Thursday, April 10, 2014

PC Creation: The Image vs The Detail

Now that I've been kicking around as a player, I've started to realise that the normal way I made characters (inspired by NPC needs and World of Darkness styles) aren't the only way.  It isn't even the best way.  What am I talking about?

I'm talking about detail-oriented character design.  You know the type.  You grab up a questionnaire, figure out your character's life story and how that has sculpted them, and then decide what sort of skills, merits and attributes would suit that kind of person.  It's very fitting for games that revolve around character because in anything that remotely resembles a sandbox you very much need to find your character's core and their motivation.

It can, however, cause trouble in a plot heavy game where the PCs must connect and work together, no matter what, and where there's little time given over to personal decision making or even connections to character history.  In action-oriented games where your stat-lines are all important in keeping you relevant, you really don't want to paint yourself into a poorer stat-line or feat-mix just because it makes sense for your character.

So in the latter case, and generally for one shots as well, you're often better building up an image of your character.  Think of it like a 2D representation with room for 3D growth as the campaign progresses, as the odd choice is decided upon and the odd quip is made.  In the meanwhile, prior to the campaign, you just need to decide on the *feel* and *look* of your character.

And by *look*, I most assuredly don't mean hair colour, height, weight and skin tone.  I mean whether they run around in plate mail with a pair of six-shooters or whether they're a gangly wild-eyed figure with a gnarled Rod of Extend.  Basically, decide on a colourful and interesting image which you can focus your stats around (i.e. what's the best build for armour + six-shooters) or, perhaps, if there's a particular mechanic you've got your heart set on you can instead build an image based off that instead (Cleave!).

Such a character often lacks the drive and motivation to persistently move a long-lasting sandbox campaign but can be absolutely brilliant in any other style.

There's probably other ways of creating a character, but these are the two main ones I've encountered.  Which one do you generally prefer?  And do you know any other main character creation styles?


  1. Most of my chargen has been in Call of Cthulhu, where my rule is roll dice in order, then create a character to fit by extrapolation. I actually have some pretty extensive notes on how I came up with various characters (played or made for fun) which I might post up sometime. So I’ll look at the stats and decide what kind of person would have those stats, then pick either the most fun or the most suitable idea for a known game. Forcing myself to play the stats just feels like a good exercise for the old brain, and good discipline. That being said, I did reroll in my last game because the stats were so similar to the previous character, and playing min-POW characters gets samey.

    I think another aspect of it is the assumptions of the game. So in Deathwatch, which I’ve played extensively, you don’t need to worry about motivation at all – you are a Space Marine, your entire identity is built around serving the Emperor in battle, and you explicitly get send on missions to do X. You could technically start sliding off into corruption and Chaos, but that’s a sideshow. Most of your character, from stats to background and personality traits, are defined semi-randomly, though you could pick them if you want. What this does is set you up to define your characters by their interactions and the ways in which they do differ despite their similarities (even more noticeable in a single-Chapter game). So all our Imperial Fists are obsessive masochists, but the Librarian is a puritanical zealot wedded to his pain glove, the Devastator is relentlessly pragmatic, and my Assault Marine is constantly running through combat scenarios in his head. And of course, we have different preposterous accents.

    Also, because we nearly always do group chargen, we tend to look for contrasting or complementary traits so no characters are too similar or too incompatible.

    For my DMPC fighter in the squishy D&D party, I built for the role. The whole point was to have someone who could defend the party; while this called for a fighter, he needed to be very much a defence-focused character rather than a killing machine. He needed to protect other people effectively, as well as himself. As well as the balance issue, this was also a good way to keep him low-key and as an asset to the PCs rather than a rival for the spotlight. I felt that a soldier who specialised in defence, and was assigned as a kind of bodyguard, would tend to be patient, pragmatic, and unassuming. This way, the character’s nature, my mechanical aims and my DMing convenience all coincided. I could readily justify him basically doing what he’s told, and volunteering little information that isn’t directly relevant to his role, which means minimal extra work on top of the ordinary DMing.

    I have to admit, my AD&D fighter is really pretty similar... I feel like for online play especially, you can only handle a couple of flashy characters before no actual adventuring gets done between all the banter, and I’m generally happy to stick to quieter characters.

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  3. Okay, now I want to run around in plate mail with a pair of six-shooters. Damn it, where will I get a chance to do that? :D

    1. Pathfinder's "Black Powder Paladin" would let you do it with one, at least, so long as your GM approved the more modern version of firearms (which are included in Ultimate Combat). You could then add the right feats to let you use both. :P

      Glad to plague you with a need for my image!