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, when you’re sick of us.

And, as always, thanks!

Written by James Blackburn III

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 for more advise on our favorite hobby. And, as always, thanks!

Written by James Blackburn III

Which Game is for Me?

A multitude of games have cropped up over the years, some using a universal rules system, others sporting unique systems all their own. The big name games in the industry, the ones that have seen years of publication, usually, have had their core rules systems go through many revisions, overhauls, reboots, mutations, and editions, each with their own fandom amongst gaming tables everywhere. With open gaming licenses readily available, and the advent of organizations like Kickstarter, anyone willing to put in the time (lots of time) and resources (lots of that too) can make a game of his or her own. Nearly any genre, and I mean almost anything you can think up, has a game or a rules system to cover it. Now, more than ever, the RPG industry offers games in almost every flavor to suit a gaming group’s palette. Many groups play a home-brewed system that is all its own, and to learn those games, you’ll have to play in them yourselves. Fun can be had with most, if not all systems, and if you play long enough, chances are that you’ll end up liking more than one game. For a first time gamer though, the question might arise, “Which roleplaying game is for me?”

A better question to ask when looking for the right game to play might be, ” What do I like?” Well, that’s an easy one! If you’re into medieval fantasy stories, video games, or movies, then oh man, there’s a game out there for you. Chances are that you’ve heard of Dungeon and Dragons, but there are hundreds of tabletop RPGs geared toward the fantasy genre. Star Wars fan? Covered (check out Star Wars Edge of the Empire, and my other blog posts titled Tales from Teemo’s Folly). Super heroes? Check. Whether you want to play dragon hunting knights in a high fantasy world, or survivors of a Mad Max type setting, struggling to find supplies, there’s a game or rules system out there to fit your needs.

Do some research on the games that you might think are interesting. Ask someone at your local game shop about what they like to play. You might find out that a roleplaying game has already been made based on your favorite movie or TV show. Even if you can’t find a game based on your favorite whatever, there exist numerous universal roleplaying games, which are rules systems that can be tailored to any setting you desire. Whatever it is that you like, try and find a game that mirrors your interests. Who wants to play in a game they don’t care about?

Another thing to consider when you’re shopping around for a game is the cost. I’m not going to lie, some of these books aren’t cheap, with what goes into producing an RPG. With some games you’ll need more than one book to play, so double (or triple) ouch. On the bright side though, unlike a video game or novel, the RPG you’re buying could be played for as long as you and your friends want. Indefinitely . Many gaming companies publish a simple rules lite version of their game that is usually affordable, or free, which is a great way to see if their rules feel good to you. Many companies offer free, or next to free, PDF downloads of their games. While I will always prefer reading from a book rather than a tablet or computer, I have to admit that it is nice to save the space an RPG collection can take up. I like to support my local game shops as much as I can, and they can be helpful when you have questions about what kinds of products are out there as well. Some really great deals can be found online as well, for used books or supplies. Used book stores are another great place to find games for the right price. With a little shopping around, you should be able to find the game you’re looking for at a price that you’ll feel good about.

Much of what I’ve written assumes you already have a group of people willing to game with you. If not, that’s no big deal, because there are plenty of ways to meet people who share a love of the hobby. Your local game shop may host various games a week. Talk with some of the guys running the games, because they might be looking for a player or two. If those games are full, there’s usually some type of message board hung up somewhere in there, where gaming groups can post messages about needing new players. Of course, use common sense when meeting strangers for the first time. Bring a friend along, and if you feel you uncomfortable don’t hesitate to leave.

Maybe there isn’t really a gaming presence where you live. Don’t fret, so long as you have the interwebs (I assume you do, if you’re reading this), you can still play. Many people play RPGs over the internet, using services like Google+ and Roll20. There are tons of games posted, for a variety of times, and many of them welcome newcomers to their groups. Ask them questions as to the games they play and give one of them a shot. You’re not married to the groups you play in, so after an earnest try, if it’s not working out, politely leave. That being said, consistency is key to playing in a good game. If you agree to make a character, try to make it on time, and give it an honest shot.

Here’s a list of roleplaying games, and links to their websites, to a few of my favorite games, and a website with PDFs of hundreds more:

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers or Hyperborea,
Star Wars Edge of the Empire,
Classic World of Darkness, White Wolf Games (If the current World of Darkness interests you, give it a gander too),
Dungeons and Dragons,
Savage Worlds (This is an awesome universal system that has been a blast to play! Did I mention that the core rule book, brand new, is only 9.99?)
A great resource for PDFs,

I hope this might have helped someone out. If so, give us a like. I know I’ve missed a bevy of games that I just didn’t have the room to list above. So tell us, what’s your current favorite tabletop RPG, and why. Leave your ideas in the comments below. Check out our other posts if you have a moment. Tales from Teemo’s Folly is a narrative fiction based on one of our current Star Wars Edge of the Empire games. Take a read if you’d like to get inside the head of someone whose playing it. Be sure to check out our partner blog,, as well, for great tips on running RPGs.

And, as always, thanks!
Written by James Blackburn III

My First Time…

I remember being in the 6th grade, and I was sleeping over at my best friend Bill’s house… Wait, no, not that first time. Jeez, I might not even know you. Get your mind out of the gutter. This is about the first time I played a roleplaying game. Anyway, my friend and I were talking about RPGs, or how I understood them at least. I had played Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on the NES. Final Fantasy II for the Super NES had just come out and I was geeking out about it at the time. But when he said, “No man, I mean a roleplaying game like Dungeons and Dragons,” I didn’t know how to respond.

I had heard of Dungeons and Dragons before, but I had no clue what he was talking about. Having grown up in the south, I had heard about the supposed (and laughable) connection of D&D to witchcraft, demons, and other strange occult related phenomenon, and was immediately interested (hey, I was a kid who loved horror movies, give me a break). The “mysteries and dangers” of role playing games still make me laugh today. My friend retrieved his older brother’s gaming stuff: some books filled with cool art and strange charts, a few modules, some maps gridded out on graph paper, and a purple Crown Royal bag that clattered when he set it on the table. It was what was inside the bag that puzzled me the most. Bill spilt the contents of the purple bag onto the table, and out fell a collection of small, multicolored, geometric shapes, each dancing on the tabletop with a distinct sound that I can identify to this day. They were dice. I never knew dice came with more than six sides, and these things had up to 20! They looked of alien design.

Within a week I had asked my parents to take me to Walden Books so I could buy my own copy of Dungeons and Dragons. Almost all of the books there didn’t look like the ones my friend’s brother had, so I decided to buy the Basic D&D box set instead. On the cover was a lone warrior in a dark cave facing down a huge red dragon, its claws raised, its head bristling with horns. It looked like the cover of a death metal album and it was one of the most badass things I had ever seen at the time. And thus began my delve into the roleplaying game hobby.

Fast forward twenty two years and it’s something I still look forward to every week. I don’t play as often as I used to, which is why I suppose I’ve decided to write about GMing/playing. I’ve played many games over the years, and there’s many more I’d like to play if given the time. So long as the game is fun, you won’t find me griping . I’m a big fan of many of the Old School Renaissance games (particularly Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea:, Pathfinder, 5th ed D&D, Shadowrun, Savage Worlds, Fate, Call of Cthulhu, D20 incarnations (Mutants and Masterminds in particular:, GURPS, and the list could go on and on. I don’t feel like there’s one game, setting, or system to rule them all.

This is a small portion of my gaming collection.
This is a small portion of my gaming collection.

These days when I run games, I tend to gravitate toward systems and settings that lend themselves toward narrative play and the simplest rules. I feel like, given the amount of time I have to devote to my hobby, I’d rather focus on the setting and characters rather than having to know every rule or modifier to keep the game flowing. There’s only so much memory I can devote to things these days, and unfortunately the modifier for slippery ice for blahblahblah game isn’t at the top of that list. Hell, I can barely manage math with results higher than thirty. I realize that many of the games I listed above aren’t rules light, which is why I prefer to play in those systems rather than GM them (thanks Bobby, Derek, Ken, Phil, and everyone else).

I’ve also played with a number of groups over the years and have been blessed with many positive gaming experiences. I’ve been, more or less, consistently playing with the same gaming group for the last seven or eight years, with the occasional comings and goings of players due to a myriad of reasons. I’ve met a ton of interesting people over the years, and, thankfully, still remain friends with most of the people I’ve gamed with for a substantial amount of time. The relationships I’ve developed with these awesome people make me love my hobby that much more.

Since roleplaying games are such a collaborative storytelling medium, I feel like this blog should be like minded. Send us an email on your thoughts about our subjects. I, in no way, believe anything I write on this blog is an absolute truth, as there are many, many, different ways, systems, settings, and moods in which to game and have fun. To each their own. I am, however, interested in hearing about your opinions on the topics we discuss. I can always learn a thing or two, about a thing or two. Thanks for reading and let us know about your first RPG experience and why you stuck with the hobby down in the comments below. I am curious, aside from Crown Royal liquor bottles, are dice the second most accounted for things being carried around within those sweet purple (or black, or monogramed blue) bags? Let us know. Be sure to check out our other posts, such as my Tales from Teemo’s Folly series, a fictionalization of our current weekly Star Wars Edge of the Empire campaign. If you enjoy what you’ve read, click the Like button and follow our blog.

Can't decide if I have a drinking problem, or a dice addiction...
Can’t decide if I have a drinking problem, or a dice addiction…

And, as always, thanks!

Author: James Blackburn III

New to Tabletop RPGs?

Hello, and welcome to my blog post! My name is Bonnie, wife to Bobby (the creator of theborderkeep blog – if you haven’t seen it, check it out!), mom, and one hell of a gaming enthusiast.
To give just a brief back story about how I came to be the group newbie (because storyline is ESSENTIAL!). My husband and I went on our first date in September 2012. He came to my house that evening with flowers and a CD that he made just for me, whisked me away to a fabulous restaurant, and proceeded to tell me about this hobby of his that I had always heard about but never gave much thought – something that was better than just reading fantasy novels or playing a video game – tabletop roleplaying games. I knew right away that I had to see this for myself.
So, with the first date being a HUGE success (my poor roommate couldn’t get me to stop gushing about it), one date led to another, and the next thing I knew Bobby asked me if I wanted to play in a game called Pathfinder that he was going to GM. I was immediately excited…but wait! I had asked question after question about the gaming process, but NOW…now that I was actually going to play I had no idea what to expect. What kind of character would I play? What did that mean? What was I actually supposed to do?
Fast forward to a few weeks into the game and I am playing a halfling Arcane Trickster – a rogue/wizard blend. Looking back at her character, my thought is this: that I would love to go back and play that character as a more experienced player than to have her as my very first. Instead, it was a little like taking Spanish I and then trying to read Don Quixote completamente en espanol and trying to gain anything from it.
All this being said, here are a few things I learned after being the new kid at the game, whether you are the new player, or the GM with someone completely new joining the RPG ranks:
1. Keep it simple – try to play a character that doesn’t rely heavily on spells for your first time gaming. Try out a fighter class or something that only uses SOME magic such as a paladin or ranger if you just need that little bit of magic spice in your life. Trust me, keeping up with a spell list, trying to anticipate which spells you need for certain situations, and figuring out how many of a certain level spell you get per day can be daunting if you are unfamiliar with the world that you are in!
2. Don’t be afraid to speak up! – Typing this made me sigh. Heavily. There will be many, many situations in the game you will be playing that require serious thought and planning. One of my biggest regrets as I became acclimated to gaming was having a brilliant tactical idea, and then NEVER SAYING IT because one of the more experienced players had a different idea and, hey, they have been doing this longer than me, so their plan has to be better, right? Not necessarily! There was many a night where I left the game feeling slightly jaded since I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that my plan would’ve worked and things might have turned out differently for the game if I would have just said what I was thinking.
Once you muster the guts to tell the veteran players what you think the party should do, don’t let anyone talk over you! Everyone is going to have an opinion and sometimes people say what they think at the same time. If you have to, let the GM know that you have something to say, and get him/her to help you be heard! Your character’s lives depend on it!
3. Read the book about the game you are going to play as much as you can before the first session. I say this as someone who is absolutely horrible about doing this, and my gaming experience suffers tremendously. Not only do you get a look at the world you character is in, but you will learn more about your companions, what to expect when you level up, which feats will your character take as he/she becomes more powerful? What the heck is a feat anyway? Read the book!
I truly believe that taking this advice will help enrich your gaming experience and prevent your hair from falling out when the GM asks you what the formula is to figure out spell resistance or how much damage the giant spiders who you just summoned do that just had Enlarge Person cast on them…if that’s even something you can do. Man, I really need to read that book more.
I wish you all the best of luck! Thank you for reading!