How Do YOU Make Characters?


I find it extremely interested to watch and learn the way that people approach making characters for games. How do YOU make characters?

I find it extremely interested to watch and learn the way that people approach making characters for games.

My friends Charles, the ultimate munchkin, immediately hones in on attributes, skills, and powers that will make him a combat god. Afterwards, he'll cobble together a lame thinly strung attempt of a background story.

As a GM, I make players write out their background stories before making their characters. Sometimes, I make their characters for them, based on their backgrounds.

Charles will try something like a Navy Seal Sniper who received a hardship discharge five years in after his unit was wiped out. Amazingly, this character suffers to mental or physical trauma from this event. This optimizes his combat potential.

Another friend of mine, Freddie, tends to come up with a movie based concept. A pirate based on Captain Jack Sparrow mixed with the Princess Bride and a few Japanimation characters. Then he'll use that base and create a character that fits the world.

My sister in-law makes a good looking mage. Usually a noble. This is irregardless of the gaming system and sometimes even the genre being played.

My wife prefers playing a character who can fight in a straight forward run in and kill everything style. She prefers not having any other responsibilities. She does crave romance in games but plays unapproachable characters.

Jeff plays insane characters that are seemingly random bits and pieces of other character ideas. His characters aren't useful in most cases, although they are... interesting to be around.

By way of comparison, I write up detailed background stories that include my family, relationships, training, personality, and motivations. My backgrounds are usually two or three pages long. My characters are usually the product of abuse and typically grew up poor. They are resourceful but bitter and narcissistic. They also tend to be great fighters although they aren't combat focused. A Jackie Chan-like thief, for instance.

During the game I try to discover my character's humanity and to have them learn and grow emotionally. My ultimate goal is to have them plumb the depths of despair and love, to marry and raise a family, and to fight for what they believe in.

So... how do YOU make characters?

I think alot of character creation technique depends upon the genre, system, style, GM and who the other players are.

If you know 3 other player are HackAndSlash Munchkins, character doesn't matter nearly as much as numbers and in all liklihood the game will be combat focussed from a gamist perspective. Inversely, if you know that the other characters are aspiring writers, numbers won't be as important as quirks.

As a GM, I've given different amounts of direction for character creation. My current game, all the players provided was a time period their PC was from, and a survey about their character (they were all children, no real background necessary). Prior to that, the players selected from 10 archtypes, and their background was provided (The bard had been stolen FROM gypsies). Before that, all the PCs were (secretly) told they were spies (from different agencies) and built characters with covers. Before that was Dungeoncrawling, little outside the dungeon role-play. I have played for GMs that told me where I was from and what that place was known for and built a character based on that info.

GM style is important becasue it lets you know if the game will be puzzles, society, or combat. If the game system is combat rule light (Call of Cthulhu frex) it implies that other skills are more important. If OTOH the non-combat skills are a short list (AD&D1e) it tells you the opposite.

Many times, an eleaborate background is not needed or referenced. Often, it can be created as needed. More often than not, it is just a way to justify esoteric skills. How much of Dr. Henry Jones Sr personality was to define Indy's background?

For me, I like to start with a career, a hobby, and parents. I will usually not take a combat hobby such as karate, gun collecting/shooting, or chainsaw sculpting, but may take a periphery area such as camping or off-road racing.

I tend to get skills first, then advantages, then attributes and do tend to USE the system, though (I think) not ABUSE the system. I prefer to leave much background detail open and fill it in as needed. While this may seem opportunistic, I think it prevents some abuse also.
Example: "While I worked with the circus we did X" - "But you haven't got any circus skills" - "I drove their truck."
Rather than "I have Animal Handling, Acrobatics, Cannon, Fortune Telling, and Pickpocket. I was in the circus."

For more of my opinion on this see "What I bring to the table 2"

I'm sad to see that there is so little contribution here. But I'll go for it.

I've found that I usually determine what sort of character I'd like to play before creating a personality or a background. Another thing I enjoy is creating cookie-cutter characters that end up within that stereotype in interesting ways. For example, I determined that I wanted to play a do-gooder fighter type character, and so paladin was the obvious class choice for the d20 system we're using. His father was a paladin, and my character admired his father greatly, up until the character's early teens when the father abandoned his wife and children for the sake of his church. My paladin grew up supporting his family and hating his father. My character had made a promise to his father to become a holy warrior and a crusader of righteousness and all that, and even after the father's betrayal, my character couldn't find himself able to go back on that. Instead, he determined to become a holy warrior in such a way as to spite his father: to worship a "pagan" dragon god and to seek out and obtain dragonly power and attributes (i.e., multiclassing into the dragon shaman class) for the good of all sentient species alike.

I tend to play characters that share many attributes with myself, as I find it easier to step into those sorts of roles.

One thing that I have found VERY helpful in creating consistent characters is the Chinese method of dividing both the world and different personality types into five basic elements that interact with each other. I was first exposed to this through my father's study of Chinese medicine, and I've found it helps, a lot. You can find some very basic information on the subject at the following links:

My father actually created a "test-yourself" type of sheet to determine how much of each element an individual possesses. This is also very useful in understanding how a given person reacts and thinks about various situations. If there's an interest I could post the whole thing as an article.

"Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life."
-Terry Pratchett

I think that the reason that I was somewhat loathe to comment on this thread (even though it is a fascinateing subject) is because of my experiance, or lack thereof as the case may be. For the few times that I have created characters I have done so pretty ignorantly.

First off, I agree with Calamar in saying that characters have to have room to grow and mature. My first RP experience was a good example of this. We had a day where we all got together (about a week before actually playing) and created charcters. Since most of the group that I was a part of was very new to this, our charcters turned out very shallow and exceptionally skilled. All of us, except the one player who had done this sort of thing before, fell into stereotypes and got ALL of the skills that matched what they were. Then when we started there was no real bringing us together, or a story of anyone, rather it was a Final Fantasy type thing where they all just decide to travel together. Through no fault of the GM that game was a disaster.

Since then I luckily have had a chance to make a few more. In the majority of the cases the charcter is rolled up before I have a chance to create a background story. This is probably because I'm new at this whole thing, but I find it much easier to create a background story once you have a rough idea of the type of charcter that you will be playing. I in no way mean to devalue the importance of a background story, qutie the opposite in fact. Background stories are what really makes the character, and through that the adventure. With as new as I am it is easier to work at it from that direction.

For example, the most recent character that I created what a gnomic monk. In creating the characters that day our group was a little rushed and anxious to get into the game. Being new and completely confused with what I was doing and kindof making it up with the help of another member as to what we were suppose to do to create charcters in the first place, I finally found a race I like (gnome) and a class (monk) without giving much thought to the beliefs of either. As I got more and more into it I began to realize that while monks and gnomes don't hate each other, they certainly don't agree with each other either. By the time that I realized this it was to late to change my race/class into something a bit more compatable. Instead I ended up using it to create what so far has been my favorite character. She has her problems, she has a past, and she has enough belief in something to be able to work her way around them.

Well, this is the third time I've started to write a reply here... let's hope this time I get to finish it.

Personally, I've not made up so many chacters in my gaming life... well,not many that lasted long enough to make an impression. Now that I'm GMing I'm not putting that much effort into my NPCs, as they don't have the importance to me that a PC has to its player.

In any case, the only characters I played long enough to remember making were using D&D rules, and in these (two) cases, I first decided on a class and general flavour for the character, then rolled the dice and wrote down stats and then tried to get the GM to give me information about the campaign area so that I could retrofit my stats to the background and vice-versa.

The first of these was a somewhat cowardly rogue, humorous and naive, from a poor background, whose mother died from diseases caused by the chemicals involved in tanning and who turned to theft to support his sister and father. The latest was a gruff, military psychic warrior, who was recruited for an elite special forces unit (pharaoh's eyes). Sadly, this campaign lasted all of two sessions...

Well, this is the third time I've started to write a reply here... let's hope this time I get to finish it.

Heh-heh, so I'm not the only one.

I usually start with an idea of a finished character and then build (roll or buy) toward that vision, allowing for creative impulses on the way. The original inspiration can be pretty much anything. One of my favorites was after I came across a chipmunk in a garage.

The integration of the story and character abilities is as important to me as making an effective character but I prefer "utility" of some sort in any character type I try.

I also generally have more a problem creating too much background history than too little and wearing out my welcome sharing my latest installment.

I usually like to make my character in a group with the other players so that we can discuss backgrounds, skill breakdowns and relationships before the game starts. This is often a pretty simple plan that gets flushed out later, like "I'm the pilot, you're the gunner." or "We're all from X and knew each other growing up." Then the backgrounds are expanded retroactively during the first few game sessions.

If I'm rushed or I'm not feeling creative I'll just roll my stats randomly (d20 system) and see what kind of character develops. I find this interesting because it tends to create characters with weaknesses in places that I would never choose myself and strengths in areas that are not familiar to me. It breaks me out of my rut and I can usually come up with a satisfying backstory to fit the stats and help define the character.

My favorite character I ever played was actually not made by me. We all met, made characters, and then redistributed them randomly. It was very cool to see how two different people imagined the same set of numbers on the page.

As much as I ideally want to make well-thought-of characters with personalities and depth, I almost always end up with these pathetic conventions:

1) Myself. The character has stats and a personality mirroring mine, only with tweaks depending on the campaign, like magical powers or something like that. Obviously, it's almost effortless to play because I'd just be making decisions that I'd make myself and it's fun to put my persona (a real concept) into the game world (a fictitious concept). And yeah, I'm lazy.

2) Take the latest cool character I've seen on books or movies and adapt it to the game. I guess in some ways this is what everybody does, even on a subconscious level. We've all tried to make Raistlins and Drzz'ts. Hehe. It's just fun and easy.

When I first started out, I used to do what Jylichan said, make a character based on myself or some cool character that I saw somewhere. And I reused the same name over and over and over again. So, after about a million Tereks who were either just like Case from Gibson's Neuromancer or just like myself, only with magick powerz, I finally decided to play a character unlike my stereotypes. I played a chick. And I didn't name her Terekina, either.

Anyway, so this got me thinking about her background, and since we were playing with a few girl gamers, I asked them questions about their own experiences and how they would react to certain situations. As, well, I was more or less clueless on female brain patterns. Then, I cobbled together a good back story for her and well, she died about three sessions in.

Nonetheless! Now I usually make characters completely out of left field. Commonly I make them mechanically and then form them into a person after I figure out what skills they'll have. So this imposes a lot of deep, interesting questions and soul-searching, like "Why DOES he have such excellent culinary skills for being a homeless thief?" Or, "If I was raised in a non-violent druidic commune, why am I so good with lightsabers? Especially when I'm not a jedi? Especially when we're playing Shadowrun."

I cobbled together a good back story for her and well, she died about three sessions in.

*lol* You suckered me in on that one. Good show!

It did remind me that I've never played a female PC in table top RPGs. Only NPCs as GM and some online gaming.

There is something to be said about making "familiar" characters. Stephen King did it in many of his books, you could trust that "Flagg" was the bad guy.

I usually prefer for my characters to develop their own personality, organically, through their experiences within the game. When I feel that my character has come far enough to warrant it, I'll create an interesting backstory for them - at that point, they deserve some sort of background, and if they die in the very next session, well, at least they had a well-rounded career.

I've recently played GURPS for the first time. Whilst the system of ads/disads and quirks lets you build a well-defined personality from the outset, I found it a bit limiting in that it constrained your character's behaviour during the sessions that followed. What I'm trying to say is that the personality that I found myself organically developing for that chararacter didn't fit with the ads / disads that I'd initially chosen - they were a bit of a straightjacket.

I wouldn't know how to develop a character's personality over time... my longest playing character lasted for about 8 monthes, and I think he pretty much had the same personality at the end and at the beginning.

I've recently started playing the game Exalted. It's cool.

The characters are superhumans with magical powers who have been reincarnated as adults. For the sake of saving space and time, I'll assume that you know about the game.

Despite my initial misgivings about having fun playing a character who can literally leap over a building and throw a horse as a weapon, I gave the game a try and was hooked.

I have two characters in the game. One is a Dragon Blood Dynast living in the blessed Isle. His name is Ledaal Goram and he is an Immaculate trained Magistrate who asked for and received the Empress' blessing as a Magistrate shortly before she dissappeared. He is stationed in a city just north of the Emperial City.

I had his background story, personality, and habits fully fleshed out before I made the character. As I have not been able to play him, I am currently writing a novel based in this world with him as the main character. Think Law and Order in a fantasy world.

My other character was made with no preparation. This character introduced me to the world. I had no time to think about this character at all before creation, something that I rarely do.

His name is Bastian Markone. His street name is Da'chau, an Old Realm word that means Spirit of Death. He is a scholar who lives at the University in Nexus and teaches there on occasion. He is also a serial killer, theif, and con artist.

He believes that most people are cattle or part of the environement. They are meant to be ignored or used as appropriate for a given situation.

In contrast, he respects those who survive against the odds and helps them by providing them with money, an education, or other assistance.

With both characters I made an effort to come up with a personality before character creation. Then I asked why and how they came to be like this. "Why" and "how" starts me on their background which allows me to "fill in the blanks".

I never make a "fighter" or "thief". I make a person. I create a personality, as psychotic or mundane as that personality may be, and then I find skills to fit that personality.

Both these characters are extremely intelligent. They are both scholars and they are both dangerous. One is a homicide detective and the other is a pure sociopath.

Neither can be classified in D&D or other class games. Even Exalted, which has types of Exalts, can pigeon hole these characters. An Exalt player or GM may guess at the type, but they'd still be guessing. My characters, even those in D&D aren't defined by class, but by personality.

"You are not a unique or beautiful snowflake."

very inventive, calamar.
As I think I'll be taking a break from my D&D campaign soon, I'll consider the different methods as I create a character for another game.

"Despite my initial misgivings about having fun playing a character who can literally leap over a building and throw a horse as a weapon, I gave the game a try and was hooked."

You know Cal, this raises an interesting point.

It is often said by people that once a character becomes 'super powerful' within the context of the game (and nearly every open-ended RPG I have encountered allows for this eventual possibility), then it's time to retire, that playing them isn't fun anymore. I've heard this from some of my own players on occasion.

Yet the same people will have no problems playing a superhero in another game that revolves around super-powered people! By shifting the baseline and changing the scales on the axes of power so that the super-powered being doesn't seem so super-powered in the context of the system - so that the numbers on the character sheet aren't as huge, say - they become comfortable with the character again.

Maybe it's because high-powered play can run out of control more easily if you don't keep a steady hand on the tiller. Perhaps with big numbers things can get chaotic and unpredictable leading to all-or-nothing results too easily - requiring liberal doses of deus ex machina to fix. Smaller numbers are intuitively easier for us to handle and it's easier for the referee to keep the game in control. Maybe this leads to people having so many bad experiences with poorly-managed high-power campaigns that they start getting a queasy feeling of apprehension when the numbers on their character sheet get too big.

It's an interesting phenomenon. Of course, it may simply be that they're bored of having played that character for so long, and they want to focus on someone new. But if so, why cite the power level of the character?

I agree with you that "overpowered" is a relative term, and as such, powerful characters are only disruptive if they do not match other parts of the system. There is nothing wrong with "big numbers", unless they come into contact with "small numbers".

Consider MMOs such as WoW. Hight level characters (70th level, with the expansion) all have "big numbers" on their stats, but their experience is not much different, by and large (ignore raids for this discussion) from lever-level characters, as their enemies and missions become tougher, too. The problem starts when these uber-mensch go around killing dozens of low-level characters, NPCs, or whatnot. This is usually a temproray stage (as it becomes boring) and is completely avoided in superhero games (because superheros don't do such things - that's the realm of supervillains).

I use point buy system usually 32 to 34 points, this way characters are not ridiculous in power. Then they pick their classes. I will help them do a rough background and then I re write it in my own words and they are stuck with it.
Example: Jon wanted to make a noble that had been taken for ransom as a youth and raised by barbarians. This is what I came up with for our Westeros campaign.
Alain Karstark
Alain Karstark was born 18 years ago, a younger cousin to Lord Roland Karstark. At the age of four he was taken to Deepwood Motte to foster at House Glover. His sister was promised to the heir to House Glover, Riathan Glover. On the eve of their wedding, the Ironborn of House Hoare and Wyk raided Deepwood Motte, sacking the town and taking captives. It was wholesale slaughter, the town was in the middle of festivities and were taken by total surprise. Alain's brother and sister were both murdered in the attack, and he was taken back to Pike by House Hoare.
The boy was scarred and bereft, having seen the rape and murder of his sister before his eyes. An Ironborn warrior left him with a jagged facial scar across his left cheek, almost taking his left eye. The eye itself healed, but the iris turned red; a permanent reminder of his capture and imprisonment. The first two years were hard, as hard as the Island of Pyke. As a ward awaiting ransom, the sons of House Hoare abused the lad and forced disgusting menial tasks to him and he was physically abused constantly by the other Ironborn boys, who viewed the Greenlander as a weakling.
After a serious beating, Maester Levitas cured the lad and demanded to his Lord that he take in the lad as a steward, before he was killed. Lord Harren Hoare agreed, after all a dead boy would bring no ransom. Levitas made a wager with Harren, if the boy could best Harren's own son in arms by twelve he was to be accepted into the ranks as a ward, just as any other nobles son had the right to. Harren agreed, thinking the maester needed a new pet.
Alain listened carefully to the maester, who taught him deception was the way to survival. The young captive Karstark learned much from his tutor, and he became hardened by the maester, learning the keys of influence by aggression and power through force. He had the local smith teach him swordplay and crafting weapons. Soon the young lad was all sinew and lean muscle. He learned to focus his anger on survival and cunning and waited for the day he could have his revenge.. The maester also taught him of leechcraft and reading.
He had grown despondent waiting for his uncle to pay his ransom, he had had no ravens from the north in response to Lord Harren's request for gold. He feared his uncle thought him dead, and there would be no ransom paid. Alain decided he had to find his own escape, his own way in the world to survive.
Young Karstark used his knowledge of the body in his swordplay, striking deadly accurate at vulnerable points in ones armor and flesh. By twelve Alain was an impressive youth, well schooled in the arts of swordplay and the ways of the ironborn. He even had himself drowned, falsely giving his captors the idea he had converted to the drowned god. His ruse worked well, and the day came for Harren's son to challenge his upstart captive.
Harren and his son's were anxious to humiliate the lad. And they were stunned at his ability at the warriors moot, where Ironborn children proved their fighting skills and were accepted into the ranks of the wards, young boys pledged to a warrior. Alain was challenged by Harren's son, and asked his father for the use of edged weapons instead of practice weapons. He said Alain's uncle would not pay his ransom because he was worthless, and if he was truly a man, he would have to become an Ironborn, forgetting his past and family. The battle would be to first blood. Alain agreed.
Alain defeated Harren's son and broke his arm in the fight, and immediately demanded his right to warriors ward. Harren agreed, impressed with the lad. One warrior stood and said he would take the young man as ward, Tyrin Seareaver of of Wyk, Captain of the Blue Hag.
Alain became a reaver, striking the lands south of Wyk, and became the bane of the Lannisters and Tyrell's. For eight years he raided with the crew of the Blue Hag. The ironborn no longer watched him as carefully as they had, and let him go on sorties with them inland. One day while raiding deep into Lannister lands, he left a bottle with a note at the place of the battle, telling the Lannister forces of his identity and where the location of the next raid would be. Finally, his moment or revenge had come. The crew came into conflict with House Lannister and Tyrell, who had set an ambush up on the western shores. The battle was thick and bloody, and The Lannister and Tyrell forces were victorious.
For some reason his heart wasn't feeling the pride he thought he should for his victory. Betraying this crew was something different, dishonorable even. Karstark had grown fond of Tyrin Seareaver, and many of the crew. They were Ironborn, nothing but thieves and murderers. But what did that make him? What had he become? He watched in silence as the captives were hung and their bodies put to the torch. He was then taken prisoner by The White Lion of Lannister, until his father sent his ransom and men from the North to escort him home. Six months later he was back in Karstark lands.
His Uncle welcomed him but was distant, embarrassed by the inability to come up with the ransom sooner. Feeling Betrayed Alain went to the Godswood to ask the old gods for forgiveness, and to reaffirm his oath to them.
He was knighted by his uncle the next day, and offered to make marriage arrangements. Alain was put off. Once again his Uncle was trying to be rid of him, and force some unwanted marriage upon him. Knighthood was no consolidation either. He felt out of place among the lords and their polite ways, and many of his family members did not know him. It was not the homecoming he had expected.
His cousin Artos heard word of Lord Bolton's castle being besieged by Ironborn. Alain did not hesitate, he donned his armor and sword and made off toward Bolton's castle.
Alleras of Oldtown NPC
Alleras was born to a noble house in the reach that had been dispossessed after conspiring with Dornish agents. Alleras siblings lost their lives fighting as mercenaries in Myr and Tyrosh. He attended the citadel and received three links before leaving and exploring the free cities and travelling with spice traders as a leech. Struck with wanderlust he went north with Dalt Hightower seeking service in the black as a member of the nights watch. He met Auric Arryn at the dance of spears and went north with him. After seeing the wall he lost all desire to volunteer as a member of the nights watch and decided to pledge his friendship to his companions, sharing in their adventures.

Yeah, people do tend to fit into certain character types, huh? Looking back I always play characters who're really powerful in whatever they do (what can I say, my first experiences were with power gamers), but always, let me stress, always filled with doubt. I also love driven characters, ones who have one main purpose for living, and though they are generally (hehe) good, they will do just about anything for this cause. (Hope my GM isn't reading this) One of my favorite things about them is that almost everything that sucks in their lives (which is usually a lot) can be traced either to what they are or what they've done. Let me tell you about my three favorite characters to illustrate.
First off is a human (most of mine are humans) by the name of Virago Animi (all my names have cool meanings that play into who they are). He is a sorcerer, but I player with the whole magic blood thing and even developed a group of feats for him. Are you famiiar with Draconic feats from Complete Arcane (D&D)? Well, I developed a whole new line of those for a different bloodline, which is what Virago gets his power from - illithids. An ancestor of his long ago disappeared while adventuring and returned very much changed (i.e. he was experimented on by our tentacled friends). He returned to his hometome, and, utilizing his "gifts" became it's ruler. Now, the family is no longer the rulers, but they are still a rather rich noble family. However, every generation a child, just one child, is born with violet eyes, and this child is destined to be a sorcerer, often living up to the illithid blood in him/her in every way. This child is a mark of family shame, and is always hated, sometimes even killed, but always hated and rejected by the rest of the family. You guessed it, Virago is this generations lucky boy. I'm going to skip a lot of details (I make really long character histories...) but he got out and began adventuring. This, however, is what I love about him. He has decided to embrace that part of him that he hates most-his illithid blood and the powers it gives him. Why? Because, even though he was abused and hated by his family, he loves them, and his pride in his family is what's most important to him. He is going to become a great and powerful sorcerer for one thing only-so he can then use his great magic to purge his family's bloodline. But the big question is, what then happens to him? After all, he'll be wiping out the source of his powers. So, when that moment comes can he do it? Can he relinquish the power to reshape reality as he sees fit to do what he thinks is best for those he loves, even though it might destroy him? I love it. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to play him very much at all. I hope to do so sometime, because I can't wait to see what happens to him, and what decision he'll make in that far off future.
Well, I don't think I wanna saturate you with my other characters, and perhaps Virago's good enough to illustrate. I love dark characters, with deep doubts, serious emotional problems, dark pasts, but always a chance for redemption. In short I love characters that I would think are interesting and that tie in to certain aspects of my personality. For instance, several of my characters have my rage as an important feature of my personality. Others my compassion. It really depends. I like characters the GMs can play with, but also ones that no matter the situation, it'll still be interesting just because it's that character.
Well, I hope my little dissertation on Virago there didn't sound like bragging. What can I say-my characters are almost like my children and so I'm pretty proud of them. Heaven help me, though, if I have children like my characters. And I'm a writer, so I love interesting characters, and try to make mine as interesting as possible.
Well, that's my characters.

I take the funniest idea possible and roleplay the heck out of it,
such classics as:

Lesbian Dwarf Fighter

Romance Novel Cover Knight( Mullet not included)

Gnomish Pimp

My friend is always and orc barbarian named BLARG!

and my other friend is always something to do with dragons

and my other friend is alway evil