Method to the Madness
development. Characters may start out as just another face in the crowd, but eventually their adventures will continually mature them from their original state. The lot of a player character goes above and beyond the trappings of mediocrity. Resulting is a maturation process that occurs throughout a series of exciting, fictional adventures that progressively defines the player's character (the main character of the story) to a status of considerable repute. As this takes place, a player develops an intimate level of understanding and familiarity as a sense of accomplishment builds with each story conclusion.
Building that character is the start of the creative process that will open up the doors of true grit and high adventure. It begins when you sit down at the game table for the first time. Running a good character takes a solid understanding of the character's mechanics and an internalizing of the character’s motivations. Doing this orients a player to a character in terms of why a character does something and how it's carried out. The best way to do this is to sit in on a game session or two, and then read the rules. Take time to understand the game system and the story ideas that drive the campaign setting. Doing so will help begin to create a character concept. Once you have a character concept, the mechanics of the system will define the character's operational parameters within the game system. This operational interface will determine the "fun potential" of a character by assuring that the character is interesting and can adequately function in the story environment. Understanding a game system's mechanics is not enough to run an interesting character and an interesting character needs more than a fair comprehension of gaming mechanics. The path that leads to a fun gaming experience lies beyond those two points and the journey makes it all worth while.
The Big Uneasy
It's your first character and your first game session. Every other person at the table fully understands what's going on (or is faking it really well) and a feeling of overwhelming inadequacy begins to well up inside you. Veteran gamers tend to forget the fact that there was a time when they felt the same uncomfortable sensation. Don't let that feeling be the reason you decided not to game!
Get involved in the troupe's dynamics and ask for help! Have the GM assign a player mentor. A player mentor will help ease a newcomer into the gaming experience (plus it can even be a great set up for game and story scenarios). It's important for players to help prospective gamers have a fun experience. By assigning a player mentor to coach a new player, the volume of required information is manageable, and helps expedite a correct comprehension of the gaming process without distracting the GM. A new player can grasp the gaming experience and avoid the big uneasy first time at the table.
Join up with a mentor and move to the far end of the table to cut down on distractions to the other players. Try to ask as many questions before the game starts to get a basic understanding of where the story is going and whatever else is needed to get into the swing of the session. Watch the GM, and how things get started. Pay attention to the GM and player dynamics for a feel of the game's flow. Orient yourself by familiarizing with what is taking place in the story, and the abilities of the character you want to run. Know the rules and how they apply to the game and campaign setting. Sitting down and reading the literature is one thing, but applying it to game play is a difficult barrier to breach. At first, role playing games can be a little overwhelming and even a little intimidating. There are a great many factors to absorb in order to achieve good playing habits and having no experience leaves a starting point lost in the great unknown. Sitting down with a mentor and/or friend will help put basic application concepts into focus, creating a direction in which to expand the learning process.
After integrating game concept applications (basic game and character items pertaining to actual play), follow up by reading through, or have your mentor brief you on the relevant source books. As time passes and a new player has a few sessions under their belt, move in closer to the GM so everybody can play a larger role the game. Before you know it, you might even want to be a game master...
The nuts and bolts that fit together to create an interesting and usable character relies on the considerations of genre, concept, construction, mechanics, interpretation and presentation. Each element depends on the others for a character's success and will make or break any character. The success of a character lies in efforts of one person: the player. The purpose of the game is to have fun and to any player the character is the focus of the game. A good character, well designed and built, makes the game worthwhile.
Genre orients a character to the type of game setting and the niche of the story it will fill. Character concept is the premise of the character's existence and construction breathes life into it for all to understand. Mechanics make it work within the confines of the game, and the player’s interpretation governs the character's reaction to the plot. Presentation is the character mask worn by the player and the role they will fill as an actor. Each phase of character creation builds upon the next and the process acclimates a player to the character and the character to the setting. Familiarity with the character builds in the player empowering them with enough information to successfully participate in the adventure.
Genre: A Little Pulp Fiction
The Shadow, Doc Savage and Flash Gordon are great characters from decades past that live in the pages of books that are still read today. Part of the reason they still move off bookshelves is because they blazed their own trails to a new genre. Genres allowing readers to experience new worlds that are far removed from their own. Exciting worlds that spawned the daydreams that made them smile.
Building an RPG character has much of the same content only the reader gets to make their own character to be run through that exciting new world. The first step in character design is accounting for the type of story the character will be part of. A player who is interested in sword and sorcery might have a difficult time holding interest in a cyberpunk adventure and visa-versa. Genre offers an intrinsic feel for a game plot and an implied style of interaction that is further developed in a game troupe by the personalities of the players and their characters. Explore the different types of genres by reading books and watching movies to get a broad feel for the game's genre that you wish to join. Follow it up by sitting in with different groups and compare it with various genres to better understand of group dynamics and plot lines. For example, you might be interested in science fiction which has a genre context. Sitting in on a group that runs sci-fi might have a high action "Star Wars" feel to it while another group might be a grim post-holocaust campaign. This is a simple step but it is very important because it can measure the usefulness of a character within a story environment. More so for a new player because they don't usually get a second chance to make a first impression and playing a genre uninteresting to a particular player's tastes will do just that. Having a bad first experience in gaming because of the characters or type of story they are creating can color a person's entire opinion about gaming. Veteran players should be aware of this when they urge a friend or acquaintance unfamiliar to gaming to join in. Try to help a new player find a genre they are interested in. It will usher in a general curiosity rather than a discontented affront borne from an indistinct exposure to the game.
Work through the genre details and highlights, focusing on the points of interest that are a mainstay of the genre and exist within the campaign setting you wish to join. This will have a strong bearing on the design details of a character's creation and integration into a game setting. The type of story engaged in will mold the type of events that occur in the character's "life" (or dictate that the theme of events is ever changing as in a time traveling or dimension hopping campaign). Do some recreational research on the type of genre you are interested in playing. Find a good troupe playing a style that piques your curiosity, and put a character together.
Concept: Once Upon a Think
Conception is a good incentive for wonder. When an idea bubbles to the surface with enough stuff to stick to the walls, it can spark a character idea into being. Character ideas can come from anywhere and usually when least expected. To keep the idea alive, work it into a good concept. A good character possesses a convincing design of motivations as a style to frame in the character concept. The motivation drives a character’s role or "consciousness" and uses style to define reactions toward the condition and conflict of a story line. Once you become a knight of the round table, the grail awaits for you to find it.
What is a Character?
A game character is many things to many people and the importance of that relevance requires a bit of pondering for the first time gamer. A character in any story is a nexus that weaves random events into the foundations of a plot by acting and reacting to story stimulus. The backbone of this premise is the idea that a character is more than a just progeny of the Doe family. A main character experiences extraordinary events and must posses, in some capacity, the ability to adapt and overcome the events that will evolve the character to a new level of
that an author would use to orient a character to the genre and setting of the story. The concept consists of physique, motivations, ideology and the points of interest that sparked the idea in the first place. Flesh the idea out by instilling basic motivation role that will form the character’s ideology in order to navigate the story by experience interpretation through the eyes of the character. This successive building block to genre acclimatization gives the character a potential experiential direction in which to develop. A driving character motivation could be a descriptive term for a general category of thought and reaction or something more integral to the character such as a quote. By using motivation to develop the substance of a character concept, the character is granted iconic identity. Iconic identity gives characters a type of reputation like a big red "S" and flowing red cape. A motivation with iconic identity gives characters a mental filter in which to align perspective of plot events, forming a depth to the character that will be both long lasting and satisfying in game play. This creates a character's condition. A character's condition is its status quo, both inside and out. Internal condition outlines the behavioral parameters of the character for application to a plot ine that has not yet been conceived. It is a character’s state of mind and body that can influence how a character deals with plot situations and how those developments affect the character. It also helps a player tune in to a character’s point of view for role playing purposes. By understanding how a character thinks and behaves, the player can quickly react in live table discussion to maintain the story ambiance. External condition is the character's outside status quo; physical attributes, wealth, resources, and environmental factors before change is introduced. Internal condition has an effect on external condition toward development. Internally, a woodsman has an internal predilection towards forest life. Externally he lives in a log cabin (or some sort of forest-type dwelling) and survives on the environment he lives in. This translation can be interpreted to many types of character ideas, and by making this comparison prepares it for the story setting. As a character’s condition is pressured by conflict, the motivation is used as a character’s "point of view". This way a player can run the character independently of the personal player bias. By reviewing motivations or archetypes built into a game system before a character is put together, a player can get a good idea of of how to run a character accordingly. Examples of archetypes include labels such as: Hero, Super-Hero, Drifter, Paladin, Handler, Detective, Right-Winger, Lover, Hunter, Rapper, Yuppy, Loner, Woodsman, Punk, Gadgeteer, Bookworm, Editor and can be supported with narrative phrases such as: “Here I come to save the day!”, “Kawabunga Dudes!”, or “Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a (insert occupation)!”
Many game systems offer ideas for character archetypes by applying conventions of behavior to character construction such as package deals, character classes, prides, clans or other such labels. This indicates that a game system has been implemented to orient character archetypes that will fulfill the story's intrigue potential. Rounding out a character in this fashion will help prevent a player from hitting a creative dead end during game play as a result of running a character that has no connection to the story. With a little experience, players can move through this guide if they wish and develop their own character types. Game masters should allow a variance of motivations and archetypes past the initial suggestions of the game system (within reason) given the player properly designs a character type. The idea of archetypes is to increase a character's potential by expanding game references and directions, not restrict it. The roles outlined as motivational constructs or archetypes should effect only a GM's ability to referee a character's role.
A character begins its existence at the instant its life takes a turn toward adventure and excitement. For instance, Flash Gordon started out as a character concept; a talented but common earthman. His character motivation is to be a hero and the condition is his daily life on earth. The character is introduced to conflict ala fantastic transplantation to a high-tech, science fiction universe. Orientation to the game's plot occurs by means of an environmental setting created by the GM. In this case, it is composed of space ships, laser guns, strange aliens, and other such unconventional stimulus. Flash’s motivation springboards character development in his new setting of Mongo by immersing the character in the plot conflict of an epic battle of good versus evil. His heroic motivation aligns him in conflict with the game world, creating external conflict and the plot question forms itself by comparing the characters construction with the setting, "how do I get home?"
The GM Interview
Create challenging motivations by asking the eternal questions and answer them with the intellectual faculties you have instilled into the character's concept. These questions will be the starting point upon which plot questions can be overlaid to build a base of opinions to deal with the game challenge. Questions along a corollary to the following: "Why am I here?", "What can I do?", "Who am I?" Anything that helps create a unique character point-of-view. Ask them in the mind set of the characters motivations and fabricated ideology. It could parallel the feelings of the player or the impulses of curiosity. Doing this will establish a character concept sturdy enough to deal with most adventure challenges. If you are unsure of how to conceive a satisfying character concept, get together with the game master. A game master should always administer, or offer the option of a character interview. A character interview expands game play potential by closely aligning the character with a story or campaign. It should be done in a manner that allows a complete player character creation by means of open-ended questions. If any character restrictions are placed upon your character idea, it should be a joint venture between the GM and player for the purposes of the story. A GM should be a character coach for the player, trying to bring the best out of the plot ine and long term character development. Character concept should lie completely with the player, but the GM should be afforded some opportunity of building plots and subplots around the character that are relevant to the adventure story and campaign thread. Long term development of a character could be the age old tragic hero, a wandering rogue, or something new. Just work with the game master so the campaign has all the right elements to create the best experience. Romeo wouldn't have been as interesting without Juliet or the conflict between their families. The ending of the story wasn't so happy, but if you role play it, it could end any way you want it to.
Correlate the developmental direction of your character with the GM to focus the story's most likely path or most desired direction. Do this with a character interview or jot down some ideas and give them to the GM to maintain plot direction in relation to your character during the story. Keep in mind that your character's actions in any given situation could alter that path. Plot uncertainty is another facet of the game challenge in RPG's and a driving influence of a game session's excitement. If you don't give the GM an idea on the general goals of your character, you are at the mercy of the other players and the skill of the GM.
Character preparation by means of a character interview, helping the GM cultivate a character planner sheet (handily located in later sections of this book) and other forms of communication will help make your character interesting and stay interesting as it and the game develops. Your character will only grow in a story if you have conceptualized the type of character it is against the game's story conflict and gave the GM a clue to your character’s desired development, for example: Conan's people are destroyed and he is pressed into service to the Hyborian empire. The game master could have rolled with that character information by putting interesting sources of conflict and joy into the story by way of the game setting. This conflict could be represented by the villains, Thulsa Doom or Toth-Amon, while also having reasons to overcome conflict with story goals. These goals are also installed into the game setting by the GM for the benefit of role playing. Locating the villains who transformed his parents into stone, raiding the tower of Set, or falling in love with Valeria are all story plots that the GM can develop to be played by the player any way they desire. Conan makes an excellent example for story planning because the initial character stories by Robert E. Howard represent a single, long term campaign with all the right elements. Since the time of the character's creation, there have been many other versions of the story both in print and movie, comic and animation. Each version of Conan's "reality" or game setting highlights the way in which a single character could be played in many types of campaigns with different story lines. Changing the character's background, motivation and resources gives each version a different flavor and a different experience. Imagination is endless, and so are any character's role playing possibilities. Jot down your ideas for character for character concept, and move on to understanding how to translate that character concept into game terms.
Character Concept Checklist
Physique: What abilities does your character possess and look like?
Motivation: How is your character's interpretive role defined?
Archetype: What game restrictions effect your characters motivation when interpreting and reacting to game situations?
Planning: What connection does your character have to the story setting? (A character interview might help.)
Preparation: Jot down the general ideas and design goals of your character concept in preparation for game play.
The Spark of Life
A character always starts out as a little electrical spark in the imagination of the player. A spark that must be translated into the language of the game system to achieve a good cognitive interface both to the character sheet and the campaign setting; An idea with enough strength to propel a plot line satisfactory to the player, and entertaining to the rest of the troupe. Harness a character idea by expanding it into a thorough character concept.
In story terms, the character concept is a basic set of premises and ideas that an