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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