One of the greatest challenges that people (especially those not very familiar with tabletop RPGs) come across while making a character for their personal campaign is “How do I make my character come to life?”
One of the first things that people tell you when you ask how to role-play your character is something like, “Just make decisions like your character would.” This is all well and good… if you have a complete idea of how your character is, but what do you do if you are still trying to figure out who your character is? This is time to flesh out your character so you have a good idea how he or she will react in certain situations.
Fleshing out a character is basically making your character “real” in your (or your DM’s) world. It is what your character’s intentions are, where he/she has been, where he/she is going, and what he/she thinks the best course of action would be to get there. Overall, it determines how and why your character acts the way he/she does.
A long time ago I came across a list of 100 questions to ask to determine who your character is, what his/her life was like, and how it shaped who they are on their current adventure. Some of them were very detailed, and even I, having played as many TTRPGs and role playing games, was not able to answer every last question to the letter. However, there were some important points that I feel would be beneficial to the new player trying to figure out who their character is:
- Family – This may seem like a given, but the family a character did or did not have will have a major impact on how he/she will react to things. It instills in the character a sense of what is familiar, a sense of belonging. Family in real life teaches us important lessons about the world and how we should react to it; this is no different in the role-playing world. A character that has a very close knit family unit will most likely be a very loyal person, with a sense of allegiance through thick and thin. A character with a broken family, or no family at all, is likely to be more aloof – maybe he thinks “Everything ends anyway, why waste one’s time on people who will eventually leave?” Maybe she will forever be searching for the family she never had. This will play a big part on how that character sees the party around her and who her alliances will be with.
- Important events in the characters life – Things shape us, events that happen to us shape us and our outlook on the world. Maybe a character suffered a massive loss at an early age, family or a tragic loss of a friend. Maybe she was teased as a child. Maybe he was never really accepted in society due to a forbidden romance, horrible scar, or just being an outsider in a town. On a more taboo note, maybe that character suffered some traumatic experience, like rape. Maybe a character never really knew the feeling of these things, maybe that character was privy to a very luxurious life. Once you figure out some major event or events that happened to your character, or over the course of your character’s life, you will have a better understanding of how and why that character feels a certain way about certain things.
- Appearance – Some characters, like tieflings, have very discerning looks that make them strange or different from society. Some tribes of elves have certain markings on them that put them in a certain standing in their society, but may seem very different to people who are not familiar with their culture. If your character has any features that really stand out it or are considered different, it will change how he or she feels about the world and how it views him or her. For example, a tiefling who has always been looked at as a criminal just because she looks different, whether or not she actually would commit a criminal act, would not be apt to give respect to others in return. When someone treats her like a person, regardless of her looks, it would take her by surprise. Someone with a horrible scar may want to keep it hidden at all cost for fear of being unaccepted or being looked at as a freak. On the other hand, if a character has never been treated differently because of looks, he would not expect it when someone stares at his massive wart on his face or hand. Appearance determines how your character reacts to how others react to him or her.
- Personal mantras – What are your character’s words to live by? Does he have a certain goal that he wishes to attain? What are his rules to live by to achieve that goal? This will be helped along once you choose a specific alignment, but sometimes you can choose alignment by figuring this out early on. Was there a mentor that taught her everything they knew? Did someone that had a major impact on his life instill in him a certain idea or philosophy? Deciding on your character’s philosophy on life will help determine how he or she acts when faced with tough decisions involving morals and complicated dilemmas.
- Religion – This may have a slight tie to personal mantras, but religion has a big part on what decisions a character makes. A follower of Tiamat will not make the same decisions a follower of Bahamut would. If you choose a deity for your character, then the ideals of that deity will play out in the characters actions that he or she takes. Maybe it is not a deity that the character chose, but that the character’s family imposed on him or her. Maybe, because his family was so devout and made decisions on how to live life through their deity, a character chooses no deity at all. Maybe a character is going on a personal journey to follow a deity’s ideals to the letter. However, choosing a certain deity’s ideals does not mean that the character must have the exact same alignment. It only means that the character strives to emulate what that deity embodies and teaches. A neutral good character can follow a chaotic good deity, but polar opposites, such as lawful good and chaotic evil, would most likely not mix ideals.
These are just a few things that you can put together when thinking about your character and making it come alive in your world. If you would like to look up the full 100 questions mentioned in this post, you can read the full list here: http://www.miniworld.com/adnd/100ThingsAboutUrPCBackGround.html.