Character Creation, Part I: The Character High Concept
February 24, 2016
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! As we look forward to March Madness next week we thought we'd bring you all a series of posts each Wednesday regarding character creation - the part of roleplay gaming that is usually the most time-consuming (we would say stressful, but that depends on your game master, ;) ). In today's post, we want to discuss what should go into the formative thoughts behind who the character is, where they come frome, and what they do for a living. We commonly refer to this in roleplay gaming as the "high concept" of the character.
We've discovered over time that there are five questions that are helpful to ask as you start character creation. Each of these will be taken in turn, and can be found in The Warriors of Zurn Chapter VI, which is dedicated to the process of character creation.
1) How did your character meet the other members of the party?
While "five adventurers meeting in a mead hall" is fun as a background for the party members, it causes problems with cohesion within the group. If five strangers meet up and decide to go on a long quest, what holds them together? What causes them not to steal from each other, kill each other, and/or double-cross each other?
When building your character, think through how they know other members of the party. The game master should help to facilitate this, but there's nothing stopping you as the player from chatting with your fellow players to build a backstory. Have some of you worked together before? Are you a veteran crew of adventurers who have worked small jobs in the past? Are you all loyal servants of the same local lord/lady, and are being sent on a quest together for a common goal? Find what connects your character to the others: it helps down the road in times of crisis.
2) Where does your character hail from?
Is your character from a background of wealth and power? Is your character from a no-name family from a small clan? Is your character from an urban background or a more rustic, country life? All of these will shape the way they view the world, what fascinates them, the people and places they feel "at home" in and comfortable in, and gives the game master room to apply bonuses for talking with a certain group of people in a certain setting because of that background.
It will also help to give a sense of focus to the development of the character as you are seeking to purchase adjectives, equipment, etc., as some of the past traits and qualities of the character can be weaved in as the story progresses.
3) What motivates your character?
Knowing what drives your character to succeed when the going gets tough, survive when the going gets tougher, and stand tall when everything is behind them is key to truly understanding the character.
Is the character motivated by money? Power? A search for love and romance? A sense of belonging and a feeling of "home"? A need to get right with the law (or to avoid the law at all costs)? All of these will help to shape how characters will act in-game, so it is wise to think about what drives them.
4) What has your character done for a living?
As fun as adventuring is, it's not a consistent job. And in a feudal society where taxes are a thing and idle time is usually frowned upon, this means most people have an occupation that helps to pay the bills, and then adventurers strike out on the road to seek fame and fortune after having plied a trade.
If your campaign also uses Build Phases (a system for crafting that is standardized for the game), this will also be a handy thing to think about before spending your points on your character. If you are building a character and want to have an occupation or profession to make some money on the side, think in advance about what your character does on the side for a living.
5) What was the most traumatic experience in your character's past?
This is not a question commonly asked in RPGs, but taking a note from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn RPG, this is actually an excellent question to ask as you build your character. In our moments of terror we see ourselves without our defenses and masks, and in some ways you'll never truly understand your character until you have seen them at their lowest point.
This is also an exciting opportunity for the character, as it tells us where they have suffered most in the past, and gives us a chance to conquer that in the campaign. So spend time thinking about this point (and why we put it last): it's more important than you may think if you want to tell a good story through your campaign.
In our next post we'll be talking about the basics of character creation in regards to selecting a race for your character. Until then, may the Light shine around every corner and your cup always overflow,