The Role of Character
What does it mean to have character? If you are like most players you will start defining your path by picking your race and rolling some stats. Then you pick a class and maybe an alignment, and then you gear up for adventure. For many that’s all there is to creating a character, but for what I believe to be a much more exciting experience, personality needs to be bred into the character. I don’t mean a superficial background that is created by a few random rolls; I mean one that gives a certain amount of depth to one’s personality thus influencing thought patterns. Creating a character like that is a challenge that introduces ethical challenges that go beyond an alignment or dispositions established by a particular game system.
If this is a project you wish to take on it can easily overwhelm you. There are just so many things that can come into play, e.g. core temperament, life events, physical and even racial attributes. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be covering all of those ideas and how they apply or can be applied to role playing. I will do my best to move right through all of the heavy stuff and dig into what you want to learn about, playing personality.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to build your character in a series of layers. Jeff Gerke compares this to an onion In his book Plot Versus Character. When you look at an onion you see a round bulb. What you don’t realize when you look at it is that it’s layered. If you dig a little deeper you’ll find that onions gain layers; as they mature, they add a leaf to the “fruit” of the vegetable. In character creation you are doing the same thing. You make choices to dress your character that grant you personality.
Creating a character like this also gives you a firm grasp of who they are. You’re basically building a friend. Well, I suppose you could build an enemy, but the point is when you’re done with this process you should be rather familiar with the mindset of who you have created. That knowledge can in turn create a plethora of possible influences on your character to be used by both you and your GM.
We are going to spend the rest of this article looking at role (class), race, alignment, and temperament.
Role in role-playing often refers to what a particular class can add to the party. Race is often a small piece of flavor that adds to a character. Alignment, while not used in every system, can be a very valuable tool. Temperament or personality is the the heart and soul of your character. It is what defines you with in your place in the party. It is my goal to teach you how to use all of the mentioned devices to enrich your game experience.
I’ll use the D20 system for our model. I rolled the following stats: 18, 11, 13, 13, 16, and 9. With these rolls we have a lot of choices we can make. This character can be nearly anything in D&D or Pathfinder if you make the right choices to optimize the ability scores, more on that in a little bit.
I generally pick my class before picking a race, but since these stats are so average, I can just as easily pick pick my race first. Is there a reason why I would normally pick my class first? Yes, kind of, picking your class represents a whole myriad of personality that I get my impression of from my stats. This choice is very basic but it does start to piece together the image of my character. If I choose a fighter I have a better idea of where the stats will need to go. Then I can pick my ace to optimize my scores for that class or to to better balance that character with the party around me. In other words selecting class helps me better understand my characters role and race helps me define that role. I like to think of it like spaghetti. The noodle is the central focus of the dish. The pasta doesn’t change from dish to dish. What changes is the pasta is dressed; marinara sauce, Alfredo, naked, or some butter sauce. Likewise a class doesn’t change from character to character. A fifth level wizard has a set of standards that are set in stone. The sauces would be the choices you make to dress the character like scores, race, skills and things like feats.
This character however a lot of class options. He won’t be superman with his stats but he will certainly be above average. If we pick a half orc we will get at least one plus two bonus to a stat. In 5th ed it’s a plus two to strength and plus one to constitution. If we are playing 5th ed he can be a pretty good first level fighter. By using the 16 for strength he’ll end up with two 18’s, well one might be a 19 if I put the eighteen into the constitution slot.
Which brings us to a new discussion. While developing your character thee are several decisions you will have to make, but the basics are role, physical description, personality. Both stats and race play a big part of your physical description. While race has a very clear definition that reflects your appearance; where you plug in your scores into stats can also effect how you see your character. Does a wise character look any different than a strong one? What would it be like to play a half orc with an 18 charisma? What about a vertically challenged orc? All of those questions, and more, will help you create a truly unique individual. You don’t have to optimize your character. In fact I believe that you’re better off if you don’t. By not optimizing your character you will make certain challenges more interesting.
To be be blunt it’s a good thing to fail. Great characters of literature have to face these problems. I mean look at some of them, James Bond, Bilbo, Sturm, and even Superman. Each of those character had physical, spiritual, emotional, and moral battles to fight. They are not the greatest characters because they are the strongest or smartest person in the story. They are great because of how they fight and overcome their wars is what makes them great characters. The depth created in their conflict lets us relate to them.
With that in mind we should return to our fighter. If we make him weak what kind of challenges will he face? Will he be a laughing stack? Is he a runt? Is he a woman in disguise? I like all of them. So in this example we have a fighter who is weaker than some because he is really a she, in disguise, and as a result she relies on a higher dexterity and her wisdom to get by. As a half orc many of her comrades are stereo typically dumb; so we can say she has managed to keep her secret from leaking out.
I think to make her I’d assign the stats like this in 5th ed
13 str +2 for racial modifier (15)
16 con +1 for racial modifier (17)
I really want to swap her intelligence with her constitution, but I think the saving throw bonus will be too important in the long run.
Well, I’ve had fun and we’ve barley begun. I know we talked a lot about stats and a little bit about class and race. Next week I want spend more time on roles. We’ll spend time looking at the differences between some of the classes and why multiclassing can be a good or a bad thing. If I can manage to cover that in a reasonable amount of time I start to delve into the races.