The character creation process, be it for D&D or any other role-playing game, usually starts with filling in all the boxes and fields on the character sheet. In D&D the areas that usually get the most attention are the class, race, ability scores, skills and weapons. Once these are filled in you’re well on your way. For many this is where the creative process ends. They have all the hard facts they need to begin play. From a mechanics point-of-view they’re ready to explore dungeons and slay monsters.
For the number crunchers and power gamers this is all they’re interested in. They’ve filled in all the blanks on their character sheet so they must be done, right? I suppose, but what about the character’s personality? After all, this is a living being. Shouldn’t you spend at least a few minutes figuring out this character’s personality? It may not factor into their attack scores or skill checks, but it can help guide your role-playing and give you (and the rest of the players at your table) a better idea of who the character is and not just what kind of sword he wields.
Unfortunately the only area of the character sheet that even comes close to defining the character’s personality is alignment. However, in my experience alignment is one of the most overlooked or outright ignored parts of the character sheet. Even when it is completed it rarely carries any weight in how the PC is run. In previous editions of D&D there were nine alignments, in 4e we’re down to five. As new players come to D&D, alignment seems to be less important and plays a much smaller role in the character development.
So how do we encourage players to better develop their character’s personality? The answer might be as simple as adding more boxes to the character sheet; new boxes that place more emphasis into defining your characters’ initial psychological profile. Alignment is a good start, but why not delve deeper? In the old TSR spy RPG Top Secret S.I. there was an area on the character sheet (or character dossier as they’re called in that game) called psychological profile. It helped players really get inside the head of their character and breathe personality into their PC from the very first outing.
Gamers tend to be meticulous when it comes to making characters. They want to complete all the boxes and all the fields on their character sheet. If a new section was added to the D&D character sheet, a section dedicated to defining the PC’s psychological profile, I believe that a) most players would complete it, and b) it would provide the players with a better idea of who their PC is from the very beginning.
In Top Secret S.I. the psychological profile is broken into six categories, each of which represents an emotion, attribute, or personality trait.
Beside each category the player indicates the PC’s level of interest or devotion by writing one of five responses.
The idea is that your character is more than numbers on a page. The psychological profile helps you understand and define the PC’s attitudes towards other people and life in general. The psychological profile isn’t set in stone. As you play the character you may find that his views or outlook changes. When that happens, you make the necessary adjustments. The key is to try and follow the map you’ve created for reading this characters psyche.
Let’s look at the psychological profile a stereotypical Human Paladin as an example.
- Cruelty = None
- Loyalty = Total
- Passion = High
- Piety = High
- Sanity = High
- Selfishness = Some
This is what you’d expect from a holier-than-thou knight in shinning armor. Absolutely loyal, extremely high dedication to his religious beliefs, passionate in his convictions, a fairly good head on his shoulders, and not a cruel bone in his body. But as no one’s perfect this knight is sometimes selfish as long as it doesn’t conflict with his loyalty to his deity or liege.
Now what if we tweaked this profile in order to make the character more interesting? His abilities, skills, and class remain unchanged (the numbers on the page) but we tweaked his psychological profile.
- Cruelty = Some
- Loyalty = Total
- Passion = Total
- Piety = Total
- Sanity = Some
- Selfishness = None
Seeing this revised profile I’d think the Paladin is now a fanatical religious zealot. He’s motivated by the words of his church and likely believes it’s his mission to repeat the doctrine to anyone and everyone he encounters. His low sanity could represent poor judgment and his wavering cruelty could indicate that he may actually harm those who disagree with his beliefs. It’s important to note that this psychological profile doesn’t necessarily indicate that the PC has an evil alignment.
It’s up to you to decide how to play your character. You choose his alignment and his personality. But if you’ve played as many characters as I have over the years it can be difficult to make each one seem like an individual. By adding a few extra lines to the D&D character sheet we can ask players to define their PC’s psychological profile in just a few quick steps. With so many similar characters out there this is an easy and subtle way to help your character find his voice at the gaming table.
How much effort do you usually put in to defining your characters’ personality and psychological profile? Do you think that adding a few more lines to the character sheet would help? Do you think the Top Secret S.I. model is detailed enough or would you add additional categories?
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