View Full Version : How do you fluff your characters?

The Grue
2010-11-29, 05:51 AM
What's your method for coming up with (and writing down in a coherent manner) personality, backstory, and all that other good stuff?

I ask because I have a character concept I'm working on for a campaign, but I'm having a hell of a time putting pen to paper and getting the fluff done. Is there a method or process some of you use that makes it easier? Or is it just a matter of sucking it up and vomiting words onto a piece of paper, then going back over it later?

2010-11-29, 05:57 AM
Usually I start with where they're from. If you're working with Faerun, Greyhawk or Eberron, that's all done for you by region.
Figure out where your person is from, that'll give you general appearance, leanings and tendancies.
Do you want to run with or against the usual grain?
What station in society do you want to hold?
Figure those out, and the rest of the fluff is basically just family members and character class.

2010-11-29, 05:59 AM
Unless I need the backstory to fill a very specific story role, my first concerns are always personality, minor idiosyncracies, and dialogue. I try to think of what could be interesting and striking without being annoying; then I reason out why this person has that personality. And I don't try to force it if nothing's coming - backstory is of minimal importance, and it leaves me room to embellish later to fit in with story hooks.

2010-11-29, 06:17 AM
Personally, I just build the character's classes and feats, and everything just falls together. If I had to offer tips, I would just picture a regular member of the character's race, and imagine what circumstances would push them to their current class, and then to a life of adventuring.

A big secret is that while everyone is used to Drizz't's and Sephiroths, if you base a character on someone who is less well known, few people will notice.

One of my personal favourites was an NPC farmer who was basically Al Bundy from Married With Children. Another was a lizardfolk conscript who was really Desmond from Lost. Ya see what I'm getting at, brother?

2010-11-29, 06:30 AM
If I dont have a preset idea of what I want, I use a life time chart, as seen in Mechwarrior or Mekton Zeta

2010-11-29, 12:44 PM
I often start with writing the way a character introduces himself, or with the description you'll tell the other players. It gives you a good sense of the feel you are going for with the character; for the character's voice and mannerisms. The backstory can follow from there, to create the person you just described. This can be as simple as

The bestial-looking half orc who approaches you is muscular and heavily scarred, missing his right eye. An orc double- axe rests across his massive shoulder, and tusks protrude noticably from his lower lip. He advances on the elf extends a gauntleted hand. "Blessings of Heironius be upon you. I am Ktszagonernb."

Or as long as

The elf standing nervously in front of you has formal robes and a poofy hat. His pack and sword bespeak an almost painful new-boughtness. Though of a respectable middle ages, and taller and slighter than the average, he possesses none of the grace and gravitas of most elves. You might not have thought it a possible combination before, but he seems simultaneously manic and yet somehow stuffy.

I am Dr. Heladel Limlet. I’m sort of new at this, I suppose, but… Well, where to begin? Ah yes, well, I am a wizard, that is to say, a user of magic.

Magic is, of course, one of the fundamental phenomena of our existence, but do we really understand what it is, really? I mean, we know how to cast spells, and I can describe—at length, really—the difference between a shield spell and a wall of force, but despite centuries of research we still don’t have a good Universal Theory of Magic, yet. I mean, the dragon-sage Quasimar spoke of a Binding Ӕthir, and Zarzuket and Khaym have their wildly popular Conciousness Theory, and Sumajak can dither on and on about “the Dominance of the Unreal” or whatever it is—you know, ad nauseum—but none of these really accord with the day-to-day practice of the art—that is, and the science—which we call magic; with the words we say—or do not say—to cast spells, with the gestures we make—or do not make.

I’m interested in how magic really works, how it is used, out here—you know—in the field.
And particularly, these theories to not seem to accord with what we observe in the ancient magics, from earlier ages, which are the kind I’m most interested in. I mean, every time a new ancient crypt is uncovered it seems to have some overriding permanent enchantment which flies completely in the face of everything we thought we knew. And the people who always seem to do the uncovering—much to the chagrin of us academics, I might add—are your sort—that is, adventurers. But I figure that if I’m really going to make a contribution to the study of magic, I need to be out there where the discovering is!

…So I’m taking a sabbatical from my post as Distinguished Lecturer in Magical Theory at Talathion Academy to come study magic up-close, so to speak. I’ve got my pack, and my sword, and my travel-spellbook, so… onward! That’s what you say, right?

Similarly, it's often useful to write out imagined snippets of dialogue with the other characters, or descriptions of how your character will handle a common situation. A strong personality is often more important to fluff than a strong backstory, and putting yourself in the character's voice is the best way to find their personality.

2010-11-29, 01:09 PM
For me, the fluff follows the concept, but precedes the crunch. I have a concept of a <insert concept here>:
I basically write a timeline for the character (the lower the character's starting level, the less 'adventuring' goes into it and more 'background'.):
1. Born
2. Early Childhood
3. Teen Years (or Early Teen Years if very young)
4. Start Adventuring Career
All the while I'm inserting bits of the character's personality, motives, and goals into the story.

A higher level character usually looks like something like this:
1. Born
2. Late Childhood/Early Teen Years
3. Start Adventuring
4. Career Thus Far
5. Current Circumstances
With the same bits of personality, motives and near-term and long-term goals in the story.

As I develop the story, the crunch grows out of how I write it.

2010-11-29, 01:10 PM
1- GM explains the campaign
2- i says to myself "aight, oxy. so what d'ya 'll be fun to play?"
3- start working on the mechanics and personality simultaneously.

the first 2 are pretty much self-explanatory. as for no.3, the mechanics of the character will generally determine playstyle, so having a pacifistic character who is made of rocket launchers kinda misses the point.

i usually try to cover all my bases to start with, generally going for what is expected of this character

once the basics happen to be ironed out, i start tweaking the numbers/stats based off my idea in step 2.

once i've got the tweaks down pat, i start deciding how much focus i want in which aspects.

all the time i'm throwing ideas around on paper for backgrounds, mannerisms, etc...

by the time i'm doing the final touches on the mechanics i've got a good base idea on the character. then i give him 2-4 play sessions to really get a feel for the personality and motivations.

2010-11-29, 01:45 PM
Another was a lizardfolk conscript who was really Desmond from Lost. Ya see what I'm getting at, brother?

When a friend actually named his Shadowrun character from Scotland Desmond and started ending all his sentences with "brother", it was much more obvious.

Backstories: I can't even read long posts in a thread. I make sure my backgrounds are succinct and half a page tops.

2010-11-29, 01:46 PM
I start with crunch - what do I want to play? Then I use a Character Diamond (http://lore.dramatis-personae.com/creation/diamond.php) to flesh it out.

The gist of it - come up with 4 one-word traits to describe your character. Ideally, they should be:

1) One trait typical of your race
2) One trait typical of your class
3) One trait unusual to either or both.
4) Anything you want. (This could be another unusual trait, another straightforward trait, or even an unrelated quirk.)

For example, I have a Dwarf Binder. He could be:

1) Driven and industrious (typical of Dwarves) - mechanically, he is meticulous at drawing binding seals and can craft many items with his vestiges' help.

2) Disdainful of religion/deities (typical of Binders) - his clan has persecuted him, leading to his life of adventure.

3) Charming, almost unctuous or oily (atypical of Dwarves) - mechanically, he has a positive Cha mod to help his binding checks and is quite skilled at flattery (especially with Naberius' help.)

4) Fiercely loyal to his party (because they let him pursue binding in peace.)

2010-11-29, 01:51 PM
My backstories are usually three parts long. The first is a list of the basic biographical info. Home town, parents, siblings, all that. I find this part tedious, but it becomes relevant later.

Next I list why the character left home. Adventurers are not homebodies and an explanation for their wanderlust is usually necessary.

Finally (and this is the fun part) I tell the story of how the player arrived at the beginning of the game. This usually involves NPCs and dialog. It's a good chance to practice being the character. It's also your first chance to demonstrate personality.

The important thing in a backstory (to me) is that it gives your character some momentum. He should have something to work on all the time. If your GM says "you're in town, what do you do?" you want to have an answer ready.

I should point out that I like longer backstories than the rest of this forum. That said, I reserve the longer backstories for games that demand them. It's just not necessary to be that fluffy in a dungeon crawl.

2010-11-29, 02:25 PM
The slightly more complex way:

For me it is very much forming something concrete out of complete chaos. Basically, I take any/all of the following:

* A mechanical character concept I want to play
* An RP character concept I want to play
* Cool plots I have recently seen on TV or in video games that I think would be fun to implement in a game
* A ton of in-jokes to implement somehow
* Potential inter-party conflicts and solutions/defenses
* The story of the campaign so far (or the DM's campaign description if it is a new campaign)

Then I throw it all together and assemble it in such a way that it is coherent.

I tend to work the background and mechanics simultaneously, alternating between fluffing the character to justify mechanics choices and choosing mechanics to justify fluff I have written, depending on what good ideas I happen to have and in what order (based on the campaign background, and forcing myself to write in a load of in-jokes and cool plots somehow).

The quick way:

The easy, minimalist way that I sometimes go about fluffing is to roll up and build the type of character I want to be playing, in its entirety. Then I look at everything on the character sheet, from class to age, race to gender, stats to feats, skills to spell selection, and come up with a fluff reason for them. Then I just fill in the blanks and link them all together. In your case, I would take the concept you have in mind and design/roll up a complete character, then use those decisions to complete the fluff.

For example:

I make a middle-age male human Samurai/Warblade with Dex as the primary stat and Cha as secondary, with the intention to PrC into Iaijutsu Master. I focus on dual-wielding feats and mostly Cha based skills. For maneuvers I select mostly Diamond Mind.

Looking at his age, gender, class, and Cha based skill selection, I determine that he is a samurai that usually serves as a bodyguard to a major noble, has a wife and d6 kids, and obviously spends a lot of time hanging around the court with his noble master (also ties in with high Cha score).

Considering that his Dex is much higher than Str, I determine that he has always been fairly weak compared to others of his age, but was fairly fast and accurate. He obviously then chose to focus on improving his strengths to compensate for his weakness, rather than working to get rid of his weakness (also ties in with dual-wielding). He is obviously of the "brain over brawn" outlook, strengthened by his selection of Diamond Mind maneuvers.

Then I just fill in the blanks as I see them. How he spent his childhood and young adult years, how he met his wife, who his teacher/mentor is, how he gets along with people around him (helps determine eventual alignment (in case it aint obvious, I determine alignment as an afterthought once the character is done, not the other way around)), why his lord (if he is even still alive) sent him out adventuring, etc. Even doing this thought exercise, I am already having a torrent of ideas rushing to me to answer these questions...

Grelna the Blue
2010-11-29, 06:48 PM
There's no one way, but here are a few approaches:

One really easy way is to give the character ranks in Craft and/or Profession. Instant backstory starter.

If there are any well-known NPCs in the game world, you can ask the GM for permission for a family link or apprentice status (this can be even more fun if you choose villainous NPCs).

It's easy if you're playing completely against type, as all you have to do is think of reasons that is true. However, if you're playing a fairly standard character, try to leave room for one or two distinctive traits that don't fit and then expand from there.

So, a wizard with Spell Thematics (rose/thorn motif) has a predilection for pink clothing. Make her well-born (pink is expensive), a little spoiled (pink hats while adventuring is pretty self-indulgent), and offended by crudity (she likes beautiful things).

A fighter who likes to hunt and fish (maxed Survival) might be either the son of a poacher or a country lord.

Ultimately, the characters you like the best are going to be built at least partially out of some exaggerated caricature of your own persona. You'll want to incorporate at least a small part of yourself, either good or bad. You certainly don't want them all to be the same, but playing a character with whom you have absolutely nothing in common doesn't usually work well in the long run.

2010-11-29, 06:50 PM
Make it up as I go along, explaining the odd skills, feats, and other things- honestly, that's the only way I can think of explainations for half the stuff I try.

Morph Bark
2010-11-29, 06:52 PM
To be honest, I find it easiest to fit fluff to crunch, so I usually go that route. Artwork usually helps as well. Look something up and think whether that would look something like your character or not, or something similar, but with some differences. It can be really inspiring.

2010-11-29, 06:53 PM
The Ten Minute Background is a pretty good tool that I use often. I usually combine it with a piece of prose writing.

Step 1: Write 5 background and concept elements that you feel are important to your image of the character. These can be a concept overview, a list of important life events, a physical description, a personality profile...whatever you need to get an image in your mind. 5 is just a minimum...more elements are encouraged!

Step 2: List at least two goals for the character. At least one of these goals should be one that the character has, while another should be one that you, as a player, want to see developed over the course of the game.

Step 3: List at least two secrets about your character. One is a secret the character knows, one is a secret that involves him but that he is not actually aware of yet. This will help me in creating plots that center around your character. I will also be creating a third secret which you as a player will not be aware of, so expect some surprises!

Step 4: Describe at least three people that are tied to the character. Two of them are friendly to the character, one is hostile. If you like, you can include an enemy of yours here as well, so I have an instant NPC nemesis to throw at you.

Step 5: Describe three memories, mannerisms, or quirks that your character has. They don't have to be elaborate, but they should provide some context and flavor.