Building a Player Character, Part Two: Putting the “Character” in Player Character

Last week we discussed tailoring your PC’s traits to the concept of your character and the considerations to be made while making a hero’s stats (check out last week’s article, in case you’ve missed it: Building a Player Characer, Part One: Nuts and Bolts). So now we have a big mess of numbers, points, and who knows what else sitting in front of us. Trapped somewhere in that snarl of mechanics is your character, but it depends on you to breathe life into him or her (or it). So let’s figure out exactly who it is that we’re dealing with here.

Who are these numbers?!?
Who are these numbers?!?

Chances are by now you have an idea of the type of PC you’re wanting to play. Now let’s flesh that person out a little and see how we like him or her. When writing a back story for your character, I find it best to keep it simple and concise, unless your new character is an addition to an old party. A new character is just that: new. Give your PC some breathing room when you are creating his past, along with some space to grow. Where did your character grow up? Does he still have family? What was his upbringing like? Who are the people with whom he is close? Aside from adventurer, what jobs may he have had in the past? Where does your character tend to hang out? These are the types of things that are pertinent to understanding your character a bit more, but they can be answered later, or within the game.

Maybe you see your character as a figure with a clandestine aura. Before you get married to the idea of having a character with a destiny dipped in gold, try and work with the Referee of your game and see what can happen first. You have to remember Referees have a mountain of stuff to keep up with while they’re running their games, not to mention their own plots and such in which to involve your hapless PC. Perhaps, instead of starting off as the Chosen One, simply state that there was a rumor in the village that you were born in, that you bore the mark of blah blah blah, but nothing ever came of it. Now you’re an adventurer, set upon finding your own fortune. What a turn of events it might be to discover, later in game play, that you are, in fact, the Chosen One after all. Instead of “My character is the chosen one,” and knowing exactly how this came about, your work with the Referee made it possible for you to confirm this information in a whole new capacity that involves everyone in the game. Collaborative story telling at its finest! Oh, by the way, being the chosen one doesn’t save you from in-game death (in fact, it might even invite more danger into your PC’s life)!

"What do ya mean I can't start off as the King?"
“What do ya mean I can’t start off as the King?”

After we’ve thought about our PC’s past, it’s a good idea to figure out what motivates your character to do what he or she does. The genre of the game you’re playing may have much to do with the goals your character has, but there still should be something that drives your character forward. It takes a special kind of person (the word crazy comes to mind) to chance life and limb, sometimes their very souls, down in the dark, and keep coming back for more. What is it about your character that pushes him to take these stupid risks?

Wealth is a common motivator when it comes to risking one’s life. But that’s an easy one. The need to see where the road takes us next is often motivation enough to keep a bored character going. Easy too. Is there something your PC is running away from, perhaps a former disgrace, or tragic love affair? It could be a matter of honor that puts one foot in front of the other, especially when your character has nothing left. The lust for power has seduced people from all walks of life, and there’s no reason why your character isn’t pursuing it for himself. Supporting a family can make many men risk it all. Love, revenge, greed, whatever it is that pushes your PC, make sure it’s powerful enough to die for, because it might just be the thing that kills your character.

Mmm, odorless, tastless, gold...
Mmm, odorless, tastless, gold…

So now we know what makes our character tick, but when he’s not off swinging around his sharp brand of justice, what does your hero do with his or her free time? Even soldiers and priests had enough down time to indulge in hobbies or sight seeing every so often. How does your character entertain himself while he’s on the road? When let loose on a big city or planet, what does your character do first? Is your character frugal with his hard earned cash, or does it leave him just as quickly as it came? These are all examples of ideas that can really give everyone a sense of who your hero is, as well as give him more depth without saying too much.

"You're at the city, what do you want to do?"  "I wanna buythismakethattitheherevisitthebrothelgetdrunk...."
“You’re at the city, what do you want to do?” “I wanna buythismakethattitheherevisitthebrothelgetdrunk….”

Giving a PC a little quirk or two can go a long way too with giving your character… er, well, more character. Maybe he collects cheap little souvenirs from everywhere he’s traveled and displays them in his private quarters, or he’s a foodie and is never seen without chewing jaws. Superstitions can be cool tricks that everyone will remember your character by, and if you’re in a fantasy world, you get to make them up! Too, everyone has their own odd little rituals that only a select few understand, and your fictional character should have them too. They can be as easy as “only gambling when your hands are clean”, “always paying tithe”, “drinking a specific liquor before embarking on a journey”, and the list goes on. These little touches can help paint your hero in finer strokes, making him or her a little more vibrant from the get go.

So now, with just a little work, we have carved something more of a person out of the blocks of numbers and modifiers we had before. Remember, though, that just like a real person, characters tend to change. People (should) learn from their mistakes, especially when lives are on the line, and your heroes are no exception. Don’t let your PC be a slave to the personality you’ve given him. If it makes sense to change something about your character later down the line, then let it happen, so long as it happens gradually. Even the mightiest of paladins can fall to the deepest of depths, just as the most vile of people can rise up and do great things.

At this point, we are, for the most part, done. “What could possibly be left to do?” you might be screaming. Probably nothing. Hopefully your PC jives with the game and its setting, and fits well enough in the party with whom you’ll be adventuring. More on that next week, my friends. Until then, what kind of things do you do to give your PC a little character? Email us, or let us know in the comments. And if you’re digging what we’re doing here at Tales from the Border Keep, give us a like and follow us, which would always be appreciated. Be sure to check out our partner blog theborderkeep.com, when you’re sick of us.

And, as always, thanks!

Written by James Blackburn III

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