Creating a Character: Roleplaying Games and Character Building

Hello and welcome to Creating a Character, where I'll be talking about how to put together characters for tabletop roleplaying games, including how to build for specific systems that I have experience with.

Roleplaying games are probably the highest form of interactive fiction. There are more variables that can be manipulated by more players and more ability to do what the players want to do whenever the players want to do it. Unlike many video games which are praised for their "dialogue trees", you can say anything you want in any way you want to say it. You can be who you want to be.

However, it's important to acknowledge that roleplaying games are, for the most part, about cooperatively telling a story. As a player, it's easy to get wrapped up in the story of your character while ignoring everything going on around them. As a game master, it's easy to view the story as your creation and get upset when your players "mess it up". Instead of getting stuck in these viewpoints, try taking a step back and looking at things as what they are, a group of people working together to tell a story. The players create the protagonists and help flesh out how people live in this world, while the game master helps create the conflicts and the impetuses that drive the story forward.

So, now that we have the cooperative storytelling idea down, let's move onto the meat of the topic. Roleplaying games come in many different kinds. Some are more narratively focused while others focus a lot on combat. Different people and different groups will want to use different kinds of rulesets, partially because of personal choice of how the rules feel to them and partially because of familiarity with those rules. For years, I only played D&D 3.5 because that's all I knew and all my group played. These days, I really don't like 3.5, because of its focus on combat and being completely unbalanced in its focused area. Tastes will change and familiarity will change as you explore other systems.

In most games, you have different roles. The game master, storyteller, dungeon master, etc. is the person who ostensibly organizes the group, the setting and the multitude of non-player characters. The players are those who create the main characters, flesh them out and give them life. Whatever else there is in the game, you tend to stick to one of these two roles.

Most people are players, as groups tend to have one game master and between three and six players. This means that if you're participating in a group, you will most likely be a player. One of the most important skills a player can have is building an interesting character. When you're building a character, most people tend to focus a lot on the stats and builds of the character without giving much thought to how those characters act and react within the situations they find themselves in. Have a female orc barbarian? Maybe she likes to feel pretty, so she's dressed up all nicely whenever she can get to town and flies into a rage any time someone ruins one of her dresses. Or maybe she's just always angry, all the time. Characters don't necessarily have to be complex or even different, they just need to be more than a sheet of statistics.

Much of the time, your game master will have a specific setting in mind for play. This probably means that certain types of builds or certain options may or may not be available. Certain kinds of character may not be good for a campaign, whether rules-wise or flavor-wise. For example, a gnome bard might not be a bad idea, but a gnome bard who walks around playing the sousaphone all the time and making off-color jokes might be very out of place in the Gothic horror game that everyone else has showed up to play. If you're not up for playing a Gothic horror game, and would instead rather play a funny and relaxed game, talk to your GM about it and try to resolve things in a civil fashion. If that means that you have to play a bit of a game that you don't want to play in order to play the one you want to or have to go to a different group to play that game, don't be a jerk about it. Try to work with your GM and your fellow players to create a character that works for the game and creates interesting opportunities for roleplaying within the game.

This is a skill and it might take a bit of time to get used to creating characters as a cohesive whole. Starting out, you might want to figure out a short past and a few traits for your character, then use those traits to act out how your character would act while playing. After that, you may be able to start adding more and more to create interesting characters.

That's it for today! Hope you guys have fun, and may your dice roll well!


Artwork belongs to Paizo Inc.