Approaches to Character Creation


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.

Player Interaction

When coming together to play RPGs, regardless of system, one of the key aspects is player interaction. Playing an RPG is a social game where talking and working with the other players and GM is the focus. Concentrating on how social interactions are supported by the system or expected to support the setting can help you improve your play and make the game more enjoyable for you and your fellow players.

The majority of games focus on player-on-player interactions with completely separate characters. Examples from games we've played on Technical Difficulties include MonsterHearts and Call of Cthulhu. In these games, the player only plays their Player Character and nothing else. Everyone else is one of the GM's NPCs. When players interact, it is a one-on-one conversation. In these games, the focus needs to be on who you are as a character and how that drives your interactions with others. For example, in The Wives of March, as Pepsi, I was interacting with NPCs, Laura's, and Rachel's characters. So how I formed Pepsi was entirely based on my mental image of him and I had complete freedom in how I interpreted my character. I wrote his backstory with his club before the game began from a prompt that he was a friend of Country Large, but as in the midst of play I formed how I was a friend of Country’s and the lengths I would go to help him. Pepsi’s decision to help him was made in part due to his friendship but also the personality trait of wanting to help people that had developed in the course of the game.

Similarly, with MonsterHearts J.J was fully developed as a character before we began. His relationships with Catrin and Neko served to illustrate some of his reserve, as well as aided character development by helping free him of some of his loneliness. He was influenced by his relationships with Catrin and Neko, but in the end he was my character. He grew to love his friends and their camaraderie made for an amazing campaign. Think about not only what they would say, but why they would say it. What kind of a person they are on the inside is just as important as their actions.

There are some games where there are two characters associated with one player, but another player pilots the second character. Two systems that tackle this are Better Angels (coming soon!) & Monsters and Other Childish Things . In MAOCT for example, the player creates both the monster and the child, but the player only controls the child for social scenes. While they control the monster in combat, in social sequences the monster is controlled by another player. This allows for an easier means of interactions, as the player isn’t controlling two characters at once. It also allows for more genuine interaction by giving the player a foil, but it also means entrusting that character to another person. The other player starts with a description of the character, but then makes them their own within these parameters. For example, Aaron started with Laura’s  description of Jak-Jak as a puppy, and then imbued him with curiosity and energy.

In our No Soul Left Behind campaign in the Better Angels system, however, the two characters (a supervillain and their attached demon) are created by two separate people. The demon is created completely divorced from their chosen player character and the controlling player has free reign to design them. This can be both a help and a hinderance. My character’s demon is being played by Adam — he’s doing an amazing job with pushing my character’s buttons and opening avenues to show his pettiness and ability to be evil in spite of himself. Meanwhile, I’m the demon for Laura’s character, and I’m having a lot harder time. I’m trying to push her character to do bad things and nothing has worked thus far. At first I went too hard, trying to convince her to steal laptops for a student’s help. Then I tried to go for something that felt more possible for her to do, set a fire as a distraction, but that didn’t work either. I think part of it might be her trying to show that her character is trying to resist the demon, but it’s frustrating from my perspective because it feels like I’m being ineffective while other players are having much more success. That’s not true, though; it’s how she’s portraying the character, and eventually when she’s desperate for dots in her sinful stats she’ll need to give in, which will make the earlier resistance all the more powerful. Don’t be discouraged by things that feel like failures, because they usually aren’t. Even if it is a failure, it’s a learning experience to be better for the future.

Another side of the ‘multiple characters for one player’ are games where the other player controls NPCs, such as in Red Markets and Delta Green. These NPCs are usually relegated to scenes of home life at the start of the session and may be referenced later. The vignette system in both games has another player control the PC’s friends and family. These are usually shorter scenes that serve as establishing who the PC is. Like with the monsters in MAOCT, these NPCs are designed by the player but fleshed out by the second player. Part of what made the Reformers such memorable characters is their NPCs; Pixie’s relationship with Sarge, Freebird’s relationship with his son, and Elder’s relationship with Jesse all showed sides of the PCs that aren’t shown in the battlefield. Delta Green uses these relationships as fuel for their survival, allowing the player to sacrifice the relationship to save themselves. If they survive, this affects later vignettes, and they’ll have to spend valuable time repairing relationships instead of bettering stats or restoring SAN. But without their dependents, they might not be able to survive that SAN damage in later games.

So the next time you’re at the table, think of what system you’re playing and what type of player interaction it uses. By being cognizant of this you can see how you play, you can see what’s successful, and what you can improve upon. And perhaps knowing how you interact with other players might help you interact with people in daily life.

New Year, New Characters

In addition to using the new year to reflect on the campaigns past, it's also an opportunity to think about the characters you had played and what types of characters you would want to make for the coming year. You don't necessarily have to plan out which systems and campaigns if you don't know what you're doing; rather, you can see what the characters you had played were and how you would play differently, or even if you want to.

One thing I've noticed is my tend towards non-human characters. In MonsterHearts, while J.J. is human, he is a demigod and has his Minotaur form. In games off mic, I've played multiple draconics (in a pair of 5th Ed. DND campaigns), a cat person (in the ADND game that's been ongoing since I started the hobby a few years back), and a Rodain (in Star Wars Edge of the Empire). Even into the future, the character I've got stated out for Eclipse Phase is a Pig Uplift. In most of the one-shots I have been in COC or Delta Green, as well as the upcoming Better Angels: No Soul Left Behind campaign, I've been forced to play as humans. There's no issue with playing non-human characters, but I might try to play more explicitly human characters in upcoming games.

Also with those characters are their personalities. This might come as a shock for people who have heard me play and GM, but I tend towards Lawful or Neutral Good characters who are usually moral and try to be good people. The hardest I've pushed is with J.J., and even then he mellowed out as the campaign progressed. While the physical character can be easier to shift around and change, changing the personality I play with will be harder. I don't want to go full scumbag, but in future character designs I should try to go for harder / colder people in addition to the nicer guys and gals.

These aren't necessities, mind you. It is good to grow as a role player, but there's two standards that you should always uphold: it should be A) a character you want to play and B) a character that will help the party. We play these games to have fun, so what is the point of playing a grim dark jerk when that's only going to make you miserable? If you feel like you are forcing yourself to play a paladin, or Sith, or werewolf, or what have you, is it worth it? And while it might be good to be a divisive character, if it breaks up the party in character it runs the risk of breaking relationships out of character.

Do you have any ideas for new characters you want to run? Anything that helped you get over the hump of making a new character? Tell us in the comments!