Before we get started, I want to point out that the title of this post is “How I Make Characters For Roleplaying Games.” It is intentionally not entitled “How You Should Make Characters For Roleplaying Games.” This is what I do that fits the style of character I like to play and the style of game I like to play and run. If you do something different that works with your group and their play style then great; I’m happy for you. But if you do something different that doesn’t work with your group, then maybe consider changing what you do or changing groups. Or don’t. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not telling you what to do. I’m telling you what I do, in the hopes that some of you might find it useful. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get started.
If you want to make your character like I do, the first thing you want to do – of course – is grab those dice and…put them back in your Crown Royal bag. We won’t need those for a while yet. In fact, right now we don’t even need a Player’s Handbook. The very first thing I do when creating a character is talk about the game with the game master and other players so I can get a feel for what the hell we are doing. If you find that you are constantly asking questions like, “why would my character go on this adventure,” or saying things like, “my guy wouldn’t do that/doesn’t care about that,” then you probably missed – or missed the point – of this step.
Believe me – I get where you are coming from when this happens. You’ve probably been thinking of some cool character concept that you’ve really wanted to try. Maybe it’s a character concept based on your favorite character from a book you’ve been reading or a movie you’ve just watched. But if you sit down with the other players and start to get the feeling that your idea belongs in a different genre or just doesn’t work thematically, (Player: “I want to play a pirate, who’s all about seafaring and swashbuckling!” DM: “So…how did this character end up in Aunroch, the great desert?”) strongly consider keeping that idea on the back burner, to use when a more appropriate game comes along. Instead take some time to learn a bit about the story that your game master wants to tell and the adventures he envisions running for your group, and come up with a character who has a reason to be part of that story, because guess what? That’s the story he is going to be a part of. If you insist on playing your pirate character in your game master’s desert based campaign, he better have some compelling reasons for being in the desert and wanting to do some adventuring there, and not constantly be trying to derail the game for everyone as he tries to steer the group towards the coast.
Only after I’ve gotten a feel for the upcoming game, and the idea for a thematically appropriate character has started to germinate, do I reach for my player’s book. And if it’s the Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook that I’m reaching for, I’ll flip to “Chapter One: Step By Step Characters,” and shake my head in frustration as I note that the steps are somewhat out of order.
My first problem here is with Step 6: Come Together. According to the Player’s Handbook, the last thing you should do is “Talk to your fellow players and your DM to decide whether your characters know one another, how they met, and what sorts of quests the group might undertake” (PHB, pg. 15). As I’ve already stated, I do this step first – not last – and I think it’s a shame that the Player’s Handbook takes something so important and tacks it on almost as a throw away step, like the last step in a series of microwave directions that just says: “Enjoy!”
My second problem with the step by step character creation is that “Describe Your Character” is Step 4. This step includes, among other things, determining your background, alignment, and personality traits. Thinking about these aspects of your character should definitely occur before Step 3: Determine Ability Scores, but it’s hard to say whether it should happen before choosing your race and class or after. In fact, background, personality, race, and class are so intertwined that all of these things really happen organically as part of the same step in the character creation process. So I guess what I’m saying is that I think the step-by-step character creation process should really be numbered thusly:
1. Come Together
2. Describe Your Character
a. Choose Your Race
b. Choose Your Class
c. Choose Your Alignment, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws, and Background
3. Determine Ability Scores
4. Choose Equipment
I don’t think I need to go into much detail on the rest of the process, but that’s the order in which I generally do things. I will say that, while I do steps one and two first, I probably have very little, if anything, written down on my character sheet prior to step three. The biggest takeaway here is that the basic outline of the character is in my head before I ever pick up my dice, and I can’t stress enough how important it is that you discuss your character and the game world with your GM and the other players before you do anything else. This is literally the most important part of the character creation process for me (which is probably why this whole article is mostly about that part of the process), as it insures that I’m making a character that not only belongs in the game world, but who has a reason and a desire to do interesting things while he’s there.