Saturday, 17 January 2015

A Citizen_W Guest Article - RPG Character Creation

Here's another article on RPG's by Citizen_W. This time he's giving us a general guide to character creation so you don't all end up playing the same person you always do...

There are thousands of RPG’s in the world (literally) from the rule heavy volume of giants tomes to indie press productions of a few dice rolls that are more like group storytelling. However they all have one thing in common, you will need a character.

Character creation is one of my favourite parts of RPing as a PC (Player character) I often create 4 or 5 and flit between them for weeks before we begin. However some people really struggle with the idea of forging the ideas they have in their head into a usable character or can’t think of something they’d like to role-play.

I've come up with a few tips for creating fleshed out PC’s that will give you more enjoyment to play and assist your GM.

1) Be Original

Okay this ones a weird one and a bit of a personal bugbear (which are also bugbears to me). Too many campaigns I've played in have the mysterious stranger who’s dressed in black with a long coat wielding a Katana in a western setting seething silently in the corner. It’s been done guys, and it's really hard for the other players to know how to interact with this loner in a group setting and difficult for a GM to include this maverick loner into a group.

You all meet in a tavern, and as you leave this silent bad-ass leaves with you”. 

Leather trench-coats are standard issue...didn't you know?

Obviously taking a few inspirations from favourite characters, comics, games etc is a great way to stoke your imagination but just playing a carbon copy of Master Chief is dull and the kind of character you often find is abandoned quickest.

Editors Note - 'Inspired by' is always going to happen as we all have our favourite characters from all kinds of media but as a player of Vampire the Masquerade for many years I lost count of the amount of the above mentioned 'Katana wielding, leather trench-coat guy (and girl) that seemed to be everywhere...The Matrix movies have a lot to answer for in that area...

2) It’s Okay to Suck

A level one character is essentially as capable as a normal person with a bit of specialist knowledge. Essentially as I write this I am a level one human with skill points in Comics, Nerdery and Sarcasm, I am not equipped in anyway to take on a level 40 Dragon (or to continue the metaphor Joss Whedon) and I'm okay with this. The biggest reason I find players dislike role-play is they expected to be back-flipping and flinging a thousand shurikens at a horde of skeletons and basking in the adulation of the town.

Editors Note - My current Through the Breach character is illiterate and has skills in Throwing Weapons and Shotgun despite the fact that the stat that controls them is actually his worst one...I've also played a cowardly Arbite in Dark Heresy, an insane Tech-Marine in Deathwatch and a Gangrel with both multiple personality disorder and an addiction to draining other vampires to death in Vampire the Masquerade...

3) Backstory

When I've got a vague idea in my head of who I want to RP I sit and scribble out a couple of paragraphs about why they exist and their recent history (Some RPG’s actually have this built into character creation) I then give a copy to the GM with my character sheet and also to the other players just so they have a better idea of why I'm reacting how I am and how best to approach the character.

Editors Note - I'm a bit hit or miss in this area so my characters back-stories tend to develop via random crap I make up during in character conversations...though my Dark Heresy characters background came about when all the other players presumed he'd done something hideous to some poor innocent woman and their idea was actually more interesting than I had come up with myself, lol.

4) GM Approval
Okay so you want to be a pirate who’s okay with a sword but you've decided you’re of Chinese descent and you want some Kung-Fu skills, you check the rulebook and find pirates only get cutlass and pistol skills. Well shit son you’re stuffed. Or are you? 

Why not approach the GM and skill swap. Pistol becomes Wu-Shu and cutlass becomes Tai-Chi sword. Easily done, it also puts you at the negative of having no range (when I GM I love players who have an exploitable weakness).

Too many people are overly rigid with the books classes and skills, once you are comfortable with the rules it's not too hard to add a few skills.

Editors Note - This takes some getting used to if you're from a miniature wargames background where the rules are set. RPG's are a bit different...

5) Flaws

One of my favourite systems for character creation is the Serenity system. It’s a little clunky on rules and uses an odd dice system but for character skills it lets you be as badass as you want, as long as you take an equal amount of flaws. 

Want to be a Clint Eastwood level gun-slinger, fine but you will have a crippling addiction to booze, a limp and probably herpes. While not every system has a way to add negatives, putting in an addiction or other flaw really fleshes a character out and makes them feel like a person.

Editors Note - If you're a GM it's worth noting that some 'Min-Maxer' players will take flaws (Mins) that don't really cause them problems comparable to the benefits (the Max's) a side-note it's okay to be really mean to those sort of people...

6) Plan Your Level-ups

This isn't always possible as a campaign rolls on your priorities may change but it's still  good idea to note down your ideal upgrades and level rewards so you know what you’re aiming for and to allow or GM approval (For instance I only let a character upgrade skills they've actually used in some way). 

Editors Note - I'm quite notorious for planning every step of my characters development (from a mechanical point of view at least) though am occasionally foiled by environmental factors such as a sudden and unexplained lack of knives everywhere we go or that time when my Tech-Marine caught the Obliterator virus and kept absorbing his Storm Bolter...

Also the level of upgrade being given should be equivalent to the learning experience as once you've got the hang of killing a generic zombie with your sword then I doubt you learn much more by killing the hundredth and sharpening your pencil does not count towards your final level in doesn't...

7) Have Fun

While obviously the point of an RPG I’ve experienced plenty of players who just weren't enjoying themselves. This is partly a GM issue that may mean your campaign sucks but as a player if your character really isn't working talk to the GM and make a new one, your old character could die in a blaze of glory that will be a great story for the other players and some of the most fun for you (my Chaplain characters death in Deathwatch was one of my favourite things to roleplay).

To finished I’d like to talk about experienced role-players and keeping it all fresh. My biggest tip for that is play something unexpected. In out very male dominated group I often role-play a woman, partly for the challenge and partly for party balance in social interactions.

Another great way to freshen things up is to let the GM or a fellow player create your character and then play the role they’ve set out for you. This isn’t for everyone but gives a really interesting challenge (unless the person designing it has been an absolute dick).

Well I hope you enjoyed this article and found the tips helpful, I’m sure you’ll see me loitering around here again if GMort invites me. 

Editors Note - He's invited any-time he wants...

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.


  1. Zees is good guest post. I'm not a hundred per cent sure how I missed it (maybe I tuned you out 'cause I'm not super hype about Malifaux unboxings?).

    I'm glad to see you both have sensible thoughts about backstory. I've sat through far too many tedious conversations with people who put all of their character's interesting conflicts and struggles in the past, as things that are over and resolved. What do you do next - and why do I care? It's far more interesting for both of us if we discover things and resolve things during play. I'm a bit like you; I generally start off with a Tweet's worth of concept and then make up backstory as and when it's needed.

    'Plan your level ups' is good advice for systems where that happens. I'd give you a slap for overplanning your career path in WFRP or the IKRPG though (again - wait and see what happens during play rather than expecting me to provide an opportunity for you to go into Mage Hunter or Judicial Champion), and you'd be very disappointed if you went looking for that sort of thing in OD&D. ;)

    1. I'm trying to do more on RPG's as it looks like I'll be involved in another one soon.

      My Ogrun characters background for Iron Kingdoms so far is 'Used to be a Man at Arms and is now a Bounty Hunter' as those are the two careers I chose...


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