View Full Version : How do you create a character?

2016-03-06, 07:26 AM
I'm fairly new to this whole roleplaying malarky, so I figured I should ask: character creation. How do you do it.

More to the point, what is your process for creating good characters? Do you start with an idea and work from that? Work out mechanics then tailor a characterisation and background to explain the skills? Find a cool picture and use that as inspiration?

I don't think the characters I've been creating have been as good as others I've played with. I've been told part of that is just the learning curve; I'm just starting, so it'll take a while to start to "get" it.

But...well, I figured asking people what their character creation process is would help. I tend to try and get better by asking for feedback, but -frankly- I'm concerned doing so about pbp games would either bother people, or come across as whining...neither of which I want. I just want to get better.

...so, yeah. When you guys are creating a character, how do you go about it?

2016-03-06, 07:37 AM
I'd say that one of the most important things about character creation is trying not to overdo it. You'll have a much better time if you leave some blanks and fill them in as play proceeds and you learn more about the world, your fellow players and their characters. Feel free to improvise, change and adapt as you go on.

I usually create the mechanics first and then imagine what the character would be like based on that. It's a fun creative excercise to work within those limitations. I mostly play games where character creation is largely random, though. If you have more control over the mechanics then you might have more fun trying to come up with an idea first and building the sheet around that.

And finally, to be a bit redundant, work with the other players if you can. It's a lot more fun to creat this stuff as a group and it makes it much easier to feel comfortable with your character during play.

2016-03-06, 09:45 AM
I find that my process depends a lot on what I'm playing, who I'm playing with, and other such factors.

However, I think that there is a weird stigma against playing as characters who are "Like X, except..."
Usually, those characters work really well.

I got one of my players into the idea of roleplaying by helping her design a character who was "William Wallace, except he's a Half-orc."

It's personally fine, in my opinion, to draw inspiration from previously existing characters. I assure you that no idea you have will be 100% original. So don't sweat trying to be unique. Embrace or subvert character tropes as you see fit.

Everyone has a different creative process to make their character. Try a bunch of them until you find one that works for you.

2016-03-06, 10:21 AM
Personally I go archetype -> mechanics -> specifics. So Enna (I suck at names, so tend to use an example for nonhuman) began with the idea of a tribal half elven hunter. I also decided to make her come from a tribe of elves at this stage.

Next came mechanics, Enna is obviously a ranger, knowing in the way of the land. My stat rolls end up giving me average Strength, Intelligence, slightly above average Charisma, good Wisdom, amazing Dexterity (20 Dex at 1st level!), and poor constitution. Seeing how I have low HP I decide to go for an archer, and also pick grassland as my Favoured Terrain (as well as Beasts for my Favoured Enemy). I also pick Animal Handling as a skill, and justify it as my tribe having domesticated horses (if I can convince my GM to bend the rules I'll take Beastmaster and my horse will be my companion). My second level doesn't give me any defining picks, but the level 3 pick will tell me if my character is more aggressive (Hunter) or supportive (Beastmaster).

I will then flesh out specifics in play.

Lvl 2 Expert
2016-03-06, 10:44 AM
I usually start with a semi-mechanical concept. What I'd like to be able to do in the game, preferably without knowing if I can actually do that and how, like "skill monkey who can still help pour the damage on" or "tank with social skills". Then I see if that's actually possible, and often end up changing the concept completely to fit the mold. Or rather: to fit the cool mechanics that don't go with the original concept at all but that I still want to use. If I have system knowledge on what we'll be playing these stages get muddled up, I might for instance have an idea of which class I want to play in my original concept. After I have the main mechanics I start filling in the main fluff categories, at this point I'll probably have a sort of image of the character in my head, I'll know their gender etc. then I do the mechanical details, and any fluff details are either tied to those (one of my characters ended up with her favorite piece of equipment being a custom heavy flashlight called "midnight special" because I liked the idea of her having a club, but it wasn't quite useful enough) or come last.

2016-03-06, 10:54 AM
Generally speaking, for me it's going back and forth between several stages. Let me describe this on my most recent character for Shadowrun. Shadowrun basically uses a point-buy system and does not rely on rolls during character creation.

First I decide on a really broad archetype, or maybe the group structure/the DM suggests one for me. This may be as broad as "something with offensive magic" and as narrow as "a healer". In that case, it was a hacker, because the DM remarked that "something with hacking would probably be nice".

Then I look at the classes or build available for that archetype and usually decide on one or two which come onto a short list, hugely based on fluff or the general impression. In Shadowrun, that's two possible classes - deckers and technomancers. Deckers use technology to plug themselves into the virtual world, while technomancers can do it with their mind. After some consideration, I went for a decker.

Next, I take a look at the mechanics, trying to decide what is a must-have to be effective. If I am playing a healer, I should probably pick up some healing spells or resources; if I am the face, I am going to put a lot of points in Charisma, and so on. So I picked the stats which are important for a hacker, Will, Logic, and Intuition.

Next were the skills. After picking the basic stuff I needed, I was left with several skill points over, so I looked at what I could do with them and my stats. I found the skill Disguise, which goes with one of my main stats, and added Impersonate, which goes with Charisma, a stat which I didn't have quite as high as I would have liked for effective use of the skill. So I went back and re-did my stats. At this point, the character concept was born: he is a one-man infiltration army, a hacker who also relies on social engineering. So I also put some skill points into Etiquette, a skill which allows him to perform fewer social faux pas, because that also kinda seemed useful.

I then had a clear choice of traits I got to pick, and the starting equipment to go with the role I had selected. If he has the Disguise skill, he is obviously going to have a disguise kit, because not having one would be silly. He also has a lot of hacker and infiltration technology, like laser microphones, bugging devices, and so on. Thinking further, he would also probably need to fake IDs, documents and fingerprints, so I went back again and added a Forgery skill. It also made mechanical sense to give him some knowledge skills pertaining to concern security.

Naturally, he would also have contacts related to his line of work.

Next, I thought about the backstory. How would he have arrived at the point where he is today? How did he get all that knowledge and skills? I decided he used to work for the other side and then got kicked out. He used to be what is called a "concern spider", a cybernetic security officer working for one of the big fish.

Last, I needed a name; I almost always do that last. Since the name is usually a self-picked nickname, it was easy to justify that he would be called after a particular species of spider, as an ironic reference to his past.

At that point, I might have spent two hours or so looking for cool spiders on the Internet... but I digress.

So for me it's a constant interplay between fluff and crunch. I decide on a really broad shade of fluff, pick the crunch to go with it, see some crunch where I think "well, that would be useful", adjust the fluff to justify having sad cool crunch feature, and have several rounds of this until I am finished. The fluff side gets more and more narrow in the process.
It should be noted that in the case of Shadowrun, this took several hours, but that may be due to lack of familiarity with the system.

2016-03-06, 03:00 PM
In my opinion, you have to start with class. Everything else, from race to backstory to play style, ties in to your class. Class determines a lot more, mechanically speaking, than any other character creation factor.

2016-03-06, 03:47 PM
It depends entirely on what specific game you're playing. There is no such thing as a general procedure or method that applies to all games.

2016-03-06, 03:54 PM
In my opinion, you have to start with class. Everything else, from race to backstory to play style, ties in to your class. Class determines a lot more, mechanically speaking, than any other character creation factor.

Okay, so I sit down and crack open my copy of Qin: the Warring States. No classes at all.

So many games don't use classes I suggest thinking about the Archetype first. It's more generally useful.

2016-03-06, 04:47 PM
Different things work for different people. Some of the things my friends swear by just don't do it for me. So try a bunch of things, and see what works for you.

Some people like to start with a concept. Some people like to start with a build. Some people like to start with a stat array, and ask what kind of person would have those stats. Some people like to start with a game of 20 questions about their character. Some people like to start by reading descriptions of characters / archetypes. Some people like to start by rolling on random charts. Some people like to start with a book / movie character. Some people like to start by talking with the DM, to integrate the character into the campaign / story. Some people like to start by talking with the other players, to integrate the character with the party. Some people like to start with someone handing them a completed character sheet.

Historically, the characters that I enjoy playing long term have certain characteristics in common.

They all have elaborate backstories based on my gaming history that let me know who they are, let their personality hit the ground running, let me role play them consistently. They start the game with one or more defining moments. Or, to put it in terms of the recent movie Inside Out, they start the game with core memories.

All of my characters that I would enjoy continuing to run long term are in some way sub optimal in combat. One (point buy) bought no combat skills. One had mediocre skills across the board. One was limited by a combination of honor and overconfidence. My signature character is statistically powerful, but lacks any skill at tactics whatsoever.

All of these characters have some reason to want other people around. No one who would / can solo the adventure have ever made my list of characters I'd like to play for a decade.

None of these characters had the GM touch on their history after character creation. Generally, their histories were the type that it would be difficult to "touch on" without making the campaign about them, IMO.

And I was going to say that most of my favorite characters were in some way humorous (riding a zombie Dragon that can breathe fire, but falls out of the sky when it does so due to partial actions), or that most of my favorite characters have tragedy in their background. But to generalize, all of these characters have and are capable of a diverse array of "feels" / will generate multiple flavors of memories.

But how did I start these characters? Hmmm... I usually start with something I care about. I think, for me, that's key. That could be anything from a cool game mechanic (in the original shadowrun, fast characters felt fast), a bit of my gaming history, or just some obscure rule I've never seen used. For example, I noticed that 2e wild mages did not have an alignment restriction, and wondered what a lawful wild mage would be like. Then there was the time I noticed that 2e AC could get worse than 10...

2016-03-06, 04:51 PM
It depends on what game I'm playing. If it's D&D or Star Wars d20, I'll start with a class if there's a particular one I'm interested in playing. Usually it's a prestige class or combination of prestige classes that have caught my eye. I'll plan enough of my build to make sure I meet the prerequisites as quickly as possible, but other than that the rest of the character will develop naturally.

In most other systems, or occasionally D&D if I come up with a concept before I think of the class, I'll start with an idea and work on how best to adapt it to the system we're playing. Sometimes that even requires house-ruling, but most of the people I game with regularly are flexible when it comes to that kind of thing.

2016-03-06, 05:26 PM
For me, I just occasionally get a bolt out of the blue. Then, I take these characters and use them frequently. You can get a lot of mileage out of the same character in different settings, different stories, and with minor character tweaks.

2016-03-06, 05:41 PM
I just think up a cool, awesome, or just ridiculous idea and then roll with it. As a trio of examples from PbP games, I've got one character who I thought: 'I want to make a friendly, nice, acrobatic character.' So I ended up with Sharla Glasob, changeling bard.

In a homebrew one, I decided I wanted a lizardfolk. So then I had the idea of making him a former torturer, and ended up with a rogue with a healer background.

And with my final one, I've been reading the Malazan book of the Fallen series, and I came up with a build that can live for several thousand years, so I ended up with an elf bladelock focused on survival.

2016-03-06, 09:23 PM
Sometimes I just roll dice to see what kind of ability scores crop up and then ask myself what a person with that set of natural attributes might be like. Just let my mind wander and see where it takes me. Works better for me than the other way-- concept first then trying to finagle ability score and skill points.

2016-03-07, 09:15 PM
My D&D character creation process:
1. Get drunk
2. Have a stupid idea for a character, write it down
3. Come back sober, look at notes
4. Decide what class works best for the idea
5. Allocate points and abilities
X. At an indeterminate point, decide on race

Thus was born such things as my magical girl warlock, depressed bard, and Grickle-esque gnome druid.

I'm odd, though. I create characters based off of what I think will be funny, but then I play them somewhat seriously.

2016-03-07, 09:48 PM
Okay, if someone said this, I missed it.

Start with a game; good characters, satisfying characters are the ones that fit the game they're in, so that their story weaves seamlessly into the larger one.

So my process goes: talk with GM about the upcoming game. The group talks about the world until people start having ideas, which are often archetypes, but can sometimes be very specific details that the rest gets built around. When you have an idea, throw it out there for an initial approval/advice from the GM. Let things percolate, and iron out the mechanics later, whenever you need to have things ready for play.

2016-03-07, 09:51 PM
My D&D character creation process:
1. Get drunk

Ok, hadn't heard that one before. I'd give it a try, but the next group to make new characters will likely be mostly underage.

2016-03-07, 10:26 PM
It's completely random for me. Most of the time I just fill the role that the other guys didn't want to play. But every now and then I watch something cool, or an idea of a concept pops to my head and then I obsess over it, trying to emulate it in game.

We are going to start a new game this week, and I made a character inspired by Darwin's travels. My character is part of the crew of an exploration vessel. I wasn't sure what class to make him. I thought to make him a wizard that does research, didn't like it too much, but then I got the idea of a "weather wizard" (a character from Flash), and made him a tempest cleric, favored by a deity that has to do with seas, storms, travellers etc, not sure yet. Turned out pretty interesting. The DM gave me some ideas for background, so I decided to add a few levels of sorcerer (which made the build too complicated, had to ask for advice in these boards).

Another build I was considering was a paladin. The idea came completely randomly. I was reading an article about how to create interactions between pcs and npcs. The scenario was that the adventurers had to persuade a king to join forces with the neighbouring kingdom against an evil army, but he didn't want to cause he thought it best to wait till his neighbor is weakened, and then invade. And then he was talking about the mechanics of the encounter.

The image of a guy that cuts through the bull**** negotiations and challenges the king's honor, asking for the situation to be resolved by a duel popped in my mind, so I stopped reading and made a paladin. Just like that.

2016-03-07, 11:51 PM
One of two ways.

If I have more experience with a system, I try and figure out what kind of character I want to play, and work the system from there. Usually starting with an image or inspiration. Eg. Most recently I started a Dark Heresy campaign with another group and decided I wanted to play a Femme Fatale. I constructed in my head what she'd be good at and how she'd approach a variety of problems and built her out from that image, ending up with a character that's strong in gunfights, quick as lightning and boasting massive social skills.

If I have less experience with a system, then I tend to pick the class/archetype/whatever that inherently appeals to me or sounds the most interesting to play, and then build a character to fit it. Eg. Just started my first Pathfinder campaign, in which the GM required us to choose from a list of traits early on. I ended up with a Neutral Evil bastard swordsman of the Slayer class, so I started putting together how these pieces fit together, and then built out a character from there, that's essentially become a strange combination of Peter Baelish and Oberyn Martell from ASoFaI.

Snark Knight
2016-03-08, 12:58 AM
I haven't really played before, but I think up character concepts a lot. I'm interested in the story first, with the mechanics backing it up.
So, I'm picturing this paladin who is a Hometown Hero kind of character. I'm imagining his back story as being the latest in a long line of town guards who had served their kingdom faithfully and well, when some evil demonic thing attacked the King. As a peon guard, the character was the last survivor of the squad, and was praying desperately for aid when his prayers were answered and divine power surged through him to smite the demon and drive it away, saving the life of his liege.
Maybe the paladin has survivor's guilt; why did the deity answer his prayer when other men, better men, perished? Maybe his lowborn status causes the aristocracy to look down on him as a pretender, while other commoners are thrilled to see one of their own become a champion of righteousness, speaking freely to him and celebrating his achievements.
From there, the stats, skills, and even equipment reflect the experiences of this character, even if it's not optimized...

2016-03-08, 02:19 AM
D&D 3.X player here.

It varies. Sometimes I'll be looking over various items in the rules crunch and decide that I want to build around something that grabs my attention. Other times I come up with a character concept and build around that concept with the game's mechanics. It's just a matter of what grabs my attention first.

2016-03-08, 09:10 AM
You don't create a new character, you BECOME a new character. To get into character when I made a dwarven barbarian, I grew a huge beard, walked around shirtless, and spent 3 weeks getting drunk every day going into a blind rage every time someone looked at me funny.

One time, a bouncer told me "no shirt, no shoes, no service" so I threw him through a glass window and cut his ears off to add to my trophy collection.

2016-03-08, 10:02 AM
My character creation process:
Step 1: Take 3 characters. Chop off everything you can without removing who they fundamentally are. The minimum personality left is what I call a Core. The most accurate anecdotal example I have, myself, would be 3 pillars(What ought one do? Enjoyment is puzzles. Programming.). Removal of anything else and I would still consider myself myself, removal of one of those and the person left is not myself.

Step 2: Imagine a Core. This is the hard step.

Step 3: Derive personality detail (the kind of stuff you removed in the Step 1 practice) from the intersection of the Core and their position in the setting.

Jonny Rod is a guide. At his Core he thinks of himself as the road that unfolds before the traveler to shunt aside obstacles. If Jonny thought of themselves that way in your DM's setting and ended up where the PCs start, then what must have happened to bring him here. Along the way what would he practice to improve his abilities to conform to his identity and what he considers his ideal self? What personality details would be a side effect of that past? There are many answers to these questions, you just need one consistent set of those answers. Once you have a personality and a past, then it is time to RP the present and thus see the future.