No More Thunk The Barbarian


My early role playing characters embarrass me. At the time, they were fun to play, but they were so one dimensional that a monkey could have role played with them. My perfect example of the stereotypical character was Thunk the Barbarian. Thunk was a fighter with high strength and constitution, and low intelligence and wisdom. He spoke in broken English, carried a gnarled wooden club, and tried to solve every problem by bashing it over the head, always with the battle cry, "Thunk Smash!"

My early role playing characters embarrass me. At the time, they were fun to play, but they were so one dimensional that a monkey could have role played with them. My perfect example of the stereotypical character was Thunk the Barbarian. Thunk was a fighter with high strength and constitution, and low intelligence and wisdom. He spoke in broken English, carried a gnarled wooden club, and tried to solve every problem by bashing it over the head, always with the battle cry, "Thunk Smash!"

Stock characters like that can be useful as generic NPCs, but they don't make great player characters. If you want to have more fun playing, improve your role playing ability, give yourself more options, and entertain the whole group, you need to develop interesting, creative, multi-dimensional characters. And in case anyone is confused, multi-dimensional does not mean that they originate from the elemental plane of fire.

There are several important things to keep in mind when creating and developing your character. To show you the process I follow, I'll make up an example character, Chartala the Half-Elf Priest/Mage. I use the AD&D system since I'm most familiar with it, but the same theory applies to almost any role playing game.

The most obvious starting point is that a character's statistics should be reflected in the way you role play her. For Chartala I rolled Strength 8, Dexterity 11, Intelligence 16, Wisdom 14, Constitution 8 and Charisma 15. I'll go through the statistics and make up a story about the character based on the scores.

Chartala is not very strong. This is because she has always been afraid of confrontation and getting into arguments. She spends most of her time alone reading or walking through the woods. Not a lot of physical exercise for her.

She is quite smart, and fairly wise, the reading and contemplation play a big part in that, as does her need to think her way out of difficult situations to avoid conflict. She's not all that healthy, so I'm going to say that she has hay fever and is somewhat frail. She also has an aversion to blood and gets very nervous in high pressure situations, which gives her a tendency to get light headed.

Still, she has a natural shy charm that comes from her sincerity and her desire to keep everyone happy. This, and her experience with diplomacy from time spent around her mother reflect her high charisma. I already have a pretty good start to my character by just looking at the statistics and coming up with a story that makes them all work together.

Another thing to keep in mind is the character's history (you do make up a history for all your characters, don't you?). This plays a role in the character's day to day actions, and also gives us a direction for character growth. An easy way to start a history is to ask a series of questions about the character. In a difficult or dangerous situation, how would the character react? Is she honest, trustworthy? Is she self-centered or concerned with others? Would she break the law to help someone in need?

These types of questions go hand in hand with alignment, but flesh it out more in terms of situations that your character might actually encounter. You don't have to answer all of them, and you can think of other similar questions too. The point is to get a feel for how your character interacts with the world.

Chartala was raised in a small Elvin village, her mother was a diplomat who had a tryst with a charming human mage many years ago. The father is now long dead, and Chartala was never allowed to meet him. Because of this, she has a strange fear and fascination with humans, who she rarely comes into contact with. She had a very sheltered life, and is quite naive. She is overly trusting and always strives to make people happy and comfortable. She has a weak grasp of right and wrong, law and crime, but focuses instead on how people feel.

Now we're starting to get a pretty well fleshed out character, and we haven't even discussed the class. Most people focus on this first, and that is what tends to make for one dimensional characters. At this point we can think about class, while keeping in mind our other traits. This way we develop a person first, and then they find a job, just like in real life.

Chartala became a mage because it appealed to her need for privacy and her desire to avoid physical confrontation. Because of this, she concentrates on spells like charms and illusions. She became a priest to fill her need to help others. She uses healing spells whenever possible because she hates to see people suffer and she doesn't want to be around anyone who is bleeding. She uses a quarter staff in battle, but only when absolutely necessary and she always tries to push her attackers away or disable them instead of doing much real damage.

At this point our character is starting to come to life. If you want to go into greater detail, you can talk about skills and abilities and fit those into the personality and history. You can also make a more complex history including past events that were particularly important, teachers, family and friends.

The final thing that I like to do at this point is to add something different or unique to make the character more interesting. This gives me a good point to role play with, and makes the character stand out. I usually look for something that is difficult for the character, and offers a place for them to grow and change through the course of their life.

For Chartala I'll say that she's a strict vegetarian, which stems from her fear of livestock. When she was young, she wandered into a pasture and was kicked by a wild horse. She nearly died from the wound, and her mother worried horribly about her for weeks.

This lead to a life long fear of any horses, cows, goats, or similar animals. She will always try to stay as far away from livestock as possible. She refuses to eat meat because she feels that somehow the animals will know that she has eaten one of their kind and be even more angry with her. She also can't stand the sight of blood, so she sticks with non-bleeding foods.

She tolerates other people eating meat, but she tries to convince them not too, and will stand nervously away from them while they eat, always anticipating that angry cows are just about to attack. This should provide some wonderful role playing opportunities, and also gives the character a distinct personality.

If you follow this basic process, you won't have to worry about making Thunk the Barbarian, or Gandorf the wise old Mage, or any other stereotypical, one dimensional character. Game Masters designing major NPCs can also follow a simplified version of the same process to make interesting recurring characters who have a real motivation behind their actions besides simply killing anyone who comes into their dungeon.

Unless you're only playing for the hack and slash, the main point is to have fun with your character and to enjoy the game experience with your friends. The more interesting your character, the more she will be involved in the game, which means more entertainment for everyone.

I've personally found the GURPS 'quirks' feature quite handy. Basically, you're allowed to define up to five 'quirks', which are not-so-serious disadvantages/limits for your character (not so serious as to actually net you some serious character points). Giving a bit of tought to those will give your character 'colour' in all sorts of situations.

Bob the Brick is a run-of-the mill 20th century mercenary. In addition to his serious fear of spiders (which credits him with character points), he's got the following quirks:
- Always prefers Israeli small arms.
- Will go on and on about pickup trucks he's owned.
- Will read all newspapers that are available.
- Very picky about grammar
- Often donates his pocket change to beggars.

Now Bob's player has something to work with. All in the interest of good roleplaying, since even the munchkins want those extra five points, but are stuck roleplaying the quirks... :)

Trouble is, a player playing Chartala would be bored stiff in 90% of all published D&D adventures on the market today. People play Thunk the Barbarian because the game system rewards it - in combat-driven adventures, the player playing a hands-on, beefy warrior has more to do, during one of those d20 System thirty-second skirmishes that take a half-hour to play out, than the player whose character pretty much has to hide in the back and cast Magic Missile over and over. And as long as GMs and players are a little on the lazy side, published adventures will continue to reward that kind of behavior, and therefore they'll continue to be rewarded in the market.

Being a loonie most of the time I never have that problem.

I went the opposite way, from complex characters with detailed backgrounds, to more simple cardboard cut-outs.

Why? as mentioned above, I got bored in 90% of all campaigns as my complex and detailed character's subtle range of abilities were by and large utterly useless, especially if I thought of something the GM had not prepared for. GMs don't care about your detailed background, and are more than likely to trash it completely if something conflicts with HIS campaign world.

Simple combat monsters are MUCH harder for a GM to render useless. Whenever I come up with a creative solution, the enemy tends to spontaneously evolve the right defenses, or I fumble spectacularly so the GM can have cheap laffs at my expense instead of just being unsuccessful.

Yes, I GM more than I play. For good reason.

well i decided to go against the grain on my charecter. A Half-Orc is usualy a fighter right well mine is a druid with a one level of barbarian so that it can carry around bigger weapons when needed with out the drawbacks.
He is also 7'0" tall which makes him big and goffy looking not to mention that he rides a war horse by the name of Jay and carries a 15' long snake called Silent Bob and is followed by a wolf called Thor. When it comes time for battle, if one of the advasaries happens to be an animal of any sort it will talk to it at any cost, even if he is being attacked and clawed to death. He usual has a 6' long quarter staff or an Orc Double Ax as his weapon of choice. This is not your run of the mill dumb Half orc. He knows 6 languages encluding elven and drow sign because his mother was married to an Elf. I can go on and on but i dont want to.
This is my first charecter and it surves prity well while ether on Hack and Slash mode or serious Role Playing. Not to mention he talks to his wolf, snake, and horse on a regular basis. He has the Strength of a Barbarian(20), the Wisdom of a Druid(20) and every thing else lies between 15 and 17.

Damn, Mark... sounds like you and your GM think you're playing against each other.

Games don't get interesting until GMs realize the real nature of the way to challenge their players: by asking their characters to be better people. This doesn't have to be done in cliched ways, either. Nor does it have to get complicated: the party can be contracted to be emissaries or diplomats, as easily as hired killers.

I agree, a good GM should make the challenges central to the players history and profile, as this wil dramatically effect the game, and provide entertainment all around. Not all do, but IMHO tey should

I do my best as a DM to let the characters handle things any way they can. In "Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil" they tried to bluff their way past some guards, but they both rolled spectacular Sense Motive checks. After one fell, the other ran for the boss in the next room and when the players arrived they tried to bluff past them. The cleric was understandably suspicious, having revived the fallen guard, and asked them, "Who do you serve?" Following the chorus of "uhhh...", one of them tried "She Who Must Not Be Named". Needless to say, they were fighting skeletons pretty quickly after that.

In the game where I was a character I came up with a druid named Ian the Goldfeather. We were playing in Faerun, so I used the FRCS to find an interesting place to be from (The Star Mounts in the High Forest). Since it said that an ancient Green dragon had recently wiped out the aaracokra colony there, I came up with a background that involved being friends with some of the aaracokra and the elder members of the druidic circle being killed fighting the dragon. That way I had an explanation why he was out adventuring instead of staying with the druidic circle.

Unexpected character quirks can also be taken aboard during the game in the event of ridiculously lucky dice rolling.

One example of this was in a Star Wars game we were playing with the old West End system. A Smuggler and an unusual band of rag tag rebels landed on Tattooine. Trying to ensure that their ship didn't get searched, the smuggler was trying to come up with a good tale and suitable bribe for the Port Master when the Gamorean (sp?, pig faced dudes) who owed a life debt to one of the other rebels panicked and tried to blurt out an excuse for being on Tatooine first...

His excuse? We had a container load of Gamorean Porn in the cargo hold.. :)

His roll? Straight '6's (it was a D6 based system).

Not only did the Port Master belief him, it turned out he had a special fetish for out particular 'wares' and would take extra special care of the ship for a sampling when we returned.

And from them on that character, who had the social skills of an angry dog, was convinced that he was a good liar and caused no end of trouble (and amusement) with his tales.

Great One Caliban!

You point out exactly what most people find nice about gaming, it's the tales we weave.

It's a combination of a good astory by the GM, good (or funny bad) improv and strategy from the players and dice rolls (at the right time) that make it so much fun and has made me an addict since 19...83?

We have the same thing in one of the games I play in: My girlfriend is an archer and she keeps rolling critical hits with her bow and fumbles with her melee weapons. Suffice it to say that she isn't too keen on using anything else then her bow... and neither are we.

:) Sorry hon if you're reading this :)

C ya

"well i decided to go against the grain on my charecter. A Half-Orc is usualy a fighter right well mine is a druid with a one level of barbarian so that it can carry around bigger weapons when needed with out the drawbacks."

I thought that Druids weren't able to use weapons other than the ones listed, or they'd lose druid abilities? that the weapons restrictions weren't a matter of training, but a spiritual oath-type thing. That a druid can know how to use weapons, but is forbidden from using any but the ones listed...

That being said, I also have a charater that's a barb/druid, but he started as a barbarian, and became a druid later. that was part of his story, though. I tend to write a story for my characters, then adapt the story to the statistics I roll. I keep themes and class ideas, so long as the statistics permit them. for example, if I had rolled a 6 for strength, I certainly wouldn't keep a fighter idea as a fighter. I'd change the story to make something a little more fitting to the statistics. I like to work closely with my GM, as do all the players in my group. my DM makes excellent use of the entire range of skills and feats, so nothing you pick is ever worthless in one of his campaigns. Definitely, definitely, put story above statistics. it makes for a much more enjoyable roleplaying experience.