View Full Version : Character Background and Character Portrayal

Aron Times
2008-12-24, 05:49 PM
When I roleplay a character, I prefer to focus on how to portray him as opposed to sticking to his character background.

Basically, when I create a character, I write up a short, open-ended background no greater than two paragraphs long. I use my character's background as a guide, not strict rules, on how to roleplay him.

For example, my main LFR character is Argent (unaligned human warlord/wizard):

Argent, a.k.a. Marcus Victor Meridian II, is the last surviving member of House Meridian, a minor house that dealt in magical supplies for the Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors. His family went bankrupt during the Spellplague but kept their noble title, for what it's worth.

Argent's parents worked hard to have him study at the Blackstaff Tower, in the hopes that higher education might restore the family to power. Argent himself has worked for both the City Watch and the Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors, and now adventures to make a name for himself and his family.

House Meridian will rise again.

Based on this short background, I slowly fleshed out Argent's personality over the course of several adventures. At first, he was uncertain of taking control of a party of strangers, but as time passed by, he became better at leading the party in battle. As a noble, I thought I should roleplay him as taking charge of every situation.

However, since D&D is a cooperative game, I figured that the other players wouldn't like an arrogant noble bossing them around the entire game (we get enough of that in real life already). Thus, I turned to my background for guidance.

Argent's family went bankrupt during the Spellplague, so House Meridian was a noble house only in name. I figured that the Meridians had to join the working class at some point, and Argent's parents had to work had to send him to the best school they could afford.

I concluded that Argent has spent a lot of time with people of lower social rank, and is probably more egalitarian than your typical well-to-do noble. Thus, I always phrase Argent's commands as suggestions, e.g.:

1. When using Knight's Move, I ask the party which of them needs to move to a better position, and lets him choose how to use the granted move action. If I really need to get someone to a specific location, I explain IC and OOC why I want him to do so.

2. When fighting on a narrow bridge, I explain to the party that fighting here would increase the chances of one of us falling to our deaths, and that it would be best to try to get to the other side ASAP.

3. During tense negotiations, I tell the party that Argent has experience in diplomacy (Argent is trained in Diplomacy and has a +2 bonus from his Waterdhavian background). I never tell them that I should do all the talking, but simply that perhaps it would probably be a good idea if I were to talk to them.

4. When I do manage to convince the party to let me do all the talking, I never tell the NPCs that I am the party leader. I introduce each member of the party to the NPCs we're negotiating with, and then I try to use "we" instead of "I" as much as possible.

As for his goal of restoring House Meridian to power, I roleplay him with a mercenary attitude. Money may not buy happiness, but it makes life a lot easier.

For Argent, the reward matters more than the people rescued or the monsters vanquished or whatever. In one adventure, Argent managed to convince a large number of cultists to give themselves up instead of fighting to the death with the others who refuse to surrender (really high Diplomacy roll + huge circumstance modifiers). That those who surrendered peacefully were given harsh sentences didn't bother him.

Again, since D&D is a cooperative game, I roleplay him as taking the path of greatest reward for the party, not merely for himself. He cares about his immediate allies, but if a nameless NPC gets screwed, that's his problem.

This is how I roleplay my characters. How do you roleplay yours?

2008-12-24, 05:58 PM
I try to do something similar.

I generally take a concept, get the crunch to make it work best, then figure out why he would have taken each of those steps. Then I do the recommended Allies/Enemies Source of Training/Source of items to flesh a bit more of his past out. From that, I can generally get into a mindset, and use that to fill in the little details.

Edit: But you're right, being able to be an asset, and not a liability to the party is priority. The worst offender I still play is represented by my avvy, and even the primarily anger and power driven elven warmage still takes party advice, and lets himself be lead, so long as he can maintain to himself that he is in control.

2008-12-24, 06:05 PM
I mostly come up with an idea, then crunch it out, and build his personality from then on.

For example, with my most current Dvati character, I knew I wanted to try out a Dvati Force Missile Mage, so I built one. I then thought about how to RP him, and why he would have chosen such an offensive bent to his life, rather than a more artistic bent, like most Dvati take. I came up with the idea that this character DID try out the artistic path in arcane magic (you know, was going to study illusions to make beautiful pieces of art, etc), but fell in love with Magic Missile as an apprentice. He then left Dvati society, rather than disrupt them with his flashy displays of force magic, etc.

It's not a great example, but it works out alright.

2008-12-24, 07:42 PM
Concepts tend to come to me wholecloth, sometimes with a background too. I use that background to inform the kind of person they are, what their Issues are, and what their goals might be.

I like wilderness/outdoorsy characters, always have. So there was no question in the Star Wars Saga Edition game I was playing that there'd be Scout levels in there. And I haven't played Star Wars for a very long time, so he had to be a Jedi too. Plus when I played the first KotOR game, I loved being the Scout.

So I had this idea of a guy (who happens to be the descendant of another character I'm playing in a PbP game) from some backwater, with a heritage of Jedi and those who serve the Order, who's forced to come to terms with the legacy of his family. This is a Legacy-era campaign, so being a Jedi is not good for your health.

He has two objects that matter to him; the lightsaber than his great-uncle Cran constructed, and has been passed down through a number of his forebears when they were Padawans, and the journal of his great-great-great-grandfather Dace, who was an explorer and former Antarian Ranger. Dace survived the Clone Wars and the Dark Times, and saw a lot of the galaxy in the process.

His older sister was strong in the Force, and taken away when Coll was small. He always wanted to follow her off Dantooine, which he thought was the most boring place in the galaxy. Ten years later, he did just that, signing up at the age of 15 with an explorator crew. He played prospector, scout, miner and so on.

Then he had a dream where he saw his sister murdered. Times had been bad for Jedi since the Sith takeover of the Empire, but she'd survived. But it wasn't just a dream, it was a vision. Not long after, he and his crew were jacked by a dark Jedi pirate and his Nightsister lover. They were saved by the intervention of Master Shas, who had been his sister's teacher.

She came bearing bad news - his sister was dead. She persuaded him to train as a Jedi, and spent three months teaching him the basics on Shintel (miserable world in the middle of nowhere). Then she left him and urged him to carry on practicing. He signed up with another crew and carried on his old life, now bearing a nasty secret.

His Issues are two-fold. One does he want justice or revenge for his sister? She'd want him to seek justice, but in some ways he just wants her killer dead by his hand.

His second is what being a Jedi really means. Is it a lifetime commitment that requires him to give up his love of seeing different worlds and focus?

My backstory has already given the GM lots of meaty, useful things to throw into the sessions and engage us with more than just random enemies. Two of his nemeses are currently involved in what we're doing. It also helps drive me forward as the player, I know where he's been, which helps inform where he's going and what he wants.

The mechanics come secondary to that, though it explains why for example he's taking alternate levels in Scout and Jedi. It also means he's preparing for the day he faces his hated enemy. He knows he couldn't take the guy today, which is why he'll flee venting impotent rage the next session, rather than try to take him out.

2008-12-24, 11:54 PM
I do sort of a combination, but my characters tend to be at least as affected by their current circumstances as by their background. Possibly moreso, depending on the character. Heck, I learn as much about them as I go as I do when putting the build and the backstory together.

Take Tuyet (*indicates avatar*), my masterpiece. When I'd started, I didn't even have much of an image for her; I'd gone to my GM in my decision, and he'd requested a spy-type who could serve as a potential love interest for one of the other PCs. So I looked at that. Added on trying to see if I could do completely a completely heartless but highly effective manipulator. Then constructed a backstory to try to explain it, that involved her being in a family that wasn't supposed to exist, having been blackmailed by an old lover threatening to reveal the prior fact to the world, and being thrown headlong into spywork and dirty politics. Then, while I'm at it, cross-backstoried her with a third PC (GM was taking care of the second), as she'd needed someone to watch her back and I figured she'd go straight to someone who was clearly only in it for herself.

So far, so good. Then the game started, and I started learning things.

Session 1: She's more religious than I thought she was, taking the time to make sure the ghost of a distant family member she saw killed on their first mission would get back into the reincarnation cycle the way he's supposed to.

Session 2: She's a snarkmaster, particularly when she's tired, I'm tired, and the situation is something that isn't within her usual realm of competence. Probably a fact about the blackmailing; she may not have had much power in her relationship, but she could still get a rise out of her blackmailer, and often she did as a way to keep hope that she could fix something else.

Session 4: She's got a vengeful streak a couple of miles wide, particularly when someone hits her triggerpoints. One NPC made the mistake of treating a member of her squad as property--worse, the member of the squad who was a bit attracted to her--in a way rather similar to the way Tuyet's blackmailer had treated her. Tuyet didn't get mad, she got even--tricked the NPC into making the first move, then sicced a mob on her.

Session 6: Protestations to the contrary, she likes what she does. And is very, very good at it. We're talking someone who could convince someone close to her that she doesn't like manipulating people. (The fact that I could do that without resorting to the dice rather surprised me.)

And the facts just kept building up. After several situations, including that whole blackmail mess, were resolved unexpectedly optimally by rather heroic but seemingly stupid deeds (the first two out of desperation, the second calculated to try to end a fight before it began, since she knew she wouldn't last long in pitched combat), she acquired a tendency to use such heroics as stress relief, and that rapidly turned into a small-scale addiction. (After the original arc was over and she just couldn't do that anymore, she replaced the "stupid heroics" with tea. It wasn't a very good substitute.) She ended up as a war hero and treated as something of a leader by her faction--ironic, since she was surviving by considering herself expendable because her faction already had a leader.

I hadn't expected her to be so stubborn about redeeming her family (nor how badly she'd flipped out when she learned that maybe some of the rumors were true), I definitely didn't expect her to turn into someone whose first solution to any problem that couldn't be handled by quiet political maneuvering was to orate at it, and if you'd told me on day one that she'd end up in charge of a country at the end of the story, at the behest of a friend of hers whose driving goal was taking the same throne herself, I would've scoffed a bit and asked what in blazes would possess her to make a fool move like that. It's fun playing a character that alive; you learn something new every day.

2008-12-25, 01:15 PM
Basically the same as Joseph Silver.

2008-12-25, 02:04 PM
I tend to do something similar, but without the writing. I'll start out with a basic idea of who the character is and where they came from in my head, and then I'll just naturally end up thinking more on it over the course of the campaign (or several campaigns, in a persistent setting).

I usually focus a lot on how to get the character across to the other plays and the DM. I've always thought that acting and D&D are pretty similar in some ways (maybe because I started doing both around the same time), so after I've played a character for a while, they always end up talking in a certain way and having certain mannerisms.

The problem with the way I do things is that I'm used to playing in a persistent world with a few people taking turns DMing and playing, and so my characters usually have a long time to develop. I'm not very good at developing them quickly when I play shorter games with other people.

2008-12-25, 02:42 PM
I rarely play characters as much as I master games these days (I get paid for the latter from time to time... what's better than being paid for something you truly enjoy?) but when I build protagonists (player characters, or NPC's of high importance), I normally try to let a character grow, start with the character's cultural, social and personal background and fleshing it out based on plausible lines of development. The core idea behind the truly outstanding character is not based on a statement, but on a question. "How would be a noble from a disgraced house in exile feel like? What does she thinks about work, social class, other people, current politics, etc.? What makes her tick?" Good character creation is a developing and most important open-ended process.
When the character has become a living, breathing and plausible individual in my mind, I start to write a description and work on the presentation. The description consists always of two parts - one for the GM, which is completely descriptive and mostly focused on the Vita and the most remarcable personality traits - long enough to be explicit, short enough to be readable within a few moments. This description has the fuction to create a feeling that anyone who reads it wants to see this character in a game.
The second character layout is only for me and consists mostly out of small details, anecdotes and stage instructions; Those ones are tnot meant to be read by everyone else but me (or anyone else who wants to play the character; characters are tools for the game, and vessels for the players behind them; there is absolutely no need for a permanent link between character and player) and are prescriptive, describing how the character does behave, as a helpful tool for the depiction.

Often , I find it helpful to create a depiction of the character, but since I can hardly draw, I normally use programs like Heromachine to create a rough image and sometimes ask one of the more talented artists to draw a portrait according to my descriptions.

Finally, I start with the "boring" parts and apply the stats. Whereby I strongly believe that the rules should always be adjusted to the character concept, never the other way around. The versimilitude and feel of life as a representative of his or her world is the most important trait of a character; abstract rules should not get in the way of that.

2008-12-25, 02:54 PM
Character first, then mutilation of the rules second. D&D doesn't have the ability to do half the things I sometimes see characters in my head doing, up to and including that weird barrier between arcane and divine magic that I've only recently been able to get a grasp on philosophically. Not powerful stuff, just weird stuff. Like, yesterday I finally figured out a way to pull off a "gift"-giving elder horror I'd been planning for a while using a weird combination of Incantations, shapeshifter druid, and daelkyr half-blood with some feats.

It also doesn't matter how much personality I decided to give someone, when they take over all my work falls apart. I've had to stop playing characters because I didn't realize how much of a jerk or how impossibly pacifistic they would be.

2008-12-25, 03:17 PM
I always start with a core concept, be it a mechanical one or a stylistic one. My first character I decided a psychotic parody of the magical school girl would be entertaining to do, and I did that at the core. I wound up building a warlock with a flying broom based around one type of blast. Eldritch speared utterdark blasts. The personality developed as a sort of parody to the source, where I still was upbeat and optimistic, but over morbid things, (without being goth) and had strong ties of freindship and loyalty. I had this character view the good guys that "persecuted her freinds and companions" as evil, even though they were all good aligned clerics, and claimed that love and justice would prevail against them, which generally confused them. For her, the core concept provided the personality and mechanics.

My current character I started with a mechanical concept. I wanted to make a character that throws scythes, just because it's a funny and quirky style of combat that I hadn't seen done before. I made him into a more literal user of the scythe. In his backstory, he was a commoner in an agrarian home, but was taken in as a squire to a mage when he was 15. He learned to use the farmers scythe as his weapon, but found throwing it to be more efficient than trying to wield something so ungainly in melee. I developed him to be a commoner hero sort, who took paladin levels, but he doesn't look or act like a paladin. Or rather, he doesn't have the personality of one. He dresses in a common shirt, is rather short and light, and doesn't believe in the ways of "courtly folk who can't get nothing done." He believes in a higher justice than local governments, legitimate or otherwise, and higher even than the gods themselves, and he has a no non-sense attitude to other ways of thinking, such as blind worship or grabs for power at the expense of others. He gets incredibly frustrated by self destructive behavior and the hustle and bustle of "modern life" which by his reckoning is anything more advanced than a plowshare. He was quoted as saying "Clockwork? That some newfangled kinda devil's magic?" when talking about golems much to the chagrin of the more forward thinking members of the party. For him, my mechanical choice of weapon dictated the flow of his personality.

Another kind is where the mechanics of the character grow into a personality. My previous character (directly before the one above) came straight from the sheet, and I had no idea how I'd play it until I was at the table. I wrote lawful good on my sheet, which is one of my two favourite alignments to play (the other being chaotic evil) and had worked out a caster adept that worked in town as a smith, with some rather unfortunate feats relating to mental aberancy. This made sense as I was playing a high elf (Which is something different in this DMs campaign.) and most didn't live in the small town we lived in. As such, I was a self exile for my "forward thinking" and lived among the slightly more flexible humans. Due to my slightly warped mind set and highly, highly utilitarian outlook on life, he started walking down the road of divinations, and started xanatos gambitting everything to make peoples lives better, as well as suggesting aberrancies and grafts to everyone to make them more efficient at their core occupations (oyster divers could take the one that reduces cold effects, and gives a swim speed, people on mountain passes could take the one that gives limited flight, etc.) He was a great character to play, and was probably the most eccentric. He became a liche as soon as he could, and the first thing he did was lode stone curse his phylactery, which thusfar has worked out fairly well. The second thing he did was hold his own funeral, which dissapointed his parents even further.