Character Creation

OK, I tend to get detailed when I create a character.  I like a character to be self-consistent, have depth, and be cool.  To arrive at that, I use a number of resources and decide a lot of things about the PC.

Table of Contents

The Basic Character Concept

This should be the short blurb you might give to describe the character:
  1. What is the character's race?
  2. What is the character's vocation?  Be specific.
  3. What are the character's most fundamental defining characteristics and abilities?
Example (for a Shadowrun character):
Basically, the concept is a guy that grew up in the Louisiana bayou, surrounded by magic.  He felt a calling to fight the "predators" of the world.  He joined the New Orleans police force for a short while, but his lack of corporate savvy and his computer illiteracy made the job too tedious for him, so he left.  He turned to bounty hunting and found his true calling.  Went to Seattle chasing a bounty, stayed there in his Uncle Jean Baptiste's home for a while after the bounty was captured.  His cash started to disappear, but he did not know enough about the streets to work bounties in Seattle just yet.  He put out an ad for a partner.  Only one man worth spit responded, Rolf Badden, a Wolf Shaman (the other PC).  They worked together for a year before the game started and at least trust each other to watch their backs.

I wanted him to be quick and good at unarmed combat, but magical, so I went for an Adept.  However, I figured that an Adept without spell defense would not last long hunting down magical criminals, so I made him a Magician Adept.  I wavered between Mongoose and Gator as Totems, but finally settled on Mongoose, a totem I created.

What's in a Name?

OK, this can be easy or hard, just as naming a real life person can be.  Be aware of how your name could be truncated into a nickname.  Also, if you are playing a street operative of any sort, be sure and pick out appropriate street names.  I encourage you to look up appropriate names for a desired ethnicity.  Some useful links:
  • If you just don't want to think about it, generate one randomly based upon US census data with this random name generator.
  • Any baby names source is great.  They not only give a wide variety of names, they also give meanings, which can provide more depth to a character. As a happy consequence, this allows you to learn about names, which is of real life utility and interest.  You can be lazy and just hit your favorite serach engine for "male native american baby names", as an example. There are also a number of babyname sites, but the better ones will let you conduct an advanced search by origin/nationality and gender. On line I have used (I recommend the advanced search as it allows to search by nationality):
  • Another source: Think! Baby Names
  • For a given nationality, you can still find some in the above, but you can also just do a web seach.  Some links I have used for building characters are:
Example (A name for Cajun bounty hunter in Shadowrun):
Well, his family are original descendants of the Acadian family Boudreaux.  They are a bilingual family, speaking English and Cajun French.  So I chose a first name from the French language, Etienne.  I seem to recall Etienne being the French analog for "Steven."  I wanted a historical name for his middle name, something pretentious, and some of my own ancestors had the name Napoleon, but I don't know how the Acadians felt about him.  At a loss, I went with Chauvin, a fictional character in a French play so renowned for his patriotism and devotion that his reputation spawned the English word chauvinism:

Main Entry: chau·vin·ism
Pronunciation: 'shO-v&-"ni-z&m
Function: noun
Etymology: French chauvinisme, from Nicolas Chauvin, character noted for his excessive patriotism and devotion to Napoleon in Théodore and Hippolyte Cogniard's play La Cocarde tricolore (1831)
Date: 1870
1 : excessive or blind patriotism -- compare JINGOISM
2 : undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which one belongs or has belonged
3 : an attitude of superiority toward members of the opposite sex; also : behavior expressive of such an attitude
- chau·vin·ist /-v&-nist/ noun or adjective
- chau·vin·is·tic /"shO-v&-'nis-tik/ adjective
- chau·vin·is·ti·cal·ly /-ti-k(&-)lE/ adverb

The above was taken from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Voila!  Etienne Chauvin Boudreaux

Physical Description

This can help others a lot. 
  • What is your character's gender?
  • What is the character's obvious ethinicity if any?
  • What is your character's physical height, weight, and build?
    • Weight: Lean, slim, fat, etc.?
    • Body type: skinny, square/athletic, or round?
    • Color of hair, eyes, skin, etc.?
  • What does your character's clothing and visible equipment look like?
    • Quality: sturdy, flimsy, dirty, immaculate, thick?
    • Cost: expensive, average, cheap?
    • Does he carry a visible weapon or distinctive piece of equipment?
  • What overall style does the character have?  Street, cowboy, goth, frumpy, business, student, punk, fashion victim?
  • Does the character have distinctive jewelry or accessories?
    • A hat?
    • A purse?
    • Jewelry?  Ear rings, necklaces, bracelets are most common.
    • A distinctive coat?
    • Glasses/sunglasses?
    • A cool watch, wristphone, archer's bracer?
    • A distinctive tabard over their armor? (usually true of fighter in a unit, esp. agents of a fantasy world clergy)
  • What mood or demeanor does the character convey?
  • How does the character carry himself?  What is his bearing like?
  • Address all of the appropriate other senses.
    • Smell: does the character have a strong and/or distintive smell?
    • Hearing: does the character make a strange sound?  Breathes heavily, drags foot, jingling spurs/jewelry, or an odd absence of sound?
    A lean, muscular man strolls into the bar.  His height is above average for a human, about 1.8 meters.  He stands tall and proud as if his arrival is significant.  He immediately starts scanning the room with his eyes as he walks towards the bar.  His gaze flits from woman to woman in the room, lingering on the more attractive ones.  He pays closer attention to male companions of the women in the room as if measuring the threat they pose.

    He is dressed a little strangely, neither chic nor paramilitary.  An unremarkable face with brown eyes that sparkle with glint of a quick mind peer from under a worn brown fedora. A short, slim goatee and mustache frame his lips, which are curled into a slight grin.  The beard is almost black, but his hair appears to be dark brown.  A white sleeveless undershirt stretches over his muscular torso over which is draped a sturdy looking dark brown jacket that has the appearance of leather, although it seems a little thick.  He steps over to the bar and props one shoe on the foot rail and the large, well defined sinews of his leg press themselves against the baggy leg of his tan pants.  This pose draws attention to his footwear, dressy work shoes that look like they are made form some type of reptile skin with an olive color and a faint banded pattern [king cobra skin].  As he reaches his hand out to flag down the bartender, his jacket falls open slightly, revealing plain tan suspenders holding up his pants and a heavy pistol in a shoulder holster.

    An attractive young woman walks by, trying to look oblivious to his presence.  He takes off his his brown fedora and bows slightly, revealing thick, short, dark brown hair that has been loosely combed back.  He smiles wide and says in a heavy accent "Bonjour petit femme, a very good day to you."  The accent seems French, but there is something strange about it.  He watches her and nods to himself as she walks on, then orders a bottle of Blackened Voodoo beer.

Background and Crunching the Numbers

It's pretty hard to separate the two, but you can create one completely before the other has been decided.  I'd start with the background, then crunch some numbers, edit the background, and repeat.  I would prefer a background to be submitted in the form of a narrative as though the character was telling someone he trusted very well about his past in great detail.  For examples, see some of my characters, Etienne "Mongoose" Boudreaux, Gabriel MacGuinness, and Ken Kaze.  For a more interesting approach, take a look at Bayushi Shinkaze; I wrote his background in vignettes.

Note: "gaming activity" refers to the things the PCs will be doing, e.g. wandering the land freeing slaves, investigating paranormal events, corporate espionage, whatever the campaign is based around.

  • Where was the character born and on what date?
  • Was the date and/or the nature of the character's birth special in some way?  Ex: a prophecy, a winter solstice, etc.
  • Childhood
    • Transient vs. stationary?
    • Cosmopolitan vs. sheltered?
    • Normal family, broken home, orphan (try to avoid it, a little overused) ?
  • Education & Training
    • Where did the character study/train?  Pick out specific names and locations for schools, academies, boot camp, whatever;  it definitely helps strengthen the reality of the PC.  I would be happy to help offer suggestions.
    • What did your character learn?  Please touch on the skills learned.  You do not need a laundry list.  If you talk about basic training, I'll assume that would cover, Guns skill (even though in the military you would not have called it a "gun"), Running, Tactics, Stealth, Hiking, an improved HT, perhaps some levels of Strong Will, etc.  If the character learned something unusual then please mention that, e.g. learning origamy at basic training.
    • Make a note of degrees, honors, awards, and honorifics earned.
    • The earning of permits and licenses with game mechanical effects should be mentioned.
    • The reason that the training was pursued or occurred could be good material too.
    • Be sure to mention any special abilities or unusual advantages.
  • Important turning points in the character's life
    • Change of job/school?  Why?
    • Change of residence? Why?
    • Significant change in belief system or philosophy?  Why?
    • Important accomplishments?
    • Significant relationships with other, family, plutonic, lovers, etc.?  What happened (briefly)?
  • Explain the source of philosphies that are significant to the character concept, some good examples of things to hash out follow, but also see the next section on Psyche & Habits.
    • Religion (if any)
    • Afterlife, reincarnation, nothing?
    • Moral Code, especially regarding
      • theft,
      • taking another's life,
      • some inkling of when performing the gaming activity takes precedence.  Would your character sacrifice his moral code to do his job?  To what extent does that hold true?  This can be anything from "it's just a job" to "it's my God-given mission."
    • Major political beliefs.
    • Goals.
  • Discuss the character's family.
    • The nuclear family.
    • Significant family deaths.
    • Family life.
    • Any dependents?
  • Explain significant resources
    • Poverty or wealth.
    • Contacts.
    • Magic Items.
    • Really big guns.
    • Starship.
  • Does the character care especially for anyone?
  • How did the character get involved in the gaming activity?
  • Why do they continue to do it?

Psyche and Habits

The level of detail here is really up to you.  The more detailed you are here, the more accountable you are to a concept.  That really is a lot more fun as you have a better idea of what your characer is and what it would do in a given circumstance.  The most important ones are in bold italics.
  • Religion (f any)
  • Afterlife, reincarnation, nothing?
  • Moral Code, especially regarding
    • theft,
    • taking another's life,
    • some inkling of when performing the gaming activity takes precedence.  To do you job, would you sacrifice your moral code?  To what extent does that hold true?  This can be anything from "it's just a job" to "it's my God-given mission."
    • Are there things that your character simply will not do?  Where does the character "draw the line."
  • Major political beliefs.
  • Goals.
  • Personality
    • Extrovert vs. introvert
    • Happy vs. sad
    • Talkative vs. quiet
    • Physical vs. Cerebral
  • List a few hates, loves, likes, dislikes, and fears.  A mention of this in the background would be appropriate, but not important.
    • Individuals.
    • Groups/Companies/Countries
    • Pet Peeves
  • Habits
    • A general schedule of the character's day-to-day life would be useful, e.g. work on day so-and-so, feed the orphans on day so-and-so, etc.
    • Favorite food and drink.
    • Favorite piece of equipment.
    • Favorite place.
    • Favorite restaurant/entertainment spot.
    • What does the character do outside of work?
      • Hobbies/pastimes
      • Duties, e.g. volunteer work.
    • Does the character have superstitions?
    • Favorite movies, music, books, etc.
    • Miscellaneous quirks, some examples follow.
      • ubiquitous toothpick
      • coin flipping
      • plays with cards
      • rubs a stone when nervous
      • nervous tic
      • talks with hands
  • Loyalties?
  • Humanities: does the character care for/about art, music, theater, etc.
  • Family ties?  Does the character get along with his family and what level of contact does he have with them?

I Remember the Face but . . .

Having a face for your character can really help, especially when you are playing a character very physically different from yourself.  You can track down an artist through friends or at a nearby school.  Another option is a software package


Questions? Comments? Please let me know via my questions/comments form!