How to create a believable roleplaying character
In RPG or roleplaying games, you’ll get the most joy out of a well-developed character and people will start shaping the game around your character, too. Here’s how to avoid cliches and create a living, breathing RPG human being!
In roleplaying games – especially when dealing with long campaigns, the ones that last from weeks to months – well-developed characters tend to make the experience more enjoyable both for players and the DM (dungeon master). They may take longer to create than a quick cliché character but the effort is well worth it. You will really struggle to save your lovely character when they’re in trouble, often in a creative way that is much the core of a good RPG game. What is more, your DM will be very much grateful for your enthusiasm and will probably think the story around your characters. What could be more mutually gratifying than that?
Some characteristics you will write on the character sheet while others are only there for you to keep in mind.
Some things to take into account when creating an RPG character:
Prior research isn’t boring – it will genuinely help for a general idea of the feel of the game and how your character is going to fit in. Some games have a defined universe with its own rules, geography, history and demographics. If the universe is original it is better to ask your DM about it. They may have some restrictions about evil characters or would rather ban items or all modern technology altogether. Worldbuilding depends on coherence to make the imaginary world believable (although, yes, of course it’s all make-believe).
If the game’s fictional universe already exists (for instance, Eberron or the World of Darkness) read a bit about it: There will be maps and time lines available, as well as other specifications that will set the mood, from steampunk style to good old medieval shenanigans. Some RPG games are based on books or films (Star Wars, LOTR, H.P. Lovecraft works, Discworld, etc) and are best enjoyed when knowing the source.
Though some players may feel more comfortable when playing a character of their own gender, feel free to be whoever you want to be. Age gives you a lot of points of view for the same concept character. Consider: Will your cute 8-year-old vampire be taken seriously when wanting to excel in economics? Will your senior orc can beat younger warriors as easily as they did in their prime of orcish youth?
Roleplaying races and classes
These features can be inspiring yet restricting but most players tend to have personal preferences. Some players are naturally drawn to combat, some to magic. Depending on the game, roleplaying races might include small people (gnomes or halflings) or cursed beings (werewolves). I, for example, love having an animal companion beside me, which makes me an enthusiastic druid-hunter-Gangrel. If, however, you have no idea of what to pick or you are in a tie-in, roll the dice and let fate decide. It is always useful to consider your role in the party: the group may need somebody around with stealth or an Italian translator for proud Giovanni.
The trickiest part. How does your character feel about religion, love and sexuality, the government or even other’s possessions? What kind of sense of humour do theyhave, if any? Morals are important. The Dungeons system of alignments (good, neutral, evil, chaotic and lawful) is pretty good for a base. Combine all this with some phobias, annoying habits and interests – and don’t forget that some games will give you extra points when choosing a flaw. Well-rounded characters are rewarded! Characters with flaws are also hugely fun to play. Goals are also important: your character has a reason to live or die for. Later on, you will get some ideas when we start looking at tropes and clichés.
A bit of family background is always nice – think of it as your origin story. How did your character end up doing whatever they working in now? Ideally, your stats and your story should be linked. If you have a low physique, maybe you find walking a challenge, or are blind in one eye – how did it happen? You can focus in your story and then choose your stats according to it or go the other way round and create a story around your character sheet. Try to be coherent: how come your lovely raven-haired elf, who used to be a lady-in-waiting in the court, has an amazing set of ninja skills? Who trained her and in what circumstances?
No character is an island. People have friends, family, love interests and rivals. Some people you interact with on a daily basis without noticing. So does your character. How do they act towards them? The better you know your character, the more believably they’ll be able to respond to any given situation, and the more quickly they’ll make decisions in any situation they encounter. And, of course, you may want to discuss with your DM and with other players if your characters used to know each other or if you are ready for one oh-so-casual tavern meeting.
Maybe this is a point where drawing or scouting for pics on the internet would help you figure what you want. Drawing’s always nice and organic and creative though, isn’t it? Looks aren’t everything. However, they affect both how we see ourselves and how other people see us. Sometimes, I find myself checking fantasy art galleries or even staring at people in the subway in the most subtle and not-rude way I can manage, getting inspiration for my characters from the everyday world. And again, we play RPG for fun but a little consideration to physics would be nice: a 40kg little gnome won’t be able to carry that huge unconcealed battle axe. And the same goes for your chest (I mean the meaty one with the ribcage, not the one containing the cursed sword). You don’t want your next quest being “find a runic bra that stays put for your full-blossomed sorceress!”
Looks is a really interesting area – sometimes, creating non-normative physical aspects will make you love your character even more than if they were generically appealing. A princess who was sought by every man in the kingdom until she got her living, creeping scar… or the exiled giantess, good-looking in every way but unable to find lasting love because she’s over three metres tall…
More tips on creating believable RPG characters
As mentioned before, coherence is nice. So is a little mayhem. Real people are contradictory. A religious person can curse. The evil one is horrible to everyone except children. Someone righteous does some shoplifting from time to time. The big warrior is afraid of spiders. An old vampire gets sloppy when hunting inebriated. You get the idea…
Thinking defects and creating balanced characters is okay but don’t forget that you are supposed to play a hero and heroes tend to be above average. On the other hand, we often design our first characters as ass-kicking versions of whatever we want people to see in us. Very Freudian and perfectly normal, too. But a character consisting of a bunch of high stats, perfect skills and expensive gear with no depth whatsoever can be less fun to play with than a coward with a sling and a great history behind them.
Women often feel restricted to play the same roles in RPG. You have probably seen all those religious healers, nature goddesses, damsels in distress, warrior princesses, sexy poison experts, fierce amazons, gothic restriction culture sorceresses and so on. We can play these roles or choose new ones. Keep in mind that some of the greatest characters in fiction are stronger than average while not being beautiful. Granny Weatherwax from Discworld being a perfect example: she is old, does not have money or looks, but it is one of the most powerful and memorable creatures of the Disc.
Your character’s way of speaking will add a lot to them. Accent, taglines or an amiable tone speak heavy tomes about your origin, class and personality.
Character clichés are as much a part of fantasy and RPG games as they are in literature and other arts. You can revel in tropes, use and subvert them or defy them. Take a note of some of the most common ones:
- Orphan, raised by strangers, abandoned and feral children.
- Revenge. Seeking origins. Protecting something or someone.
- Ill-fated lovers.
- Being the outlaw, the fiend, the black sheep, the exception (high five, half-orcs!).
- Rebelling against society, gender, religion, etc.
- Harsh exterior, nice inside (Gregory House or Mr Darcy style).
- Linked to an animal. Real (a wolf) or imaginary (a Pegasus).
- Being the chosen one. The last one. An heir. Prophecies.
- Unique look (a strand of pure white on a brunette, an animal tail, etc)
Last words: Always remember that creation doesn’t end here: you have to play, acting out your character. Sometimes keeping a diary helps.