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Characters with Character

February 24, 2012

There are several different schools of thought when it comes to making a character for an RPG. Two of the bigger schools are the min/maxers and the character actors. A lot of people fall somewhere in between, but first let’s look at the two extremes. I’m about to make some really broad generalizations.

Min/Maxing a character generally refers to people who put their highest numbers in their key abilities, and use a “dump stat” or take penalties to abilities they don’t feel are important for their character. The classic example of this is the dwarven fighter with high strength and constitution and low charisma and/or intelligence. It can also refer to players who scour the rulebooks for the most powerful combination of race, class, feats, equipment, and other bonuses to make the most effective abilities without regard to a character’s personality or backstory.

Character actors generally feel like they should play a fairly average joe with no dump stats as this may reflect a more balanced “real” person. They may have pretty good numbers in their key abilities, but won’t take a penalty in another stat to boost their key scores higher. They also usually have an extensive backstory and have a reason for just about everything on their character sheet, as it relates to their personal narrative.

I personally feel that either approach is fine, as long as you are happy with the character that comes from it. I try and take a hybrid approach, in that I feel any hero should have a weakness, and a reason for that weakness. I’m not one to create a huge backstory for my characters, but I like to have a few key events (dead parents? cliché, yet classic), maybe some distinguishing features and mannerisms, and a short synopsis of how they got into the adventuring game. I feel like if you go over two paragraphs you’ve done too much. Here are some examples:

One of my current characters is a charismatic bard who’s big mouth occasionally gets him in trouble. He was once enslaved, and has vowed to do all he can to eliminate slavery after being liberated by the Eagle Knights of Andoran. He has dark hair, a crooked smile and piercing green eyes. He also has scars around his wrists from being manacled for years. Stats:

Bard 3
STR: 12
CON: 10
DEX: 14
INT: 12
WIS: 8
CHA: 18
Faction: Andoran

Another character of mine is a troubled half-elf who just barely escaped when the orphanage where he was staying burned down. Horribly scarred, he had a troubled childhood, until he was taken in by monks, and taught how to channel his anger. He has a natural affinity with magic, and was drawn to the holy symbol of Nethys, a mask that balances darkness with light. Generally reserved and shy, he joined the Pathfinders to discover forgotten magical lore, and provide his eastern wisdom and burning rage to gain further prestige for his monastery.

Monk 1/Cleric 1
STR: 12
CON: 10
DEX: 18
INT: 12
WIS: 16
CHA: 7
Faction: Lantern Lodge

If you’re going to have a dump stat, not only justify it in your background, but make it part of your roleplaying experience. When I’m playing my bard, I’m the first to try and negotiate or bluff our way out of any social encounter. When playing my monk/cleric, rather than try to be the “face” of the party in social encounters, I’ll try and observe NPCs with perception or sense motive while someone else does the talking.

Whatever type of character you end up creating, make them memorable, and enjoy the game!

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Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, Pathfinder, RPGs, Tips
  1. February 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Taking the time to do even a little bit of background makes for a much richer game experience. I too try to follow the middle road

    • February 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      I figure most people probably do, but it’s good to get an idea of the spectrum of players out there. Thanks for the RT!

  2. February 25, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    My favorite way to give the whole party some “character” is to have the players come up with how they met and how they’re connected – and do it live, right at the start of session 1. That way you can help out a bit with ideas too. It’s fun, memorable, and cooperative.

    • February 26, 2012 at 6:41 am

      Excellent suggestion! That’s something I really like about the Traveller system. PCs have to have a connection to at least two other party members, which you use to gain bonuses to skills. You end up with a rich background for the whole party, and a couple mechanical benefits too!

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