Character Development: Tips & Tricks - Ash's RPG Guide - Part I
Welcome back to Character Development: Tips & Tricks!
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 will cover Step III, while the next article 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
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!