I struggle creating characters sometimes, especially for one-shots. Sometimes even characters for short arcs – I can pick any combination that I haven’t played yet and walk into it, but unless I understand the who/what/when/where/why of a character, I don’t get much enjoyment out of them. I often fall onto using someone I’ve played previously, when I know I should be exploring new ideas. Maybe it’s my background in theatre that drives me to do character research before I step into their shoes, but going that extra mile, even for a one shot, makes the world of difference in my enjoyment. Depending on the systems, there are various opportunities provided to help flesh out your character more, but let’s face it – I like to think outside the page, differing from what I would typically write down on a character sheet.
In D&D 5e, you choose a background, which helps outline your ideals, traits, bonds, and flaws. This is great, but it doesn’t necessarily denote what your history is or what formed those features for you. Let’s look at the Criminal background for a moment – they have 8 suggested specialties, but have you asked yourself how you came to be specialized in that? How did you become a smuggler – did someone teach you or did you have to learn it on your own? Who are your criminal contacts? How does that interact with your bonds? Looking at the various options and suggestions provided, I find asking deeper, probing questions helps to understand my chosen traits further, cementing who they are as a character.
If you play a Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) game – your playbook will often denote what you look like, but not necessarily personality or attachments. Your skills might give some inclination as to what you’re good at or how you might act, but there’s a lot more exploration that can be done in order to really flesh out those characters. The questions asked in character creation can help develop the answers to some of these, but in smaller groups, there might not be as many opportunities to really explore. In Fate, you’re often working with your aspects which define your character and their abilities, but they’re a bit more vague, often aligning similarly to the ideals, traits, bonds, and flaws you select in D&D 5e. Again we reach the impasse where while the core idea is presented, it doesn’t provide the details that can really add meat to the character at the end of the day.
On the chance you’re like me and feel the need to dive into who you’re role playing more, I’ve jotted down a handful of questions I like to ask myself when devising the concept for ANY character I want to dive into. This can work for NPCs, although I’m working on developing a different line of questions for villain creation as I plan my next adventure. Not everything needs to be answered, or even need to be relevant, but going through any number of them have helped me figure out the core values for a character that grants me the ability to fully step into their shoes when the time comes.
Questions to consider:
- How did your name get chosen for you?
- What was your childhood like?
- How did you get to the career/role you serve right now?
- What was your education like?
- Who are your parents?
- Who is your closest friend?
- Where do you call home?
- What is your favorite meal you’ve ever had?
- Why adventure? Why leave home at all?
- When did you last make a mistake? What was it? What did you learn?
- What memory has had the most impact on you?
- How do you make friends?
- What is your favorite color?
- What hobbies do you have?
- Who inspires you?
- What drives you?
- When did you last see a loved one?
- Where were you born?
- Why do you live the life you do?
- What is your usual disposition?
- How do you deal with stress? With crisis? With conflict?
- What do you drink when you walk into a bar?
Is there any questions you ask yourself when creating a character? Any habits you have or processes you follow? Share with us on Twitter and let us know! We love to talk about our characters, and we’d love to hear about yours too!