Character Development: Tips & Tricks – Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, Part III

Apr 18

Character Development: Tips & Tricks – Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, Part III

Greetings, and apologies for the delay in this article posting – we’ve had an influx of members in the free company and alliance I run in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and I had a few interviews and inductions that ran over my publishing date; it’s been a very exciting time, as some of them are completely new to the game, and it’s always amazing to see that surprise and wonder at some of the things the game has that people aren’t expecting.

As many of you will remember, the last few articles have covered the Personality section of Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background. The next three articles are going to cover the Background section of the Guide;  we’ll still be working with my character, Nritya Maji, who we’ve been working with in the last few articles, and we’ll watch her character sheet continue to grow as we make our way through the rest of the guide.

Part II of the Guide is all about character Background. The information at the beginning of this part of the Guide points out that no matter what setting you’re in, there’s really no hard and fast rules to making a background for your character, so you can use as much of what’s presented in this section, or as little as you want, just as before. Ash is just giving a guideline to help you help yourself and your storyteller or gaming group and those you encounter as you play your character. You may or may not ever address everything you come up with during this section of the Guide, but at least you’ll have it down if you do!

Today, we’re going to look at the first three parts of the Background section – Birthplace, Family, and Professions & Crafts. This gives the basic foundation for your character’s background, the solid ground for which everything begins to be built and worked from. While Birthplace will be variable from setting to setting, Family and most Professions & Crafts will be fairly similar regardless of what setting you’re working in, aside from racial templates and game specific professions and crafts being added.

For Birthplace, Ash gives some pretty good general guidelines to use to describe the location – Name, Location, Size, Geography (i.e. desert, plains, tropical, mountainous, tundra, forest, island, etc.), Weather, Industry, Local Government/Nobility, General Character/What Was It Like (i.e. hospitable, communal, ugly, sleepy, dangerous, educated, commercial, pious, stuffy, fun, historical, youthful, political, upscale, transient, depressing, laborious, etc.),  and the last option of “Or were you born isolated from a population centre or in a group/family that travelled?” to cover nomadic livestyles.

Let’s take a look at what Nritya’s birthplace was like.

  • Name: Western Shroud
  • Location: The Black Shroud
  • Size: Small
  • Geography: Costal Forest
  • Weather: Variable, mostly warmer weather with rain
  • Industry: Fishing, Game Hunting
  • Local Government: Tribal Leadership
  • General Character: The village was small, made up of four families, not very welcoming of outsiders who weren’t also Miqo’te. There was a sort of serenity to the village otherwise, peaceful unless bothered, almost a little too idyllic.

So Nritya’s Birthplace is about what most Keeper of the Moon villages are like, as far as we know based on the scant lore we’re given. It can barely be considered a village, and is more like a well-made camp that has just been in the same location for so long, it has just become part of the scenery. A few buildings are now more permanent structures, but it’s nothing grand, since there’s only four families that live there.

Next, the Guide takes us into exploring Family, and this mainly looks at the close family of the character, not so much at the extended family. It does take into consideration that there may be a non-standard family make up, and asks a lot of questions about the family that really build an idea of what they were like.

While all the members of Nritya’s village were related in some way, let’s take a closer look at her family specifically.

  • Who was in the family? Nritya’s mother ran the household, as her father was a wanderer like many Male Keepers; while he visited frequently, he was not a stable member of the household. Nritya had an older sister, an older brother, and a younger sister; when he was old enough, her older brother began travelling with her father, so he wasn’t around much either while her sisters stayed at home for quite some time.
  • Who did what for a living? Nritya’s mother was once a huntress, but had taken up fishing and continued leatherworking after an injury. Both of her sisters were huntresses, while her father was a conjurer and her brother took up the sword. Nritya herself became interested in weaponry at a young age, though the village only had an old woman who made bows, spears, wands, and staves.
  • Socioeconomic Status? Since their family could provide both food and materials for clothing, Nritya’s family was about average in the village hierarchy. Her mother was the niece of the village matriarch, but that only gave so much status in a four family village; the other two families were headed by the sisters of the matriarch. Status really didn’t mean much in the village, not until it came time to decide if someone’s daughter could stay and settle or had to move on.
  • Family’s Reputation? The family was one of two that had produced male children, which was rare for Miqo’te. There was a hope that the boy would bring another woman back to the village to settle and expand the bloodline with, however he seemed to be courting favour elsewhere so far. Nritya’s mother was once known as an excellent huntress, however the folly of someone else’s kit had cost her the ability to hunt, and now she was forced to be just a fisher and a tanner. While both of her daughters were good huntresses, neither showed the proficiency of their mother. Nritya wasn’t interested in hunting, although she was learning how to use a bow and spear – her passion was making weapons, which everyone found a bit odd, as she was even more enthusiastic about it than their original weapons maker.
  • Myths, Curses, or Legends? Aside from the usual Miqo’te myths and legends, Nritya’s village believed that the deep waters off the shores were cursed, which is why they built the village in the trees and not on the shores themselves; the waters would rise with the full moon, and the deep waters would come closer to the trees, as if they were trying to swallow them. They believed that Menphina would protect only the trees, as she had a pact with the elementals and animals within them.
  • Family Mental Illnesses? Nritya’s older sister suffers from Manic streaks, though she just has Manic streaks and no Depressive Her father suffers from Narcissism, and unfortunately her brother is developing a bit of Histronic Personality Disorder as a defensive response to it. Her mother occasionally has episodes of Depression due to trying to handle the fact she can no longer hunt, and after trying to deal with her father and brother.
  • Who Raised the Character? While Nritya’s mother was the primary influence in her young life, the entire village worked on raising the young kits together. Each person had a different aspect they taught the kits, so the whole “it takes a village” expression was very literal. Nritya also spent a lot of her young life with the old weapons maker, learning to craft wooden weapons from her.
  • Extended Family and Relations with Them? Nritya knew a good number of her extended family, as they lived directly in the same village. The village also traded with other extensions of the family, both nomadic parts and another village deeper in the Shroud made up of cousins to the leader and her sisters. Although they found her a little odd, her great aunt’s families were friendly and kind to her, and she got along with most of the kits her age.

As you can see, these eight groups of questions can really flesh out a character’s family quite a bit. Without even getting too detailed, we’ve not got a pretty good chunk of Nritya’s family life built up, even though there isn’t a lot of Keeper of the Moon lore available out there. For a Miqo’te, she had a pretty normal childhood, with a pretty stable family, and a wonderful village that was full of kindness and love.

What? Well-adjusted characters do exist!

Next the Guide has a section for Professions & Crafts. As pointed out in the section explanation, Crafts are something the character can do, while Professions are something the character does to make money. Just because a character can make jewellery doesn’t mean they necessarily have to do so for a living!

This section includes a huge table of Professions & Crafts that are common to most game settings. Some of these can be applied to a setting even if they are not a mechanical option in the game – actors can exist anywhere, for example, but it’s highly unlikely that something like an MMO would have an Actor class or craft of any sort (though it’s more likely to exist in a table top).

The Guide again asks eight things about the Profession or Craft, and these can be answered for each Profession or Craft you give your character. For some characters, this part of the character sheet may get a bit lengthy. Today, we’ll only look at one of Nritya’s skills – drawing.

  • What level did you achieve? While she doesn’t consider herself a master, Nritya is a highly skilled sketch artist, and has the ability to draw fine detail in her artworks.
  • Where did you train? Nritya learned on her own, starting by drawing in the sands on the shores. Her mother’s aunt was observant, and made her a sketchbook of sorts, and began teaching her what she knew, but Nritya soon surpassed what her great aunt knew. From there, it was just practising on her own and perfecting her work until it looked like the things she saw until she finally left the village for Gridania. It was in Gridania where Nritya finally got formal training from actual artists, flitting from artist to artist as she learned what she could from them and moved on; she still will compare works with other artist to continue to perfect her technique.
  • Did you break a contract to adventure? Nritya never entered into any formal contract to learn drawing with any artist. She did enter into one to learn weapon schematic design, and she did not break the contract she made with the smith.
  • Was the character part of a professional guild? She is still a part of the Blacksmiths’ Guild, the Carpenters’ Guild, and the Alchemists’ Guild as they all oversee the making of weapons of various types; there is no formal guild for artists that she’s aware of, so her drawing talents have only been applied to those guilds as a weapons designer.
  • Does the character own a business? Nritya is a freelancer, so technically she is a business owner, but she has no store-front to call her own. It’s not often she’s called upon to draw anything but weapons, however, and she’s often shocked when she is.
  • What drove you to leave the profession? She didn’t exactly leave the profession, it was more of a lateral move from drawing everything to specifically drawing weapons. She’s still drawing, she’s just drawing schematics and concept designs more than still life work and portraits.
  • Was the profession a family business? No, as a matter of fact, her family is still rather thrown off by her choice to leave the village and nomadic life and live in the cities, and work on more than just the simple weapons they use in the village. They’re always startled when she comes home, as she dresses quite different from their tribal style, and her weapons are far superior to theirs. They can’t believe that her sketches in the sand have become what they are now.
  • How successful are you in the business? As just as sketch artist, Nritya was making decent enough money, however as a weapons designer, she’s making more gil than she knows what to do with. She’s not particularly in it for the gil, which is why she doesn’t really know what to do with it.

As mentioned, answering those eight questions for every craft can lead to a very lengthy character sheet, but it can be quite worthwhile to have down. It’s very likely that someone, at some point, is going to ask your character about how they got to where they were with their Craft or Profession, even if it’s just the storyteller’s NPCs – but I’ll be it’s another player character that ends up asking first! People are always interested when someone’s got in character crafting, they really are.

That wraps it up for this session of Character Development: Tips & Tricks. Join us next time for a look at the Guide’s section on Significant Past Events, which is another section that can be really short, or really long for your character

Stay tuned!

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Storytelling in MMOs: Tips & Tricks – Personalising Your Story

Apr 10

Storytelling in MMOs: Tips & Tricks – Personalising Your Story

There was a bit of a hullabaloo yesterday, so I didn’t get a chance to get this out as planned, so here we are.

Last time, we talked about adding elements from an MMO’s main story arc to your group’s story arc. This time, we’re going to discuss adding your players’ characters’ personal plots to your groups plot – personalising your stories. While it may sound easy, it can actually be quite daunting and often can get you calls of favouritism if you’re not careful with your execution. First, let’s take a look at the tools, and then let’s take a look at the execution.

One way of gathering information about your players’ characters is to simply observe and listen. Your players are going to want to talk about their characters, either amongst themselves, or directly to you. Standard information gathering skills like note taking can get you quite a bit of useable plot bits without ever having your players know what you are up to – even while you’re helping out someone with their character, you can be taking notes for plot, and they won’t be the wiser!

This method, however, is the slowest way to gather information on your players’ characters, and will take the most time to get anything really coherent enough to make a character plot arc out of. You might not even get enough to drop hints about a player character in your normal plot arc. It all depends on how chatty people are, and how open about their characters’ secrets they are OOCly.

The second method I use is the public character dossier. This is all the information that is publicly available…that not everyone is going to bother finding out about. You’d be surprised how few people bother reading through every character dossier on a group’s site, let alone deciding what information their character knows, and copying it down in their notes. For the storytellers, however, this can be a great method of letting public information slip out – especially if you have a rumours section in it like I do.

Since a lot of people don’t keep track of the dossiers, this is a great source of introductory information for a character plot arc, or the start of information to drop in general plot arcs if you don’t want to run character-focused plot arcs but want to personalise your normal arcs. It’s like the icing on the cake, the first thing people get to see and taste about the character in question.

I’ve had a sort of standard character dossier for the past few MMOs that can be viewed here. It may need to be slightly tweaked from setting to setting, but it generally gets the job done. I make header banners for each group I’m working with, but I left them as plain headers for this document. The dossier has had bits taken from dossiers like the one at the Raven, Mythic of EverQuest II fame, and the social section came from a posting at Aion Roleplayers, while other parts came from a Guild Wars 2 role play site.

The last tool I use is called the Advanced Character Worksheet, and it can be a beast of a project; I don’t suggest using it unless you have a lot of time or multiple people on your storyteller staff. The ACW allows a player to tell the storytellers all of the secrets about their character – written down, and if your site is up to it, in an editable, updateable format – for you to use in your plot arcs! This sheet is extensive and asks a lot of things that the player may not have thought to flesh out, as well as has a “Consent to Harm” section that will let you know exactly how much of a beating you can give each character.

This sheet was based off of a similar form the guild Magitech in Rift used, but has had additions made based on things from Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, and has been streamlined over several iterations; it is quite different from its forefather, with many questions changed and some removed and some added. While there are several questions that have to be tweaked depending upon your MMO setting, the vast majority of them are fairly generalised and work for all MMOs.

Again, this sheet is not posted somewhere the public can see it. For my Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Free Company, we have a forum that is set up so that each poster can only see their own post, aside from our storytelling staff, who can see every post in there. This way, the posters can update their ACWs whenever they need to and post a reply to let us know they were updated, while we can view their sheets in one spot. We have a separate forum that only the storytelling staff can see where we discuss the ACWs, picking out things that work for plot arcs from each one, and talking about when, where, and how to use them. Of course, you’ll have to decide how to set things up for your group, but we’ve found this to be the best way for us – if your forums can do the same thing, and you think this will work for you, great!

There is a copy of the current incarnation, as of this writing, of the Advanced Character Worksheet here; keep in mind it is tuned to Final Fantasy XIV, so you will need to make adjustments for your MMO. I also make fancy banners for each heading of the ACW, however I left them out for the template here. Feel free to use this tool for your own groups, and change it as you see fit – some people will want access to all of this information, others will see it as too much. It’s meant to be fluid, so edit away!

Once you’ve disseminated information, there are a couple of ways you can use it. You can run short, character centred plots in between your larger story arcs, or you can let the information slip out in your larger story arcs, or you can let random NCPs or forum posts leak information, and of course, you can do all the types of information leaks.

The anime Fairy Tail shows excellent examples of character centred story plots between larger, non-character centred plots. Throughout the course of the season available on Netflix, you learn about each of the main characters in small three to four episode (or so) plot arcs that focus on telling us about their pasts, showing us how they became who they are in current storyline. These arcs pepper the show while other Fairy Tail guild centred plots make up the rest of the show. We can learn from this by tailoring the information we’ve gathered into small episodic “end of season” or “start of season” events to break up our larger plot arcs, giving characters a chance to shine in the spotlight, rotating through members of the group and letting people learn about their fellows.

Secondly, rumour rapsheets, perhaps in the form of a gossip column an NPC keeps up, make for an interesting way of slipping out character information – whether from the dossiers or the ACW. These types of information seeding can also be plot triggers, as when people go to follow up on them, they find there’s more than just a rumour there. This works for both character arcs and your regular plot arcs, so don’t discount the power of the rumour monger.

Of course, you can also have NPCs directly give information about characters – and of course, other types of information – to the players during the course of your normal plot arcs. They can be forthcoming or vague, making the characters question their fellow for more information, which can lead them further into the main plot of your group or further into the character’s plot. A streak of character plot can push the main plot along for a moment without becoming a full on character story arc, making the characters and players more invested in the story than they were before.

These personalisations will draw your audience, the players, into your story and invest them in the progression of the plot. It will make them want to see it through to the end by involving them as more than just the random heroes who happened to be in the area when trouble started brewing. It makes them an integral part of the story, because suddenly it is about their characters in a meaningful way – it’s about more than finding the lost relic, or stopping some bad guys they have no connection to. Suddenly, there are connections everywhere, drawing them deeper and deeper into the story, turning it into a shared experience.

I strongly suggest trying out some of the tools I’ve provided, even if they seem a bit daunting at first. It takes time to get used to any toolset, any process, and any method, but the results are well worth it. When your players are excited and paying attention to your story because it’s about your ideas and theirs, you’ll be glad you did.

Enjoy!

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Character Development: Tips & Tricks – Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, Part II

Mar 22

Character Development: Tips & Tricks – Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, Part II

Welcome back to Character Development: Tips & Tricks. There was another delay with writing this article – the day it was due out, I started back to aquatic therapy, and it turned out that my muscular problems were worse than guessed, so my first session actually did more harm than good;  I’m still not entirely recovered from it, but I have gotten to the point where I could work on this article again.

Previously, we began working with Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality and Background, completing the first two steps of Part One – the Personality section of the Guide. It gave us a pretty solid core of a character personality, and the third step takes us into the secondary traits – the little things that sort of can give just the finishing touches on a character to really make them stand out above the crowd.

Step Three – Secondary Traits

The first aspect we look at in the secondary traits is what type of Sense of Humour a character has, and Ash provides us with ten basic types of humour to pick from. Again, every table here is up so that percentile dice can be used to select options randomly, so if you’re unsure about anything, feel free to roll the dice for now – you can always come back later and change things.

For Nritya, her sense of humour is a little Surreal, which makes it a bit difficult for some characters to follow, and she’ll often end up having to either let her jokes sail past people, or explain them, which ruins the joke anyway.

Moving right along, the Guide has a rather robust look at a character’s Sexuality. There are three primary aspects here, with the third being made up of individual five aspects. Only basic sexualities are listed here, so feel free to use whatever sexuality choices fit your character beyond those given.

Note: This covers just character sexuality, not character gender or gender expression; the Guide was written before non-binary genders and gender expression were normality and during a time it was dangerous to write about them/include them in writing, so please no one get upset at their exclusion, as it isn’t meant to hurt anyone. Feel free to add your own aspects here to reflect character gender and their gender expression!

The first Sexuality aspect is Orientation. Generically, this means the gender your character is attracted to, but the Guide suggests also figuring out what races in your world setting your character is attracted to by default.

Nritya has a non-standard sexuality of Demisexual, which means she doesn’t really develop any sort of romantic attraction to anyone until after she’s developed deep inter-personal connections with them as friends, and even then, there may not necessarily be any sort of sexual attraction right away for some time after that – it takes a very deep personal relationship for that to happen, if it happens at all.

The next aspect is the characters Libido. A lot of people may have heard of this word before, however many people may not know what this actually is. The libido is a person’s sex drive, meaning how much and how often they want to engage in sexual acts. The Guide breaks it into three tiers, which give a rather good set of average ranges – anaemic, meaning very little to not at all; healthy, meaning your average sex drive; and lascivious, meaning more than average to nymphomaniac levels of a sex drive.

Given that Nritya is a demisexual, she naturally falls under the category of Anaemic for her libido in general, however if she were to find a partner whom she became deeply involved with, she may have it switch to a Healthy libido.

The next aspect under Sexuality is called Sexual Demeanour, and this one actually covers five different traits that we’ll look at one by one.

The first trait is Expressiveness. This means how your character expresses their sexual and romantic desires, and it is broken into three rankings – modest, flirtatious, and brazen. A modest individual is very subtle about their desire for an individual while a flirtatious individual is expressive but not so overtly they are thought to be too forward while a brazen individual is quite forward about their desires.

On the rare occasion when Nritya becomes attracted to someone, she is quite Modest in her approach to expressing her interest, perhaps so much so that the other person may at first miss that she has become interested in them. Although confident in other arenas, she is quite shy when it comes to this sort of thing, so she isn’t very forward about her desires of attraction, and they always start out as being romantic, not sexual.

Speaking of, the next trait is Style. This is the style of Sexual Demeanour. This is also broke down into three rankings – crude, seductive, and romantic. A crude sexual demeanour is basically just all about the base desires and getting things on, a seductive sexual demeanour is rather much exactly as it sounds and is seductive about their approach to sexual encounters, while romantic sexual demeanours have the whole romantic package involved beforehand to whatever level and degree that may be.

Since Nritya requires a deep connection and relationship involvement before considering sexual relations, she is automatically in the Romantic ranking here.

The next trait is Openness to New Experiences. This is exactly what it means – how willing is your character to try new things in the bedroom. Whether you hand wave erotic role play, or hand wave just the actual act, it’s something to consider about your character, whether it actually comes into play or not. The rankings here are narrow, moderate, and adventurous which are all rather obvious.

Nritya is a creative sort of individual by nature, and since she has to have such a close bond with the person she’d be with anyway, I decided that she would be Moderately open to new experiences, all depending upon what they were.

The next trait in this aspect is Promiscuousness, or how openly sexual your character is. The wording here could be considered a little outdated, and might not sit well with some people; no one send hate mail over the labelling, please. The rankings are low/monogamous, moderate/polyamorous, and high/non-committal. This is limited to just interpersonal sexual relationship, but you can add in your character’s dress style if you want to.

For Nritya, even though she is demisexual and has to have a close friendship before she can have a relationship and physically intimate relationship, she is actually open to Polyamoury (Moderate) because I as a person am polyamorous (polyfidelity type) and have a really hard time playing monogamous and non-committal characters. Her dress style may be considered somewhat revealing because she wears a halter top, shorts, tall boots, and the Miqo’te racial gloves though they’re all fairly covering together.

A last additional trait in this aspect that may or may not be used is Tastes. This goes into places that may be uncomfortable for some people, or may just not fit every character – none of them fit Nritya, for example. The ten ranks here were bondage, cross-dressing, role-playing (the bedroom kind), spanking, massaging, masochism, exhibitionism, orgies, voyeurism, and thinking of your own. You can get lots of ideas from the internet about additional ranks.

The next aspect the Guide covers is Religion and Spirituality. This is broken down into five parts – Adherence, Tolerance, Religious Demeanour, Religious Association, and Religious Roles. Each part has its own smaller rankings, so let’s take a look at them one by one.

Adherence covers how closely to a religious philosophy a character believes. Are they an atheist, agnostic, a casual adherent, or an orthodox adherent (firm believer)? There’s wiggle room to all of these, but a general idea is always helpful. Of course, in some settings, there are more signs of divinity than others, so things like being an atheist or an agnostic are a lot harder – but can be fun to try and pull off.

Nritya is a Casual Adherent, as she was present six years ago when the avatars of the Twelve Gods were called to the Battle of Carteneau, even though she wasn’t a combatant, and it’s kind of hard to deny the presence of the Gods when you’ve seen their avatars in the heavens. Even though those who know of the Gods say they are silent, and their corresponding stones of worship no longer glow as they once did, she cannot deny their existence, so Nritya continues to worship them as she finds the time – usually when her travels take her near one of these ‘dead’ stones.

Tolerance speaks of a character’s willingness to accept differences in beliefs in others. A character is either inclusive, tolerant, or intolerant by the Guide’s rankings, which generally covers the way most people are about religion.

In the case of Nritya, she is fairly tolerant, however the Garlean’s insistence that the Twelve Gods are monsters and should be abandoned is something she cannot stand for. Essentially, if others are intolerant of her ways, she cannot be tolerant of theirs.

Religious Demeanour is broken down into three traits that explain how your character acts in regards to their spiritual beliefs. Let’s check these out individually.

The first trait is Expression of Beliefs, meaning how often your character talks about their beliefs. Is it something they don’t share at all, do they share it occasionally, or is it a constant subject of discussion?

Nritya only Occasionally talks about her beliefs, usually when she’s asked about them, or the subject of the events of the Battle of Carteneau, the Godstones, or the Twelve themselves are brought up. Otherwise, she’s generally quiet about them.

The second trait covers whether or not your character is up to Converting Others. The options are that they never do such, casually convert others, or aggressively convert others.

In the case of Nritya, she will Casually convert others through the course of conversation, if the topic of religion comes up.  So it isn’t exactly never, but she’s not exactly going out of her way either.

Religious Association describes what kind of association your character is a part of. There are many types of associations, but the Guide lists five basic ones for us to use – general, cult, fellowship, solitary, and Indigenous.

While there is a Cathedral to the Twelve, there isn’t much of an organised religion that I’ve found that would interest Nritya, so she is a Solitary adherent at the moment, though like many, she does pray at the Godstones and converses with others who are there when she is.

Lastly, Religious Roles covers whether or not your character has a specific role within their religion. This can make for some great RP, especially if there are others who are willing to acknowledge your character’s role; don’t be discouraged if people won’t, a lot of people are a bit weird about this subject, especially if there are NPCs with the same roles. The roles the guide suggests are Abbot/Abbess, Cult Leader, Disciple, Guru, Hermit, Inquisitor, Jihadist, Missionary, Monk/Nun, Patriarch/Matriarch, Pilgrim, Priest/Priestess, Prophet, Sacred Courtesan, and Shaman.

Because she will travel to the nearest Godstone to pray when they are nearby, Nritya could be considered a Pilgram by many people, even though she herself never thinks about the fact that she is one. As she was one of the ones who prayed at them just before the Calamity, she truly is one, but does not draw attention to that fact.

The next aspect of this step of the Guide is Quirks, Habits, & Oddities. These are the little things that make your character unique, and they can be good things or bad things or neutral things. There is a huge table of things to select from, so be sure to take a really good look and if you’re unsure of what to select, percentile dice can help you pick a few things.

For Nritya, I selected Dancing, Talking in Sleep, Self-Inflicts Pain/Injury, Singing, Blade Sharpening, Insomnia, Sleeping in Odd Places, Tree Climbing. Some of these work together and some of them stand alone. Some of them work with her primary aspects and secondary aspects, some of them are hidden secrets that work against her. They add deeper flavour to the character, and put the finishing touches on her personality.

The next aspect of this step of the guide is Hobbies & Enjoyments. While some of these are the same as the listings in the prior table, these are ones that have been cultivated into a hobby, or are done for enjoyment. Some of them may align with the above, while some may be completely new.

With Nritya, I selected Acrobatics, Dancing, Singing, Painting, Metalworking, Weaponsmithing. While she isn’t a master at any of them, they are things she works on perfecting, and things she enjoys doing with her free time, and some of them work with her core concepts while the others are purely for relaxation and enjoyment.

There are a couple of somewhat optional pieces to delve into now. The first is Topics of Conversation, meaning what sort of things your character defaults to talking about when silence fills the room.

Nritya always tends to talk about weapons and weaponscraft when she has to be the one leading the conversation, since that is what she focuses on. She will try her best to speak in a manner that lets any who isn’t familiar with the subject join in, and explains anything they don’t understand. She doesn’t like people to feel left out, and enjoys sharing her work with even people who aren’t as into weaponry as she is.

Another optional component is Group Affiliation. This can be anything from NPC groups that exist in your world setting, to your PC group(s). Some games have room for multiple options for both types while others are more limiting.

Nritya is a member of the Blacksmiths’ Guild, the Alchemists’ Guild, and the Carpenters’ Guild because they are the three NPC guilds that cover weaponscrafting in XIV. She is also a registered member of the Adventurers’ Guild, like most player characters. Lastly, she recently was hired on as a member of the Dark Embers Free Company, which is the group I run in XIV; sort of a necessary thing since she’s an alternate character of mine, but we came up with IC reasons for her to be there too. Anyone who is a member of the Dark Embers Free Company is automatically a member of the Embers Alliance, which is our Alliance linkpearl.

Lastly, one can add Emotional Disorders, and the Guide has a table of well-known disorders, however one can always grab the DSM-V (which should be going to the DSM-VI soonish) and pick out any disorder they wish.

Given what happened to her six years ago, and her return to Eorzea a year ago, Nritya suffers a form of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This isn’t on the Guide’s chart, but it’s the only disorder that really fits for her, and is very much so required given her past – which we’ll get into in the next article!

This concludes Part One of Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, and the third article in the series about the Guide. Our next article will start delving into the second part of the guide – Background! To see how Nritya’s character sheet has progressed, take a look at the copy we have here.

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Storytelling in MMOs: Main Story VS Your Story?

Mar 05

Storytelling in MMOs: Main Story VS Your Story?

Welcome back to Storytelling in MMOs.

Last time, I mentioned that one of the key problems with MMOs these days is that they still run with a main storyline that implies the player character is the “one true hero” or something to that effect. The key events focus around the player character, and often make the character powerful compared to the rest of the world, including the NPCs.  This leads to quite a lot of contention about whether these events are even usable by PCs and Storytellers at all, and how they affect role play in general; it can tear entire communities apart when certain kinds of storyline events hit, particularly if class elements become tied to the “one true hero”, and make a class singular to that powerful near-Mary Sue.

It is possible to use the main storylines as a Storyteller and even a player, it just takes some work to marry them into your storylines and backgrounds. I call it “taking a side step” from events, using the information there to create sidelong plots that entwine with the actual events, but rarely cross over into the actual events themselves – your players don’t go slay the main dragon, but they may take out one of his brood or “general” type dragonkin, for example.

The trick is to use elements from the main plots without using the largest key points from the main plot. Some of you may already have learned to do this with the large plot arcs that some table top and LARP books and groups make if you didn’t want to follow the arc that closely, particularly if you were buying the books or were part of a larger group right as the arc was “airing”.

If you’re playing an MMO like Guild Wars 2, where they have a very actively changing main story – they call it the Living Story there – the world around you changes at a very rapid pace, with a lot of huge events happening in chained short story arcs. For the more part, the player character is the “one true hero” alongside some key NPCs, so outright using the main plot as your story is typically a bust. However, while I was playing, I found using the smaller elements such as the Events System or related Hearts and even the smaller quests were great for converting into storyline elements.

Most MMOs have a longer storyline cycle, however, giving you more time to pick apart storyline elements and use them in your own storylines. This slower introduction time also allows your players more time to savour the elements of the story, and enjoy the role plays you provide, and also process those into their own “downtime” RPs.

The underlying benefit to this is that it marries your plots to the game itself, removing the potential argument that your storylines are just a distraction from the game; when your elements are bringing the players back to the current content time and again, and even processing current content while being done, this argument often becomes invalid. It also gives your storylines a deeper tie to the lore, which is appealing to many players, even those who don’t necessarily lore hound all that much, because it makes it more “realistic” to the setting.

It may take a few patch/story cycles to get used to picking out viable elements to use in your stories from the main stories and larger side stories. Don’t be afraid to try adding these elements into your stories, or basing entire stories around them – just explain what you are doing to your players, and ask that they give you time to work out the kinks in the system. Storytelling, like role playing, is an ever evolving creature, and will take many twists and turns as you get comfortable in your chosen game and setting. Mastery does not come overnight, and most players will understand that and give you the time you need.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to side step main storyline concepts and elements you don’t believe will work for your group or your storylines; however, acknowledge that they happened in the world, just don’t involve yourself and your group with them in a direct or side-stepped manner. They happened in the world, they just weren’t something that happened to anyone your group knew well.

As mentioned before, the events of the main storyline have to be acknowledged in some manner, even if distantly, as they do change the world around you and your players. The “one true hero” and their supporting NPCs will carry on with their quest, the factions will fight, and the world will change whether you wish for it to or not. Always take what you don’t use, and at least have it mentioned in passing in some manner so that it’s known.

With these basics, you can start using the world story and integrate it into your group’s story, making it your own and becoming one with your chosen game. So get out there, and start finding the elements that you like, and make them part of your world!

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Character Development: Tips & Tricks – Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, Part I

Mar 05

Character Development: Tips & Tricks – Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, Part I

Welcome back to Character Development: Tips & Tricks!

Many apologies for the delay – I had some serious health issues arise, and a computer upgrade that went awry. It was mainly the computer upgrade that kept me from being able to work on this, as doing much more than basic tasks on the computer caused overheating.

Those aside, let’s get into this edition’s content.

As promised, we’re going to take a look at Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality and Background development. The guide has been around for years, as I found it back when it was linked on the Raven, Mythic forums for EverQuest II, circa 2007, and it had been around for some time before then. I have used it ever since then as a way to build complexity into my characters from the start, and have given the site out to each gaming group I’ve been with in the write up for our character sheets/dossiers. It is a rich tool that even veteran role players can find benefit from.

We’ll be using a new character I’ve made for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Even if you’re not familiar with the game, you should be able to follow along with the process and understand the elements that Ash uses and that I’m drawing from the game to create the character. If you find you have interest in the game, there is a free trial, but I can get you a buddy pass version that gives out benefits in the form of in game items if you use the Contact Us form and send me your e-mail; I’ll send you a code for the buddy trial, and if you end up getting the game, you get the cool swag.

Let’s get into the Guide! As with my original write up on the Guide, this article is going to cover Steps I and Steps II, and a follow up article on the 19th of March will cover Step III, while the article on April 16th will cover all of Part II.

Part I – Personality

Ash has a table version of a character sheet for this process in the Guide. I personally use a document version that can be found on my Google Drive, which I’ve made public for people to copy and use. A copy of the character I’m making, Nritya Maji, is also available for viewing in full.

The entire Guide can be used one of two ways, which can also be used in combination. You can go through and pick your various personality traits individually yourself, or you can use percentile dice – or a monstrous D100 (or online dice) – for random traits. There are various ways you can use this in combination: you can select some traits yourself, and some random traits or select some traits yourself, and random traits when you draw a blank or select random traits but discard ones you don’t like and select ones you prefer. There’s a lot of ways you can use them in combination.

The Guide also only has a base selection of traits, as it would be much longer if Ash had gone through and added every single personality trait, hobby, quirk, and oddity in existence. Users are encouraged to come up with their own additions to these, and a thesaurus, personality tests, online hobby stores, and the DSM can be your best friends.

The first aspect that Ash has us look at is the character’s primary motivator, what single thing drives them forward in the course of their life. Of course, characters can have multiple motivators, and I usually list mine in order of importance to the character – primary, secondary, tertiary, etc.

So let’s take a look at Nritya Maji. She is a weapons expert, of sorts, but not of a conventional manner. She studies weapons, learns them inside out, then drafts plans so that blacksmiths can create the weapons again. She also may make improvements or adjustments to the weapons as well, or create entirely new weapons from them. As such, the Creation motivation fits her quite well, however the Discovery and also the Understanding motivations fit as well, as they are needed to do what she does. Lastly, Nritya learns how to use all the weapon types she studies, though she only gains some proficiency and is not a master at any of them, so she can teach people the basics of using her creations, so Education fits as well.

The next aspect Ash has us take a look at is the character’s Emotional Disposition and Moodiness, as they are entwined together and affect one another greatly. The character’s emotional disposition is the sort of “default mood”, how they are without any sort of outside stimuli to affect them, and their moodiness is how easily they are affected mood-wise by outside stimuli.

In the case of Nritya, she is somewhere between Calm and Curious by default, so perhaps it’s best phrased as Calmly Curious. While she remains calm, she pays attention to the world around her, and is curious about what is going on in it. Things that are out of place, at least in her mind, catch her attention, and she will observe them until she feels it is right to investigate them. For the more part, she is Phlegmatic, though there are specific triggers that will break her calm and bring forth her ferocity, such as endangering those she considers dear.

From here, Ash has us look at ten key aspects of a character that make up their secondary traits – Outlook, Integrity, Impulsiveness, Boldness, Flexibility, Affinity, Comportment, Interactivity, Disclosure, and Conformity. These ten key aspects can really flesh out the personality of a character, giving them life and really bulking up their personality before bringing them into play without needing to create a history for them. There can be some conflict in these categories, as that makes for a more complex character and more fun in role play, so don’t be afraid to pull from both sides of the coin.

Outlook is their general view of the world, how they see things, the way they view life. In Nritya’s case, she is very Idealistic, Hopeful, Upbeat, and Confident, though she can become a bit Resigned if she feels like her ideals cannot win the day, though she generally pulls out of such quickly due to her confidence.

Integrity is the characters basic moral values, usually regarding society, but it can be generalised. With Nritya, she is Honest and Responsible but it often makes her Impractical, as she will go to great lengths to remain honest, which often ends up biting her in the arse and getting her into even more trouble that she must get out of. People also don’t like to hear the truth sometimes, so it often hurts her socially, as she doesn’t often sugar coat her words.

Impulsiveness describes how easily distracted from their goals and current activities. Nritya is usually pretty good about staying on task, so I’d say she’s Focused, Steady, and Thoughtful though some outside stimuli can make her act a bit Rash from time to time.

Boldness describes their willingness to face dangers and combat situations, and other such types of situations. For Nritya, while she knows how to wield her weapons, she is not a master of any combative form, so she will only go so far when facing danger. She is Chivalrous but is Vigilant, defending her friends and allies when she can, but doing so only when it is within her abilities to do so.

Flexibility describes the character’s mental and emotional adaptability to new situations. With Nritya, initially she may or may not be wary, then may or may not warm up to the idea presented, depending upon the situation; with weapons, she is highly adaptable, however. Largely, this makes her walk the line of Tolerant with streaks of being Tense. She can be Relentless when she latches on to an idea, especially when it comes down to weapon ideas, or something to do with those who she considers close.

Affinity describes how the character emotionally connects to others. In the case of Nritya, she is very Altruistic and Empathic, even if she might not show it. She will be ever Supportive of her allies, and defend them to her last breath. However, if she’s interrupted while she is working on her weapons designs, some may find her to be Self-Absorbed and Uncaring.

Comportment describes how the character generally interacts with society, what their style of interaction is. Nritya is Modest and somewhat accidentally Charming. Sometimes she comes off as being Defensive, usually when people become upset over the fact she’s being too honest with them and not sugar coating her words.

Interactivity describes to what degree the character interacts with others. With Nritya, she tends to interact with people, but is more of a Listener than a talker, may seem a bit Stand-Offish as she’s not touchy-feely like many Miqo’te are. She enjoys watching people and learning about them from observation, simple being around them.

Disclosure describes the degree to which the character reveals information about themselves to others. Nritya may appear to be an Open-Book, however she is more Evasive and Cryptic about real matters of import. It makes for an interesting kind of interplay when people are questioning her about herself, and how she chooses to reveal things.

Lastly, Conformity describes the character’s relationship to cultural norms, which can get kind of complex in multicultural games like Final Fantasy XIV. In the case of Nritya, the first culture I have to look at is the Keeper of the Moon society…which she did not spend much time in, since her family went to Ul’dah at a young age for business. In that regard, she is very Free-Thinking and Exotic, as she doesn’t follow their traditions very well. However, when it comes to the Ul’dahn traditions, she is somewhat Mainstream in the fact that she understands them and follows them to a degree, but Rebellious in the fact that she believes the Syndicate must be taken down and the people must be freed from their horrible tactics so that the gil can be equalised amongst the people.

Whew! That was a lot to cover, and Nritya grew a lot from what we’ve done.  Just take a look:

  • Primary Motivator: Creation, Discovery, Understanding, Education
  • Emotional Disposition: Calmly Curious
  • Moodiness: Phlegmatic
  • Outlook: Idealistic, Hopeful, Upbeat, Confident
  • Integrity: Honest, Responsible, Impractical
  • Impulsiveness: Focused, Steady, Thoughtful, Rash
  • Boldness: Chivalrous, Vigilant
  • Flexibility: Tolerant, Tense, Relentless
  • Affinity: Altruistic, Empathic, Supportive, Self-Absorbed, Uncaring
  • Comportment: Modest, Charming, Defensive
  • Interactivity: Listener, Stand-Offish
  • Disclosure: Open-Book, Evasive, Cryptic
  • Conformity: Free-Thinking, Exotic/Mainstream, Rebellious

Seems like a short list, but that’s a lot of personality for one character whose just starting out! Even with just this much, I could take Nritya and start role playing with her right now, and be able to navigate most situations she encounters, even without getting into her background.

With this, we’ll close this lengthy edition, with our gaze looking forward to the third step in the first part of Ash’s Guide – which includes all kinds of personality quirks, oddities, and hobbies that finish fleshing out a character’s personality!

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Storytelling in MMOs: Tips & Tricks – Arriving in an MMO

Feb 04

Storytelling in MMOs: Tips & Tricks – Arriving in an MMO

Greetings, and welcome to the first edition of the Storytelling in MMOs series!

As many of you are aware, each medium where role-playing is found presents its own set of unique problems for the storyteller, from tabletop gaming to forum role play to MMO gaming. While some of our tricks work regardless of medium, some of them have had to be developed specifically for the medium we are playing in. This series of articles will cover not only some universal tricks that will work in any medium, but a few that were designed to work specifically with the challenges that exist only in MMOs.

The first thing many storytellers face when dealing with an MMO is the realisation of the sheer size of their new world. MMOs are often massive, just as their name implies, and often feel more massive than a table top game or LARP setting despite the fact that many table top and LARP settings are a bit larger, while a storyteller coming from a forum based setting more likely than not is dealing with a more massive setting. It can be quite overwhelming for either type of storyteller because suddenly the setting is essentially a living, persistent entity that carries on with or without them.

An ongoing persistent world that continues with or without the storyteller is actually the key element that is the core difference between story telling in any other medium and an MMO. Typically, the storyteller maintains the majority of control over the story, however in an MMO…you don’t.

The control lies with the creators of the MMO, in a way that it did not lay with the creators of the RPG system one might have used for their table top, LARP, or forum games before. The creators of the game will constantly make the world and lore change according to their vision, not yours. Other people will possibly impact the world around you, without your permission, depending upon the mechanics of the game. One day an outpost that was vital to your story may be there, and the next day it may be gone – or it may be gone an hour after your merry band of adventurers left it, due to an event beyond your control, rapidly changing your plans.

Many storytellers become frustrated by the lack of control they have over the world, or by the lack of influence they can have over the world. In some MMOs, there are systems that allow for very large temporary changes that fit great with a storyteller’s plan, but they’re only temporary and leave no real lasting impact on the world, which leads to frustration of a different kind.

These lacks of influence are one of the first challenges a new storyteller has to face when bringing or building a role play group in an MMO setting.  We have to learn to give up some of the control we have on the events of the world in a much harder fashion than we do in other mediums; we  have to accept that the main storylines’ canon is happening, and it is not happening to our group, but that it does impact our group.

At the same time, we also have to make the canon events flexible enough for the information and setting styles to be used by our players. Oftentimes, everything in the game is sort of tailored to being that the player character is the ultimate hero, to the point where even the class information and canon can end up implying – or outright stating – that only the singular player character has unlocked that class and can be that great paragon who can do that one thing.

Such things make it very difficult for your players to be more than just commoners with one health point, which would give everyone very little to work with.

This is where you start to have to apply what table top and LARP games call “house rules”, however, we’re now working in MMOs. We are not working in isolation. Nearly every MMO one goes to role play in will have at least a semi active RP community, and it is very likely that your players will end up interacting with the people from the community. Expect your “house rules” to be judged, expect them to potentially end up being discussed by this community, and potentially ridiculed if they veer too far from the MMO’s canon or don’t fit well with the “community rules” that have been created.

Sometimes, this will be constructive criticism, but sometimes, it will be less than so. You can chose to ignore the commentary, and carry on with your group, and simply not take part with the community as a greater whole or you and your group can attempt to integrate into the greater community and become a part of the RP population on the server. That choice will ultimately be up to you.

If you don’t entirely fit with the community that springs up around the chosen MMO, it doesn’t make you and your group bad people. It simply means you have different ideals and goals for the game. My suggestions is that you keep your doors open to those who do share your thoughts and wish to join in your role play path, but don’t actively try to force your group to fit into the greater whole constantly and continually. If individual members wish to try to create and maintain relations with the community at large, that’s their prerogative, but you do not necessarily have to force the group to do so as a whole.

It can take time to get these initial issues smoothed out, no matter how talented the leadership and storyteller staff of the gaming group is; these initial growing pains are just on the storytelling side of the group, and do not include the basic growing pains a gaming group goes through in general when they arrive in a new gaming situation. While your storytelling staff is getting these things settled, ask your player base to be patient with them, and remind them that it will be worth the wait!

Never be afraid to ask for more time during the initial migration to a new game, or during the initial creation of a new group. As you can see, there’s a lot on your plate that you have to deal with, and some of it may not be pretty once you do get into it. These things have to be sorted through and taken care of, the storytellers have to work these things out, even if some of them are just mental adjustments, before the real core of storytelling can begin with an MMO setting. If these aspects are ignored and the storytellers just jump in, it can quickly lead to burnout and a sudden lack of story content and RP events.

Take your time, think about these issues, and work them out in ways that benefit and work for your group in the best way possible. Once that’s done…

…let the magic begin!

 

 

Jumping – Action Pose Reference by Faestock

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Character Development: Tips & Tricks – Conceptualising a Character

Jan 14

Character Development: Tips & Tricks – Conceptualising a Character

Whether it’s your first character or your five hundredth character, the first step to character creation is brainstorming the concepts of the character, conceptualising who and what that character is going to be. Sometimes, this is a long process, and sometimes, the character just flows through your mind, building itself as though it was always there. Whether it’s an easy flow of thought, or something you need to sort out, this is still the first part of the process of having a character, so it’s something we need to discuss.

I want to start off by having a little discussion specifically for newer role players, though it likely will strike a chord with veteran role players as well. Some people are going to disagree with me, and you’re welcome to post your perspectives in the comments, however I ask that you please keep things civil and constructive.

Newer role players often end up being intimidated by the entire concept of playing a character that has a personality that is not familiar to them, and they may have been told to not play a character that is too close to their own personality.

Frankly, when you’re starting to role play, it often is easier to play a character that has personality traits and mannerisms that are similar to your own, and it makes it easier to learn about the other processes involved with role playing when this is done; don’t be afraid to base your first few characters off of yourself, or the ideal person you would like to be in the setting you’re playing in. Just keep in mind that the character is not you, that you are not actually a part of the world you are playing in, and you cannot achieve the things your character is in the game through the same methods – this is called In-Character/Out-of-Character Separation, and it’s very important.

I have considered the pros and cons of playing a character that is heavily based off of the individual playing the character, and ultimately I came to the conclusion after twenty three years of role playing in formal settings that this isn’t a bad method of introducing people to role playing. As I mentioned above, it seems to let them concentrate more on learning various things like the mechanics of the game system, the lore of the world they’re playing in, and the general processes of role playing and character development instead of worrying about whether or not they are portraying their character accurately. Granted, the storytellers do still have to watch for signs of IC/OOC separation issues, but overall, I’ve found that this is not as heavy of a problem as most people claim it is, as long as people are willing to explain role playing and IC/OOC separation clearly from the get go to the new role player.

That being said, if you feel confident in playing a character that isn’t very much like you even though you’re new to role playing, that’s perfectly fine as well. I just wanted to voice that it was okay to play characters that were based on your own person, as a lot of people either gloss over this option or speak against it; really, it is up to the person making the character, and always should be.

With it being established that it’s okay to have a character be as near or as far from being like yourself, let’s discuss some of the ways people brainstorm their character concepts when they’re approaching a new game. These tend to work regardless of whether the game is a traditional table top RPG, a live action RPG, a forum RPG, or an MMO and one method will work for one person while it won’t work for another. Experiment with your conceptualisation process, and find what works best for you.

Image Dump

One method people use in their conceptualisation is often called an “image dump”, where they scour the web for images that visually “call out” to them with various traits their character has. Sometimes these end up being official and fan art images of one character they’re using as a sort of template for their character, sometimes these images end up being scattered across various characters that are serving as muses for different aspects of their character.

These image dumps may be a personal thing, locked away in a folder on a person’s computer or in their cloud storage where just they can view them, while others will share their image dumps and ask for opinions or ask for people to add to the collection, expanding their muses and giving them more ideas to play with. The internet and social media have made the image dump methodology very popular, as images are far more accessible than they used to be, and advice is just a mouse-click away.

Artists may finish an image dump by sketching out the character in some form, even before actually creating the character in whatever format they’re going to play in. They may create full artworks of the character to get a better feel of the character, but most of the time the art is just very loose and sketchy.

 

Scenario Building

Another method people use, usually when a character concept is just flowing like water, is scenario building. This method involves imagining the character in different scenarios, and how they would react, creating a sort of head canon-type movie set. This process allows the person to get a general feel of how the character reacts in different situations, and lets the player easily “retcon” something they don’t like about the character’s reactions.

When bringing a character into settings that have iconic characters, many people put the character into scenarios that involve meeting these iconic characters, and try to figure out how they would react to them; often times, these iconic characters represent their archetype in the game, just a sort of larger than life version of such, so it gives them a good opportunity to tune the character to the setting.

Again, this method largely only works for characters that are flowing through your brain.

 

Concept Generators

Sometimes, when a person is really stuck with character creation, they turn to a character generator. There are a many different types of generators online, from game specific generators, to broader generators that make characters that can be trimmed to fit any game. These generators include concepts and personalities, and some that are game specific will also build the character sheet and mechanics specific things for you as well.

Using a concept/character generator can be fun if you’re drawing a blank for a character, or if you’re interested in something new and want to try something outside your normal range, or for games like Paranoia where you’re going through characters rapidly. For storytellers, this can also work great as a tool to make NPCs, but that’s for another column!

Even if you have the beginnings of a character in mind, a concept/character generator could be a useful tool, as it may have some concepts and personalities you haven’t considered or thought of yet. Some of the more advanced ones get fancy and let you input some information while it generates the rest, so you can take your current concept, and see what else it adds. They’re fun to play with, so looking up a generator or two isn’t a bad idea.

 

Once you have a general concept in mind, it’s time to move on to the heavier process of actually creating the character, which we’ll cover in our next instalment. I personally am a fan of Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background process for character creation, as it covers a lot of things even veteran role players sometimes forget. We’ll be going over all of that soon, so stay tuned!

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