In general, I’ll first come up with the personality or find a character from other media that I want to emulate. Then I’ll go make the mechanics fit the character. I don’t think I have a play style, and I rarely stick to a character type. I’ll usually pick the class or utility that’s needed for proper party composition.
For Red Markets and Elder, I knew I wanted to play a Mormon missionary from a different country stuck in the Loss and explore the stranger in a strange land aspect. The original concept was to be the face of the group, but that already taken, so he became the driver instead.
For Road Trip Remix and Dwayne I just thought it’d be fun to ape Zeke from Bob’s Burgers. I knew a lot of other characters were going to go heavy in mental traits, so I steered more towards physical abilities.
I'm constantly delighted on how a character will develop during play. I'm currently in a 5th Edition D&D campaign you’ll never hear where I just wanted to play a goblin. Initially I played him generically; be evil, fight, etc. But after a few sessions he turned into a Rocket Raccoon-type. Tenacious, greedy, chip on his shoulder, but deep down he’s loyal to his friends with a soft spot for other outcasts.
I’ve come at characters from both directions — starting from mechanics I want to play/explore and from a personality I want to play. Unlike Aaron, I do have a character type (tanks. smart, snarky tanks who just want to get the job done), even if I’ve consciously started trying to break away from it, beginning with my first Tech Diff character. Yeah, I'd never played a social/face character before Pixie. I think she worked out well. Had fun playing her at least.
While I feel I've been reasonably successful at diversifying the class of characters I play, I've been less successful at roleplaying different personalities. Characters have, over time (if they don't start there), tended to converge on my general personality. Which has led to more than a few characters simply focused on getting the job done (more so in one-shots), keeping the party organized/moving forward, and generally exasperated at the insanity of circumstances. Partially this is because I don't plan characters before sessions, playing with more of an improv style. I'm a reactive player, rather than a proactive player. But if I want to role-play different personalities (and I do), I'm going to have to do my homework before sessions, come into games with a plan of where I want them to go this session, and keep character traits closer to mind while playing. It should be fun.
I usually begin by thinking about the party role or mechanical build that I want to play, and develop a personality based on that. I’ve discovered that I usually fall into one of two character types. I’ve got the gruff self-confident highly-masculine combat guy, or the shifty selfish rogue. Usually when I try to “play against type,” I accidentally just end up over in whichever one I wasn’t thinking about. In Red Markets Freebird was the combat guy, and Attendant was the rogue. The next Red Markets character that I’m planning will be a combination of both, I think. I’m gonna lean into it and see what happens!
In Road Trip Remix, Carter was more based on my real personality when I was a kid, mixed with other boys I remember from Boy Scouts and school. I feel like I actually did manage to play against my usual types for a change, though a little of that combat-man stuff still managed to sneak in there.
I’ve also had the challenge of creating whole groups of pregens for my Civil War scenarios. I try to cover all the mechanical roles in a party while also developing distinctive realistic personalities for each character. But I also have to keep those personalities a little vague, to give players the room to develop them for themselves. That’s been a great learning experience.
Usually my starting point is to see what character classes are available and decide from there what I’d like to play. Then, I see what everyone else has chosen. If the party is lacking a particular role, I’m happy to play that. But I will try to manipulate the concept I started with when first looking at the available classes into the class I end up playing. After coming up with the class, I use it as inspiration for the type of character I want to play. I know I have some precilications in my characters: male, non-human, jack of all trades classes. I’ve tried to be better about mixing things up when I can, but, being new to the hobby, I haven’t had as much experience as some players, so playing what I’m comfortable with helps me get into the character more easily.
For MonsterHearts, I was able to stick with my first choice: with Apocalypse World hacks, there isn’t as much of a need for balance since all the moves work in their own right. Looking over the available classes, I initially narrowed it down to the Minotaur and the Gargoyle, and decided that, for the setting we were playing in, the Minotaur would fit in better. I built the character out by chosing my starting powers, then fleshing out the character. With AW systems, they have character building aids, like what their eyes look like and what body type they are, to build up the physical description. Then, after thinking about his backstory and personality, J.J. was fully formed and ready to rock.
In Better Angels, since we do group character creation, I had to come up with my character beforehand and let the powers and skills arise in play. I thought about who I wanted to be: a brass tacks, average super hero/villain origin story mashed with keeping it real by being honest about living as a family that has lost a parent.
Whereas our upcoming Eclipse Phase campaign, I started with my predilection for non-human characters. I was interested in an uplift, and since I’ve never heard of a player choosing a neo-pig before, I decided to go with that. My plan was to be a psychologist/morph designer, but when we started making characters, I quickly realized that we didn’t have any combat characters. I therefore offered to switch and make a combat character. I kept his psychology skills, but added more combat skills and weapon proficiencies. In making this action psychologist, that helped flesh out his backstory and I started to ponder why a psychologist would have an affinity for plasma weapons. Through this my character become more realized, and he became ready to go. He’s been a blast to play, and I can’t wait for everyone to meet him and the rest of our cast.