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.