RPG Character Building Tips for Beginners

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If you’ve never played a tabletop RPG, building your character can seem as easy as customizing what your Commander Shepard looks like. But building a character that’s both intuitive and enjoyable to play is much more challenging than it seems.

It’s one thing to pick a character class and race – it may affect character stats, but those elements are window dressing to who the character ultimately is.

The fact of the matter is you are tasked with creating and fleshing out a character whose backstory drives their motivations which colour every decision they make. The most interesting and memorable moments in any roleplaying campaign or module are not the times when you roll natural 20s on your checks (though it feels pretty good) but rather in moments when you are truly roleplaying your character. It’s in the interactions of your character with your companions, the environment and trying situations that makes playing an RPG different than playing Yahtzee.

Because of that, having a solid grasp on your character, their motivations and their decision making processes will help keep your character feeling consistent and genuine. And if you’re new to roleplaying, keeping track of a complicated backstory and unintuitive alignment can be especially jarring and difficult. It can detract from the immersive enjoyment.

So here’s a few tips you can use when creating your first RPG characters, or helping your pals out in creating theirs.

Tip 1: Be yourself.

Playing yourself in a fictional universe is a lot of fun. How often do you get a chance to be a stronger, faster, more powerful version of yourself?  While you don’t have to literally play yourself in a brand new world, playing a character that is similar to you, with a world-comparable background and a lawful good/neutral good alignment (let’s face it, you’re probably good if you think murder is bad) can give you a chance to wade into the game slowly and focus on getting a handle on the game’s mechanics instead of focusing on juggling complicated elements. It gives you a chance to get those roleplaying synapses built and firing.

Codex is really just Cyd with the confidence and magic powers.

Tip 2: Be your evil twin.

Let’s say you’re bored with being good and you know there’s a mischievous version of yourself that wants to get out. Creating an evil version of you let’s you play with something that feels different and new, but also doesn’t complicate the experience of roleplaying with juggling unfamiliar character elements since you get to listen to the devil on your left shoulder instead of the angel on your right.

Tip 3: Play a familiar fictional character.

You can also try playing a character that is familiar to you without playing yourself. It’s easy to access an interesting archetype from your favourite comic, book, TV show, or movie.  Need a powerful female wizard? Try Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow. Need a strong but silent-type forest ranger? Think about what Chewbacca would do. And let’s face it: it’s kinda fun to think about how you would play Robocop in a fantasy system (of course, as a paladin).

Tip 4: Talk to your DM/GM (and not just at character creation)

I’ve you’re lucky enough to have an experienced DM, you’ve got a an incredible support resource. The best DMs have a vested interest in providing an fun gaming experience and no matter where you are in a campaign, they can help develop your character, finding and developing compelling character hooks to make a stale character suddenly feel vibrant and interesting.

Tip 5: Grab a catchy and easy to remember archetype and hook.

While juggling stats, remembering normal social norms in a foreign universe and keeping track of what all your equipment does can be a handful. Formulate a single sentence that describes your character, where they come from and what life event has shaped them.  When you’re forced to make a decision, repeating your character’s elevator pitch will help clarify what kind of decisions they make in that moment.

A great example of this is Who the $#@! is my D&D Character? (warning: foul language). This catchy random generator creates memorable characters whose background and motivations are crystal clear.

There’s so much to making a character, but after all is said and done, roleplaying is about being able to slide into a character of your creation, seeing the world through their eyes and acting as them. Slipping in and out of this character  (in for the roleplaying moments and out for the times you need to calculate whether or not your opposed check is a pass or fail) is made far easier if you have less character baggage. And it will make first-time roleplaying experiences more fun.

What do you think? What tips would you give to first time roleplayers creating their first characters?

Interested in other tabletop games? Check out Teri’s YouTube Channel for videos about tabletop and miniature wargaming.  

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Header image credit: Flickr -Sterlic

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