Making a character is one of the most gratifying and entertaining experiences that you will find in any paper RPG. It certainly helps that you have to make a character in almost EVERY SINGLE RPG that you play. It goes without saying that creating a character is the first step to experiencing a truly amazing experience on the tabletop. Sometimes it can be rather difficult to actually get into making a character because we get caught up in making that character “realistic” rather than making that character alive. But we’ll expand on that a bit later. For now, I’d like to share with you how I find inspiration and use that to create a character. On that note, if you have read some of my other articles, you may know that I like to use Dungeons and Dragons as an example, but these steps will fit almost any RPG you play.
Step 1: Get an idea
Okay, okay, okay…I know that’s not too specific, so let me narrow it down for you. What I mean by ‘get an idea’ is that you should use the things around you, or in your head and pick a concept.
This concept can be based on a character that you read in a book, a celebrity, yourself, or even something as simple as a flower. Anything can be inspiration, so don’t be afraid to be inspired. I love to look around and just think, “what kind of character can I make based on _______?”
Step 2: Choose a Race/Class based on your idea
So let’s roll with this flower idea. We’ll ask ourselves the question, “what kind of character can I make based on a flower?” Now, I’m from Texas, so we’re going to say this flower is a bluebonnet. Bluebonnets are tall, slim, and blue with white petals at the top.
So what’s a tall and slim race? Well, I think of elves. They’re slender, generally perceived as beautiful by many, and they can have naturally white hair. On the other hand, instead of the tall and slim concept, we could go with the theme of blue. Dragonborn can have colored scales. So maybe a blue dragonborn with white spines? Now we have reached an interesting choice. Which do we choose? I’m personally partial to dragonborn, but if you don’t have a preference I would suggest you roll a d20. Evens are elves, and odds are dragonborn (I rolled a 12). Now we need to think about classes. We have an elf (I chose the high elf subrace) with white hair and is probably dressed in blue. This is where I would offer caution. Don’t get so caught up with the technical aspects of the game like “well elves make better wizards” or “I can’t play a Barbarian because elves don’t get strength buffs.” Throw away that line of thinking right now! This is YOUR character, so don’t let anyone tell you how to build them. Not even Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight Games, or Jared at the end of the table who has been playing the game longer than he’s been alive (we all know that guy) can tell you how to build your character. Our theme though is a bluebonnet, which brings up thoughts of nature and beauty. Most people would immediately think if a Druid or a ranger because they are the most based on nature magic. That’s fine!! Those are great choices. But we’re going to try to break the mold a little bit. I’m going to say that our elf is of a dexterity based class and prefers to fight with his hands. We’ll make him a monk, and his style of combat is going to flow like leaves on the wind. While this isn’t something directly related to a flower’s physical attributes, it still draws inspiration from the idea of flowing as the wind takes you. Now we have a high elf monk ready to be rounded out.
Step 3: Fighting Style or Sub-Class
With some classes you’ll have to choose both of these things, but in our monk’s case we only have to go with the subclass. In D&D, monks don’t select a fighting style because they are immediately leaned towards open handed combat. There is another trap here- A lot of players get caught up on how “cool” the abilities are which becomes the basis for choosing their class. In doing so, they negate some of the more stylistic choices that could better fit their character. In the monk’s case (as far as 5th edition is concerned, and to keep things simple) you could either be a frontline, a stealth, or a magic based character. I would encourage you to stick to your guns and look at the style of play that comes from each subclass. Stealth doesn’t really fit our character because a flower is meant to bloom, not hide away. Magic also doesn’t fit because it pulls against the natural forces around it to create something that is usually devastating. So our monk will select the fighter-type subclass (called way of the open hand) where his hands will be innumerable like the petals of the flowers.
Step 4: Bring them to Life
This is probably the hardest step for me. Assigning a name and a background to your character can be a pretty tall task, but it’s important to remember a few things. First, your name doesn’t have to be normal. Second, your name doesn’t have to be crazy. And last, but not least, remember that you have to be able to pronounce it!! Names like Aligor and Nuriam are easy to say, and pretty off the wall. Names like John and Cassie are perfectly acceptable as well. Don’t get caught up in the idea that everything has to be “fantasy” style to be accepted.
Then comes the final way in which you round out your character: choosing a background. Usually the core rule book for whatever game you play will have suggested backgrounds for you to choose from, and usually they are very good suggestions! But I will say again, don’t feel confined by them. Feel free to create your own backstory from scratch and see what your GM suggests you to choose to better suit the mechanical aspects of the game. If your GM allows, you may even be able to create your own background with its own unique proficiencies and bonuses. Anything is possible. For our monk, we’re going to call him an outlander named Buul (B-Yule). Outlander because the flowers spread and can grow virtually anywhere, and Buul because it looks similar to blue and sounds good as well.
At the end of the day the best and only true advice I can give you is that the world is YOURS to make. Don’t be confined by “rules” that don’t really exist.
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