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    Character Showcase - Starting From Scratch


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    Post  psychoticbarber on Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:30 pm

    Okay, so today I'm going to walk everybody through my typical procedure for building a good, strong character, and as I do it, I'm going to build something relatively new (basically every idea I have floats around for awhile before I put it somewhere, so it's not going to be totally new, but it'll be close enough).

    First things first, we'll assume an epic fantasy setting, and I'm going to use the campaign setting I've been fiddling with for almost a year now. It's okay if you don't really know the place, I'll fill you in on the salient details as we go.

    Okay, so the first step: What is the purpose of this character? For most players, this is simple, the character is going to be your avatar. For GMs, this becomes more complicated. We're going to assume a PC, though, for the sake of simplicity. That assumption, however, gives us a crucial fact that requires us to streamline the character in a certain direction. The character must be available for adventure, willing and motivated to go, and able to survive long enough to make it worthwhile. Bookworm PCs are not right out, but you won't be able to play a whiny character who refuses to walk anywhere or do anything for long before the GM or your fellow players put the poor fellow out of his misery.

    In my setting, adventuring is rarer than it is in D&D, so typical adventurers are a tad... eccentric, to put it lightly. I like the thought of a dreamer who isn't ready or willing to live in the "real world" his parents have tried to prepare him for, so we'll go with that as a general basic concept (write what you know, right?).

    The next bit seems a little cliche, but speaking as one of the weirdos in society, I can say its still pretty relevant. Like most weirdos, this boy (as he is still a boy at this time in his life), spent a lot of time by himself, wandering in the wilderness near his parents manor. I say his parents are minor landed nobles. His grandfather was the King's accountant, and his father (who inherited the land) was a trusted administrator who kept the farms in the nearby area producing the food. If the family wasn't reasonably wealthy, the son would never have been able to go wandering as he'd have been breaking his back in the fields.

    One day, our boy wandered a little further and a little more recklessly than he had ever wandered before, and he found a road. He didn't really know what it was, his little provincial town mostly traveled along the natural paths formed by walking in the forest. It was an old cobblestone road, overgrown with weeds and mosses, but it was undeniably leading through the forest and towards the top of a nearby hill.

    What I'm doing here is one of my personal tricks. I tend to elicit information about the setting and the character by describing a seminal experience in the character's past. Already we have an adventurous, day-dreaming boy whose parents are practical leaders in a community so small the boy had never really seen a real road. Presumably the life his parents lead bores him, and as the surrounding people are farmers, he's probably got nobody his age to play with: so he wanders.

    Back to the story, though. The boy follows the road up the hill, and comes across a ruined manor. The architecture (not that he knew what the word meant) was unlike anything he'd ever seen before, and it was old. Very old. A single structure remained standing at the top of the hill, a small house, likely a servant's quarters. The sun was beginning to droop in the east (different world, remember?), and the light of a lamp shone through the window of the hut. He approached the door, growing timid, and knocked softly. After some shuffling, the door opened to reveal an old man who frowned at first but quickly warmed to the boy's presence. The boy didn't yet know it, but he had just taken his first steps into a larger world.

    Now, my friends, this old man is a wizard, ancient beyond the measures of the age. Thousands of years ago, these ancient ones searched for the secrets of eternal life and perfected them, only to discover that with eternal life came the inability to create more of it. The ancient ones presided over a golden age of magic on the long-lost continent, all but forgotten to myth and legend now. Circumstances were beginning to change, and magic and wonder was slowly beginning to return to the world, but the ancient ones lived in hiding, forever outcast.

    Lonely people long for company, and the wizard realized that if he began to teach the boy, he would have company for some time. So every morning the boy finished his lessons, and every afternoon he wandered into the forest to be taught a very different sort of lessons. He was captivated by the tales of Kayru, the capital of the ancient ones, long lost to the ravages of time. He believed that he could not be the only adventurous soul in his environs, and when he grew to the age where he could do as he wished, he left the town to find others who would long for a chance to seek the ancient city and behold its wonders.

    So lets recap what we've discovered so far. He's adventurous, he's a day-dreamer, he thinks big, he's a wanderer, he's captivated by ancient stories of glory, he's learning how to use magic, and he's motivated by trying to find the ancient ones' home and to share this experience with others like him.

    We've fulfilled the requirements for a player character. He's from a family wealthy enough that he is capable of leaving to adventure. He's not remotely tied down by his boring town, in fact he wandered away from it every opportunity as a child, and he's motivated to go on an adventure by the tales of the ancient city.

    What's left is the characterization. We have broad strokes, but we don't have the true little details and sparks that make this character come alive. I'm going to start by giving him a name. Googling the word "wanderlust" brought me to wikipedia, which tells me a more contemporary german word for the same thing would be "Fernweh." I'm going to rearrange the syllables, change a letter, and the boy's name is Weyfern. Most medieval age names were just a name from a place, so he'll be Weyfern of Bucolia (not my best name, but it works for me).

    I'm pretty big on introducing skills and themes that can appear contradictory, and this can help you flesh out a character. So, from being a wanderer, Weyfern is pretty tough and resilient, even if he's not a trained warrior. He's also been learning from an old wizard, so he's got lots of knowledge about various subjects, including magic, ancient myth, languages, and stuff like that. He's definitely a renaissance kind of man.

    Everybody needs some kind of weakness, and one thing I've discovered as an excitable nerd is that most people don't really give a crap about many of the things that you find fascinating. So we'll give Weyfern a tendency to keep talking long after everybody's stopped caring, making it difficult for him to relate to "normal" people. I kind of picture him as a very excitable young man about whom most normal older adults just shake their head and chuckle with pity.

    This is a very long post, and I hope it gives you a little insight into the way I approach building a character, but feel free to poke and pester me about it and we'll see what else comes out.

    "Why would I control you with so clumsy a method as that? I control what you see, what you hear, and what you know. You are already mine."
    --Martin Pale

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