Writing a Player Character Part 1: Concepting

Posted on February 2, 2012

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For many players having to write a new character is a sentence worse than death (though it usually follows a character death! hah!).  Some players just feel they aren’t creative enough to do it, or that it takes too much time.  It’s really unfortunate that players feel this way, too.  A richly developed character not only makes you more involved in the game as a player; it makes the character more involved in the game as a participant. Good plot hooks can be used by a skilled GM to make game sessions that you’ll remember for years to come.  I can vouch for this personally – I have one of these GMs and I STILL remember the very first game I played with him over 3 years ago.  It was the best RP experience I had ever had – all because he forced me to do all of this.

Now, what I’m going to explain looks like a lot of work.  Sometimes it really is – but that will just depend on the complexity of the character.  Make an 800 year old elf who travels time?  Be prepared to write a crazy backstory.  Make a 16 year old human who joined the militia?  Much simpler – but it can still be interesting! Hopefully having a guide to follow and these tips will make it easier for you.

For most players, creating a character comes in 2 stages.

  •  Writing the character sheet
  •  Writing the back story

This is how I made my characters for many years.  Note, that this list is not ordered – many people write the backstory first and then fill in the character sheet to match it. This method has its ups and downs, but we’ll discuss that in a bit.

Now I, myself, have lately started to use a third stage and have found this immensely helpful.

  • Writing the present and the future

After you’ve finally done these 3, or at least sketched them out, you’ll then want to go back through and wrap it up with a neat little bow.

I start with the third step – what I call concepting. I may have some ideas in the back of my head about what kind of character I’m going to make (like race, class, spell focus for casters, etc), but its just a big gobbely gook of ideas at this point. So I start by writing down who I want to roleplay. Later, I’ll give an example – A character I recently created, Alesia Huntcrown, for a Forgotton Realms game set in the early years of the DR calendar.

With those basic steps in mind, lets look at what order to work with.  I prefer to work in the following order:

  1. Begin the Present and Future” by concepting character
  2. Write the Character sheet to understand abilities
  3. Write the Back Story to accommodate abilities and concepts
  4. Finish the Present and Future by reconciling back story and learning goals
I prefer this order because this way I have plenty of information to go off of when I get to the back story, and full freedom to create my stats as I need.

To start writing the present, as I mentioned, you simply write down how you want to play the character. This is basically brainstorming – it needn’t be long either. This is just to set the corner stone – it will have some crunch, and some fluff, thats OK.

  • First, I want her to be nobility by blood, but with the attitude and lifestyle of a commoner
  • As determined by my GM she needed to be a part of the purple dragons, so I decided that she would be serious about this assignment
  • This is because she’s always looking out for the weak, a feeling of noblesse oblige – having seen the wealth her family had and then not living with it makes her angry at the wealthy
  • She’s a capable fighter in dire straights, but prefers to solve problems with words when she can

This doesn’t look like much now, but it will come in handy later when we’re making our character sheet and writing our backstory. All along it will give us a sense of direction.

This step is also not done yet – we’re going to finish it later.

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Posted in: Character