Welcome to the second part (of I don’t know how many) on role-playing (RPing). Yesterday I talked a little bit about the very basics, the “ground rules” as it were. Today I’m going to talk a little about the “behind-the-scenes” business: the business of creating your character, the role you wish to play.
It’s a mistake to think you have to have a complete life’s story and psychological profile ready before you even begin to RP. Of course, some people do. It is good to have at least some background information at the ready, however.
Again, a whole backstory novel is not necessary before RPing; in fact, I recommend against doing so. It helps to be a bit open to changes that may come later on down the line. But to have some kind of framework, ask yourself ten questions about the character you want to play. You might write them and your answers down, especially if you’re newer to RPing, to refer to as needed.
- How old is your character? This may not seem important, but it makes a difference. A 40-year-old man will have a different outlook on life from a 14-year-old. How old your character is will determine how educated he or she might be, how much of the world he or she has seen, and so on.
- Does your character have any family? Think carefully. You may think at first that it would be easier to say no, they were all killed by bad guys and that’s it. But what effect would that have on a person? How emotionally balanced would someone be if they watched their entire family murdered? Are you prepared to play that? Not only that, but the Orphaned Loner character is overdone to the point of cliche. It tends to be only enjoyed by the person playing the character…and nobody else. So, consider a different answer to that question. What’s your own real life family like? What’s your best friend’s family like, or that of your significant other? There are tons of possible family dynamics. Think about it.
- What is your character good at? Do not DARE say “everything”! There is nobody alive in the world who is good at everything. Also, avoid saying “nothing”. Pick something. Even if you personally don’t believe you’re good at anything (of which I’m skeptical), what do you *wish* you were good at? Cooking, singing, acrobatics, doing math, swordfighting, shooting a bow, building armor, making love, holding your alcohol? Pick a few things, at least.
- What is your character BAD at? It’s important to have a balance. Everyone has flaws and weaknesses. These flaws and imperfections make a character more believable, not to mention likeble. Perhaps your master axe-fighting hunky hero is reduced to a babbling mass when it comes to talking to girls. Maybe your silver-tongued smooth poet can’t ride a horse. Perhaps your super swashbucking pirate can’t swim.
- What does your character want? Everyone is motivated by something. What drives you? What do you get out of bed in the morning for? Money? Power? Love? Helping people? Helping yourself? Righting wrongs? Gaining knowlege? There probably isn’t one single answer.
- What does your character fear? Don’t say “nothing”, honestly. Everyone is afraid of something. Even if you aren’t afraid of anything that could happen to you personally (again, I’m skeptical…), then you’d likely be afraid of something happening to someone you care about. It might be something vague, like “failure”; or something specific, like “spiders”. A fear might be specific to your character’s line of work too: a bard or performer might be afraid of bombing onstage, a thief might be afraid of being caught with no way out (maybe even to the point of claustrophobia?), a wizard might be afraid of losing his memory someday.
- What is your character’s personality like? Is your character friendly and outgoing? Shy? Rude? Mouthy? An incurable flirt? Generous to a fault? A compulsive liar? Incapable of lying? A gossip? An intellectual snob? A level-headed person of science? A lofty-minded magician? How would you sum up your character’s personality in just a few words?
- What are your character’s most noticeable features? What are the first things someone would notice when they see your character? Not just physical features; ask yourself if they have any peculiar mannerisms or habits. A scar? An eyepatch? A certain token they wear all the time?
- How does your character speak? This actually does take some consideration. An intellectual character, such as a wizard or cleric, would probably speak like someone who is well-educated, using obscure words. An uneducated character, such as a barbarian or slave, would probably not. Someone less educated would use poorer grammar, possibly saying things like “I don’t got no money”. Does your character have an accent, giving away their place of origin? Do they maybe have some “catch phrase” that they say entirely too much?
- Finally: Do I like this character? Really, this is important. It’s called Role-PLAYING. Do you enjoy being this person? Is it fun?
Don’t be a cliche!
A lot of people make a big mistake in creating their first RP character: making their character a walking, talking, fighting cliche. They wear all black. Their family was slain and now they’re out for revenge. They carry a sword almost as big as their angst. They ride alone, never getting too close to anyone. The brooding Lone Wolf with the spitfire temper. YAWN.
Really, it’s all been done before, usually badly. As I mentioned earlier, the people who make these characters are usually the only people interested in this character. If a rugged stranger walks into a public tavern and then makes a point of not speaking to anyone…well then really, what is the point? The idea of RPing is to play a role with others. If all you’re going to be is the silent broody lone wolf, then what are you doing here at all?
You are not a one-dimensional person, so why should your character be? The best characters in any novel or movie are the ones that other people can relate to. And what usually makes a character relatable is their imperfections. What guy doesn’t wish he was better able to talk to women? What woman doesn’t wish she could be valued for more than just what she looks like? Things like that make the feel more “real”.
So, have fun creating your character. Remember that this is a tool and that nothing is carved in stone. If you decide you want to change something about your character later on, nothing’s stopping you. Just don’t change the rules in the middle of the game (for example, something he couldn’t do yesterday he suddenly can today) and enjoy being creative.