Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tabletop Tips: Building Character

By Patrick Hawes-DeFrias

Roleplaying games are all about the characters. This should be obvious enough, after all they are the roles that players act out in their games. But, playing a good character, and doing it well, can be rather difficult. So, this week we’ll discuss tips you can use to play a character that will be fun, and not get in anyone’s way.
I roll to do everything
As you create your character, you may see various ways to make them jack-of-all-trades that can handle any situation. This is mostly notable in games with large spell lists, because you can more or less find a spell for virtually anything.
Don’t do this.
It’s good to make a character that is flexible- after all, if they’re too specialized, then they won’t be able to handle situations that they aren’t built for. But, if you min/max a character and load them up with spells that make them able to replace your fighter, rogue or cleric, then your fellow players will start to wonder why they bothered rolling a fighter, rogue or cleric. This isn’t to say that your characters can NEVER have any cross-over, you can’t guarantee that your rogue will always succeed on every attempt to unlock something, so maybe you have a spell for unlocking doors just to be safe. And perhaps you can use your class’s wide move pool to make interesting builds specifically to replace other classes- say, for example, you don’t have a fighter or fighter-like character in your party. You could, for variety’s sake, build a spell-casting character around various buffing spells to take that role on in a different way. It’s a game, so you should have fun with it, but that fun shouldn’t come at the cost of everyone else’s. This leads to my next point-
I’m the hero!
Just as your character’s build shouldn’t step on anyone’s toes, neither should their personality. You should never have your character act as if they are the lead of the story. It’s a collaborative narrative, where all the players are the protagonist. You need to make sure your character shines when appropriate, but allow others the opportunity as well. This can be a hard balance to keep, as some people just have an inherent drive for participation that’s stronger than others, are better talkers, and so forth. And of course if the game needs to progress and nobody seems to be taking the initiative, then you might just have to do it yourself out of necessity. I think this is the fairest approach to it- if your DM has presented your party with a situation, think about whether or not there is another character present that would be able to deal with it just as well, if not better, than your own. If there is, then give them a chance to react, and then jump in if nobody else does. If there isn’t, then just go for it. BUT- if you notice that there never seems to be a situation that your character would be better equipped to handle than anyone else, or vice-versa, then you may need to consult with your game group about whether or not you’ll need to deal with the issues from the previous section.
 Choose your allies wisely
My final topic for today branches off of the previous one. You see, being the guy that thinks he’s the main character isn’t the only problem that can arise when forming a character’s personality. You also need to make a character that meshes well with the party as a whole. What do I mean? Well, as a group of people in a roleplaying game, everyone will likely be very different in terms of personality, and that’s great. You want your group to be a diverse ensemble of people, because if your player characters are too “same-y”, things will get boring fast. And hey, perhaps your characters will come into conflict now and then. That’s also fine, as argument and disagreement are natural parts of being people, and they will serve as important character-building moments in your game.
BUT, don’t let this get out of hand. Make sure your character is going to have a disposition that might present interesting counterpoints to the others in our group, rather than be an obstacle. For example- if you make a character that’s an overly self-centered rogue, only cares about himself, is willing to cheat and steal to get ahead of everyone, and so forth, maybe he shouldn’t be paired up with the altruistic paladin and cleric that are on a quest to save the world. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t make a selfish character with this kind of group at all- in fact, for this example, the cleric and paladin having to set aside their qualms with rogues in order to use his skills could be an interesting moment for characterization. They might become more respecting of each other, and the rogue might change his views as well. It’d be a really natural, fluid bit of storytelling. BUT- that’s only if you don’t go overboard with it. If you, as the rogue, are constantly stealing from people, lying to others without reason, and in general being a hindrance and nuisance to the group as a whole, then the other people in your game group will have to make a decision- either A) just accept what your character is doing and move on for the sake of the story at the cost of not getting to play their characters the way they want, or B) their characters will have to confront yours about it... and that could lead to huge problems quickly. Your characters may end up having to fight each other, which means a character or two might die (and thus lead to the game being stalled as the party pools their resources to revive who they want to come back, and everyone else has to make new characters). Alternatively, your character may choose to leave, or the party might drive them away. Do you think your DM will let that just roll, and keep switching back and forth between what the party and your character are doing? Of course not. The DM has set time aside to make encounters and fights for a SPECIFIC party size, and beside that, managing what’d effectively be 2 games simultaneously would be incredibly frustrating. No, what’s going to happen is your DM saying “OK, your character walks off, and is never seen or heard from ever again. Roll a new character.” And of course, the example with the rogue I made up is just one cause for conflict in a party- it could easily swing the other way, with a character that’s too “goody two-shoes” getting in the way of the party doing anything. There’s many ways that a character can be “too much” of anything, so it’s your job as the creator of that character to pull back a bit if you start getting in the way of fun. It’s a game after all, there should be no reason for people to be missing out on fun.
We’ve come a long way…
So, if I had to boil this down into 2 words, I’d say “be REASONABLE”. Don’t overload your character with abilities to let them be a one-person party, and allow others in your group to take the spotlight. Don’t get in the group’s way without good reason. Compromise now and then, just as others in your group likely had to as well. Above all, DON’T BE A SPEEDBUMP FOR FUN. If you are doing something that makes the game not fun for other people, you are officially “that guy”.
Don’t be “that guy”.

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