RPG Fridays: Do You Want to Build a Hero?
(Yes, I've made a Frozen/Big Hero 6 reference. Aiming for that parents-with-kids audience, I suppose.)
I recently made my Shadowrun character for a group that I have yet to play with, and it was a blast. (Herolab, I love you!) OK. Geek moment... I made an elven gunslinger-adept in honor of my love of 80s - 90s John Woo films (A Better Tomorrow, Just Heroes, The Killer and Hard Boiled), and his runner name is from my favorite superhero character, Shadowstorm. Maybe I will post his bio next week? If you're lucky.
Here are my ideas for creating a truly awesome character:
The basic element of creating a great character for any setting is to have a great idea (commence eye-rolling here). The idea does not need to be complete or complex; it can even be just a line of dialogue or a picture of what the character should look like..
For Shadowstorm, once I heard the game was based in Boston, I imagined an image of a black elf with mirrored shades leaping through the air, pulling off a Chow Yun Fat move against a room full of mobsters, Everything spiraled from there, and soon (very soon) he will see have his first in-character run!
#2 Gotta Have a Gimmick
This one is my favorite. It is a little bit of meta-gaming but will pay dividends in the end and make you a party crutch. The easiest example is: nearly 99% of all RPGs will have combat. It is the nature of the beast given gaming’s origins in war gaming. Combat does not necessarily mean a physical fight; combat could be witty banter for that Shakespearean Drama RPG (Trademark!, and this just became our fourth project…#2018!) you are playing in.
For a Changeling game back in college, where I played Wilder Sidhe, who was a TV star on a second-rate science fiction show called Abyss, his prop gun was actually his fae lighting pistol. It was his only real combat ability (other than outwitting bad guys), but it was incredible to describe when he used it and very effective. It also had a level of versatility that made it effective outside of combat.
Even if you are playing a pacifist, you don’t need to sit out during combats. That drags down the game for everyone, sucking the energy out of the room, and generally includes people suddenly checking their Facebook or the GM getting frustrated that this dramatic moment has been sullied. The character could easily have learned a defensive fighting style that flips people onto their butts without causing any damage, or mastering dodging from a lifetime of avoiding fights.
In a near-future setting, your team of four investigators are jumped by six cyber-enhanced gangsters. Every time one swings a hydraulic-powered punch your way, you easily step under it and loop behind them, smiling. You ask them politely to stop, while your team fights them off. That aids the party by having one of the enemies attack you; they don’t have to protect you and it's fun to employ the swagger it takes to be in a deadly fight while smiling and diplomatically trying to ease the situation. As a GM, after a round or two, the gangsters would be freaked out enough to talk or just run away.
The most important part of this is having something that is fun and worthy of descriptions. This works for NPCs also. During my Star Wars game, the players ran into a race of bird-like women that were mentioned once before, and I had two of them as Hutt's body guards. The description of their combat prowess with vibrostaves was so great that two of the players asked for multiple sessions if they could play one of them.
#3 The Crunch
The crunch is different for every system, most campaigns, and GMs, be it a standard Pathfinder campaign build with 15 points for stats or an EPIC Wild Talents game with 750 point characters (standard is around 200-300) that would crush the Avengers single-handedly.
This is where the skeleton of the character comes into play. What can they do? What are they good at? Are you Batman or Superman? A Street Samurai or Mage? A Mac or a PC?
This is the most important part of the character and needs to be tailored based on game.
#4 Tell Us About Yourself
Another fun part, bios should be short (less than a page and include #5 below). These are usually a little hard, as you don’t know how the game will play out but you'll also have incredible leeway. If your character rolled low for wealth and barely has any gear, it does not tie you to being poor. The back story could have you as a wealthy noble from a family in a different land, whose ship sank during a storm (or Kraken attack) and you washed ashore. Your measly possessions are all you found, which changes your entire character outlook. Or you could have simply been a farmer whose family died during the winter and you decide to make a better life for yourself. Both have the same issue of being poor but very different motivations and likely add to interactions with PCs and NPCs.
#5 A Healthy Dose of Plot-onium
This should be rolled into #4 and possibly #7, depending on the GM. This is where you, as a player, can help shape the campaign before it even starts. It also lets the GM know what kind of gaming experience you want and gives them the option to weave it into the story, if they so choose.
Some GM’s use the 3 Questions, thanks to Chris and Order 66 podcast. This was a Star Wars staple for me, as some players did not really feel comfortable writing up bios. This tool is a great short cut and one that should be considered for new gamers or people unfamiliar with the setting:
1. What does your character Love? With a capital L. Even the most reviled, evil despot has something, somewhere they care about a great deal, and would give of themselves to protect - perhaps even sacrificing their life to protect and care for. This could be a friend, family member, or lover. Perhaps a homeworld, a group of people, or a village that once sheltered you. Maybe you have a soft-spot for kittens.
2. What does your character Hate? With a capital H. Even the most benevolent and well meaning character has something, somewhere they hate, would go out of their way to harm, or would irrationally distrust. This could be an individual in the character's past, or a group of people. Even a planet. Perhaps the character has a prejudice against Twi'leks, or has sworn to destroy the bounty hunter clan that destroyed his village as a child.
3. Why is your character willingly (and eagerly) working for the budding rebellion? Why is your character an active participant in what this group does, and willing to work with the rest of the party? Are they devoted to a cause? Do they have a simple love of credits? Are they devoted to stamping out a threat?
#6 Check Twice, Cut Once
Once you have completed your character and have all of the steps done, put it away and go do something else for at least a couple of hours, or go watch one of my top 10 movies. Then come back and review what you have. That break allows a fresh look when you come back. Sometimes, some of those great ideas you have written aren’t something you would want to play for a campaign or maybe the character is too broadly drawn. Or you could have a better idea.
#7 Sharing is Caring
Provide a bit of description for your GM about your character or ask for feedback. For instance, with Shadowstorm, the last time I ran Shadowrun was around 2nd-3rd edition and that limited my knowledge of the Sixth world for my character history. I included that info for the GMs and asked for them to let me know if I needed to change anything.
These are just the basic steps I take and obviously, thousands of others exist. Let me know what steps you take in the comments.