I am Not a Number: Breathing Life into RPG Characters

Workshop 3

There are two ways to play a character. 1. Play by roll / dice. 2. Play by role. Dice are a great tool. You are playing a character. There is no creativity in numbers. Any fool can roll dice! Characters are individualized, complex and deep! Characters who live on numbers are B-O-R-I-N-G! Characters who are roleplayed are more interesting and last longer.

Creating a Background 1. Birth Information (culture shapes character) This is an important location hook you can use later. a. Race / Nationality — character may be discriminated against because of this. b. Environment 2. Family What more important ties can the character have? Parents may play a role in their future. Son doesn’t always follow in his father’s footsteps. Is the family alive? Where do they live? How our parents feel about us has more influence over us than anything else. Siblings are annoying. Dealing with siblings can be different than parents. Characters don’t need to know where family members are. If they do, it ruins all the Game Master’s fun. Siblings / parents view toward the character and vice versa is important because: a. Shape the way the character thinks. b. It provides things you can use against the character. The more complicated their lives, the more they’ll enjoy it. c. Education and training ● Who educated them? This is another hook. ● How much of the teacher’s status reflects on the student? ● Apprenticeships. If the character is busy when his apprentice shows up, what happens? d. Interests and hobbies ● More hooks. ● This helps decide the skills the player character has. Education, hobbies, etc. should be reflected by skills.

Creating a Character
Start by deciding where you, the Game Master, are going. This is in contrast with most games of the industry. Game systems aren’t as important as what you do with them. If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t be able to figure out how to get there. Where does the character you / your players are creating fit into the adventure and the party? Choose skills and abilities based on where you are going. The players still have not yet picked up the dice. As the character’s creator, you need to know what he’s able to do. The background will point itself to his “minor” skills. They shouldn’t all be professional skills. All professional skills will lead to a one-dimensional character. Create the character’s background. When done, the player should have someone who could be a real person. Emotions, likes, dislikes, etc. This also helps the Game Master find out what the players really care about through the presentation of his character’s background. The Game Master should make notes at this time. Don’t show these notes to the players. This gives the Game Master his emotional hooks on his player characters.

Game Master Workshop Series

e. Experience What did the player character do before? Successes and failures also mean “friends” and “enemies.” A few more hooks and non-player character contributions. f. Friends, enemies and lovers Personality, physical descriptions, and how they are associated to the player character should be noted. How did they meet? Get as much information as possible. “The best enemies used to be your friends.” This works the other way also. Where is this person now? (This may be something the Game Master determines.) Don’t pass up romances. This leads to even more ammunition. g. Life experience shapes what you do (skills). h. Wealth and class ● What has the player character done to deserve this? ● If money comes from his profession, what does he do? Example: Marvel Superhero doesn’t get money from being heroic, but because of what he does in the mundane world. Employers can be a patron or obstacle for adventuring. If freelance, the player character is usually poor. ● Where does he keep his money? ● Does he have items he can sell? This affects skills again. A high social class need to know those abilities of belonging to that class. If poor, a player character would have skills to make money go farther. 3. Features If the player character has money, he could be flabby from a lack of exercise and have soft hands. Poor might have a broken nose, scars, limp or even his speech may be impaired. Physical descriptions are what people will notice about you first. When you introduce your character, you need to present your physical characteristics. Certain characteristics build stereotypes (such as blonde). They’re not true, but people may react if the player character doesn’t act as the stereotypes. They expect one thing and get another.

Distinguishing features can be what people grab to and remember you by. They can also be the source of nicknames. 4. Appearance. How the character affects himself! Dress, cleanliness, and accessories. What the character wears shows you his culture and wealth. A character doesn’t have to dress to his own class, however. Let the character playing a knight design his own Coat-of-Arms to tell of his family’s history. Read book on heraldry for information. This adds flavor that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Players love things that are flashy. Jewelry can be good for attracting thieves, family curses, etc. Transportation can fit into appearance. How does he get around? Does he walk? Does he have a horse that has ribbons woven in its mane? 5. Personality Alignment is worthless. It is a crutch for people who can’t create personality and an individual. It’s a great starting point, but not the end all, be all. Alignment languages shouldn’t be used. They are really useless. Good and evil are not absolutes. They are a function of: a. Background in genre / game. b. Your personal choices as a Game Master. You shape your world’s mortality. A person does not view himself as evil. Neither will your players. c. Your player’s choice. 6. Recognition Handle One sentence to describe the entire character. 7. Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Roll the dice. Create the basic stats for your system. a. Random generation. b. Semi-random generation (throw out bad rolls). c. Roll a number and divide between the areas. d. Fudge the rolls. e. Construction — fixed number of character points and build the character from that.

Character background record for (name of game / campaign world) _____________________________ Character name __________________________________________ Aliases _______________________ Race / nationality _____________________ Birthplace ________________________________________ Height ________ Weight _________ Hair color / style ____________________ Eye color ____________ Distinguishing features __________________________________________________________________ FAMILY Name


Sex Age Occupation



EDUCATION Education level ____________________ Educated by _________________________________________ Apprenticeships / schools ________________________________________________________________ Hobbies / interests _____________________________________________________________________ EXPERIENCE Past employment information ____________________________________________________________ Major successes / failures ________________________________________________________________ WEALTH / CLASS Economic status _____________________ Social class ________________________________________ Current profession ________________________ Position ________ Employer _____________________ Pay / period _________ $ on hand _________ $ in hoard _________ $ banked __________ FRIENDS / ENEMIES / LOVERS Name Relationship Sex Age Occupation



CLOTHING AND CARRYABLES Clothing (type / material / colors) _________________________________________________________ Weapons / armor / equipment normally displayed ____________________________________________ Jewelry / hand-held items _______________________________________________________________ Insignia / badge / coat of arms ___________________________________________________________ PERSONALITY Character’s view of self __________________________________________________________________ Character’s view of others _______________________________________________________________ Temperament _____________________ Ideals _______________________________________________ Goals: long-term ______________________________ short-term ______________________________ Likes _________________________________________________________________________________ Dislikes _______________________________________________________________________________ Quirks ________________________________________________________________________________ Recognition handle _____________________________________________________________________ ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Copyright 1992 Guy W. McLimore, Jr.

This paper is a written record of the “Game Master Workshop Series” presented by Guy McLimore and Greg K. Poehlein, creators of Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game. This workshop was held at GenCon in 1993. There are eight pieces to this series. This account was made by Laura Rajsic-Lanier (lauralanier@comcast.net). She makes no claims to the material presented herein.

Game Master Workshop Series

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