6 Ws of Character Creation

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on April 26, 2013

a-to-z-letters-wCharacter creation is perhaps my favourite aspect of Dungeons & Dragons. However, it’s not selecting the class, feats or powers that I enjoy. Sure, looking for synergies and developing a concept around the play style I’m interested in is fun. However, I spend just as much time working on the character’s background. I’m interested in the character’s story as this assists me in role-playing the character effectively. Whenever I’m creating a character I always ask the six W’s: Who, What, When, Why, Where and Weapon. The six Ws combine to fill in and flesh out the details of a character’s history.

Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. Today we don’t just have one “W” we have six. We look at how asking the six Ws can help you develop a better character.

Although the six W’s inter-relate we will review and consider each one individually.

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Who

It seems like a simple question to ask who is your character? In many ways who your character is captures many of the other other Ws. So what are the questions you should ask when looking to define who your character is?

  • Who are your parents and siblings?
  • Who are your mentors and idols?
  • Who gave you your first weapon or taught you your first spell?
  • Who in your life would you protect from harm and give up anything to save?

What

The question of what your character is can be defined by the choices you make in character creation. Your race, class, power and feat selections. All of these elements define what you can do. When someone asks about your character, they ask “What are you playing?” The response is usually, “A Mindshard Runepriest!” Ok, maybe that isn’t the usual response, but you get the idea. So what questions do you need to ask in order to get beyond the race and class of your character?

  • What motivated you to become an adventurer?
  • What from your past do you fear?
  • What do you look forward to in the future?
  • What event in the future do you fear might become reality?
  • What is your social status?

When

Asking questions surrounding when are perhaps more difficult. What these questions tend to do is give a time reference to many of the other questions about your character’s history and ongoing saga. However, there are a few questions you can ask in order to help fill out some of your motivations. You will notice with questions that ask when, invariably one of the other Ws shows up in the question. Questions about when help you flesh out motivations and character traits. They let you ask if you are out for revenge, justice or both in dealing with past injustices.

  • When you accomplish your current mission/adventure what will you do?
  • When you retire from adventuring what will you do?
  • When you avenge a wrong from your past, what will you do? How will you feel?
  • When you meet a NPC who wronged you, how will you treat them?

Why

You can ask ‘what motivated you to become an adventurer’ or you can substitute the what with a why. Why again provides overlap into the areas that other Ws cover. Questions surrounding why, deal with character motivation. These questions help you distinguish your character from other similar characters.

  • Why did you decide to become a Fighter (defender)? Why not a Slayer (striker)?
  • Why do you travel with your current adventuring party?
  • Why do you rebel/submit to authority?
  • Why do you continue to adventure?

Where

Some of the questions in this category deal with character background. Others allow you to vision for the future, allowing you to create a career path.

  • Where are you from?
  • Where do you want to be in 5/10 years (or replace years with levels)?
  • Where does your motivation to adventure come from?

weaponsWeapon

In D&D your weapon is just how you use your power. It really isn’t the weapon that is doing anything special, it is the power you selected during character creation. Or is it? Drizzt is cool because he dual wields scimitars. Legolas is awesome because of his proficiency with the bow. Druss is Captain of the Axe, because he wields and axe. Do you attack by using power x and then roll the dice? Or do you face off against your opponent, bellowing a furious war cry as you smash your axe into their ribs?

It is all fine and well to select a weapon because of its damage dice and other property. However, after you do that own the weapon. Make every swing, thrust and parry matter.

How do you go about creating your character’s background? What questions do you ask and where do you search for inspiriation?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Svafa April 26, 2013 at 10:30 am

I typically start with a defining theme or characteristic for the character. It might be as simple as a professional enchanter or as complex as an amnesiac angel of death incarnated as a paladin of the raven queen. Once I have a theme, I look for a name. It’s rare that my characters don’t have meaningful names, whether it’s the name of a valkyrie, the title of a hero or god, an archaic form in a dead language, or simply a translated word into another language.

Once that’s done, I start looking at how to express the character in the mechanics, what sorts of flaws the character has, and how I am going to kill the character. Not necessarily in that order. From there, the rest of the details tend to fall into place: why they adventure, how they relate to others, where they come from, etc.

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