RP characters

I realize that not everybody is interested in RPG’s (Role Playing Games), and the kind of characters I am describing are PnP (Pen and Paper) characters, so we’re talking super nerdy. So, why am I writing about this to you?

You may not have guessed it, but one of my favorite past-times is Roleplaying. I’d even go so far and say it is my favorite past time, but I don’t do it very often, at least not the way I’d like to do it. The way I like to do it? Sit down with some friends, roll out your character sheets and start playing.

As a writer, that means I come from a RP background. My stories are constructed around a protagonist or a group of protagonists who are on a campaign. Sound familiar? It’s basically how a TV series works; every episode is an adventure, and at some point in the episode, there is an element that ties them all together, aside from the recurring characters. Like in a RPG, the identification with the protagonist(s) is much stronger than in any movie. This is due to the fact that there is much more time to portray their everyday and private affairs, while movies have to get to the action rather quickly and often utilize stereotypes to establish the personality and background of the protagonist. Yes, there are exceptions, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

Ideally, you write a book using characters created in the system that belongs to the ‘verse you want the plot to be set in. The reason is simple; the system is tuned to the ‘verse. Consequently, experience with the system and the ‘verse is paramount if anything good is to come from this. Don’t worry, it can be lots of fun to learn about it with the right people J. At some point, if you are into it, you might want to design your own system and a corresponding ‘verse, or modify an existing set; the latter is less work, the other gives you more freedom.

Once you have found or created the set of system and verse you want to use, you need a basic idea of what you want your characters to do. This is what the GM (Game Master) is for in RPG’s. He maps out situations and areas for the players, and they act. How they act should ideally be determined by the characters they are playing. Of course, to some degree, everybody plays himself. As a writer, I am GM and all PC’s (player characters) at the same time, which means it’s a lot of me playing, and keeping myself apart is quite an effort. On the other hand, where there is often a communication barrier between the GM and the players, I don’t have to struggle with that; my protagonists do “what they are supposed to do”.

A little off note: I GM’d a session recently, and I had mapped out three alternative routes for my player characters. They managed to leave all the paths I had beaten out for them, and only returned to slay the monster because of a really lucky coincidence. It was still lots of fun, but this post is not about GM’ing, it is about characters.

My method for creating characters, no matter what the system and ‘verse, is logical and simple.

1. Determine a concept

2. Determine the character values

3. Embed the values into a background

1. Most RPG’s come with a set of classes, archetypes and professions. Some, like D&D, are very strict, with strong advantages and disadvantages for every class. This is to encourage the tactical aspect of the game and the building of diverse groups. Other games, like Vampire: The Masquerade, allow for more freedom; after all, Vampires are far superior to the living, and choosing a clan is more a question of character and style. There is some impact on the abilities, but pretty much every basic concept is supported by every clan (exception: Nosferatu, but this is not a VTM Game Guide).

2. Let’s assume you want to create a ninja-type character. While fighting and striking by surprise is what earns you your daily bread, there are many ways to do that and there is more to life than just murdering and cashing in. Naturally, you want to be physically fit with acute senses. Maybe you want to be Léon: the Professional. You really only know how to kill, you never learned how to read or write, and all you care about is your little potted gingko tree. Or you want to be more James Bond-ish, a social chameleon who is OK in a fight but gets the hell out of dodge as soon as he hit his mark. Maybe you want to be the meticulous Hit Man from the Hit Man video game series, or the Mechanic, the way he was played by Charles Bronson. Whatever you want to create, make sure they are well-rounded, or else you might have a hard time embedding them into a background. It’s more fun writing and playing alike when the characters resemble real people!

3. This should be more of a background process while performing stages 1&2, but spelling it out is more than just the finishing touch. This is the part where you give the numbers and the name you’ve selected life. It also helps you keep your facts about a character straight. You don’t have to think of every detail in advance, but there should at least be a paragraph for every important place and stage in their life. The post Коля is an example of a character background, even though it ends with his death, after which it is sort of impossible to play him; it is, however, still possible to focus on parts of his life, very much like I did in Off With Their Heads!.

There is also a character sheet for Коля, and an RPG, which I designed, belonging to a ‘verse I created. More about that, maybe, later.

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2 thoughts on “RP characters

  1. It’s good to read about someone else’s RP characters and creation process from time to time! Here are a few questions in case you’re looking for something to write about 😉

    How do you define the personality and behavior of a PnP character? How important is your own personality since it’s going to influence the way you play him/her – do you try to make a character with a personality close enough to your own to make it easier to play him/her or is that irrelevant to you? Do you think this personality through and through or do you just write down a few traits and see what comes out of it in game?

    How about relationships between your character and other players’? Do you like your character to know one or several other PCs or would you rather start with a character that doesn’t know anyone in the group? (I’m thinking about personal preferences without considering the context of the game or the GM’s guidelines)

    As for your character’s history: if you only write down important events and leave the rest to your future imagination, or write important and less important events but still give yourself the freedom to add more later, how do you add stuff? Do you just make things up as you play, or do you take a moment (a few minutes during the game or more time when you’re on your own) to think a bit more about what you’re going to make up and how it might change your character?

    That’s all I have in mind for now… I hope you’ll find some time to answer these questions 🙂

    1. OK let me take these questions one at a time

      How do you define the personality and behavior of a PnP character?

      It depends on a few factors. How well do I know the game? How well do I know the GM? The better I know both, the more interesting I will make the character. A few month ago, I started playing Warhammer 40K: Dark Heresy, a game I knew little about, with a GM I knew practically nothing about, so I took an archetypical character, a soldier from a primitive world, with a very simle personality. After a while now, he is more and more becoming me, since there is hardly any other character imprint on him, other than a few superstitions and his military training (discipline and diligence, not the best words to describe me)

      Relationships with other characters and other players

      I have actually only once played a character who started out knowing another character in the group, since our characters came from the same geographical region (actually, the same town, which was quite a coincidence). It was easier to get into the “adventuring together” mood, as there was no ice to break, and if there is something I like, it’s easy. Otherwise, the relationship my character has to other players pretty much depends on the personalities and backgrounds that are portrayed, though I tend to play harmonious characters

      About a characters history

      I write down what I can think of; some character concepts yield several pages on creation, others only half a page, and I regularly add more information later, simply by adding a chapter. This usually happens when there is a situation where the background does not yield a single logical conclusion, or where a detail is asked for that I hadn’t previously defined. I react in a manner that I feel is proper for the character, and whenever I have the time to write it down without slowing down the game, I do it. It’s very similar with change; when I feel that a certain experience ought to change how the character thinks and feels about himself and his environment, I make the change on the fly and sort out the details later. Of course, there are enough games that don’t leave it up to how the player feels, but where there are rules for that, which I find mostly stupid

      OK I hope I didn’t leave anything out

      One important thing: I always try to find a way to help the group, and to keep the game going, as long as the personality of the character allows it; I have gone against decisions the group had made before, though, but there was always the chance of reconciliation

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