Making a character that matters (and isn’t a jerk)

Perhaps the biggest issue I’ve ever encountered in any roleplay is when someone has an issue with their character. The number of times I have seen an entire campaign be derailed because “I just couldn’t get into my character”, “I feel like my character was just… there, and didn’t matter, you know?”, or “It’s what my character would do” is way too high of a number. It can make a GM feel pretty discouraged. All my hard work goes to waste because you couldn’t make a good character?

So, I’ve decided to compile a brief list of suggestions for making a character that feels important to the world and fleshed out, without turning him or her into a jerk.

  1. When creating your character, make a story.

A lot of gamers try to make the most powerful character they can, going just for stats and abilities and not a story. Typically, they don’t care about the story as much, so it works for them. But then gamers who do care about the story listen to their advice and try to do the same, then wonder why their character feels so shallow. One of the things D&D does so well is it’s background section. There are some classes that logically work better with some backgrounds, but are overlooked because they give duplicate abilities. But the story of a street orphan who becomes a thief makes sense, and works so much better than the story of a noble who became a thief. I’m not saying that second option can’t be made to work, it definitely can, but you as the player need to come up with a reason of how and why.

Then, don’t let that just be background info. Everything that has ever happened to a human affects who they are today. I played a campaign once and another player had a character who started adventuring because his wife and child were killed in front of him, and he wanted to avenge them. In not a single session, did he mention his wife and child, or vengeance, or anything. In fact, he flirted with barmaids. Create a story that you can connect to, and make it affect the character.

2.   Interact with the GM and the other players

The fact I have to give this as advice saddens me. Look, I get it. Introverts exist, I’m one of them. But you’re not just there to roll dice. Most likely, if you’re playing an rpg with people, you’re there to share in the story with them. But if the only time you do anything is when combat starts and you’re rolling dice, there’s a reason you feel like your character doesn’t matter to the story. If the overall story of the game isn’t a mystery, talk to your GM about how your character’s story can fit in a little better. And if it is a mystery, talk to your GM about why your character is along for the ride. Is it for money? Because it’s the right thing to do? Or is there a more personal reason? All these are valid reasons, you just need to choose one and make it apply to your character, and not just be back ground information.

3.   Have a reason your character is there

At the risk of being a broken record, I’m going to repeat this again, because this really is what it all boils down to. Your GM has created a world for your characters to be in, a story for them to star in, cities and dungeons for them to explore, people to meet, and evils to vanquish. It’s not his or her job to tell you why your character is there. That’s your job. It’s literally your only job. And don’t derail the campaign because it’s “what your character would do”. Part of your job is finding out a reason why your character would be there. If you want an example of this done well, check out The Order of the Stick. The Halfling ranger is a chaotic evil character stuck in a lawful good campaign – and he makes it work.

 

Rpgs are a beautiful mixture of games and stories, and they have the best of both. But they also have the worst of both. There will be bumps and issues at some point in even the best of campaigns. But you get out of it what you put into it. So if those reasons in the first paragraph sound a little familiar, try putting a bit more effort into your next character. If that was the problem, then merry Christmas. And if not, now you at least have a stronger character, and that never hurts.

Until next time, roll well.

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