As a person who is primarily a player in roleplaying games instead of a storyteller (game master, dungeon master, etc.) I figure the best place to start is where we all start: character creation. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to character creation, so in no way will this to be taken as a “how-to” guide. This article is merely a sort of stepping-stone and perspective-setter. The three approaches I take to creation I will call Who, Stats, and Hybrid. In this article I will do a quick overview of what each of those approaches looks like, but I will save delving into each for later articles.
My preferred route for character creation is Who. Who involves coming up with an idea of who (get it?) I am playing first. I will delve into his (for simplicity I will be assuming every character I make is male) personality, motives, and history. They don’t always come with the same wave of inspiration, but if I can flesh out all of the roleplay aspects of my character first, then I find it a lot easier to plot his stats. This also helps me fight my twinker (aka munchkin) habits because I will choose fluffy skills, attributes, feats, etc. which may not be optimal. Sometimes the process begins with a defining primary motive, and grows from there. Sometimes it instead develops from an idea for a fun or interesting background story. Wherever it starts, Who always begins without game stats in mind.
My least favorite method is Stats. To begin character creation with Stats is to do all of the bookkeeping parts of character creation first, and come up with his personality later. This usually happens if I get forced into filling a specific role for an already existing party, if I find a certain stat to be very intriguing, if I am given short notice, or if I am suffering from writer’s block. In this instance I usually plot out an optimized set of stats and focus on doing one job. If I’m making the character because I’m intrigued by a specific stat, then sometimes they will get scrapped when I discover the idea is just too wonky to be effective, or because the system’s hard limits just don’t allow for it. If the character’s stats pass my review, then comes the hard part: figuring out who the hell I just brought into this fictional world.
Lastly I have the Hybrid approach. This usually occurs when I’m making a character for a game with a class system. I’ll know what class I want to play, but not exactly how I want to play it. At the same time I’ll know a facet of the character I want to make. With this path I usually bounce back and forth between choosing stats to influence background, and coming up with background to influence stats. The process is kind of like a mental game of ping pong where every idea on one side (Stats or Who) immediately produces or refines an idea on the other. These characters often find themselves going through great shifts as certain changes near the end can make some initial choices nonsensical or improbable, and force a grand rewrite of either statistics or character background.
No matter which of the three paths I end up following I can never truly know my character until they have lived through at least one play session. Even while I dislike following the Stats path I cannot deny that some of my favorite characters have come from that path, and it is often due to suffering a roleplay trial by fire in which I am forced to make an action decision which then serves to define who it is that I am playing. Even a Who-made character whom I have explored mentally can end up facing drastic changes once they are forced to interact with the minds of storytellers and other players. It’s called role-playing and not role-theory for a reason. You can design as many characters as you want, but you need to let them breathe before they can truly live.