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Monday, May 7, 2012

Great Characters, Part 1 of 6. Introduction.

I have prepared an article on character creation. More specifically, it is a guide to help the player and the GM to create memorable, meaningful characters. It is not specific to any game system, but it is intended for role playing games.
The article is presented here in six parts. Enjoy!

How to Create a Great Character

            Darth Vader. Hannibal Lecter. Gollum. Conan. Sandman. Batman.
            Those names bring up emotions. No one can argue that these are not great characters. They are beloved (or reviled) by millions.
            Why?

            Is it Hannibal Lecter's Intelligence score and Observation Skill Rank that makes him great? I can make a Gadgeteer superhero that is twice as smart as Dr. Lecter.
            Is it his Willpower score and Investigation Skill that makes Batman such an inspiring hero? I once made a character that could see through time. He solved mysteries more efficiently than Batman.

            Ability scores, big guns and magical weapons don't make a character interesting or compelling. They make them effective in the context of the game rules, but they have little to do with who they are and have nothing to do with why we love them.

            A great character is a Person, first and foremost. A Human, specifically (yes, even the non-Humans). They have weakness, regret and sorrow. They are driven by the same things that drive us: Fear, Love, Hope. These things are part of Human Nature, and that is what makes them timeless. William Faulkner said that. He knew a thing or two about character development. He won a Nobel Prize for it, in fact. That's someone I listen to when they give advice about writing.

            This article isn't about how to create the toughest Fighter or the most powerful Wizard. This article is about making a character that you care about as a person.
Never mind that they areimaginary. So are the characters listed above. And people care about them. Even if they don't like them (I'm looking at you, Gollum!), they nevertheless have strong feelings: admiration, pathological fear, or abject loathing.

            I don't claim that my characters are anywhere near as masterfully developed as any of the above, but I have made people choke up in front of their friends. I know how to make an RPG character become more than a piece of paper with a bunch of really high numbers on it.
            I will show you how to develop a solid character concept for your Fighter, Wizard or Superhero. It isn't as hard as you may think. The hardest part is asking the questions, and going to the sticky, ugly corners of your mind and turning on the light in order to answer those questions. You might even learn something about yourself. We are all human, after all.


               Role Playing Games

            This article is aimed at creating characters for RPGs. Many of the principles can easily be ported for use in fiction with little or no modification. However, there are a few considerations for role players that need to be addressed right off the bat.

            In RPGs, you are a hero, but you are not the hero. In most fiction and film, there is one protagonist; one hero. In RPGs, your character is part of a group. Other players are working with you (and the GM) to create an interactive experience.
            This may seem a silly thing to say, as every RPGer knows this well. Nevertheless, many players continue to create characters that do not work well with others. An RPG is an ensemble. Players would do well to keep this often overlooked fact in mind before they conceive ofthe coolest, most surly-est lone wolf antihero ever made. The obvious exception to this is if you are the only player at the table. In that case, make your character as surly and resentful of authority as you like.