Role playing: No more ghastly characters!

I was asked to write about RP characters, and even though this might overlap slightly with Eledhwn’s text I’ll try to explain how to create a role playing character.
I have never tried online games, but character creation is quite similar in all these games, at least I suppose so. There might be some special rules, but they are explained (or should be!) when getting the game started. But before I begin, I must say that all these things I’ll mention are my personal opinions – although I’ve learnt all I know from more experienced gamers. If it has worked for them and for me, it should also work for you.

First of all: No Mary-Sues! And by this I mean all those just too perfect characters, whether it is a man or a woman, human or Elf, either in a Tolkien game or anime style. Keep in mind that no one’s perfect and the flaws only spice up your character. Anyway, it’s easier to play someone less than perfect, because it’s hard to pretend you’re wiser etc. than you really are. Works for a while, but only a while. And consider other people’s feelings too – characters that are too good to be true can ruin the mood.

So, your character can be really beautiful, but it’s unlikely she’s the most beautiful creature in the universe. And the wisest. And the best singer. And… Mercy! Maybe some examples would be nice, as this thing can never be overemphasized. These are actual character I’ve played myself – wouldn’t dare to use someone else’s…

  • A cute boy, who has skills that are quite important for the group he is in. Not dumb at all, though sometimes acts like he is. A bit too inconsiderate. Most importantly, too young to be taken as seriously as he should be considering his skills.

  • A quite good-looking woman, successful in her career for her abilities. Yet she has no life whatsoever when she’s not working, most likely due to her childhood issues. Wits and multiple roles hide the fact she’s emotionally cold.

  • A girl, who looks like a boy and acts like a boy. She’s really afraid of squirrels (yes, squirrels!) and turns into something odd at times…

There are many flaws to choose from: you might use your own – you can relate to them better – or borrow them from books, movies or anything. But, I beg you, use them. And make sure they fit to that world; a pre-LotR Elf who has Gallophobia (fear of France or the French) doesn’t sound good, as there’s nothing for him to be afraid of.

Having something to relate to is important throughout the process of making your character. I find it easier to play women, but young boys are also okay. Playing a real macho man would be hard for me and torture for other players. This can work better when you’re playing online and others don’t see you, but don’t be surprised if it goes all wrong – although even that can be fun! If you have a good group, you might want to try all kinds of new things and going a bit astray doesn’t mean that the game is spoiled.

The easiest way to get started is to create a character who is of the same gender and about the same age as you. This does NOT mean that you’d be yourself in the game. It just means you don’t have to plan his or her behaviour as much as you should if playing someone completely different from yourself. They can still be princesses or uruk-hai or whatever you want. Except Mary-Sues…

Some like to create their characters in a certain order: race, name, age, etc. This works just fine, but sometimes doing things more randomly can give good results. E.g. the cute boy I already mentioned was at first only a set of abilities with age. No gender, no name, no story. After the first gaming session I just went and asked our game master and a few others what they thought about my character and asked whether it was a boy or a girl. Their reply was – as you can surely guess – a boy. And only after that I gave him his name and created the story, which in this case is just a few facts only the game master and I know.

(Having an undecided gender is possible when using my first language, Finnish, as it is gender neutral. I suppose it’s harder to do this in English).

This kind of randomness isn’t necessarily suitable for online games, at least in this extent, but I’m just trying to say that there’s no fixed order in which to do these things. Just plan your character well and everything should be fine.

Everyone has some kind of past. Some have done heroic deeds or horrible crimes while others have watched telly all their lives. Adventurers and couch potatoes can both be interesting in game – that is, when played well. When writing your character’s background you should remember the same thing as when you’re lying (no, I’m not telling you to lie…) – keep it simple so you’ll recall what you’ve said. A short list of the most important things is handy when playing.

People’s past isn’t usually known by everyone. There are things you should probably reveal to other players, but also those only you know and that have effect on how your character behaves. Skeletons in closets can be fun, but those shouldn’t be the main point.

Well, I’ve talked about how to create a character, but maybe I should actually create one for you. As this is a Tolkien site I’ll go for a Middle-Earth type. (And now I can reveal that I’ve never been in a Tolkien-related RPG!) From now on I’ll write what goes through my mind when creating this particular character and so perhaps it’ll be a bit incoherent. Of course self-censorship is a good thing, and as there might be people of all ages reading this I won’t be writing exactly all I think about…

Okay then, let’s say I want to join ”The Weary Pub” – started by lyrae_archeress – which I picked from the RPG forum.

  • First I read all the previous posts, of course I want to know what’s going on!

  • Now I have to decide what kind of a character would suit this game. It looks like I can create one quite freely, but I think I’ll go for a human this time – actually a barmaid with some kind of a personal agenda sounds good…

  • Humans don’t live that long. And perhaps a barmaid wouldn’t be too old. Maybe in her twenties. But I don’t think it is her number one career choice – thus there’s some reason for her being there. Some sort of a debt maybe? Family? Anyway, she isn’t happy.

  • I guess this barmaid left the weary pub during the fight. She’s not too bright as she started to follow the group – someone smarter would’ve figured out better ways of handling things no matter what they are – but obviously bright enough to survive and find the group. This means she must have some survival skills. So she hasn’t always lived in a town. Perhaps something happened to her family and she ended up in the pub… Dúnedain might already be a cliché, but who cares?

  • So, the barmaid’s family was killed somewhere near the town a bit less than three years ago, she survived because she went into hiding – something that stills haunts her. She looked for help from the town, was treated well by the bar-owner, but after a while he demanded that she should pay him back all he had offered to her (oh yes, a big meanie). That’s how she became a barmaid.

  • I think the barmaid is about seventeen.

  • I want to have a name for her now, as it is awkward to refer to her as ‘the barmaid’, I’m going to use CoE’s Sindarin Name Finder (there’s one for Quenya too). And pick one that isn’t used everywhere; there are enough variations of Arwen already. Maereth, Lhûneth (which would make her eyes blue), Gaileth…

  • Well, whatever her name is going to be, she’ll have greenish-blue eyes and dark brown hair. Nothing extreme, I guess. And she’s quite tall – as she is one of the Dúnedain after all. One can only hope she was skilled in something other than sneaking as well…

  • Her name shall be – Maereth! That’s good enough for me, as I’m feeling lazy now. By the way, all kinds of baby name databases are useful when you’re looking for a name for your character.

  • Why does she want to be with these other people? There’s something she’s passionate about, maybe her family. But who killed them? Perhaps she doesn’t know herself – at least for sure – and is trying to find this out. Or then maybe she wants to get back to her own people. Whatever the cause, she’s certainly made up her mind as she has followed the group ever since they left the pub and hasn’t yet been noticed!

My character for “The Weary Pub”

Name: Maereth

Age: About 17

Gender: Woman

Race: Human (Dúnadan)

Skills: Tracking (a bit), survival skills, bartending, singing (even though others don’t always appreciate this)

Appearance: Tall, quite slim, greenish-blue eyes, dark brown hair (long), round face

Personal gear: What she had and could grab when she left the pub: her clothes (a brown dress and an apron), a short sword she found from one of the corpses, someone’s stinking cloak (too large for her actually)…

Behaviour: Friendly, but secretive, easily angered but also calms down easily, a bit insecure about herself and sometimes shows it by asking silly question about how others see her, stubborn every once in a while

Background: She grew up among the Dúnedain, learning the basic survival skills. She had one brother, Faelon, two years older than she. Her life was quite ordinary until her family was killed when they were travelling with some other people to that town Maereth ended up in. They were attacked during the night and everyone else got killed; the only reason she survived was that her brother hid her. She never saw who the attackers were. A few days later she found herself from a little inn, not having a clue how she got there. At first everything was going well, considering the situation, but after a while the owner started asking her to pay him back. So she became a barmaid. A bitter barmaid.

Maereth is far from ready, but hopefully you know now how you can make a character of your own. And more experienced players don’t usually bite – it’s almost a duty to spread the virus called role playing enthusiasm, and answering beginners’ questions is one way of doing it.

I’ve only one more thing to say to you: HAVE FUN! ^_____^

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