitless, but the inability to attain the goal can slowly get dull, uninteresting and boring. Your character can only attempt to win the heart of the lovely Lady Gorgonzola of the Planet Bort for so long until he eventually figures he's getting absolutely no nookie, and settles for her less attractive but more attainable sister Lady Snarfblatt. However, if it's one of those broad, long reaching, esoteric goals such as getting rich, world peace, or solving the meaning of life, then you're probably okay. Unless you get too philosopical. Then you just need to go away, and hand those little Jehova's Witness pamphlets out somewhere else.
Attainable goals are, naturally, something that the character can reasonably acheive. The acquisition of a goal can be pretty fun, and is definitely a reward for a game well played. Then what? Well, you better have another goal, or you're a rebel without a clue. A lot of characters with achieved goals sort of wander around in a lithium haze until the player finally drops them out of boredom, or they're pretty much killed off. Mercifully, most players with attainable goals that don't find anything else to do after they've gotten what they wanted are usually retarded munchkins who've just stuffed their war chest, and are now bored with the game. Not that I advocate letting munchkins acheive all their goals quickly to get them out of the game. No way Jose'. Not me. Uh uh. *cough*
CHARACTER CREATION 101: Maybe It's Maybelline
Okay. Meat and potatoes are done a-stewin', and now it's time for the cornbread. Cosmetics are the dessert of the character creation process. Describing your character's appearance is the fun part. Remember to keep your character's Personality and Background in mind, as well as the all pervasive Hook while clothing and defining your character. Appearance is closely woven into the fabric of those other concepts and should be justified by the life the character has led. A high class aristocrat isn't going to look like a random street lunatic and smell like pee, and a homelss man isn't going to look like he stepped off the cover of GQ. Again, like backgrounds, keep away from cliche's as if they were giant brain sucking insects from the Planet Wog. Everyone is different, so don't go and bore people with cookie cutter paper doll representations of characters. However, keep in mind that there's no character description out there that could be possibly worse than the worst one I've ever seen, which read, and I quote:
God save us all from jackasses like that. Also, try not to use the word 'you', or 'your' in your descriptions. State what's there, not what I would or should be looking at. For all you know, maybe my character's secret identity it 'Tit Staring Man', and all I'm going to pay attention to is your female character's hooters. Don't tell me I'm looking at your flawless face, because I'm definitely gaping at your bosom. Descriptions that use 'you' or 'your' tick me off. Don't tell me what to do, man!
To help you out, here's another short list of crap to avoid while describing your character:
-Rambling on and on about random features of your character's bodies and using such egregiously overwhelmingly redundant and flowery prose whilst attempting to convey, if not portray with empathic verve the spectacular fantastic presentation that is your character, is bad.
-Don't ever use the word 'mysterious'. Ever. You retard.
-You do NOT have eyes that pierce my very soul. I have no soul. I left it in a garage in Buffalo.
-Stop being sexy for no reason. If your character lived in Kahyr ad-Din and toiled in the hot sun and is dirt poor, she's going to look like a three year old peice of beef jerkey, not a svelt, sexy, nubile young nymph.
-Don't dress your character in impractical and blatantly stupid costumes, unless they happen to be Vegas Showgirls or Superheroes. If the temperature outside is -15 degrees Celsius, they had better be dressed in a damn parka, no matter how ripped they are, or how great their rack is.
-Skipping about randomly will result in nobody reading your description. Find a focal point and move in a predictable fashion. Jumping from your character's neon green hair to left sock to right !@!@%& ring and then to the color of their pants is going to result in me not only not reading it, but perhaps actively shooting at the character so that I won't ever even be tempted to ever again.
-Irony isn't, and deliberate vagueness is gauche. If I read one more 'His/her eyes seem to look everywhere and nowhere at the same time', I will find a way to remove those eyes and roll them around town so that they're literally doing just that. How's that for irony?
CHARACTER CREATION 101: Make Your Time.
Well, that covers most of it. Other stuff is pretty much all common sense from here on out. Be intelligent, be reasonable. Work with the GM, or just make sure everything is in some kind of working order. Get a proofreader, preferrably someone that's not as terminally cynical and unpleasant like me. Most of all, have fun making a character. Nothing's nicer than a creation that sits and works seamlessly while generating fun for others.
This may not work for you. It does for me, though, and I've got a pretty decent track record of keeping players interested and going if they're the kind of people that are truly interested in working and playing with other characters. To those that aren't... well, to quote Gary Larson: Your mother was a cow.
All discussion about the Shadows & Silver module and world.
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- Senior Developer
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I came across this a long time ago, and I find it very educational. Think everyone should read it.
Brother Silence: He who stumbles around in darkness with a stick is blind. But he who... sticks out in darkness... is... fluorescent!
DM: Lose fifty experience.
DM: Lose fifty experience.