On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. From September 21, 2009, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: What Does Your Character Look Like?
Describe your character? It sounds like a simple question, but it’s more difficult than you think. I’m not asking you to tell me your class or level; I want to know what your character actually looks like.
Most characters are described by their race, class and equipment and that’s it. But if I tell you that my PC is a Half-elvin Paladin wearing plate armor that doesn’t really give you a good idea of what I looks like.
Imagine that our PCs have never met before but need to meet in a very public or crowded place. All you have is a vague description of me. What kind of details will make your job easier? Knowing that I wear plate armor is helpful if you’re looking for me on a battlefield, but what if you’re trying to find me at a social function? I’m not likely to be wearing armor at all. So what other details will you need?
Most character sheets have a place for race, sex, height, weight, hair colour, eye colour and skin colour. All excellent details that help define your PC. But how much thought goes into the rest of your PC’s description?
We’ve already explored the idea of unique Adventuring Company Symbols as a way to distinguish your PC as part of a select group. And in What’s a +1 Sword we looked at how your PC describes his magical items. Now let’s look at the whole picture and describe your PC.
With the practical necessity to use minis in 4e D&D, some people assume that their PC looks like the mini. They make no effort to change any of the details. Just because your mini is wearing a blue cloak doesn’t mean that your PC has to be wearing a blue cloak. In fact you don’t have to wear a cloak at all. Remember that the mini is just a marker on a battle grid. Sure it’s nice to have a mini that very closely resembles the vision you have for the character, but don’t feel that you are limited by what the mini looks like. Similarly you shouldn’t feel that you need to replace your mini if his equipment changes.
When describing your PC try to think of the little details that help make him unique. These can include physical characteristics like a scar, a limp or a tattoo, but they can also include his possessions. Beyond the PCs armor and weapons what else does he possess? One of the easiest and most common things to give your PC is jewelry or accessories. This can be something subtle like an earring (or a dozen earrings), a family ring, or a necklace with a good luck charm or religious symbol. Another good way to make your character stand out is to think about colour. Most armor is left the colour of the materials it’s made from. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Perhaps you character has added green, blue or red to his plate armor.
Most players have a mental image of what their PC looks like when he’s adventuring. This image usually includes every piece of equipment the PC possesses. And when he’s out in the wilds adventuring this is probably a very accurate picture. But what does this same PC look like when he’s not decked out in his full regalia?
Let’s say that the party has just arrived in town and plans to spend a couple of weeks here before getting back on the road. Is your PC going to wear his heavy plate armor every day or will he dress more comfortably during his down time. Walking around in plate armor doesn’t make sense and will attract a lot of attention. This is especially true if the town is a lawful community. Unless you expect a dragon to attack any minute there’s really no need to wear your armor everywhere you go. Getting out of the heavy, clunky armor is probably a welcome relief.
When PCs are in an urban setting there are even more reasons for a change of attire. A fancy dinner with an important official, a night out to enjoy a live performance, or a trip to a seedy gambling establishment all call for different kinds of dress. This is the kind of detail that is rarely given much thought.
Does your PC have a few changes of clothes that he carry’s with him to cover these kinds of situations? I think most PCs carry around at least one set of clothing among their standard travelling gear.
Clothing is not the only, non-adventuring equipment that you should keep in mind when describing what your character looks like. Does your PC have jewelry? Many cultures pierce their ears, and if your PC is from such a culture he probably wears earrings. But does his wear them all the time of just dunging special occasions? What about other jewelry? A ring, pendant, necklace, even a belt buckle are important details that help define your PC. If he possesses these things under what circumstances does he wear them? A family signet ring with a valuable gemstone denoting nobility may look exquisite, but would the PC risk loosing or damaging it during battle? More likely he keeps it tucked away. But if he needs to impress a local princess during a social function it makes sense for him to put it on.
In the end it’s up to you as the player to decide what your PC looks like. The more clearly you envisions and describe your PC the more he becomes an individual. Anything you can do to make your PC more than number on a page will increase your enjoyment of any RPG. Just don’t get carried away. Make your character unique but these little details should get in the way of the game.
How much time and effort do you put into describing your character? Have you run into situations where putting in this kind of extra effort really paid off?