Monday, May 7, 2012
Great Characters, Part 3 of 6. Personality and Motivation.
You will now ask some important questions about your character. Keep notes. Don’t feel as though you have to answer them in order, either. Go where the character guides you. By the time you're done, you will have a good idea what kind of person your character is.
When asking these questions, you need a high level of detail. More detail will provide a richer, deeper character concept.
You can accomplish this easily if you always ask “Why?”
Every time a question is answered, you look at that answer and ask “Why?” Digging deeper and further into your character’s background and psyche will uncover amazing new vistas for your role playing experience.
It is best to start at the beginning. How a person was raised, by whom and in what environment has a profound effect on what kind of person they are.
Where is your character from? The Deep South? The UK? Back east?
A character's region influences how they speak. Does your character say things like “Y'all”, “Youse guys” or “Take the piss”? These things come from their background, and will often suggest a certain accent.
Accents can be entertaining, but they become annoying to others over the course of a game session, so it is best to stick with a few expressions and call it good.
This is a big one. We don’t need a list of siblings and distant relatives here. We are interested in this character’s most significant family experiences.
Who raised your character? Were they abused as a child? Were they picked on by bullies? Were they sheltered? Where they orphaned? Were they poor? Did they grow up in a small town?
A clear idea of the character's upbringing will help you answer the questions to follow.
Why does your character do what they do? Why did they leave the farm to take on the evil empire? Why do they risk their lives for this team? What do they gain by doing any of this?
Did enemies kill their family? (Batman)
Are they being forced or manipulated into this situation? (Darth Vader)
Are they driven by some compulsion they can't control? (Gollum)
Are they in it for the thrill? (Conan)
Motivation is more complicated than it seems at first glance. Characters motivated by money are often truly motivated by something else entirely. The money can be a means to that end or a tool for the character's denial of their true predicament. Batman got the guy that killed his parents fairly early in his career. Did he hang up his cape and cowl?
No. Batman kept going because he is actually motivated by something else.
A good character will have at least two “layers” of motivation, and the true motivation often goes back to their background.
For example: Darth Vader was manipulated by the Emperor. That manipulation was accomplished because (among other reasons) Vader never had a father, and the Emperor used his daddy issues to gain control over him. Once Vader made a connection to his son, however those issues boiled over and the Emperor's control over him evaporated. When the walls came down, Anakin wanted the love and respect of his son more than anything else.
The most common motivations draw on our most basic and most powerful emotion: Fear. Some might say love, but is it? Or is it the fear of losing that beloved thing? Is it the desire for justice, or is it the fear of the helplessness you experienced when your parents were killed before your eyes?
Motivations are often far from heroic, though they are capable of driving characters to perform heroic deeds. Gollum destroyed the One Ring, but it wasn't for the good of the people of Middle Earth, was it? After hundreds of years being enslaved to it, he no longer had any concern for anything else. He needed the One Ring to feel whole. It was the only thing that made his life livable, and he pursued it at all costs. He saved a world he cared nothing for, and likely didn't even know it, simply because he was an addict.