7 Questions - Part Two
We've been working through our #7Questions series, looking at the questions you should be asking when building a character. Last time we discussed two initial questions to get a feel for the character: where are you going, and what do you want. Today we continue with the third and fourth questions as we turn to introspection and the heart of the character, helping us understand their mindset.
Question 3: What Will Your Character Not Do?
Are there things your character will just not do, regardless of how desperate the situation? Perhaps your character hates crime, or enslaving people, or helping the evil overlord because he killed your family or lover or dog or whatever. A Jedi or a Mandalorian may be tested in keeping his code, because the code mandates specific (and sometimes odd) things, and this provides us with a critical decision that makes for better drama.
Perhaps your character has nothing that they won't do: all options are on the table. You can be convinced to do anything, and that also adds to the drama. Whatever your decision for the character, the goal is not to be a road block to the party: the goal is to make things more interesting for the party, adding tension in the planning phase and spurring on creativity.
So instead of a full-stop, "Okay, I guess we can't do that job because you don't like working for Hutts," the party says, "Okay: if we want to do this job and we want her to come, then we need to think through how we can accomplish it without crossing that line." And that makes running a mission more fun by adding helpful drama.
It also means that if you're out of town for a given session, the party has a chance to run the job while you're away, so it can keep the group meeting and having fun even if life gets in the way for a player or two making it to the session.
This is also helpful when building a character because it can determine what skills, equipment, etc. you should take. If you are playing a Pathfinder or D&D-style game and you have to choose an alignment, knowing what your character will not do (or that everything is on the table) can help you select the proper alignment. In the Zurn system a person who is "Law Abiding" or "Watches Out for the Crew" gives good ideas for adjectives. If you believe that hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, then that helps you determine what Force abilities and weaponry you will take (if any at all).
So think through what your character will not do, and use it as a means of making the game more interesting. It's not a road block, it's a hurdle.
Question 4: What Can Your Character Not Do Without?
What could you not fathom living without? This could be a love interest (Padme dying because she cannot be with Anakin), family member (Lyra Erso), or friend (Baze Malbus), but it could also be a ship (before The Force Awakens I would have said Han, but apparently that's not true), a gun (Din Djarin from The Mandalorian), or a job/identity (Lando and his position as a successful cape-wearing businessman).
Maybe it's a group/affiliation that they cannot imagine losing (Cara Dune being an Alderaanian rebel fighting the evil Empire that slaughtered her people), or a trait like curiosity ("I will always pursue a good mystery") or a virtue like honor, integrity, peace, etc.
So it doesn't even need to be a physical thing - it can be anything. Take time to learn what your character cannot do without. What cannot be taken away from this person without them feeling empty and meaningless? When you hit that point, tell your game master, and very possibly tell the other players. The more people that know this, the more your game master can increase the stakes of your sessions and the more the party will stick up for whatever that thing is, giving them a chance to prove that they value your character.
And that is the beginning of a wonderful friendship that will form the bedrock of a cohesive party.
And naturally this also leads to other elements of the character's backstory that we talked about in the last post. If you grew up in poverty and the one thing you will not do without is food (because you remember what it was like to be hungry and now that you've become an adventurer you've said "no more" to that), then suddenly a small child asking you for bread has a lot more meaning. It has even more meaning if you are on your last piece of bread. And that scene is full of meaning and a critical choice, all because you asked, "What would my character never do without?"
And I'd wager you've never asked that question before when building a character. I hadn't for many characters I created, but the more I think about it the more I realize how important a question it is to making a realistic, vivid character.
The goal of asking these introspective questions is not to determine the things that we tend to think are "integral to the mindset of the character" like what they want, or what their end goal is. In reality it's the opposite: it's not what you want, it's what you like that you already have. It's not where you want to be, it's how you want to look/feel/be when you get there.
And of course all of this is applicable regardless of your race or class (if your game has those): anyone can (and should) ask these questions if they want to make their characters more interesting.
In our next post we will be discussing more nuts and bolts questions to flesh out the character, so stay tuned!
Until next time,