Last time we looked at two players who came to the table with characters in various stages of development. One character I didn’t mention, played by Adam, came to the table fully formed. It’s always nice when a player who is new to the game takes the time to read the Player’s Handbook and go through character creation before the first session. It really lightens the load on your Dungeon Master (although always be sure to double check what they’ve done before you start playing, just in case anything has been overlooked).
Sometimes, though, you’ll have a player who has their heart set on playing a character that seems far too ridiculous to ever work. Today we’ll be looking at some ideas you can use to create a great character from the silliest ideas.
Armin Tamzarian, Elf Warlock
Eamon presented us with the most difficult challenge yet. He knew nothing about D&D and had no idea what to expect. He simply stated that he wanted to play an Esquilax and left it at that.
I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen The Simpsons (Editor’s note: WHAT?! This is a problem that we need to remedy ASAP. Who’s up for a Simpson’s marathon?), so I had no idea what an Esquilax was. When I learned it was a horse with the body of a rabbit and the head of… a rabbit, I laughed. Until Eamon turned up on game night and seemed genuinely disappointed that he couldn’t be an Esquilax. Then my heart sank a little.
So I put the books away, I (mostly) feigned ignorance, and I asked him what an Esquilax was. And I sank into character, of sorts. I didn’t say “That’s stupid, and it doesn’t exist in D&D, pick something else.” I asked him where they live, and how many of them there are, and why I’ve never seen one. I asked him if he had ever seen one, and when, and where. He told me he had captured one once, and that he had traded it away for magic – magic that he was going to use to catch more Esquilax.
Boom. Suddenly, we have a character – and this new player, who has never played an RPG before, is already speaking as that character without realizing it. I showed Eamon the Warlock description, and he was astonished at how perfectly it fit what he had described. We picked the Archfey patron simply because it listed Oberon as an example, and Eamon likes A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then we picked some spells that he liked the sound of, things that might be useful when hunting Esquilax. And, suddenly, we had gone from a ridiculous, unworkable idea to a completed character sheet.
Obviously you won’t always get that lucky. You probably won’t have a player who happens to describe one of the Classes in the Player’s Handbook perfectly without having seen them in advance of character creation. But that’s where your preparedness as a DM comes in. It wouldn’t have been hard in that situation to ask semi-leading questions to guide Eamon into a Class that felt right to him. Once I had him talking about his character as though it already existed, the work took care of itself.
Although the characters started off silly, by the end of the first session they were working really well. In an unexpected fit of roleplaying genius, Manbearpig developed a huge crush on Wutang after the first time she dropped two enemies in one turn. He went from the silent tank to one of the funniest characters at the table, because the players had built characters rather than lists of numbers. And Armin – who had a ridiculously high Charisma and a jealous streak – decided he didn’t like seeing flirting that he wasn’t involved in, and took every opportunity he could get to scupper Manbearpig’s attempts to get Wutang’s attention. Half of the first session was the players sitting around talking crap to each other, and having a great time of it.
5th Edition really encourages this kind of character development over the min/maxing that dominated 3rd and 4th editions, and I love it. I highly recommend that, the next time you roll up characters, you start by putting the dice away. I promise you’ll have a good time.
Next time I’ll be talking about ideas for DMs who want to build their own campaigns, with ideas about developing a plot without railroading the players and resources for world building and map-making. Until then, leave a comment and let us know about the awesome characters you’ve been playing, and if there’s anything else you’d like to see me cover in a future article!