Roleplaying isn’t all fighting all the time, so if your character lacks motive to act outside of combat, you’re going to get bored. The other week I shared my 5 Steps to Imbue Your RPG Characters With Personality to Spare, and you guys really enjoyed it. That made me super happy! Now I want to do more for you. Below are some more master tips to help you build characters for your tabletop RPGs and LARPs. Be sure to check out the previous article in the link above as well.
Find a Shtick and Shtick With It
I perform with a LARP/theater show called Dungeon Master where audience members can create their own characters and embark on a one-night live action adventure on stage. Many people have asked me for tips on how to make their own character. I tell them “Find a shtick and shtick with it.” Find that one trait, that “one thing,” that makes the character unique and refer to it again and again. This advice applies really well to one-shot games and newly conceived characters where you may not have discovered their backstory and what they’re all about yet.
A friend of mine once played a “muppet man” who was supposed to be two small muppets masquerading as one very tall man. He would talk to himself, directing his “companion” inside the trench coat which way to move his legs. He did this for the entire adventure. It was completely one-dimensional shtick, but it was unique and really darn funny.
Building Concepts from other characters
I always liked the idea of starting with a known character and putting your own spin on them. This works surprisingly well when the base character is not going to be in the same setting as your personal character because it forces them to make choices the root character would never need to make.
I once created Star Wars Imperial Officer based on Integra Hellsing of the anime Hellsing. I took the base personality and fashion style of Integra, and let that be my jumping point. My sorceress Unmei, who I mentioned in my last article, was based on a fusion of two characters. She had the water magic of Umi from Magic Knight Rayearth with the snobbery and styling of Nanami from Revolutionary Girl Utena. I even have one character who is “Middle Earth’s answer to Lady Gaga.” You can use these characters as base ideas, but take them on a journey and let them speak for themselves. You’ll quickly discover their originality as you play.
Create Playlists and Vision Boards
I love listening to music for inspiration. Certain songs capture the mood of a character or scene. Even if the music reminds you of the setting, that can be enough to kick-start your imagination. I’ll listen to a song, close my eyes, and just meditate on scenes. Lyrics can also give you ideas for where to take your characters. Using music for inspiration is all about feeling and letting your imagination run wild. I’ve put together a playlist of driving music for a pilot character that’s mostly K-Pop, Queen, and 80s classics. I have other playlists that get me in the mood for sweeping epic fantasy and as well as sci-fi.
Vision boards are something that I just tried recently. A friend of mine is starting a Savage Worlds campaign and created a Pinterest board for the players to find images that inspired us. The setting is 1930’s dieselpunk, but World War I never ended. My concept is to create Hajime Saito, a real historical figure from 19th century Japan, and turn him into some kind of government experiment/killing machine. So I did a Pinterest search for “cyborg,” “samurai,” and “dieselpunk” and discovered many inspiring images. It helped me to get a feel for what Saito might look like in this campaign.
Make The Journey Together
You aren’t going to understand your character fully at the start of your game unless you have played them before and have history from which to draw. Perhaps part of your adventure is that your character is also trying to discover who they are. Ever notice how often games start in a tavern, or you’re strangers who recently came to town? It’s because they haven’t settled down to retire into domesticated life. Your character still has a lot to learn about themselves, and that’s a darn good reason to travel the world and go on adventures. You will discover who they are as you play them.
Be a Little Dumb
There’s a saying in writing that bad decisions make good stories. Look at the image at the top of this article. Do you remember that moment from Critical Role where Vax dove headfirst into a trap, nearly got killed, then told Keyleth he loved her and kissed her? It was a great scene because Vax is the type of character who takes those bold risks even though he knows he can get hurt. Allow your character to try something brash or make a decision you know they will regret later.
Why? Because roleplay is boring if there is no conflict. It’s not dramatic if you don’t get your ass handed to you by the villain now and then. Sometimes you have to lock your sense of self-preservation in a crate and put a blanket over it when you go out to roleplay. Your character may be smart, but playing it safe all the time just isn’t fun. And if you’re not having fun while roleplaying, then you’re doing something wrong.
What are some of your gaming tips for making RPG characters with personality? Let us know in the comments!
Featured image credit: Wendy Sullivan Green
Image credits: Wizards of the Coast, Paizo Publishing