A Guide for Gamers: Creating an Unforgettable Character

The game is finished. Nothing’s left but fond memories of the heroes and their adventures. Let’s see … there was the salacious paladin, chafed by his strict code of morality; the drunken cleric who dipped into the tithes for beer money; the half-orc bard who really thought she had a silken singing voice; and… and… some other guy. (I think he was a fighter.)
When your game comes to an end, how will your character be remembered? Will they be remembered? A lot of the fun of role-playing is the time spent reminiscing with your friends after the campaign winds down. When your character is colorful and interesting, they will make the game more fun for you and everyone else. Here, then, are some elements to use in making a character who will be remembered long after the gaming table is empty.

History. A fleshed-out character needs a good history. Where are they from? Why did they leave? What events happened early in life that shaped their attitudes toward the world? What makes them afraid, and why? What makes them proud, and why? Who do they want to emulate? Who do they despise? Are they of noble blood, or the child of a tradesman? What made them want to start adventuring? These are all good questions to ask yourself when thinking up a character concept. If you want to play a barbarian with a jagged scar running down his cheek, come up with the story behind that scar. If you want to play the follower of a god or goddess, come up with the story of how your PC was moved to follow that particular deity. Details such as these make for a more interesting, three-dimensional character.

Personality. You want a character who is a unique individual. Being a half-elf fighter will not make them a unique individual, no matter how crazy their mohawk looks, or how many tattoos they sport. You want a character with personality. How does your character talk? Does she have an accent? How does she treat other races and classes? Did a bard once run off with her beloved sister, leaving your character home alone with double the chores and a bitter hatred of musicians? Characters who grew up around horses might use parables that involve horses. Fishermen might compare their enemies to different kinds of sea creatures, such as, “He’s a real shark, that one,” or, “She darted away faster than a minnow.” Having a detailed character history will be very helpful for coming up with diverse personality traits.

Goals. Every memorable character has a goal, whether it be to avenge a wrong, collect as many golden idols as possible, or to make smoked jerky from all the exotic creatures of the realm. When playing your character, do something that furthers their goal at least once per gaming session. Whenever the party meets someone new, have your PC ask them for information about the goal. Gather clues that point toward the goal. Remind the party that you might be following along for now, but reaching the goal is still the most important thing. Have your PC take it a little harder than usual when something pushes them farther from their goal. Try to strike a balance; you want your PC to be skewed without being completely obsessed (unless that is your desired concept). Make sure they have other strong qualities as well, or else you might turn your character into a caricature.

Behavior and Motivations. A character who is motivated by love will behave very differently than a character who is motivated by wealth, or by revenge, or by insatiable curiosity. Ask yourself what motivates your character to get up every morning and keep adventuring. What personal reward do they get from it? Behaviorally, your character should be consistent without being static. The others in your group should have an idea of how your PC will react to a given situation (i.e., positively or negatively), without being absolutely certain about the details (i.e., smashing his fist into the wall and starting a bar fight). You want your PC’s behavior to be familiar, without being too predictable. This keeps things fresh, keeps your character interesting, and makes it all the more dramatic when your PC behaves in an uncharacteristic way.

Quirks. Small but unusual details can make a character unforgettable. Dragonlance fans might recall that Otik was the master of spiced potatoes, or that Dalamar had icky chest wounds that wouldn’t heal. What sets your character apart? Perhaps she’s secretly (or not-so-secretly!) afraid of the dark. Or maybe she’s obsessed with cleanliness and constantly picks lint from her friends’ garments. Does she say things out loud without realizing it? Does she get startled by sudden noises? If you need some help coming up with unusual character traits, look at Table 4-24 in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It lists a hundred traits for fleshing out NPCs, but works just as well for PCs. Roll randomly (if you dare), or just choose a couple that you think would be fun to role-play. Some of the most memorable characters I have ever played with were also some of the quirkiest.

It takes a bit of time and effort to create an unforgettable character. But when you’ve finished, and your character breathes life into the game, you will know that it was time well spent.

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