Awhile ago, a friend introduced me to tabletop RPGs. As a fan of RPGs in general, I was intrigued.
What exactly are tabletop RPGs? Unlike their video game counterparts which are largely played solo, these are played in a group. From week to week, you stay with the same group, usually continuing the same plot. Stories can vary. From realistic worlds in various time periods, to fantastical or science fiction adventures.
One of my favorite things about it is that you have so much freedom and creativity.
That freedom also happens to be one of my least favorite and most anxiety inducing things about the genre.
The idea that I’d have to prepare and create a character was intimidating. I know, that sounds ironic coming from an author.
Creating characters is one of my least favorite parts of the writing process. There are a lot of decisions to make, and while it’s essential, I constantly second-guess myself about the calls I make and wonder if I should tweak everything.
Facing a blank character sheet is an anxiety-inducing nightmare. One I haven’t completely faced on my own, at least. Usually, I have a friend—the Game Master (or GM)—on the phone, and we talk things out.
I created a new character for a campaign a couple of weeks ago. Let’s walk through the process, and if you’re like me and new to this medium, it may help inspire you or let you know that you can do this.
One: Pick a Race (or Archetype)
Last year, I made a character based on the world of The Librarians. It’s one of my favorite TV shows, and I love the movies, which made that easy. It was for a pulpy game set in the 1920s. And while the GM wouldn’t allow using fictional characters directly, he did let us use established archetypes and organizations.
This time around, however, we needed to make original characters from the ground up. The setting we’re using comes with a number of races that players can choose. Looking at the list the GM sent me, I immediately zeroed in on the High Elves. If there is an excuse to play as an Elf, I will almost always take it.
This is a source of familiarity, as elves are inside my comfort zone. And while each new character takes me slightly outside my comfort zone, this choice was familiar. And it does wonders for my anxiety.
This will change from group to group, but my GM made it easy. He made sure each faction or race had a description, a list of themes, their historical or literary inspiration, and notes about their role in the world or roleplay tips. Once I knew I wanted to play an Elf, I took those characteristics and started to shape the character. If your GM didn’t provide something like that, be sure to check the rulebook for the game you’re playing. Many games provide something similar to help guide players.
Two: What is Your Character’s Goal?
You know how toddlers go through that stage where every third word out of their mouth is, “Why?” As tabletop RPGers, we have to ask that question just as much.
Why are we here?
Why does this character want to come on this campaign?
What are they trying to gain?
While there is an essential goal of the campaign, the GM also required each of us to set up an individual goal, something we were working towards behind the scenes.
To do this with my character, the GM and I went through some lore in the game world. I could craft a goal by poring over that and even using the campaign’s central premise.
Knowing what drives a character does wonders in creating her. Knowing what’s at their core helps influence every decision you make after. For me, establishing this very early in the process takes some of the tension off of the rest. Once their drive and motivation are set, they start speaking to you and giving you the rest of the info.
With a race and a goal under my belt, my Elf was starting to take shape.
Three: What Do They Do?
What we do helps shape who we are. Writing has shaped my life in ways I would have never expected. When creating a character, their job can help shape them just as much.
In the case of this particular character, I chose to have her have both a job and a passion. While an Elf, she is, so far as I know, the oldest party member; but she’s still young for an Elf. And as such, she’s helping with family business. But it’s not what she wants to do with her life.
In a sense, sneaking away to follow her passion is an act of teenage rebellion. When she met the party, she did not give them a last name or even her full first name.
At this point, we have a race, a goal, and a job. What’s next?
Four: Character Traits
She’s a teenager as far as the Elves are concerned, just past the point of being “of age.” That aspect, paired with the aloof snobbish habits of elves, makes for an exciting contrast. She’s inquisitive yet tries to hold that aloof aura elves tend to have. It causes her to double-speak at times, and question what she’s saying.
There’s another reason this was so important. The GM challenged me to step outside my comfort zone and make a character I wouldn’t usually make.
Plus, character traits are easy to play off of, both for you and for the other players.
With all this under my belt, my Elf took shape. It was only at this point that I started fishing for names. This image, the foundation of who she was, helped me look at names and ensure that the character felt correct.
Breaking things down into smaller steps made that blank character sheet feel less overwhelming. Each step built on the previous and helped shape my Elf.
I’m excited to see what I can do with her in the campaign I am a part of. But by taking this approach to create the character, I created her with little to no stress.
To wrap up, let me give you my biggest anxiety reducer. Don’t do it alone. Throughout the process, I chatted with the GM, and he helped me narrow down some of the decisions. Sometimes, you need someone else to help you get out of your head.
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