Building a Player Character, Part One: Nuts and Bolts

It’s the beginning of a brand new game, and it’s time to make a character. “I’ve read the instructions, so I think I’m good to go,” you might think. And, indeed, you’re right, you are ready to make a character. Just remember to make a memorable character while your at it! Whether you’re playing a one shot or rolling up a character for an existing campaign (probably because your last one got himself perished), be sure your PC (player character) is awesome. “Dude, why do you keep stating the obvious? Of course I want to play an awesome character,” you might say. We all do. There are many different ways to make a character epic though, and for the next few posts, that’s what we’ll be discussing.

 
Today, we’ll specifically be covering the mechanics of a character, and how they impact a PC’s development. There’s a bewildering selection of games to be played (check out my article Which Games is for Me? for more on that subject), so we’re going to assume that the system you’re playing in has some sort of character stats, attributes, skills, etc, that the player is able to influence during the creation process. Usually there’s numbers involved, and the higher the numbers look, the cooler we tend to think our characters are. Sometimes though, what we fail to see in those numbers, is the fictional person they represent. Don’t forget, you are playing a roleplaying game after all!

 
Despite the type of system you’re using, unless your PC has already been made for you, try to figure out the type of character you want to play. Start with a one or two sentence description or character sketch, like “A tired war-priest trying to find his way again,” or “pizza delivery driver finds an artifact that turns him into a super hero,” or maybe, “sleazy private detective Nosferatu.” You don’t need a back story, or even a name, just the most basic concept of who this person might be. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that strikes you as interesting and fun. Now that you have a general description of your hero (or antihero) we can think about how the stats can reflect the original idea. If your idea changes along the way, that’s no big deal. Characters, like people, change. It’s just that you’re the one making the calls on the directions your characters are taking.

 
Now it’s time to give some thought to where your character is from and how they grew up. A person’s past should play a role in how you build your PC. Then again, you could just start with the numbers and go from there. There’s no wrong way to go about it. Just be sure that the stats reflect the character, and not the other way around. The “tired war priest” above perhaps grew up on a farm, so a small portion of my precious skill points will go into the farming profession, even though that skill may never come up in the game (unless I force it to…). Think about what kind of passions or hobbies your character might have. Maybe the “pizza delivery driver super hero” is in a garage band, or at the very least, is a music snob (those guys listen to a ridiculous amount of music). Put that somewhere in the numbers. These skills don’t have to be “important” ones and the characters don’t need to be good at them, which may be the reason they’re out there adventuring in the first place!

Mad lute skills.

Don’t stress too much over your PC’s stats. There’s no denying that we want our characters to rock, but it’s no big deal if you don’t max out at least one attribute, skill, or whatever during character creation. PC’s don’t have to have the highest possible skill rank to succeed at something, they just have to be good at it, and lucky. The training, time, and effort it takes to truly master something should be developed during the game itself, especially if the character is first level (or the equivalent thereof). Player beware! While being able to snipe someone from fifty-three miles away is pretty hardcore, you might find yourself bored to death during the rest of the game that doesn’t require picking people off from a distance, just because your character is only effective in that single situation. Don’t let the numbers pigeon hole your characters and leave some room for them to grow during play.

“Come on Steve, we know it’s an art and all, but could ya kill the guy already!”

Some games offer a merits and flaws system, by which characters can take penalties for certain flaws with names like “one armed”, “bad tempered”, or “hunted by demonic aliens”, in exchange for merits or extra points to spend on a character’s traits. Merits are advantages that can be purchased that offer gameplay bonuses to rolls and such. These tend to run along the lines of “tough as nails”, “charming voice”, or “immune to demonic aliens”, and if the situation arrises, the bonuses apply. Merits and flaws are great ways to customize your stats and give your hero a little flair, but choose your flaws wisely and think about how living with those flaws may change a person. Someone growing up with a severe peanut allergy (hey, I needed the points) has a totally different life experience than someone who didn’t. People with OCD (did someone say Malkavian) sometimes have to live drastically different lives in order to cope with their disorders. Keep these kinds of things in mind before you absentmindedly pick out the maximum amount of flaws allowed just because you want the points (shame on you)!

 
I know what some of you are saying, “Man, you think waaaaay too much about your PCs.” This is true. But I’m a writer, so give me a break. Like I said, there’s no wrong way to make a character. Maybe you like to let the stats tell you who your character is, and the rest you make up as you go along. That’s cool. Sometimes a character concept doesn’t come to mind immediately or maybe you like to figure out who this person might be along the way. So long as fun is being had, you’re doing it right.

Where’s the treasure at?!?

So now we’ve got a PC made and ready to go. You’ve checked all the math, you’ve accounted for all the modifiers, and the shine of gold can already be seen in your character’s eyes. What more could you ask for? While you are ready to rock, there might be a few other considerations outside of the pile of numbers and game mechanics that currently make up your PC. Don’t forget, you have to put the “character” in your player character! Back stories, NPCs (non-player characters) they are close to, appearance, all that and more, next week.

 
I’d like to thank everyone for reading Tales from the Border Keep. I hope some of this advice has helped someone out there. If so, let us know in the comments, and be sure to like and follow us. What’s your preferred approach to making a character for a game? Send us an email and let us know. If you’d like to read a fictionalized version of our Star Wars Edge of the Empire campaign, then check out Tales from Teemo’s Folly, due out every Saturday. After you’ve gotten your fill of RPG goodness here, be sure to hop on over to our partner blog theborderkeep.com for more advise on our favorite hobby. And, as always, thanks!

 
Written by James Blackburn III

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