Want to take your role-play to the next level? These exercises walk you through adding additional layers of depth and characterizing them in game–be it at the table, on a forum, or in an MMORPG.
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Developing Multi-dimensional Characters
Make your characters stand out from the Sheet.
- Identify three to four primary traits that you would qualify as your character’s cookies–those signature traits that set him or her above the rest, that really define the character. In Dungeons & Dragons you’d look to your Background, your Feats, your Class and Race features. In Savage World they’re your edges. Don’t forget the setting as well, the time, place, and flavor, which will give you a whole slew of considerations. Write them down if they’re a little more abstract and independent of the game mechanics, like, “pure-hearted,” or “long-lost prince.” Consider both internal and external conflicts, since all one without the other make for either pure pulp or too “literary” feeling characters. It may help to denote some as major and other minor. Finally, the traits needn’t be as fine-tuned as, say, Aspects are in Houses of the Blooded, because they confer no in-game benefit. This is pure role-play and story fodder, here, so don’t torment yourself.
- List the benefits of each trait. Sure, you already know this, but it doesn’t hurt to write it down to really see it, make sure it crystallizes into thought properly. Too many things we just take for granted as knowledge because it’s swimming up in our minds, but won’t come out straightforwardly on paper. This is the time to really define what it means to be a woman warrior, or half-breed bastard.
- Now comes the tricky part. You have to figure out how those very traits can also be a Very Bad Thing. Our pure-hearted one, for instance, becomes too trusting, easily taken advantage of. She can’t even conceive of stealing, or lying, or using others for her own gain. So it’s bound to happen to her. Or another character might have claimed to have divine bloodlines. Depending on the nature of the cult (I use the term in its theological, not pop-culture context), he could be named a heretic and even hunted down. Sure wish he didn’t have those extra powers now, huh?
- Consider developing these as story arcs to address over the course of the campaign, each with a beginning, middle, and end.
- Start with the spark, the instigating act that serves as a departure point from the status quo. What could happen to bring the strength and weakness into relief? Is it an NPC from the character’s past? A quest set before the adventurers? One of the player characters themselves (bonus points)? You should work with your GM to find a launch pad you can both agree on.
- Try not to plan the middle, instead, letting it develop organically over the course of the campaign. You want to leave room to be flexible, to adapt to the moment, and perhaps allow the campaign the guide the progression of the issues. Just think of the ups and downs of narrative structure. Build the tension, throw in more obstacles, and build us back up again until we hit the climax, which may or may not be the same as the ending.
- Finally, however, you can think about the ending. What do you want to see happen to your character? Would you rather use the weakness and conflict as a hurdle that makes victory all the sweeter? Or would you rather play your character’s downfall, falling further and further from grace into their own self-made hell? There’s also the possibility of a mix of success and failure, including self-sacrifice to achieve their ultimate goal, or giving in to their desires and winning true love over their allegiances or ideals. Just don’t feel like the climax has to be set in stone. You may find as you go that you want to change things up, that the other option makes more sense now. Just be sure to communicate these to your GM, who is there to help you realize your characters, whether it’s for good or ill.
Interacting with others is the definitive factor that separates role-play from mere writing. Below are ways to enrich your relationships with your fellow characters.
- If you’re in a tabletop group, work with another player who you haven’t partnered up with before. Find a common thread between your characters, and agree on the relationship. If you’re already in a long-established campaign, consider the possibility that the connection was previously unknown. Talk to your GM about your ideas, and see if you can work something into the adventure to bring the relationship to life. Bonus points if you’re forcing antagonistic characters to have to play nice with each other, or causing a rift between friends.
- If you role-play in an online game or forum post a wanted or classified ad looking for connections. There should already be a location for this kind of thing–if not, contact an officer or admin to suggest one. Give a basic outline of your character’s concept and ask if anyone has characters who might have associations with him. “I have a rugged, retired pirate who is looking for family, friends, or enemies.” Or, if your plot calls for it, fish for participants to join in. “My characters has three older brothers, and I’d like players to save them from NPC in for me. In the near future, we’ll be doing…”
Make sure that you don’t get over-specific in your requests/parameters. This turns others off and stifles creativity. Sure you might have thought that having a bastard brother would be fun, but don’t discount the other player’s suggestion for an undead one! Try to get three relationships from the above list to start. I guarantee your role-playing will be the richer for it.
At the Table