No matter what tabletop RPG you decide to play, they will all share one thing in common. Character creation is a fundamental part of any campaign, whether that is a one-shot or a multi-day adventure. If you are new to a game, we’ll use DnD (Dungeons and Dragons) for example, it can sometimes be very overwhelming to look at all of your options and actually pick something definitively. Should you be a fighter or a magic-user? Maybe a combination of both? What spells/weapons should you pick? What race best suits the class you have chosen? What is your character’s background? Does that affect the way they act around other people? What about the rest of the party? Should you really be a fighter when you already have two melee PCs (Player Characters)?
There are so many more questions to ask when creating a character, and I know how incredibly overwhelming it can be to look at a players handbook/rulebook and realize there are 30+ pages of content to read over just to pick a race! That’s not even taking into account the numerous pages devoted to spells, weapons, items, armor, classes, etc. In all of this insanity it is very easy to get mixed up and make some major mistakes that will take away from your ability to enjoy all of the beauty and magic that a tabletop RPG can offer.
Fear not adventurer! I am here to warn you of the dangers you may encounter whilst building your very first character, and to provide some helpful tips that may assist you in navigating the maze of information that may assault and confuse you. Without any further ado, let us get started.
- Don’t be a rip off
Now, I want to preface this entry with some very key information. Don’t be afraid to find inspiration! It is perfectly okay to draw inspiration from your favorite books, TV shows, films, comics, or video game characters in order to create your own. I have even created an entire character based on one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and it was one of the most entertaining experiences I have ever had!
That being said, being inspired does not warrant or allow you to copy and paste a character word for word onto your character sheet. I know that Legolas is a badass, but believe me when I say that trying to play that character will not fit naturally into the world that your party inhabits (unless it is specifically created for you to play through the adventures of the Fellowship.) Whenever you make a decision in your game, you will feel obligated to only make a decision that Legolas would make, and if your decision doesn’t end well, or simply doesn’t have a solution that you know Legolas would find, it can make for a frustrating and overall unpleasant experience. However, feel free to make an elven fighter that prefers to use a bow and comes from a noble background, but put your own spin on it! Add your own flavor! Maybe instead of being from a noble clan of elves, your character is from the slums of a human city that rejects his kind. Alternatively, your character may be a little bit too fond of alcohol or mistresses of the night. Maybe he’s just a little bit of an airhead and doesn’t give much thought to what he says and often offends people. With small changes like these, your character suddenly has his/her own identity that is separate, but still similar to the character that inspired them.
The best advice I can give you when finding inspiration for your character is to envision a person or character that you have always wanted to be like. Now take that person/character, and find what they would be in DnD (or any RPG. Again we are just using DnD as an example). Create your PC’s stats and abilities based wholly upon the person/character you have chosen. Now is the part where you put your own spin on things. When you decide on what background you want to apply to your character, choose something completely different from which that character would be.
Let’s go back to Legolas based character as an example. So far you have an Elven Fighter that specializes in archery. He is very much an individual fighter rather than a general, so you take the Champion specialty (which is a very strong fighter. It gets some special abilities that make your character even stronger individually). And get yourself some light armor and a high archery ability (with DnD it is Dexterity). Instead of choosing the Noble background though, pick the Folk Hero background. Within DnD there are some extra features that help you to flesh out your character. Pick some of these features and let your character grow from there. If you feel confident in your own creativity, just create your own quirks and vices that your character will follow. No matter which path you decide to take, just remember that it is your character.
2) Don’t let someone else tell you what to do
One of the fundamental truths of any RPG is that the world can be whatever you want it to be. By that same token, your character can be whoever you want them to be. There is nothing wrong with doing something completely off the wall, or being something that’s been seen a hundred times. No matter whom you decide to become at the table, nobody will be exactly the same as your character. The greatest thing about any RPG is your ability to express your individuality.
As a new player, an easy trap to fall into is letting other players tell you how you should build or play your own character. Generally, these things are good-natured and not intended to repress your creativity, but that is the end result in most cases. A lot of players will want you to have fun, and thus they will suggest what is fun to them. This can sometimes work out in a positive way, but generally your fun is very different from theirs. Having a character that is essentially a carbon copy of someone else’s favorite style can make you feel trapped into a certain style of play and generally take away from that one fundamental truth we mentioned earlier. The world and characters you play are whatever you want them to be. Anything that works counter to that rule is like putting a square peg into a round hole, and we all know how frustrating that can be.
Now, this next point may sound a little backward, but I want you to bear with me. The best way to avoid this trap is to ask for advice! I know a lot of what I’ve said thus far may sound counter to this statement, but there is a difference between taking advice and being told what to do. To further assist you, and avoid any blurred lines, allow me to suggest a few questions that may help to get the advice you seek without inviting control.
Instead of asking “What should I play?” ask “Should I be [blank 1] or [blank 2]?”
Giving someone options when asking for advice not only streamlines the process, but also lets them know that you already have your mind set on a few options rather than giving them free reign to suggest whatever they like.
Instead of asking, “What’s better…?” ask, “What does [blank 1] offer that [blank 2] doesn’t?”
This line of questioning is a good way to get a more in depth look at a race, spell, class, or weapon that you are interested in. Asking what’s better will normally end in a one-word answer regarding what that person likes more. Asking for the pros and cons will empower you to choose your own path a little more definitively.
Instead of asking “which race is best for [class]” ask “what races can play [class]”
This one may seem like a lot of the same, but allow me to explain. Asking what is best will again empower the person you’re asking to take over your character creation. Asking which race can play a class is a good way to get a list of suggestions, and then from there you can either ask for deeper information about any races that may help your class.
3) Don’t overthink it
Finally we come to the most important piece of advice I could ever give you about RPGs, and that is to have fun! Don’t feel like you’re obligated to build a perfect character or completely flesh out a character’s backstory during creation. Trust me when I say that a lot of the bumps will be smoothed out as you play and become comfortable with your character. It may sound odd, but a lot of the story will write itself! For example, you can learn a lot about your character based on some of your first in-game interactions. Do you find yourself being very skeptical about the people you meet in the town? Boom, your character has been betrayed or slighted before, and that is prevalent in the way that they react to others. Do you think it’s wrong that you’re mindlessly killing wolves that they stumble across? Maybe your character had a pet at one point in their life, and losing that pet impacted them significantly. These are very loose examples, but the basic idea is that your characters have the capacity to build themselves. That is the ultimate beauty of tabletop RPGs.