Saturday, January 14, 2012

For Players: Creating compelling characters

Compelling characters make for a compelling story. Just think of the difference between the games run by a Storyteller whose characters can make you laugh, make you cry, make you fear for them ... and the ones who would make a piece of cardboard look deep and interesting in comparison. The same can be said for the protagonists themselves -- your player characters! After all, the PCs are what the game is about and they, by definition, have more screen time than anyone else. So if they're boring then it's not going to do the game any favours.

Now, obviously, different game worlds, genres, and player / Game Master preferences are going to have different requirements for complexity. I'm not saying that every player character should be a work of art nor am I necessarily talking about creating realistic characters. Some of the most compelling characters out there are larger-than-life. Anyway, with that disclaimer out of the way, let's begin.

So what makes a character compelling?

A strong need, urge, or desire. This runs deeper than a simple list of goals. This is what your character is searching for and it colours everything. It can change over the course of the game, and the need you choose during character generation might not quite fit the character once you've started playing him or her in earnest, but it still helps to settle on something. Possible needs include: Lust, Companionship, Truth, Security, Safety, Recognition, or even an ideal, such as a need for all children to grow up in happy, safe environments.

Other than survival, Barry really wants to goof around with Alan.

Quirks when grounded in something. Your character jangling his foot, carrying a lucky rabbit's foot, or knocking on wood may be quirky and help people recognise your character but it doesn't mean much on its own. Perhaps the quirk is there to either provide contrast to your character (the torturer pats the dogs head when thoughtful), define the character (who flips a coin in the mean streets of a Noir Fantasy) or grounded in history either real (the quirk is a custom from a historical era to added authenticity) or fake (either a made-up foreign custom or something passed down through the family).

An exceptional skill or a well-trodden niche. Give your character a skill, or a style, that will help them stand out from the party. What makes your Rogue special? How does your WoD Daeva distinguish themselves from others?

Dare to be Different. What a lawful rogue who works with the town guard and investigates crimes? Or the chaste Daeva? Take the expectation and twist it 10% to keep people interested.

Give the character something, or someone, to care about. This could be their horse that they ensure is well-watered, the familiar they play around with, or another person. Doing this helps make them sympathetic, even if their regular activities are anything but, and it also adds a little depth to the antisocial orphan so often found in games.

Don't try to be flawless. Flaws are what makes us both human and interesting. Don't try to create a perfect anything. Give your character a trait that is less than savoury. Perhaps they're a bit too lusty, miserly, or slovenly. It's especially important to ensure that your character fears something -- whether an overt one like a phobia or a subtle one like fear of failure.

And now The Big One.

*drum rolls*

Change. You've generated your character, given them one or more of the above, but now an equally important trick is to let them grow, develop, and change over the course of the game. A common mistake is to build up a personality and then assume that they'll behave the same before a war as after it. It's far more interesting for everyone else to watch as the highs and lows of war affect your personality, revealing and concealing different traits and potentials as time wears on.

Barry changes to get with the program.

So, there you have it. A bundle of ways to make your player characters more compelling. These tricks can also be used for NPCs, obviously. And yeah, I know, some of you like to wing character creation, throw dots on the sheet, and let things grow organically but using tricks like these might help you retain control over your compelling character to ensure that you still like what you're playing at the end of it. And besides, it can't hurt, can it? If what you've decided doesn't work at the game table, then feel free to change or discard it.

You can find more player tip articles here.

Anywho, happy gaming!

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