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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

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    Default How to create memorable characters?

    I saw a similar thread in the 5e subforum, and decided to bring it here.

    What are the 'ingredients' to make a character, particularly but not limited to PCs, that players will talk about even 5 years down the road?

    Breaking typical archetypes? Instead of an orc barbarian, have an orc wizard? Or are these sort of 'anti-archetypes' just gimmicks that don't work out in actual play, and archetypes are tried-and-tested for a reason? Even particular 'anti-archetypes' are archetypes in and of themselves.

    Quirks? What sort of quirks? How much of an impact should the quirks have? Where does one find the balance between 'background detail no one remembers' but on a character, and 'disrupts everything the party tries to do'?

    How does one end up with a character that doesn't fade into obscurity, but also doesn't try so hard it ends up on a List of Horrible Gaming Moments?

  2. - Top - End - #2

    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Drive your character like it's a stolen car.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Koo Rehtorb View Post
    Drive your character like it's a stolen car.
    Extremely cautiously, covering up every evidence that it's not really mine, preferring more tedious but legal means of transport, and using it only when it's absolutely urgent?
    Last edited by goto124; 2017-07-26 at 12:32 PM.

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by goto124 View Post
    Extremely cautiously, covering up every evidence that it's not really mine, preferring more tedious but legal means of transport, and using it only when it's absolutely urgent?
    Wow you just take all the fun out of stealing cars don't you?

  5. - Top - End - #5
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    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    I probably take all the fun out of creating characters too. Or running them, for that matter.
    Last edited by goto124; 2017-07-26 at 12:43 PM.

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    From my many gaming parties, the most memorable characters were a bit of anti-stereotypes, though not in terms of race-class, but personalities, e.g. powerful "real man" fighters that shunned violence and always preferred "real roleplayer" solutions, or intelligent "wise wizards" that were emotional and short-tempered (and maybe a bit pyromaniac)... and there almost always was that murder-hobo munchkin guy in every party (though he was memorable only if he was the only such guy in the party and stood out from the rest).

    As for memorable NPCs - I always went for clear visual imagery that made a character stick out from the background. Even if the players did not remember the name, they vividly remembered the mental picture, e.g. the one-armed ironsmith, the grey-cloaked spymaster, the flamboyantly gay merchant, the curvy druid chick...
    Last edited by Bulhakov; 2017-07-26 at 01:45 PM.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Having defined goals. More than anything else I find this adds some weight and makes me remember the actual character rather than the player.

    Breaking archetypes depends on the execution rather than the idea. "GenGen the leader of the Kobold Liberation Army!" worked pretty well for me but I've also seen and made several characters who fell flat. I think one of the main things there ties back to the first point, have a defined goal. If you make a orc bard then I should be focused on them seeking out the lore of the peoples of the northern plains and not the fact that it's an orc bard.

    Quirks are fun and I haven't found too many cases where they become too annoying so long as the quirk isn't "I compulsively kill/attack/steal/run from X". Which a LOT of the quirks that I've seen people take are are. In terms of frequency I would have to say something which comes up about once every two sessions, doesn't hurt the party, and is at least somewhat interesting.

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Goals. Drives. To me, these are what define a good character. What you "are", in an RPG-esque stance, isn't that interesting. That's the tools you have available to you. What you *do* with the tools is what's interesting.

    It's especially good if your goals or drives conflict in some way, and must change over time.

    Quirks are overrated. Highly. They're more often annoying than anything.

    Breaking archetypes for the sake of breaking them is also highly overrated.

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    Quirks are overrated. Highly. They're more often annoying than anything.
    I think it depends on how you like to manifest quirks and how subtle or obvious they are. I like to use "useless" skills like Craft or Perform to imply that there might be more to a character than what's on the surface. Like a Fighter who's musically gifted, a wizard that enjoys cooking or a Cleric that appreciates quality ceramics is at least a start to something more interesting than the standard fare.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Hmm... I suppose the goal has to be something the character can chase as part of the story the game is going along? Do I keep backup goals in case the players decide to do something else? Or start off with a goal that's flexible enough to change?

    Putting points in 'useless' skills takes away from the rest of the skillset, however. 'Useless' skill are often 'useless' because situations where they're useful are very unlikely to happen. Do PCs have to reduce their mechanical effectiveness to be memorable in the roleplay sense?

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by goto124 View Post
    Putting points in 'useless' skills takes away from the rest of the skillset, however. 'Useless' skill are often 'useless' because situations where they're useful are very unlikely to happen. Do PCs have to reduce their mechanical effectiveness to be memorable in the roleplay sense?
    To tell you the truth, I'm generally not out to make a character memorable so much as I am out to make a character interesting and fun for me to play. And yes, I am willing to reduce a character's mechanical effectiveness to make them that way. But hey, it's not like buying points in "useless skills" is reducing their effectiveness by much.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    To tell you the truth, I'm generally not out to make a character interesting and fun for me to play so much as I am out to make a character interesting and fun for fellow players to work with.

    I've never succeeded.

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    Kobold

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Here's my 5-step program for making an interesting character quickly.

    1. Give them a name and descriptive title. Everyone should have a name. Ex. "Dourlip the Gravedigger."

    2. Give them a goal. Ex. "Locate his dead daughter's missing locket so he can bring her back from the dead with ritual magic."

    3. Give them something that stands between them and their goal. Ex. "The locket is still in the possession of the very bandits that took his daughter's life."

    4. Pick a part of this NPC. Physical body part, or ephemeral part. Their head, nose, feet, gut, genitalia, honor, fear, something. This is the part they will follow around. Ie, it will be the main influence on their decisionmaking. Ex. "Dourlip follows his grief around."

    5. Based on 2-4, make a plan for what they will DO and how the situation will change/escalate if the PCs do nothing. Ex. "Dourlip will leave his graveyard to hunt down the locket.-> He will kill the bandits under mysterious circumstances, and lock himself in a crypt upon his return.-> Villagers will report strange sounds coming from the graveyard and report seeing corpses walking the earth during the night. -> Dourlip and his daughter will emerge from the crypt as (insert intelligent undead here) and will leave town to cause trouble elsewhere." Etc.


    NPCs should have bold, simple, straightforward goals. Even if their plans of achieving them are intricate.

    To increase tension, create PC-NPC-PC triangles.
    For example:
    The Mafioso wants the rogue to pay her debt or face his goonsquad and pay it in teeth.
    The same Mafioso thinks the party Muscle is impressive and wants to hire him on, and is willing to pay handsomely.

    Etc.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    If you want to create a character that is fun for other players, about half of it is creating a character that is fun for you, the other is bouncing off each other which I don't think you can pre-plan in anyway. Maybe you could if you got together with the other players before hand.

    More me I just get the campaign premise, pick a quote and see what I can come up with at the intersection of the two. I usually try to stick some other things an top of that (a goal, one way they can get into trouble, things like that) but that gets me a base to work from.

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    SamuraiGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    In my group most characters are remembered for their actions.


    In our Warhammer Fantasy campaign 3 characters stand out. Their names may not be remembered except by their players.

    1) The mage that sold his soul to Chaos and became a body jumper to avoid dying so his soul didn't become swallowed by the Chaos Gods. We managed to save his soul during the course of the campaign.

    2) The little annoying braggart of a halfling. He always threatened to give people he didn't like a Marienburg Necktie. He made us all piss on scarfs and tie around our face to ward against skaven poison gas attacks, maintaining that Dwarf piss was the best and lamenting that there were no dwarves in our party. When we found out there were no skaven in the sewers we were not amused. I remember his legendery food heists before adventures where he would "visit" the butcher and the baker to fill up his snack sack.

    3) Max, my character. Still remembered because he wouldn't leave a small hamlet to it's fate when we failed to stop a Blood Dragon Vampire Lord being brought back to life. When the rest of the party legged it he faced the Vampire Lord on a bridge leading to the hamlet and got that one in a million crit hit and severed the head off the Vampire Lord in his first attack.


    In a high fatality Black Ops campaign I had a the only character that survived all the missions despite taking insane risks. His name is Sven Gustav and was Swedish (based on Dolph Lundgren), and here after my group only remembers him as the Super Swede. He is the measurement of survivability in my group when talking about how tough a character is the utterance "He's tough but he's no Super Swede" is often heard.


    Kwani and Bullseye became a legendary duo in a Cyberpunk 2020 campaign and their exploits are too many to list. One funny story though. Kwani had developed a healthy paranoia, she was very low on humanity after her arm got blown off and had to be replaced by a cyberarm and her low humanity was expressed as distrust of everyone. So after a high risk mission for a corporation the party were awarded with luxorious penthouses. Kwani didn't trust the corporation and found herself a body double and allow her to live in her penthouse apartment in her name. Bullseye who was very carefree used his penhouse to pick up chicks and live a life of luxury. So one day when the corporation decided we had become a liability the doors to our penthouse apartments got kicked in and half the party got killed in bed. Bullseye woke up naked and managed to roll out of bed when three assassins burst into his room spraying the place with small arms fire. Boy was he suprised (almost as suprised as the assassins) when his wardrobe opened and Kwani stood there in full battle armour and hosed down the assassins with her Assault Rifle.

    Unbeknown to to Bullseye's player, Kwani who was the techninja had been crashing occasionally in his large wardrobe. In his next apartment he had a bulletresistant wardrobe where he kept an assault rifle....that's is before he had to lock up Kwani to put her in therapy because she was teetering on the brink of cyberpsychosis.


    I think there is no formula to make a memorable character. You as a player will probably remember most of your characters but if you want your character to be remembered by others then you have to do something memorable.
    Last edited by RazorChain; 2017-07-26 at 10:33 PM.

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by ImNotTrevor View Post
    To increase tension, create PC-NPC-PC triangles.
    For example:
    The Mafioso wants the rogue to pay her debt or face his goonsquad and pay it in teeth.
    The same Mafioso thinks the party Muscle is impressive and wants to hire him on, and is willing to pay handsomely.
    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. Could you give a couple more examples, please?
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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dimers View Post
    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. Could you give a couple more examples, please?
    PC 1's trusted lieutenant had PC 2's loyal cultist executed for murder.

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    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    For memorability, I think you want to aim for something like caricatures with an underlying basis, followed by perceivable growth or evolution of the character. The caricature part makes the character have an immediate impression, but if the character ends up being nothing more than an extreme quirk then they won't have much staying power. So the trick is to keep having things which make people re-evaluate the character - at first they seem like just someone quirky and weird, but then it turns out that there's an underlying reason for the quirk which is discovered/figured out/revealed, so people give the character a second thought. Then, when the character exhibits growth and change, that again makes people return to them and compare and re-evaluate them, giving them a 'third' thought as it were.

    On top of that, you want to aim for an emotional relationship that encourage increased interaction rather than decreased interaction - you want people to actively seek to engage more with the character, not just be trying to get away from them or take them for granted. So desire or anger can work, but feelings of annoyance or comfort or patronizing superiority generally won't. That means that the character should not be something that others are 'forced' to deal with, but rather should present opportunities for interaction that encourage people to seek them out. Rather than a character that constantly ineffectively tries to interfere with the party, or offers unwanted help (leading to 'how can I avoid interacting with that character?'), it should be something where people think 'I can get something out of it by interacting' - I can surpass my rival and claim fame, I can find the answers to my questions, I can get this guy to be the perfect foil to my comedy routine, etc.

    Surprise is also good for getting a character to stick in people's mind I think, not in the sense of the character just being randomly different than expected, but in the sense of the character doing things which retroactively make sense. So e.g. a villain who is kind of dropping subtle hints that they're not actually on the same side as the party's main opposition, and then who suddenly turns around and betrays the other villains to help the party might work. But someone who is a villain, but then suddenly says 'hey guys, I want to join your team' wouldn't work as well.

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by goto124 View Post
    I saw a similar thread in the 5e subforum, and decided to bring it here.

    What are the 'ingredients' to make a character, particularly but not limited to PCs, that players will talk about even 5 years down the road?

    Breaking typical archetypes? Instead of an orc barbarian, have an orc wizard? Or are these sort of 'anti-archetypes' just gimmicks that don't work out in actual play, and archetypes are tried-and-tested for a reason? Even particular 'anti-archetypes' are archetypes in and of themselves.

    Quirks? What sort of quirks? How much of an impact should the quirks have? Where does one find the balance between 'background detail no one remembers' but on a character, and 'disrupts everything the party tries to do'?

    How does one end up with a character that doesn't fade into obscurity, but also doesn't try so hard it ends up on a List of Horrible Gaming Moments?
    Memorable characters, imo, come from the players. Boring player -> boring results.

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    ElfRogueGirl

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by FreddyNoNose View Post
    Boring player -> boring results.
    This.

    One of the most memorable characters I've ever encountered was the most quiet and contemplative of the young magii in ta long-running Ars Magica campaign I played in. There was nothing remarkable about the character as far as back story, abilities, or anything goes. A perfectly normal magus who seemed to be exactly what you would expect her to be, only to later be revealed that she actually was.

    But the player portrayed that "boring" character so masterfully she became everyone's favorite in no time.
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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by FreddyNoNose View Post
    Memorable characters, imo, come from the players. Boring player -> boring results.
    Very much this. Last year in two different campaigns I played alongside two different guys, one in each campaign playing the "big, dumb barbarian" type of guy. One was tiring to be around, while the other was enjoyable, and it came down to the player playing them. One was an escaped drow slave, the other was looking for his adoptive father. The slave just did what he wanted because he was bigger than everyone, what were they gonna do about it, and that was the extent of his role playing. He didn't talk much, and he didn't have much direction. The possible orphan, meanwhile, was a fiercely loyal ally and became the adoptive older brother to a child that we met in our travels. He wasn't the brightest, and we had to pull him out of the occasional fight, but he never seemed like a burden the same way the other one was.

    Player is more important than character.
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  22. - Top - End - #22
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    I doubt I want to start a new thread called "How to become an interesting person"

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    An interesting guideline (because in storytelling there are no rules, only guidelinse) I've read is that "the description of an interesting character contains the word 'but'". Interesting characters contain contradictions, because real people contain contradictions.

    Maybe the character is a fierce warrior, but he reads poetry in his tent at night. Maybe he's an idealistic paladin who has been taught the hard way that sometimes the way towards the greater good is making compromises. Maybe he's a smartass wizard who secretly envies a little the simple-mindedness and freedom of the barbarian. Maybe he's a pacifistic and wise monk who gets triggered by a specific issue, and in these circumstances unleashes all the anger he has repressed. Maybe he's a leader, as warm and caring towards his allies as he's cold and cruel towards people who threaten them. And so on.

    Of course, just throwing a random contradiction out there doesn't make the character interesting, it just makes him zany (which is the polar opposite of "interesting"). The point is that once you get to know the character better, what was a contradiction becomes a perfectly natural part of who he is. It just has to look like a contradiction in the beginning, to make other people (and characters) want to get to know him better.

    Also, "what your audience doesn't see, doesn't exist". If there's a contradiction between your character's actions and their inner thougts, that does exactly nothing to make them more interesting until that contradiction comes into light somehow. If you're the DM, show at least an hint towards the character's main contradiction in one of their very first scenes. If you're a player, remember that other players can't read your thoughts and other characters can't read your character's thoughts, and give the character some kind of way to express their emotion and thoughts (possibly through actions, but that depends on the DM throwing the right scenarios at you too).

    (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why I hate race/class stereotypes. "Oh no, but the barbarian has to be a mindless destruction machine!". "But the paladin has to be 100% pure and good hearted!". "But the rogue has to be untrustworthy!". And so on.)
    Last edited by Cozzer; 2017-07-27 at 04:42 AM.

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    PirateGirl

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    I have created some memorable characters. I forgot how I did it, though.

    One was a joke character who survived for many, many sessions and the other players apparently liked my style of humor. He was sort of the idiot hero archetype. Be the hero! For justice!

    The other character wasn't even used in a game. I ad-libbed it entirely to mock a friend of mine's plan for finding an evil cult in the game I was running. My friend was greatly amused by the humor/character and has since spread the character to many more people. It was just a dorky, tonally-flat, deep voice. People find it both easy and fun to imitate the voice, evidently.

    If I had to guess the reasons why they (and a couple others) were memorable, I would say that having a clearly identifiable motivation or goal and having some kind of immediately obvious silly quirk is a good basis to start from. Then build the character from there in a direction that makes sense. Or just use a silly voice.

    I would suspect that trying to intentionally create a memorable character isn't a realistic goal. The goal should be to make a character that you'd be interested in, and if you're having fun, you'll make them memorable by the things they say and do and the sorts of reactions they have to the situations they're involved in.
    I write a horror blog in my spare time.

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    It's rare for a memorable character to be some sort of wacky roll playing mechanical wonder. That type of character is quickly forgotten in most games that are not just roll playing table top video game style games.

    More then anything, most memorable characters are ones with real personalities that are role-played well and leave an impression and impact.

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    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by goto124 View Post
    I doubt I want to start a new thread called "How to become an interesting person"
    In the context of being an role-player (sure let's call it that), run interesting characters and campaigns. Sure it is a cycle, the way to break that cycle it to practice and keep trying. Actively: force yourself out of your comfort zone, reflect on what did and didn't go well with earlier characters* and so on.

    Another guideline that Darth Ultron made me think about this is: "What makes or breaks a character is the stuff you cannot fit into the initial description." All the little details and nuances and how they mesh with the world and other characters. There is again a limit to how much you can preplan, some of it just has to grow in response to things that happen during the game.

    * P.S. From what you said about your old group they may have been hazing you, so take what they said with a grain of salt. Of course I'm going of a little indirect information, so take this with a grain as well.

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    I think the best characters out there are the ones that have all the "stats"--A defined goal, as fleshed out personality, and a well-thought background. Such multi-faceted characters stand the greatest chance of being remembered by players years later.
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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Personal Weakness.
    Every good character needs it. Figure out in what situation the character can be pathetic, and let the character desperately avoid that situation in such a way that it's bound to happen. Or let the character strive for it, because they simply don't realize that they will make an ass of themselves.

    Or let them have an unattainable goal that the character can strive for but never reach.

    Or an ideal image of themselves that simply is never going to happen.

    Someone clumsily striving for greatness while being destined for disgrace and obscurity can either be tragic, hilarious, or just all around flavorful.

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Concrete View Post
    Personal Weakness.
    Every good character needs it. Figure out in what situation the character can be pathetic, and let the character desperately avoid that situation in such a way that it's bound to happen. Or let the character strive for it, because they simply don't realize that they will make an ass of themselves.
    Sounds like something an English teacher would say.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to create memorable characters?

    Oh my, this depends on a lot of things, the three most important ones being tone of the campaign, type of character and type of memorability you're going for.

    Tone of campaign is exactly what it sounds - El Macho may be at home in Despicable Me (or One Piece, for that matter), but not really at his best in Game of Thrones.

    Type of character is trickier - PCs, villains, major NPCs and minor NPCs can all be interesting, but all have slightly different ways of achieving that.

    And lastly, type of memorability - excentric professor and tragic villain will all use different tools at their disposal.

    So, how to begin?

    Step 1: The usual suspects


    Give your character basic stats, motivation and personality. It can be fairly deep (in case of, say, major villain or PC) or basic, but it has to be there. Then build up on it - if the character is Fighter McStabbypants, add something that's completely unrelated to his fightiness, possibly in direct opposition. This way, you avoid creating one-dimensional characters.

    Thing is, for a side NPC mook, it can be something as simple as "Is good with crossbows", "Not a morning person" and "Has a pet cactus". Boom, you're done, interesting-ish mook. For a major NPC, you will want to make these personality traits interact with each other a bit more, and give them more depth, e.g. the cactus is last memento of his mother, he dreams of being the next William Tell etc etc. For a major major NPC, you will probably want to give them a character arc of their own.

    Step 2: Write it out

    Especially if you're new to this TTRPG business, write out bits of text to read out as you play/DM - at this point, your improvisation game is most likely rather weak, so you need some help. Write down "At this point, the mook will mention his cactus, annoying the other guard", or just straight out write out the dialogue snippet.

    Step 3: If you got it, show it

    The best NPC on paper will be worth jack if you won't actually show other players what they have written there in play, or as the old adage goes, "Show, don't tell". If your NPC is a coward, make him run away, if he has a pet cactus, have him mention it ("Guys, guys, can we stop in the pottery store? My cactus needs a new pot."), if he has a tragic backstory, have it be told or hinted at.

    Important point here is that sometimes, most of the times even, these revelations aren't wanted by the character itself (be it a PC or NPC) - circumstances conspire into forcing them to face or reveal a bit of it. It's your job as person controlling the character to make sure these happen, either by being DM and making it so, or by talking to the DM to have him work with you.

    Lastly, if there is a trait that wasn't shown in this way, it is Schroedinger's aspect - you can freely change it and not worry too much about consistency if you (or just as often, your players) think of something better.

    Step 4: Ogres are like onions


    Major NPCs should have revelations about them in layers, to be peeled off over the time - at first, you find out the wife was killed, then that she was killed by orcs, then that the orcs were there for negotiations, thus explaining the strong dislike of orcs etc etc

    You will have to pace these to both keep the NPC interesting and to not just splurge out all of his secrets during the first game.

    Bonus step: Act it out better


    Tone of voice, accents, gesticulation, facial expressions - these can all help a lot in making the NPC memorable. If you have three generic dudes and they talk over each other, it will be confusing, if you have a russian doctor, a spanish swordsman who turns into a cat and talks about senoritas all the time and a mute yet expressive cyborg fighting a brash marine officer and her gunslinging sidekick with a Texan accent, it's pretty clear who is who.

    Problem is, this is yet another DM skill that isn't easy to learn - I have it because I'm a re-enactor and we do a lot of acting, but that is hardly every DM's cup of tea.

    As a final bit of advice, if you have trouble creating the characters in the first place, give FATE Core a look, specifically section on PC creation and NPCs, they have some excellent guidelines on how to make them.
    That which does not kill you made a tactical error.

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