Creating a character in any RPG is no simple task. Multiple layers of thought go into the assignments of attributes, class, skills, abilities, inventory, personality, and name. Much time is spent recording all of this information and formatting the backstory. When so much time and effort go into character creation, the results should ideally be a unique and interesting character with which the player can explore the game world. Sadly, this is not always the case: characters produced are often bland and uninteresting. It’s difficult to substitute a few minutes or hours of character preparation for the in-game years of backstory which the character would have lived and which would shape them into a unique individual. Sometimes characters just fall into overplayed stereotypes (tough guy fighter, shifty rogue, bookish wizard, etc.); other times, they might just lack pizzazz, some uniqueness to separate them from the rest of the world. The following ideas can help to give any character a unique and memorable flair, whether you are creating a fresh character or incorporating them into a stale one.
1. Emphasize an unusual attribute:
Character classes typically come with recommended attributes, i.e. strength for warriors, intelligence for wizards, intuition for hackers, etc. Having those attributes as high as you can get them is great and all but every other character with your same class will also have similar attributes. Instead, when creating your character, assign attribute points into a stat which has little or no direct effect on your character’s power level, an incredibly strong wizard or a wise rogue, perhaps. When you are playing your character, involve your unique attribute into the game whenever possible. Have your strong wizard challenge the local fighter’s guild to an arm wrestling contest, attempt to mentor everyone in the group with the wise rogue (while robbing them blind), or attempt to woo the duchess with your rough but charming barbarian. Basically, just take the opportunity to act in ways that other characters with the same class are unable. It will make your character stand out from the crowd.
2. Develop a signature move:
Instead of differentiating your character using some unique attribute, you can also define your character by having them use a signature move during the game. This could be a particular skill or ability that they use in most situations (i.e. shield-bash guy). It could be wielding a certain weapon or performing a certain attack during battle. It could just be using catchphrases to whenever your character accomplishes something (‘and boom goes the fireball’). The trick with having a signature move or phrase is walking the fine line between the defining move and the annoying move. Overdoing it might irritate your fellow players, which isn’t the kind of interest I assume you were attempting to generate with your character. The less powerful the signature move, the more interesting and challenging it becomes to incorporate it into your character. If you want your wizard to be known for his mastery and use of minor telekinesis, for example, you will need to create situations that it can be used to good effect. By taking the opportunity to act repeatedly in ways that other characters with the same class do not, it will make your character unique(ly irritating).
3. Associate with an NPC:
Integrate one or more NPCs into how you play your character. Bring your half-wit brother along with you when you go on a quest, buy an entourage (if you can afford it) and have them follow your party and set up your accommodations, or take in an orphan from off the streets and train them to become your apprentice; the possibilities here are virtually endless. It is easy to use these NPC associates to add character depth and development when you include them in your decision-making. I’ve played in several campaigns where NPC’s associated with the party are just as important (if not more so) than any of the player characters, especially when everyone is interacting with them. As with the above points, the more detrimental the NPC is to your character’s power level, the more interesting your character will be (i.e. a detrimental NPC may be a weak younger sibling for whom you are responsible for caring and protecting). Make sure to clear it with the GM before adding too much, however, as it falls on them to bring these people to life.
4. Keep a dark secret:
When creating your character, build into their backstory a secret which in part defines them and tell no one but the DM. As you are playing, slowly begin to reveal details about your history or act oddly according to whatever is your secret. Perhaps your character is possessed by a demon struggling to control him or her. Maybe they are wanted for several murders in another city (and are actually guilty of committing them). Or how about they made a deal with a spirit for power in exchange for service. These secrets can be as dark or deep as you’d like them, though the darker and more debilitating the better for character development. Such histories provide a launching point for how to play out your characters personality and can create narratives of their own within the larger story. This sort of thing isn’t easy to incorporate and will probably require an experienced player or actor to accomplish. However, a unique history certainly makes for a very memorable character.
Hopefully you don’t find your characters lacking personality or fading from memory as much as I do. As I am neither an actor nor a role-player with decades of experience under my belt, some of my early characters were about as dull and bland as they come (I can’t even remember their names anymore). I’ve picked up these tricks from watching the interesting characters around mine; I hope they might give you a few ideas. Happy gaming!
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.