How to Make a Character

Missing-Piece

I’ve been focusing on GMing a lot here, and now it’s time for something different. Starting a new D&D game with brand new players has got me thinking about how we make characters, and some of the important considerations which can sometimes go overlooked. It’s not enough that we make characters, after all. They ought to be good characters. Today I’ll figure out what makes a good character, and next week I’ll talk about some of the system independent principles players can use to make one. 

There could be a lot of definitions of a what constitutes a good character, but I’m going to lay out mine, and then justify why I think it’s the best definition. If you go back to the first post, you’ll see that I defined “Good” as “That which meets reasonable expectations”. In this context, it seems reasonable to want a character that helps make the game fun to play. A character does that chiefly in three ways: by being integrated into the setting, by being integrated into the party, and by being able to contribute meaningfully.

Integrated into the Setting

A character who is integrated into the setting is more fun to play. We are defined by our relationships with people, places, and events, and a good character is no different. The character who knows the area, has a few old stomping grounds, or even just a few friends in the setting they can rely on outside the party is going to be more fun to play than the one who doesn’t, because they will be able to make more meaningful choices about their direction. This means that when making that character, players should do so with a mind to how that character is going to fit into the setting, whether that’s space opera or renaissance intrigue. A character with few connections, like one would find in a fish out of water or east meets west scenario, like a samurai in a pirate game can also be fun, but you’ll notice in both of those cases the character makes connections as fast as they can, creating their own familiarity.

Integrated into the Party

A good character is integrated into the party in the sense that they can always answer the question “Why am I travelling and risking my life with this bunch of jokers?” and their party members have no trouble answering the same. This can be resolved at the character level by giving other characters reasons to be a part of the character’s life, but it can also be done at the player level, creating arcs with players that filter down to the interactions of multiple characters. This practice works best with characters who are scoundrels with a heart of gold or of other antihero molds, because it allows for them to create a sense of initial loneliness without alienating the players or other PCs.

Contribute Meaningfully

A good character is going to be good at what they do, and that means having the mechanics to back up their claims. Playing a swordsman of unequaled ferocity doesn’t work when they turn out to be weak as a kitten. In any situation where they specialize, a character is expected to be able to contribute, whether that’s in combat, in intrigue, or in dungeoneering. A good character meets those expectations, and a character who can do that will also be easier to integrate into the party, because they can be relied upon to perform in certain situations. However, the character who can contribute meaningfully in every situation may be harder to integrate, because it’s hard to see why they would need the party, and can turn their partners into an entourage. Try to strike a balance by thinking about roles.

These make up the most important parts of a good character. Having one is preferable to none, but having all three is always preferable to just a couple. Over the next few weeks I’m going to look at some system-independent ways you can develop a character toward these, and I’d love to hear your suggestions. Have I missed something? What do you think makes a good character?

 

5 comments

  • Great points. I would also add one more. The player needs to be comfortable with his character and knowledgable about race, profession, etc. and how he fits into the group or the character’s success with suffer.

    I’m struggling with this right now with my wizard in D&D 3.5E. I’m new to this edition (and playing a wizard) and am having some growing pains becoming comfortable with the complexity of the wizard class on top of learning 3.5E. I know I’m not playing my character as well as I should. This makes my fun meter drop a few notches and negatively affects how I feel about the character in general.

    I know I’ll eventually “get it” and be a better player because of the experience. However, if I had the chance to start over I would have chosen a class I’m more familiar with like fighter or ranger. Thank goodness this is a play-by-post game so I don’t have to make quick decisions. :-)

  • Hi Craig,
    You’re absolutely right about the character being a fit for the player, and I think your 3.5e wizard example hits the nail on the head. I’m inclined to include that in Contributing Meaningfully, because it seems like a character whose mechanical complexity is greater than the player is used to is going to have a harder time with that, either from paralysis of choice or just plain getting caught with their pants down. Wizards are notorious for both of these.

    Also, if you’re looking to get the hang of a 3.5 wizard, I recommend Treantmonk’s Guide to Wizards and Being Batman: Logicninja’s Guide to Wizards. They’ve really helped me out in the past, and I still consult them whenever I roll up a wizard.

  • Thanks for the links. I will take a look at both.

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