Getting into Character
Role-playing is part of the game. Heck, it’s even in the name of the genre: Role-Playing Game. Some people seem to be natural born actors, slipping into the role of their character, whether it’s a player character or the DM playing a dozen different non-player characters over the course of one session. Others may struggle a little bit as they try to find what makes their Half-Orc Barbarian different than another Half-Orc Barbarian. I’m here today to give you some tips on how to make your character yours.
First off, let me say that there are people playing role-playing games who do not like role-playing and that’s okay. If it’s not something you enjoy, make that preference known. I have a player in my Pathfinder group who dislikes the role-playing aspect, but loves exploration and combat. In fact, though she likes to play Fighters and Barbarians, she is usually able to come up with an idea that the rest of the group misses. So, if someone doesn’t like role-playing, don’t force it on them.
So how do you make a character your character? Well, let’s start with the basics.
First thing is to think of your favorite character, no matter what genre. Try to see what traits that character has that you like and see how those traits might fit into a role-playing character.
1. Character Concept
This is where it all starts. Before you open a rulebook, you should have some idea of the character you want to play. You don’t have to have every element of their personality planned out because that may change depending on party needs, DM suggestions, or even what stats you roll or select. So, let’s say you want to play a Fighter. But instead of playing a Two-Weapon Fighter or a Sword-and-Board Fighter, you decide that you’re going to focus on the spiked chain. You’re still playing a Fighter, so you get access to all of the abilities and Feats (so…many…Feats…) that the Fighter gets, but you can Weapon Focus feat tree on the spiked chain. Same class, same abilities, different weapon.
2. Ability Scores
But what happens if you roll up your stats and you come up short in the Strength department? You can still play the spiked chain Fighter, but you might have to be more creative in doing so, since your damage output will be less than if you had a higher Strength score. Spiked chains, for example, can be used to make Trip and Disarm attacks. Plus, according to the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, you can use Weapon Finesse even though the spiked chain isn’t a light weapon. That means you can use your Dexterity instead of Strength for attack rolls. So, if your Strength is a little lower and your Dexterity a little higher, this might be a good thing to look at. Plus, when I’ve been the DM for this combination before, I’ve ruled that if the player is using the spiked chain for a Trip or Disarm attack, then they use their Dexterity for their Combat Maneuver Bonus instead of Strength. That’s up to your DM, though.
Ability scores can be a source of role-playing, too. A Rogue with a relatively low Dexterity score isn’t going to be the super silent cat burglar type, but by using their high Intelligence score to scout out the security first, they may not need to be.
A Wizard with an Intelligence of 15 isn’t going to be able to access spells higher than 5th level, but they can certainly make up for their lack of spell power by showering off how much they do know by maxing out their Craft (Magic Item), Spellcraft and Knowledge (arcana) skills. They might know the theory, but they don’t have the application of the theory down yet. But when they put that next ability point into Intelligence and finally get that 6th level spell, you better believe that you’re going to hear about for a long time.
“Oh, I finally understand this part of the theory! I can now learn more powerful spells! What spells should I take? I have so many options! What do you think? Offense? Defense? So many choices!” Etc., etc. By the time they’ve chosen their spells, the next combat encounter has already started.
The Core Rulebook and Player’s Handbook will give you ideas on how a Race is portrayed, usually including their society and relations with other races. The easiest thing to do is to find an archetype of that race and portray it that way. For example, an archetype of an Elf would be Legolas Greenleaf from Lord of the Rings. Everybody knows who he is, so when they meet the blonde Elven archer, they say ‘Oh, he’s like Legolas’ and they have an understanding of what they’re dealing with. The downside, however, is that all Elves archers could be seen as the Legolas archetype. If you find an archetype appealing to role-play, then that’s fine. Play your character the way you want.
But what if you tweak the archetype? What if you were to play an Elf named Curly, who was raised from infancy by Halflings due to some unfortunate happenstance with the Elf’s family or village? Curly is an Elf that’s optimistic, cheerful, and outgoing as opposed to wanting privacy and upholding tradition. You might change the Elven weapon proficiency to match the Halfling weapon proficiency, so Curly uses a sling instead of a bow. He speaks Halfling instead of Elven. Yes, it’s different than the archetype and it can make the character more interesting. “Oh, it’s another Elven archer. Great. Hey! Who put this whoopee cushion on my chair?”
Since we’re talking about role-playing, think of introducing Curly to ‘real’ Elves? That’s role-playing gold, right there.
Barbarians are wild, superstitious ragers, mowing down whatever is in front of them. Paladins are upright and truthful, standing fast in the face of evil. Rogues are sneaky, stealthy types who are just hiding until they can slit your throat and steal your wallet. Wizards harness tremendous power, but have their nose so far in the air that they can see behind them.
Again, these are archetypes and again, find those tweaks that you would find interesting. How about a Rogue who has maximum ranks in Knowledge (Law) and who works for the Crown apprehending thieves? A Barbarian who spends enough time with an adventuring party might come to see that magic can be beneficial and puts a rank into Use Magic Item for a wand of cure light wounds. Or even better, the Barbarian Crafts a wand of fireball into the handle of his greataxe. Nobody would see that coming. A Paladin could decide to go have a pint or six at the tavern with the rest of the group. Assuming the Paladin is of third level, a judicious use of Lay On Hands can get rid of the fatigued or shaken conditions. This makes the Paladin better company for the party and doesn’t (usually) violate the Lawful Good alignment. I’ll get to alignment changes in a minute.
5. Character Name
For me, this is always the hardest part. I’ll come up with a cool concept for a character and then I can’t think of an equally cool name. If you’re like me, I strongly recommend Seventh Sanctum (http://www.seventhsanctum.com). They have just about every kind of name generator you could ask for. Some people do the reverse, though. They have the name and build the concept around the image that that name provides.
Obviously names are going to be determined somewhat by your Race, but have some fun with it. Half-Orc? Their names usually have lots of consonants and the last name is some feat that they’ve performed. So, a Half-Orc is honored to be named Thrunkor Rabbitsmasher! He once smashed 18 rabbits in thirty seconds. That’s something to be proud of, right? Elves usually have ‘natural’ sounding names, like Greenleaf, Jadeheart, Seedtraveller, Vinehider…stuff like that. Someone might be a little surprised to be introduced to Latatl Poisonflower.
Find a quirk for your character. It doesn’t have to be anything major or even something you end up using for the character. They touch their right earlobe whenever entering a building. When setting up camp, they prowl the perimeter three times before getting into bed, even if they aren’t on watch. If they’re in an inn, they check to make sure the door to their room is locked before lying down. For me, I like to pick out a catchphrase for my characters. I played a Dwarven Cleric who’s catchphrase was “Bouncing baby bugbears!” when he was surprised and “By my hammer, I swear it.” when taking on a job. Again, the catchphrase doesn’t have to be one you’d use, but if can create one, if can give you an insight into the character and give you something else to role-play with.
Alignment can be a tricky thing and occasionally you’ll have the concept but the rules don’t work that way. A lawful Barbarian. A Neutral Paladin. A Chaos Monk. According to the rules, those three classes have to be particular alignments, but you think a Chaos Monk could be really cool! So what do you do? Work with your GM. Tell them the concept of the character you want to play and see if they’ll go for it. Have something written up for them so they can see how the character works mechanically and make sure it isn’t over- or underpowered.
For example, the Chaos Monk is an easy change. Why? Because the Monk class requires a Lawful alignment, but the only thing the Monk gains from being Lawful is that at 10th level, the Monk’s unarmed strikes are considered Lawful for the purposes of overcoming damage reduction. Now, the general feeling that I’ve seen is that the Monk is a martial artist (I’m going to write another blog on this at some point) and the Lawful alignment indicates control. But what if the Monk is out of control? He uses anger to fuel his abilities, similar to, but less powerful than a Barbarian. At 10th level, the Chaos Monk’s unarmed strike is considered Chaotic for the purposes of overcoming damage reduction and instead of being able to spend a ki point to increase his Armor Class by +4 for one round, the Chaos Monk gains a +4 to his Strength for one round. That’s it. Two changes and you have a Chaos Monk. Not a whole lot changes mechanically and there’s a difference there that stands out.
8. Change your voice
Okay, I’m not talking about becoming a Rich Little-style impressionist. If you don’t know whom Rich Little is, look him up on YouTube. I’ll wait.
You're back. Yay!
Obviously not everyone has that type of talent, but you don’t need to be that in depth with changing your voice. Try an accent. Personally, I have two separate accents aside from my hybrid Ohio-Colorado with a little bit of Canadian pronunciation thrown in accent: Australian and Southern. My mum is from Australia and my dad is from Southern Central Pennsylvania (essentially Northern West Virginia). Apparently I sounded odd as a child. Find an accent that you like, hit up YouTube and find someone with that accent and see what you can do about copying it or at least coming close. Or learn some of the language and throw that in. You can pretend any language is the language your character speaks. “Oy vey.” ‘I don’t know what you said. Where are you from?’ “Oh, I’m from the west side of Waterdeep. We speak a different dialect there.” Gang signs are optional, yo.
If you can’t perform an accent or are uncomfortable trying one, try altering your vocal pattern. Add in random pauses or speak faster than normal. Affect a stutter, switch words around, or leave words out of sentences, especially if your character doesn’t speak the Common tongue. Think of the stereotypical “In Soviet Russia…” joke and mimic that speech pattern and maybe exaggerate. “In Dwarrrven humeland, we qvit when dead!”
As a DM, I prefer that my players have some sort of back-story that I can use to play off of. I don’t require a back-story and I certainly don’t require a thesis on why someone’s character doesn’t like sauerkraut. What I like is to have a hook. A hook is a piece of a character’s history that I can weave into the storyline to give that character some importance. Currently, I’m running a Pathfinder game based off of the show Warehouse 13. The party goes to different places and finds different magic items and artifacts while combating people that have them and don’t want to give them up. One player, who is Elven, met up with the clan of Elves his father was from (and kicked out of due to experiments he wanted to perform) and the character asked if he (the player) could be let back into the tribe. After succeeding in single combat against a monster, he was to be given a special Elven blade, but only if he returned by a certain date since they can only be made three days a month. The only problem is that my ‘Artie’ has another mission for them and they don’t know how long it’s going to take.
Family history is always a good hook, but you can use anything as long as the DM has something to work with. You owe money to a loan shark from the last town you visited? Some level-appropriate heavies might show up to collect. You insulted the wrong witch and now you’re cursed to smell like onions for the rest of your life. You have an imaginary friend that you have to speak to at least five times a day or ‘bad things may happen.’
Okay, so there are nine tips on getting into your character. Remember, the point is to have fun with the character and making them just that little bit different can make it a little more fun.
Thanks for reading and until next time, be awesome to each other and good gaming.