View Full Version : Roleplaying Helping Players to Develop Characters

2014-03-04, 05:01 AM
I'm planning to run a Pathfinder game set in a generic fantasy setting, and I've created five characters for them to choose between. The players are beginners and do not have their own copies of the rules (and last time we created characters it took up the majority of the time) which is why I've created characters for them.

I'd like them to develop their characters at the start of the initial session, and I think a good way to do that may be to ask them a few questions about their character's history and personality.

Would this idea work? If so, what kind of questions should I be asking? If not, what would be a suitable alternative?

Thanks! :smallsmile:

2014-03-04, 05:31 AM
Asking for detailed and developed characters from the first session will work for some people, but not for all. I've personally found that I start out with a very rough concept and personality develops during play. If you want to do this quick and easy, just ask them to mention 3-5 personality traits or quirks.
1. Strong and Silent
2. teetotaler
3. always looks angry even if she isn't
4. fond of puppies
5. hates tomatoes

L5R traditionally has the 20 Questions to answer when making a character. Obviously, these particular questions are very setting specific, but you can make something similar for your game. The problem with asking certain questions is that unless the players know the game world fairly well, they have no clue what to answer for 'which country are you from?' or 'what do you think about neighboring countries?'. Any such group identification is going to be rather pointless.

This is one of the most important questions of your character’s development. Each of the different Clans have a wide range of philosophies, ideals, and histories that will influence how your character is raised and treated by others. Conversely, it will also tend to color how your character will approach others. To help you get an idea of which Clan you may want to join, take a look at the Clan descriptions in the Book of Earth.

Start with the most obvious here and work your way to the details. Go from defining your character’s gender to mentioning any sort of scars or facial ticks they might have. Appearance is an important aspect of Rokugan’s social interactions, and most people tend to rely heavily on outward appearances for first impressions. Does your character have a warm, inviting smile, or do his eyes dart around constantly, nervously searching for any sort of threat? Maybe he dresses as plainly as is acceptable and makes himself almost completely bland so as not to be noticed.
This is an important distinction, as the Empire’s rigid social system advocates that everyone knows their role and acts accordingly. This is not entirely a straightjacket, however – many bushi are well known for their scholarly pursuits, and there are tales of courtiers who maintain great courage under fi re during physical conflicts.

Much like your character’s Clan choice, the family he comes from will have a significant impact on his history and interactions with others. Where each Clan tends to have very general traditions and philosophies, each family has unique ones. For example, the Lion are well known for their martial prowess and general disdain for the Crane and Scorpion Clans. However, the Ikoma family is a family of historians and diplomats in a Clan of warriors, and often works in alliance with the Shosuro family of the Scorpion Clan. In addition, some families have much greater standing within the Clan than others. The Moto family of the Unicorn are the undisputed leaders of the Clan, and warriors of the family take positions of glory and leadership, while the Horiuchi toil in obscurity in their small temples. Some characters are more interesting if they begin from such humble origins as the Horiuchi, while others seem destined for greatness from birth.

Though all samurai are ideally devoted to their lord and their duty above all else, each individual character may have different reasons for this – or different goals entirely. For some characters, this motivation may be as simple as maintaining the honor of your ancestors by never failing the duty they have performed for the Clan for generations. Others may be more specific, carrying a heart full of vengeance against another samurai from a different (or even the same) Clan. Powerful motivations tend to revolve around revenge, love, honor, pride, or any number of ideals that will keep your character going when all else seems lost.

Samurai should be able to trust another honorable samurai without hesitation, but there are usually one or more figures that a character knows he can rely upon. This may be a supportive father, a dedicated sensei, a sibling, or someone completely unrelated to the character. Determining who the character trusts is not as important as determining why. What is it exactly that your character knows about this person that makes them so trustworthy? What impresses your character in such a fashion can go a long way to defining his psyche.

Others may have an opinion about what is great or flawed about your character, but what is truly the worst and best qualities he carries? It is important to remember that a character’s strengths are the things that he would be looked up to for, while his weaknesses are there to remind himself and possibly others that he is still only mortal. These traits don’t necessarily have to be epic to define your character, but they should be aspects that help you understand your character’s limitations and purpose.

The philosophy of bushido is ideally practiced and observed by all warriors, and even non-bushi look to bushido for guiding principles. As with any such code of conduct, there are those who adhere to it as if it were life itself, those who only find some of the tenets important, some who see it more as a set of loose guidelines, and others who believe it is little more than an unrealistic dream. Characters with a high Honor Rank will most likely take bushido seriously, but that doesn’t necessarily they believe all parts are of equal importance.

This one is difficult. Much like bushido, samurai are expected to embrace their duty to their Clan without hesitation or question, but that does not always happen. Does your character believe completely in the ideals and goals of his Clan, or does he find fault occasionally with some of their actions? A good example would be a Daidoji bushi – a steadfast and practical warrior in a Clan of peacemakers and artisans. Does that Daidoji see his cousins as self-deluded idealists that need his protection? Perhaps he understands that it is his place to protect the Crane so that the other families can lead more peaceful lives.

This is an important question for a number of reasons. Will your character have any dependents he will be responsible for? It’s also important to remember that marriage is an arranged business in Rokugan, and many marriages are made to cement political ties or treaties and not anything beyond that. Perhaps your character’s spouse is a worthless pain in the neck that you have to live with in order to maintain your Clan’s alliance with another Clan? Though arranged marriages seldom result in true love, it’s also likely that you and your spouse have come to respect and understand one another, creating a harmonious household. In either respect, a marriage can possibly grant you political ties to the more powerful samurai in your own family, other families in your Clan, or other Clans entirely. Naturally, such a tie can easily be a blessing and a curse at once.

probably pass on their broad views of other Clans on to him. Beyond that, has he developed any such viewpoints on his own? Or does he even agree with the ones that are largely accepted by his kin?

The easy answer would be “The Emperor,” but few samurai have the honor of serving the Son of Heaven directly in their day to day duties. Think of who your character would show the most loyalty in his everyday activities. Is he strictly bound to obey his lord without any other influence? Perhaps he has a wise sensei that he goes out of his way to consult and serve even if the sensei has no direct authority over him. Even trickier would be a samurai with a secret love that he places above anything else. Every samurai must be prepared to give their life without hesitation on the command of their masters, but every samurai would also do so for someone of their choosing. When the time came, who would that person be?

This is a broad question that is meant to help establish a pattern of behavior. When answering this, start with the rational and move to the irrational. Rational dislikes could be explained for purely logical reasons – such as a fondness for poetry due to his family being famous writers, or a dislike of flower arrangements because you failed your lessons in ikebana and embarrassed your father. Irrational dislikes can be much more entertaining and far less likely to change – a dislike of Noh theatre actors because your father was shamed for an affair with one, or being partial to red because you won your first duel while wearing a red kimono.

Since everyone tends to act according to the same protocol and etiquette, the minor and inoffensive details of behavior tend to get noticed more. Does your character bite his lip when he’s deep in thought? Perhaps he has a particular phrase he greets everyone with. When his hands aren’t doing anything, what does he do with them?

Even the most disciplined minds have their weaknesses, not that your character necessarily has an unusually strong control of his emotions. Does he have a hard time controlling his disdain for others he sees as acting improperly? Is there a certain situation or “button” that always arouses your character’s sympathy? Perhaps it’s nearly impossible to get your character really angry… or sad… or jubilant.

This applies to both subordinates from the samurai and lower classes, though the answer might be different for each. Some characters might see the fallibility of the peasants as expected, a result of their low station, but misbehaving samurai are unacceptable because they should know their place better. On the reverse, perhaps he thinks peasants must be kept in line with harsh consequences, while samurai can be reprimanded effectively with lesser severity.

A samurai’s relationship with his family is important, and his relationship with his parents even more so. Filial devotion is expected from a true samurai, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is any real respect between a parent and child. It’s entirely possible that one parent thinks the world of their child while the other sees him as little more than a failure. A samurai’s relationship with his parents not only speaks volumes about his nature, but also tends to be used by others as a measure of his worth.

It’s important to note that while desire is a sin, ambition tempered with duty is perfectly acceptable. Many bushi aspire to be great leaders or revered teachers, while shugenja tend to yearn for the life as a respected scholar or advisor. Maybe your character doesn’t have any specific goals, and is happy right now with just serving his lord to the best of his ability. Once you’ve discovered your character’s goals, take a moment and decide just how far he’s willing to go to achieve them…

Proof of the supernatural is evident to most samurai, but those who do not directly deal with the mystic arts don’t necessarily find themselves overly concerned with them. Some believe that while the Fortunes and kami are all very well and good, in the end one can only rely on his own abilities. Others spend hours a day in prayer, constantly attempting to attune themselves to the rhythm of the universe in search of true enlightenment.

One of the most important aspects of enjoying the role you have chosen for your character is seeing just how distanced you are from it. Does your character closely resemble your own attitudes and mannerisms, leaving little to say? Maybe, upon closer inspection, you think your character should change a thing or two? This question isn’t intended to find faults in your character with the intention of fixing them. Instead, recognize the differences, if any, between the character and yourself to help keep you in character once the game starts.

2014-03-04, 05:43 AM
I usually ask my players some random questions when they present their characters to me, such as:

What is your family like?

Do you have lots of friends, have you changed them often or stuck with some close ones?

What sort of hobbies do you have?

Favourite colour?

What music do you listen to?

Did you have anyone you looked up to while growing up?

Do you like to eat meat?


Those questions are to make the players think about the specifics of their characters rather than the generals. Even if those things never come up in play, I've found that most players get more involved when you ask them these things.

My favorite recent question was in a D&D game where one player played a male elf that had stayed in a small human/half-elf village for a while so I asked:

How do you feel about 14-year old human girls flirting with you?

2014-03-04, 10:38 AM
The super easy character starting point can be summed up in one sentence:

An <adjective> <noun> who is trying to <verb>.

Though for fantasy games, you may wish to rule out race/class as the noun, as that sortof defeats the point of that bit. So something like:

A chain smoking mercenary who is trying to pay off his debts.

Forms a pretty good starting point for a character. It doesn't give you piles of development, but at game start, you don't want piles, generally, you want a few hooks to run with.

Alternatively, the doc at http://gamemastering.info/ has an extensive character 'development' process that is designed to help a GM get characters that are easy to construct adventures for. Using some or all of it would serve you well.

2014-03-04, 11:26 AM
What I like to do with my players, be they new or old, is to ask them what they would like to do with their character. Who is this person? What would they like to see them accomplish? Are there certain powers, skills, or martial skills they see themselves wielding with this character? Since we're playing Pathfinder, the rules can encompass almost any concept my players can think of and I'm usually fine with homebrewing anything that isn't already covered. I use my knowledge of the rules to build or help them build the perfect character for their concept and then we go from there.

2014-03-04, 11:39 AM
For brand new players I would not delve to far into characterization right away. Ask them a few basic questions:
Is your character nice or a jerk?
How does he/she prefer to handle problems? Sword, Magic, Skill or Charm?
Bold? brave? timid? gungho? sneaking? straightforward? thoughtfull?

This gets new players thinking about the characters in play without overloading them with learning system, setting and roleplaying.

As the game progresses and the players get more comfortable, then start asking for some details on family, history, goals. At first just basics and then continue on having them add more details or whatever they start thinking is appropriate.

2014-03-04, 03:53 PM
I think the best approach is to be conversational, instead of having prepared questions. Treat the PC like a stranger that you are trying to get to know. Have them give their brief introduction, then ask about areas that seem vague or potentially interesting..

I had a player who had a tough time coming up with a backstory. She wanted her character to be more developed, but didn't feel like she was creative enough to make her interesting. Initially, all she had decided was that both of her parents were druids, like her. Her mother was a herbalist and her father was a teacher. So I spent some time with her, having a casual conversation.

It went something like:
Me: So how do your parents feel about you going out to travel on your own?
Her: Well...I suppose my mother is kind of worried. However, my father travelled around the world when was younger, so he is glad that I am doing the same.
Me: So your father wasn't born in the druid's grove.
Her: No, he was. He returned home to settle with my mother after his travels.
Me: Is he the one who found who found Safia (her lion companion)?
Her: No I found Safia and bonded with her.
Me: How did you meet her. Lions aren't exactly common in forestal area.
Her: She is a mountain lion. I met her while travelling near the mountains with my father.
Me: Ah, so this is not your first time outside of the druid's grove?

...and so on an so forth. I did the same thing with her other PC...where she accidently replied, "Not that I know of..." to the question, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"...which may or may not lead to her father (who is an ambassador) having illegitamite children all over the elven lands.

2014-03-04, 05:13 PM
I think the best approach is to be conversational, instead of having prepared questions. Treat the PC like a stranger that you are trying to get to know. Have them give their brief introduction, then ask about areas that seem vague or potentially interesting..
I like that, it gets the players thinking of character without overwhelming them at once.

...and so on an so forth. I did the same thing with her other PC...where she accidently replied, "Not that I know of..." to the question, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"...which may or may not lead to her father (who is an ambassador) having illegitamite children all over the elven lands.

2014-03-04, 09:44 PM
All my PCs & main NPCs get the 100-question survey. This way I know exactly how they act in any given situation. I simply 'plug-and-play'.

The survey is in my sig and you won't regret taking the time to use it. I never have, plus, as a GM/DM, it presents 3-dimensional characters for the players to feal with.

Jay R
2014-03-05, 12:33 PM
I recommend making several more characters than there are players, so everybody gets a choice, and nobody thinks he or she is stuck with "the character nobody else wanted."

2014-03-05, 03:30 PM
Thanks for all the help, guys. I'll remember your advice! I think I'll try what Airk suggested first, though.

I recommend making several more characters than there are players, so everybody gets a choice, and nobody thinks he or she is stuck with "the character nobody else wanted."

I have 3 players and 5 characters made. Should that be enough?

Jay R
2014-03-05, 06:40 PM
As long as there are at least three spellcasters, and at least three warriors, yes.