There are three main things to consider in RPG character creation. These three aspects are the meat of your character, essentially — their blood and bones and muscle! Each category has specific sub-categories that are particularly important in creating a character, as well.
The exact specifics of realism and acceptable character types may vary by roleplaying game. However, most RPGs request the same basic information in their joining applications. If you think about the primary three aspects when creating your character, you’ll be fine for pretty much any RPG.
Resources such as character sheets typically help you think of many different sub-aspects and minor traits for any of the above three main categories. You needn’t code your character sheet according to the resource — but you can surely look at it to have an idea of what to write about!
The way the character interacts with others. Their thought processes, essentially, and how those thought processes affect their interaction. The personality is arguably the most important and most difficult part of a character to create. You have to create something that is not only believable, but playable (for you). It may help you to look at zodiac signs, personality types (e.g., Myers-Briggs), or stock characters to get you started. Beware of adhering too closely to any “premade” personality. These characters often turn out flimsy.
Aspects of Personality
- Self-Perception: Their self-esteem, perspective on themselves, and how much impact that has on their interactions with other characters. This is an important aspect of character development that is sometimes neglected. If a character is snarky, this section seeks to explain what (if any) internal motivations cause this trait to arise.
- Presentation and Interaction: How the character presents him or herself to others is important. Their “presentation” describes how they try to act toward others. Some characters may revel in being a jerk; others would never dream of offending a fly. Thinking about how your character presents themselves to others is a good way to get a head start on personality.
The character’s past and history, from birth to the present day. You don’t need to detail every single second, of course! It may help you to write a list format of your history. Flesh it out with further detail, if you wish, or simply leave it in a list format (they are easy to digest, after all).
Aspects of History
- Family: Think about the relationships between your character and family members. It’s super easy to write something like, “When so and so was twelve, his parents died and he was orphaned.” This character, naturally an only child, survives completely on his own and his history makes no reference to any other people or influences or friends or anything. Do you know anyone like that? Probably not, huh? Good or bad, relationships with others are an important part of writing a character history.
- Historical Shaping: Think about how the history has shaped the personality. This is to make sure your personality and history match. You don’t want a baddie with unexplained random violence (if you already took care of that in the personality, good!).
The way the character looks. This part of the character profile is generally easy and fun! If you’re having trouble, try to look up your character’s species, race, etc. if it exists in reality. You can use a photograph to get yourself started. Alternatively, you can try searching artwork of your creature. Refer closely to your roleplay’s guidelines regarding appearance realism.
Aspects of Appearance
- Verbalization and Body Language: How they speak and what kind of body language they use. Verbalization may help others imagine your character’s voice, while body language may emphasize the personality. Make sure your body language and personality match — a confident person generally wouldn’t cringe, while a timid person would not stand legs splayed, hands on hips in the face of a threat.
One beginner’s mistake I’ve seen over and over again is too much focus on history and appearance. Novice players rely on using a unique history or appearance to set their characters apart. It’s understandable — these are the easiest ways to make your character stand out, after all. Personality, however, is what really gives characters playability and longevity. The right personality, too, can make your character way more unique than history or appearance.
Remember that your game’s level of realism and what’s acceptable in-game will be different from any other RPG. Make sure you thoroughly read your game’s rules and information. Adjust your created character accordingly — and if you aren’t sure, ask before you assume.
- Don’t get caught in the details. It really doesn’t matter what color your character paints their toenails every third week in July.
- Let some aspects evolve through roleplaying — especially personality, body language, and verbal aspects. It’s easier to let these things occur and try to describe them after the fact. If you’ve written a good starter personality for your character, some of the small details should arise naturally.
- It doesn’t stop with character creation, of course. Have some ideas as to how you want your character to evolve and grow as you roleplay them. One way to ensure you’ll get bored is to write the exact same character for a very long period of time.
- Always remember to empathize with your character. Even if you’re writing the baddest baddie to ever live, you still need to make them relatable. If you don’t, others will find him difficult to read, and you will find him difficult to write.
- Read books for inspiration. Try to think about the characters rather than the story. A great way to do this is to re-read a book you’ve recently read. Take notes on the characters and try to figure out their motivations. Better yet, try to write a character sheet for the book’s characters, thinking about the three major aspects previously discussed. You might be able to find other character sheets online that other people have filled — compare yours and see how well you did!