Creating a vibrant fun character can be challenging for some but it’s one of the first steps in being able to have a fun gaming experience. Even as a GM you will often be tasked for making characters, either pre-generated ones for a session, or to help newer players by lowering the entry level for play. You don’t need complex back stories or extensive rule crunching for a good character, just answer these five basic questions.
One of the most common ways characters are designed begins with the question, “What does the party need?” This dry and flavourless way of finding inspiration can often result in the character swiftly feeling dull, even resulting in character suicide as the player just wants to be free of the burden.
Answering each of these five questions separately, with a different answer to each question, will result in a far more entertaining gaming experience, by giving you a character who really creates their own niche in any party.
5. What are your Character’s Weaknesses?
So, your hero is the master of all things with near godlike powers? How boring. In heroic fantasy most heroes are not defined by their powers, but their weaknesses. Elric of Melniboné was a mighty lord of one of the greatest empires in all of the Young Kingdoms. A masterful swordsman, blessed with incredible magical power and holder of ancient contracts with powers beyond mortal comprehension. Despite all that, it was Elric’s love for his cousin Cymoril and the tragedy surrounding her which really defined Elric as a character.
All great heroes are heroes for two main reasons; the powers they command and the fact that despite hardship, they have somehow risen above it. Drizzit Do’Urden had to overcome prejudice. Waylander carried the burden of his family’s death. Sparrowhawk was haunted by a darkness resulting from childhood hubris. All these heroes are motivated and defined by their weaknesses.
Some people fear having a weakness because it gives the Games Master something to use against them. Unless you have a horrible Games Master, you should be happy when your weakness becomes a defining element of a story. It opens the door for you as a player to step up and take center stage for a moment.
4. What makes the Character ‘Cool’?
We all want to think our characters are cool. Flowing trench coats, silver inlaid pistols, mirrored shades, whatever it is, you want some. Like reading a book, people like to visualise the scenes they are role playing through. In that visualisation, most of us like to see our character as looking heroic.
‘Cool’ is a very subjective term. Some people think One Punch Man is cool because of his powers, but even that character regularly laments how boring that power makes his life. Having power level be the only defining attribute of ‘Cool’ is very shallow and lacking in character texture. Try to step outside of that notion and find something else.
Affectations and mannerisms are a good place to start. Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Fourth Doctor brought us clear character defining things like his scarf, and his penchant for Jelly Babies. While simple, they helped create clear separation between this and previous doctors. Many a child of that era found him very cool indeed.
Of course you could play the flip side here and make a decidedly uncool character. Break norms and stand out by being an exception to the zeitgeist. Sometimes being uncool is the coolest thing to do, especially in edgy games in the Cyberpunk genre where the concept of cool all tends to look like a carbon copy of everyone else.
The important takeaway from this question is that if you can enjoy and celebrate how your character looks in the mind’s eye, then you’ll look more often for the spotlight. That means you’re more ready to interact, and you’ll enjoy imagining the scenes all the more.
3. What’s your Special Move?
Special move might be a little misleading. You should have something which your character is known for. A specialty which gives you a clear archetype and identity. Of course there are some games like Anima where you can very literally craft a personal special move or ultimate attack.
The benefits of this specialty is two-fold. It gives you a defining identity and it gives you a moment to shine that is all yours. It might be something vibrantly expressive like Megumin’s Explosion spell, or an outstanding skill like Batman’s stealth. Whatever it is, the rule is simple; find every opportunity to use your special move that you can.
Some games systems lend themselves to creating special moves easier than others. Deeply generic systems like most editions of Dungeons & Dragons prefer characters to be made like typesetting a printing press, offering few ways to make your characters stand out, at least until some magic items are found. Most modern systems, such as the Storyteller system, offer Merit/Flaw or Advantage/Disadvantage systems which give far more latitude in creating something special.
2. What can the Character Contribute?
While I stated at the beginning that many characters start with the question, “What does the party need?”, the question isn’t without its merits. In an ideal party, every character should have something unique they can contribute. Sure, it’s good to have backup fighters, healers or even rogues, but each replication should also offer something that is distinctly theirs.
Taking the more generic system of D&D, where there is limited difference between characters of similar class, there is still latitude for individuality. One rogue might excel at Sneak Attacks, with another at traps and locks. Even the often underrated Fighter has options. One might be an agility based fighter with high Dexterity while the other is a burly woman with high Strength and plate armour.
Having something unique to contribute helps all players enjoy the game more, because everyone should be able to find their moment to shine. As a note to Games Masters, you should always look for ways for players to make use of their specialty. If everyone can complete a session feeling like they made a meaningful contribution, then you will usually have happy players looking forward to the next session.
1. What makes the Character Fun to Play?
In addition to all that has come before, the most important question you need an answer for is this question. Even if your character is a talentless joke who has never done a thing for the game, if you’ve had fun playing, then it’s still been worthwhile.
‘Fun’ is another highly subjective term, but your fun should never be at the expense of the other players. If you had fun because you ripped off the entire party, then I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s only a matter of time until your campaign, if not your entire group, falls apart. Always look for the higher ground and find victimless fun. The obvious exception of course being campaigns featuring evil characters.
For most people who come from a computer gaming background, rolling big numbers is fun enough. If that’s you’re thing, that’s fine. However, I’d challenge you to challenge yourself and find more involved ways to have fun.
The goal for everyone at the table, from every player through to the GM should be to have fun. You are personally responsible for searching out your own fun, and that search starts at character generation. If you’re stuck playing the healer, then find a way to elevate that role to something fun for you. If that means getting an ex-pirate parrot with kleptomania as a pet or worshipping the goddess of ‘earthly delights’ then go all in on it.
Your gaming journey begins at character development. Put the right things in place and you maximise the chances of the game being fun. Their character is one of the few things a player has real control over. Don’t give that control over to group consensus, a need to power game, or mediocrity.
Own it. Play it. Be it.