Character building for Dummies

Hello everyone! After my welcome post I got a request from Elise. She asked me if I could do a post on writing  characters, and because I really liked the idea I decided to start right away! Unfortunaltely, my week was really busy, so it took me a bit longer. Nevertheless: here it is!

For most people that practice any kind of roleplay, charcter writing is the essential start of having adventures. Some prefer to write only three lines of background, choose a set of skills and start playing right away, but I prefer writing extensive backgrounds. This gives me the chance to ‘explore’ the world of my character, understand where she comes from, and determine why she does things the way she does. This all sounds like a lot of work for a fictional character maybe, but it is all part of the fun. So, here are my advices for writing a nice character background!

1. Get Inspired

The first, and maybe the most important thing, is to get inspired. And really, inspiration can originate from everything around you! Maybe you’ve read a book or seen a movie and really liked one of the characters (though I would’t recommend recreating a movie or book character exactly… give it your own twist!). Maybe someone sent you a beautiful postcard with an interesting figure on it, which starts you wondering where he/she came from. One of my favorite characters was written after a trip te Israel, where I slept in a bedouin camp. I really liked the desert, the smell of hot sand, the market in Jerusalem, the wonderful colors of everything they selled there and I just wanted to do something with that. The character ended up as a bedouin girl from a very traditional tribe with their own values (never spill water, don’t trust the people from the ‘muddy’ grounds outside the desert and so on). I keep a little book with ideas for new characters, and if I have to make a new one I just look up some of the things I wrote down. Find something you like, and start putting together your character!

2. The rule system

Next thing is the rule system. Most roleplay systems have one, which determines the races and classes you can play. Just check them and see what fits your character best. Sometimes races have extra features which fit in really nice with your character, but do’nt let that be the decisive factor. Better check the background of the different races, where they live, how they live and if that would be something your character would do. Offcourse you can be a rebel in your clan who doesn’t fit in with the standard picture of your race, but that is something you have to decide for yourself. When I read rule systems, I always have a preference for certain races, some I just like more than others for no reason, and most of the times I end up playing one of those races. Same for classes, in live roleplay I never play fighters. I don’t like fighting and my sword skills are really bad (I think), so playing a fighting character would be just a nuisance. On the other hand, playing something you do not like on the first sight can be really fun, which brings me to the next point.

3. Writing together

Writing together can be a really good exercise in doing things you wouldn’t do in the first place. Playing with a group is always fun, and this all starts with writing characters together. With a group (or just one other person), making a nice background can be a lot easier. This can already give you some idea about the relationships your character has with other persons, and together you can write your background. Ofcourse this doesn’t have to be the same for all persons in the group, maybe you met later on in life, and most probably you keep secrets from each other. Writing together can also be a nice thing when you do not plan to play together. Sometimes, you just get stuck and need a bit help and someone elses opinion can help in those situations. Just do whatever you prefer 🙂

4. Nobody is perfect

This is something very true in the real world, but I also consider it true in the fantasy/roleplay world. There is no such thing as a perfectly good or plain evil character, and if you try to play one, you most probably find it very hard, if not impossible.  When I write a character, I always build in some kind of flaw or weakness. Not only makes this your character more interesting, it also is really fun to play. Just imagine an ancient demon with a serious craving for sweets, or a hero with a big sword and a fear of teddybears. These seem weird examples, but also more subtle things can add a spark to your character. Don’t be scared to do something funny or weird, most of the times it turns out to be a golden choice for a lot of fun!

5. Skills

Once you’ve written your background, it’s time for choosing skills. I always do this as final step, because my background determines the skills I choose. This way I can see which skills are a logical choice and which ones are not. Sometimes people try to collect the strongest set of skills because they like to be powerful, but I think this is not the way to go, roleplay-wise. If my character went to school at a young age and learned to read, but turned blind later in life, I will still choose the reading skill. If a certain skill comes in very handy, but my character couldn’t have learned that from anyone, I won’t choose it and try to learn it if I meet  someone in-game, or pick it when I level up. This is just my personal choice, I like to do it this way 🙂

6. A name

With the steps described here I always write characters. One of the things left in the end is the name of my character. Making up names is quite difficult (in my opinion), but I found some ways around this problem. If I can’t really come up with a name, I sometimes pick a word which describes my character best and put in in Wikipedia, then translate it to a weird language. This sometimes yields very interesting words which can be used as a name (and also has something to do with your character). I also have this little booklet with mythological names from all over the world, which also holds thousands of suitable names. I prefer this method over aching my brains for hours, and it never really turns out bad 😛

So, these were my most important tips on writing a character. I hope they will be helpful to you. I do not say this is ‘the’ way to write characters, but this is just how it works for me. Other persons might have different ways of doing this, it’s just a personal thing. Anyways, I hope you liked reading this, please leave a comment to tell me what you think!

Categories: LARP | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Character building for Dummies

  1. Nice post ! I like the way you start with just an idea, and finish with, almost like an afterthought 😉


  2. of course i meant … finish with the skills …


  3. Thanks for writing this 🙂 I’m actually building a character right now, and for the first time ever I’m going to make a background. First I’m going to have to pick though: I have 2 different ideas. I like your idea of ‘nobody is perfect’, I’m definetely going to use that 🙂


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