Make Your Character More Than Just Numbers

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 23, 2010

Some players are happy to play characters who are just numbers. Characters defined by their exceptional ability scores, high defenses, big weapons and awesome damage potential. I’ll admit I’ve played a few of these characters myself. This type of PC is alright in the short-term, but for long-term campaigns you’re likely to want more. Put some thought into who your character is, beyond just the numbers.

This extra level of detail is certainly not mandatory, but does pay dividends over time. The enjoyment you get out of playing any character is directly related to the amount of work you put into creating and defining him. If you’re not interested in doing any more than the minimum requirements necessary to get your PC created and into the game, then that’s your call. But if you are interested in really trying to make your PC a unique individual, then we’ve got some resources to help you flesh out your PC.

We’ve explored the Dungeon’s Master archive for articles that will help you add depth to your PC and grouped them into five distinct categories. The more of these aspects you explore in your PC, the more real he’ll seem. And the better you know your PC the more fun you’ll have playing him.

Appearance

Whether we’re talking about your physical appearance, the equipment you carry or the colours of your garments, a good description is the easiest way to bring your character to life. It’s important that you know what your PC looks like. Little details like a tattoo, an earring or a limp help you and the people at your gaming table better visualize your character. And don’t forget to describe your gear. Every long sword is unique, whether it’s magical or not.

Motivation

Sure there are PCs who join adventuring companies because they like to fight monsters, but most PCs probably have a deeper and more personal motivation. The longer you keep adventuring, the more likely that those motivations will change over time. There are the things that motivate you year after year and then there are the things that motivate you from adventure to adventure.

Occupation

Your class is not the same as your occupation. Most adventurers are freelancers or at best independent contractors, but in almost every case, your PC held many jobs before he became a hero. How has your previous work experience impacted your development?

Reputation

When you’re just starting out all you want to do is get your name out there. After you’ve established yourself all you want to do is enjoy some anonymity. Reputation is a powerful force in the lives of all PCs. You have a lot of control over your own reputation. How much you let reputation impact your PC is very much in your own hands.

Cultural Traits

In a world of Humans all other fantasy races are foreign. How much you choose to play up cultural differences is up to you. You may be the stereotypical representative of your people or you may be an oddity that no one expects. Your perspective on life may be very different from that of your companions simply because you grew up in a distant land.

We don’t expect everyone to use all of these resources with every character they ever create (but there are probably some hard core gamers out there who will). Even if you only explore one or two of these areas during or after character creation you’ll be taking a big step towards making him your own and not just a series of numbers on a character sheet.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 deadorcs March 23, 2010 at 9:28 am

Excellent post! Good general advice for making your character more than just a bunch of abstract numbers. Liked it enough to share it with my game group.
.-= deadorcs´s last blog ..Everything Must Go!! (Now Accepting Your Orders) =-.

2 Kensan_Oni March 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm

An example, I suppose… from my most recent RPGA Character, the thirty second intro…

Boony the Second is a Short minotaur that towers above you. Her Chain is hidden by a talbard that holds her family crest of a Yellow tower in a field of blue. She carries a greatstaff (A reflavored maul) with all these dials, runes, and nobs, which occasionally pulses with purple energies. She’s mentioned that she is out to prove that her grandmother’s great trapmaking skills are not the only thing that the family can engineer.

3 Vinciente March 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Great read, wish more D&D players would put these tips to use.

4 Rook March 23, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I concur. Thanks for the post guys.

I love it when a player really gets into their character by creating a distinct look, history/background and individual behaviors, complete with quirks.

I hate it when a player treats their character as if were a 2 dimensional video game avatar with no soul or personality.

But that’s just me. To each his own.
.-= Rook´s last blog ..To Fudge or not to Fudge? =-.

5 Ameron March 24, 2010 at 8:57 am

@deadorcs
Let’s hope you’re not the only DM to share this article. Nothing bothers me more than a lack of character development. I see this all too often when I play LFR games.

@Kensan_Oni
This is what I’m talking about. A few short sentences have added so much depth to this character. Great job.

@Vinciente
Amen to that.

@Rook
I’ve played in games where the DM offers in-game benefits (+1 or +2 to a skill, or even a small magical item) if the players come to the table with a decent history for their character. And even then some players don’t make any effort to flesh out their PC. I feel sorry for them because I know that they’re really missing some of the best aspects of role-playing.

6 Greipr May 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I have this post starred in my Google Reader and just came back to look at it. I think its an awesome job of helping the players to invest in the story. I sure wish it was more easily accessible, have you thought of putting the articles together in a pdf as a reference or handout?

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