3. Preparation for Role-play.
No matter the game or the system of character creation used to get the basics for your character, any
good role-player does certain things before diving into their role. Let us deal solely with games in
which character statistics do not have much of an impact on the character which is desired by the
player. This would include games such as H&X, GURPS, Amber, and any free form role-playing. It is
these games which give us the most leeway in who our characters are.
a) Who do I want to be?
Before entering into any role-playing game I always sit back for a while and just let my mind wander. I
think about wonderful characters I have met in books that I have read. I think about characters from
television and movies, as well as personalities from history. I let them wash over me in huge waves,
allowing myself to remember the qualities that I found intriguing or entertaining in those characters.
As all of these visions float past I extract a quality from here and there and sure enough a rough
outline begins to form... a piece from Gerald Tarrant, the Vampiric Anti-hero of C.S. Friedman's
Coldfire Trilogy, the honour and ruggedness of Tolkien's Aragorn son of Arathorn, the non-chalance
and ease of action of Indiana Jones... And so on. And no, those are not who Dementius is (although I
must admit that Tarrant might have worked his way into him a bit). A thing to note is that, when one
does this they are not trying to be any of these individuals, but merely taking small portions of them
to help define who the character will be, to form a basic template. Note I cannot stress enough the
danger of focussing too much on one individual character from another source, one needs to keep
enough distance so that the character is truly one's own creation.
Once this template is formed, the game itself must be considered. What is the setting that this
character will be placed into? How will this affect who I would like to be and what form will this
person take on within the scope of the setting. One must also be realistic about who one wants to be.
To play the part of a quick witted, fast talking shyster like Autolycus is not an easy thing to do, and
therefore you must be prepared to meet that demand. To play such a character properly and
consistently is a difficult task. Also keep in mind that a large part of the setting is inhabited by others
and with that comes a level of scrutiny by them. A character should be able to withstand that test of
scrutiny. That does not mean that the character needs to be loved by all or even liked by any, it
merely means that people pick up on a character that changes in personality and action alot.
b) Where, why/what, how, and when.
Now you are ready to take a harder look at your character and who this person really is. In my
opinion this is the most important part of the process, because it defines every thing that is to come.
And it comes from asking some simple questions: Where, why, how and when. . . What these
questions provide is the history of the character. Once you have developed a detailed history, it
becomes much easier to put your character into situations that are taking place around him or her.
Where is the easiest. Often this is something that I will come up with last once all of the other pieces
fall into place. Although it can have a major impact on several of the other factors of the character,
this is normally one of the more "fluff" pieces of information. Let's face it, Does the fact that Gabrielle
comes from Potidaea really have a bearing on her character? No. And yet a character such as
Callisto's home town is incredibly important. Both are great characters and good examples of the
value (or lack there of) of knowing where one comes from.
Why is a very important question, for it is what inspires us to create the history. Why is my character
the way he is? What has happened in his or her past to bring him/her to this point in life. To properly
answer these questions we must now delve a little more into the character's history. What were the
shaping moments in the character's life? Was it an easy childhood with a loving family? Was it a
broken family, or abusive maybe? What were the major individual events that happened to the
character that caused their views on people, races, love, profession to be changed or formed? Was
their village or family (or member there of) destroyed or killed? Did they have a failed relationship, or
many of them? Or was it something good like the annual festival that came and piqued their interest
in Storytelling? Were they raised in a temple by priests and thus have a love for them or is it a
contempt and hatred. These are the things that one should examine, for it is what truly begins to
bring one's character to life. Now, in conjunction with the why and what questions we must also
examine how the character reacted to these events. Sometimes some of the best refinements come
from this decision. Some prefer to choose the "Hollywood hero" reaction of vengeance and
retribution. I prefer to think about it some and see what other quirks or things can come from taking a
different look. What would the character be like if they became deathly afraid of Warlords, to the point
of paralysis or inactivity. That doesn't mean they are coward it is a valid phobia based on the
character's life events. It may just be that Collin scares the person to death, it doesn't mean that his
legions do. And so on...
Finally, when in this character's history did s/he arrive at the present. Is the character matured and
set in his or her belief system and attitudes? Or is the character still a wide eyed young person who
is trying to find their place in the world? Two perfect examples are Xena and Gabrielle. Xena the
hardened warlord who, though she is looking for a new path, constantly shows the effects of her
hard and difficult past. Gabrielle, who goes through many changes trying to truly figure out who she
is and is open to anything new that comes along.
The development of a past is probably the most important thing any good role-player will do. To do it
before actually stepping in the character is something that the better ones do. It allows them to know
from the start who they are and to avoid going through a radical change in their character as they try
to figure this stuff out.
4. Assuming the Role
Now that the character has a past it is time to start building a present. The way to do this of course is
to become the character and enter into play. After all of the preparation that has gone on, the player
should be very comfortable with their character and who they are. Now the job is to integrate into the
game. Alot of people tend to have the bad habit of spilling too much too quickly. I prefer the subtle
approach. I find that often it is best to observe what is going on around you first, patience will reap
you larger rewards in the long run. Now this does not mean one shouldn't become a part of the game
right away, it just means do not be too anxious to reveal your hard work. People who blurt out their
entire history to me, have lost my interest right off the bat, because now I have nothing left to learn
about them. It is so much more intriguing to learn about a person gradually, that way they grow on
you. Too much gets lost with an overkill of info.
Allow information to seep out naturally, not to impress people, but as your character would naturally
allow it to come out. The purpose of the history is not to be blurted out but to give you a framework
for how your character reacts to situations and interacts with others. Use this information on a
regular basis, think of who the character is and how they would react to such a situation. Very
quickly it begins to become a habit and things begin to flow. It is also recommended to review the
history you have created on a regular basis, sometimes one can catch themselves straying and
losing touch and this will often bring you back.
5. Character growth
Now just because a character has been created and a history prepared, this does not mean that the
character cannot change in any way. Just the opposite, the pre-work is done as a guide, the purpose
of the play is to take that initial character and have him or her grow. Now this change should still
remain true to the history that has been done up and follow a semi-logical path. Once again subtlety
makes the change gradual and more believable. The play also allow one to delve more deeply into
the character and should always brings out new twists to the character itself. I find it useful to jot
down this stuff, especially if it is significant. One would also hope that the character more of these life
changing events through his her active life. This allows for more development and growth. And of
course the history cannot take into account everything one's character will experience, so again it
allows us to grow more in the role.
6. Anti-Heroes, and the Strange
There is an attraction to playing the strange, quirky and/or anti-hero. I know, it's what I normally play.
Why? Because it allows a person to stretch themselves some and it also make for a much more
interesting character. Any perfect hero is quite boring, one needs something that sets them apart
from the rest. All good characters should have quirks, it are these quirks that define them.
Now when I speak of quirky or strange characters I still hold to my stand on subtlety. A character that
does everything just to draw attention to themselves I would not call quirky or strange, I would call
them annoying. To play a character that may have some mental imbalances does not mean they
need to be ranting and raving all the time. On the contrary, it is those brief times of insanity that
makes the whole quirk believable. Insane people are often very very in control on the outside. Dark
characters can also be tiresome if they on occasion do not let some sunlight in.
If one chooses to play a character of an unsavoury nature or of dubious character, one should first
ask oneself why? Is it being done to explore the character and to entertain not only yourself but to
offer others something to experience and role-play with? Or is it a grab for attention. The former often
gives others a reason to interact with the character, the latter a reason to ignore.
There are many ways to create characters and to role-play and this is only my view on how I do it.
Granted this view comes from a long history of playing and from knowledge gained discussing the
topic with some of the best role-players I have ever met. From the discussions several common
themes have always surfaced:
- Know your character well.
- Remain true to your character.
- Role-play for fun (both yours and those around you).