Your friend has invited you to join their RPG group. You’ve always wanted to give RPGs a try, but for any number of reasons, you never had the chance. Your friend told you the premise of the game, you are a group of heroes, adventuring your way through a fantasy world, tying to gain power influence and riches!
That sounded like it could be fun. You say yes and being one to always be prepared, you’re sitting down with a brand new, freshly purchased (or borrowed) version of the Players Handbook trying to figure out what character you want to play.
Two hours later…
I get it. It’s a tough decision.
Whenever I have someone who wants to begin playing RPGs, one of the first things that I am the is, “What do you want to play?”
Almost invariably they reply, “I don’t know. I don’t know whats available.”
This is a completely understandable response. But it’s also missing the point, in my opinion.You are about to be venturing into the universe of endless possibilities. You can, literally, be anyone or anything you want to be.
OK, so I just realized that, in my enthusiasm, I might have made the situation Infinitely worse. And that could end up being a bit overwhelming. I’ve done nothing to narrow down the possibilities.
Lets start with this, what are the important things to keep in mind when trying to come up with a character?:
- Create a character that you feel comfortable playing. Why? because its a role playing game. If you don’t feel comfortable, immersion will be next to impossible. If you don’t have immersion, then really enjoying the game will be a serious effort too.
- Create a character that you will enjoy playing. This seems like it should be common sense, but there are some folks who will play what they think everyone wants them to play, or worse, “what the party needs”. When someone in a game I’m running asks me, “What does the party need me to play?” My response is always the same, “Whatever you’re going to have the most fun playing.” Sure, if you play the cleric, you might be doing everyone a great favor. But, if you’re not enjoying it, how long do you think you’re going to keep playing?
But I got these numbers…
Quite a few people out there believe that your stats are the beginning and the end of your character.
Kindly allow me this opportunity to, politely, disagree.
Yes, your ability scores are important. They do tell you what your character will be capable of physically and intellectually. But don’t be discouraged if you didn’t come out of it with super high scores in every stat. I think that some bad stats can make help make up a really fun character and story. But to make those numbers into a personality, you still have to have some idea of who you’re wanting to be.
And some of those same people would say that I had lost my mind, when I tell you that scoring Critical Hits, while really really fun, are not were the moments your going to end up telling stories about come from. Those come from roleplaying. And good role playing comes from knowing who you are.
My first suggestion would be:
Do you have to?
No, of course not. Not everyone is an author. But keep this in mind: Unless you happen to be living in a bubble, then its a fairly good bet that the person you are today was formed by the experience you have had over your lifetime. The things you like, the things you hate, the things you dream about. All came from the experiences you have had, the things you have seen, the things you have heard.
If you take the time to come up with a backstory for your character, then you become something more than the stats and the Player Handbook fluff content tell you that your character must be.
Example: Traditionally, Orcs are seen as an evil race. (Yeah, this is starting to change these days, thanks to games like World of Warcraft. But there are still a ton of GMs and Players that think of them in the traditional Tolkien sense)
But what if you were an orc baby, left all alone when your parents and clan were slaughtered by a rival clan? You were found by an retiring wizard, who had pity on you and raised you, as her own, in a the idyllic village in which she lived.
She new nothing of the ways of barbarians, or those of warriors at all. In fact, no one in the village did. They were farmers, who other than the occasional hunting had no use for weapons. Since they knew you from the time you were in swaddling clothes, they had no fear of you. In fact, since you and your adoptive mother were always such a great service to the village, everyone loves you.
But one day, after years of listening to your mother’s stories, you’ve gotten bitten by the adventuring bug yourself. You pack up your things, tuck your spell book into your pack, and head out into the world to make a fortune, and legend, of your own.
What happens when you wander into the nearest city and find out that most civilized people despise orcs.? What happens when you come up against an orc clan? Or even an Orc War Party.
Will they except you? Will you except them? Did your mother and the village raise you with the same prejudices against other Orcs that they all share?
All these things get figured out in game.
What will this do for you? It creates conflict. It gives you, your GM, and the other players in your party to move the story forward.
NOTICE: As previously stated, not every one is an author. Other folks have just enough time in their schedule to make a character and game. They don’t have extra time to torture themselves with trying to come up with a strong backstory that actually makes sense. They would if they could. But they cant.
For those folks, Check out My Ultimate Character Background Questionnaire
Once you do this, following the books to flesh out your numbers, backgrounds, equipment and such will be a piece of cake.
There you have it. Your first Character.
Pretty cool, huh? And not nearly as hard as everyone made it seem.
You should be proud of yourself.
Before we wrap this up, Let me give you just a few more tips, you might find helpful:
Tip 1: For your first character, try just being yourself:
Play me? I thought this was all about escapism?
It is. when I say play you, I don’t mean playing the you with the day to day job and the adulting responsibilities that we’re all trying to forget for a few hours.
I mean, play you with all the airbags and safety harnesses removed. Playing as yourself (in the guise of your character) can be cathartic. It gives you the chance to release all the things that you have carrying around on your shoulders in game.
Tip 2: Communication with your GM
One of the things I will do with the players in my game is, after the session has ended, I will send them texts, concerning their character, and the next steps that they want to take.
Example: (This was sent to one of my players who’s character had unknowingly been posessed by serveral ghosts)
Epilogue for Leblanc: When you have calmed and the blood lust had eased, you sit in your room trying to keep the voices in your head at bay. Especially Tobias… he’s the one that makes you cut people. He wants you to do more than cut them…so far, you’ve been able to satisfy him with just killing bad people… but oh how his whispers keep getting stronger… and darker. How long will you be able to keep Tobias in check?
Sometimes they will send texts to me, letting me know what their characters were thinking, or feeling, that they didnt want to discuss in front of the group. Or maybe even a plot, that they have come up with, to deceive the rest of the party.
My point being that a good part of the time, the characters, and the game, game can keep developing even away from the gaming table.
Tip 3: Let out your Evil Side:
This kind of goes hand in hand with playing yourself, but with a twist.
Everyday life can be stressful. We have to be careful of what we say, do, or any number of things to make sure that we don’t accidentally offend someone. Most have us were taught manners as children and we would never dream of doing something that would be considered rude, or in bad taste. (As long as we aren’t on the internet that is)
We live in a world constrained by rules. And, while I believe that to be a good thing, most of the time, it doesn’t really allow you to let your hair down. (Those of you that have hair… You lucky bastards) But what if those laws didn’t apply to you? What if you could do anything that you wanted? There might still be consequences. but as far as you’re concerned, they simply don’t apply to you.
Now’s your chance.
Tip 4: Play your favorite hero or character Movies, Books, TV, or Video Games:
You cant picture yourself being able to do the things that would make being a hero fun?
That’s OK. Sometimes, this is a learned skill.
I, myself, am the perfect example of this. When I first started playing RPGs seriously, I was 10. I had very little life experience. I had no idea how to write back stories. And I was actually, short, shy, and altogether not heroic. But I wanted to be. (This was also in the early 80’s when we couldn’t just look up how to do something on the internet)
So what did I do?
Well, I played The Mighty Thor. Yes he was a Wood-Elf (They were a LOT stronger and barbaric back in first edition DnD), Yes he had to work his way up to that Hammer of Thunderbolts, but he was brave. Not only that but he was strong, (even before finding his gauntlets and belt of strength) he was handsome, and he was a HERO.
And his name was BANZAI DEATHHAMMER!!!
God, that is so embarrassing now… but to me, and the other ten year olds playing in my group, it was AMAZE BALLS!
That is a direct quote, by the way, from my best friend at the time, Paul.
Again, I was familiar with the character. I may not have been able to picture myself being that heroic. But I sure as heck could picture Thor, or Banzai as he was currently being called, being heroic.
I went on to play that character for eight years. I still have a copy of that character sheet around here somewhere. And should anyone ever break out a high level game of first edition ADnD, Banzai could possibly make his return. (though we might have him change his name legally)
As always, I hope you enjoyed this. And I hope it helps. If you have any questions, ideas on article you might like me to write, or just wanna tell me how much you liked it, please comment below.
If you want to chat about RPGs or say hello, come hit me up on Twitter @DMLeviathan
Thanks again, and have a great one…