Character (Design) Ideas – a starter…

Characters are great, after all they seem to be the reason why we play roleplaying games, do you agree? (I hope you do) – I’m reading quite a few blogs every now and then and most focus on the dungeon-master part of the game, a bit of philosophy and a tad of reviews, criticism and great ideas how – to improve in general the gaming experience. Some share their adventures, but too few share their characters. I’ll try to change that now, maybe you feel like adding your own characters in your blog, share some creative ideas and I would appreciate any trackbacks to this posting here.

It’s all about the players you think? Ye, you might be right – players vary a lot and if you want a definition from that side, you probably have a good start at looking here… Then again, I think even the most annoying player (the one that always wanted to join your group, but never got the meaning of rpg and having a nice evening together) can contribute if he is helped a little bit on his way. You know, I’ve seen a lot of great players, but not all of them were great actors or impersonators – some of them lived of their creative mind – the spirit they gave to their characters was always something special. Something special, there is it again – the key – something you always wanted to be – and if it was just for a minute (or a few hours for that sake).

Basics: Many players nowaday tend to read a lot of books, I know back some time I read Salvatore’s – The Legacy and the incredible atmosphere was more than just a little captivating, the strange and unknown underground environment – it was new – it was unknown – it was thrilling and back then I was really happy with his character work. When I look back now, I see the reason why – he picked his famous dark-elf from a race of hatred and murder, chaos and worshippers of evil and made him special, he made him a character developing from somewhere out of dark grey (in terms of black and white) with a path to good (white), and he made it clear that these kind of things are really, really rare. Then he added a few flavour elements, he gave him effective weapons – named them properly, never made them too powerful but made sure they are useful – and then there was of course the creation of the background around… While I, nowadays, still do like Salvatore’s books, I’m kind of tired of his character development – the everlasting Drizzt is a bit tiresome as has Elminster become – still they are interesting but I’ve switched my interest to something different. I still favour grey over black&white ( i think that’s natural for most rpg’ers) and enjoyed Paul S. Kemp’s Erevis Cale lately most. Paul is probably not that famous yet as e.g. Ed Greenwood, but I guess he’ll soon be. He has that particular advantage and I don’t know if that’s given by his assignment of “what he should write” or if he was doing it as an ingenious move on his side. He can let go of characters he created. I’m talking of main characters that helped the plot forward and disappear completely from the storyline – no matter how important they seem to you. This makes sure – you remember them.

Now that very much explains my favorite approach to characters, they should be something to remember, more than just something to survive. You have to put quite a lot of work into this, but it’s (for me at least and I hope for you as well) very rewarding to experience and imagine to see your character learn, fight and do as he pleases or disappear in whatever way he might find an end. After considering quite a few dozen characters I’ve got somewhere in sleeves around, I have to admit, it’s not the time I’ve played measured in hours but the experience described when they achieved something that brings them to mind for me. Perhaps you like some examples of different things to remember…

Game: DSA; Mage (Punin): Punin’s mages are famous for being the finest at the art but real stay-at-homes. When one walks out to explore he hardly has the guts to face real fights, challenge another mage to a duel or even cook his own dinner. This mage was everything like this and a little bit more, I’ve played the dwarven mage (in dsa back then it was more than rare for a dwarf to take this path) he was no real adventurer but he honestly tried to. It was the longest-played character I ever had and he finally made it into something special when he tried even harder and solved a riddle he never was mean to solve. There are some things not to mess with, one of them time. He found (thanks oh mighty dungeon master) in his last adventure ever the riddle of time-travel and attempted to right some wrongs. When he finally faced the mighty seven-horned demon guarding the time’s flow – he took the challenge and won. Actually he won a rightful place for eternity, when he slayed the demon, by decree of the gods, he immediately earned the title of protector of time and was bound by honor and duty not to mess with something as powerful as time… I’ll never forget these adventures.

Game: Cyberpunk; Chameleon: One-shot run, we were payed pretty good to break into a company area and infiltrate a skyscraper there. Everything looked ok and we even had one man guarding all entrances but then something happened, the alarm went off – a massive firefight got us pinned but we slowly managed to recover and retreat… Floor by floor we were fighting – using quite an amount of explosives to get out there. Then we faced the ultimate threat, an invisible death machine. A kind of drone with very powerful mounted turrets… We were running out of explosives (which we of course wasted on human enemies) and were almost out ideas. Too much of our C-123 was used up when we decided to detonate one of the doomwalkers and took half the building with it. Two of us survived the jump out of the window and onto the street and faced another one of those reaper-agents. With the last bit my colleague started a frontal rush – quite a few cars exploded together with him and the last real threat – the problem was all went flying high up into the air and crash-landed onto my tiny little chameleon girl (chameleon is referring to her social abilities and she really was all skin and bones) and she survived. Hell I wouldn’t have forgotten her if she would have died with the car landing on her (she was ofc lying on the street) but there she went (and I threw something like 4 times a 1 on my d10 – in a row) to make the constitution -5 check… It was incredible and while real, pure adrenaline was pumping through my veins, I already had decided never to touch that character again in an adventure. She was all like, buying herself a bar, taking the money from the job and killing whatever came in their path. Maybe get laid and get some kids… Didn’t matter – I won’t forget her.

Game: D&D 3e; Cleric of Shar: Actually that was fun for the teamwork with the DM while the preparation I had put into the character was thrice as much as usual. The concept was easy – a cleric of shar (mysteries, secrets, night, loss) who opposed the forces of cyric (another evil god) and therefore was pretty compatible to play in a good group. (as i said, with a little help from the dm who seemingly liked the concept, too). She appeared as bard of some reputation (and often told stories of a red-haired mercenary who was to battle cyric) to the party and was captured together with them (though in real it was her scheming before to get everyone in this position) and had a high-priest of shar perform several geas on the other characters in the party – to kill some (also evil) wizardly rulers in Luskan… They worked pretty well together and tried to rid themselves of the magical charm, and in the end she revealed herself as one – you get it? Red haired mercenary…
I stopped playing with her before we got too far into a mess and as you might know for yourself, evil characters are not always suitable for all kind of adventures, but it was a real pleasure to watch the surprise and enjoyment ( I think they all did ) of the other players. And decided to put her to rest by revealing her real secret (that she was not a mercenary but a cleric of an evil goddess) on our message board. I think this surprise topped everything and I honestly liked the feeling of her being special. She really was a team-player, though she admittedly used the team quite a lot for her own purpose, but that is the way of evil. As long as I had the feeling it was enjoyable to all the other players, it just made my day. I’ll not forget her.

ok, that’s three stories of my past so far… in the coming days I am planning to go a bit into detail what makes characters special and what concepts are great to motivate players.

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