Saturday, 17 March 2012

Creating a character you and your friends will love! Part Four: Becoming your character!

Dallas Kasaboski
The last three blog posts have been working toward this. I wrote those so we would be on equal footing at this point, but the entire purpose was to get you here. In my opinion, this is the most fascinating part of D&D, the development of a character, turning that character sheet into, well, one which you and your friends will love and remember/reference for campaigns to come!

So, let's just quickly review. You've made a character. You've spent so much time, maybe too much, poring over books and things and you've statistically made your character, all the appropriate boxes are filled in. On top of that, you've given some serious thought as to backstory. You've made a way for your character to fit into the DM's world and given your character some general motivation in life. Perhaps, you've thought of personality traits already, perhaps not. Either way, you are ready to play, but you're a little unsure.

What is my character like?

This question, and variations of it, come up so often in D&D. You want to role-play, but unless your character is you, or you're just a really good actor, you have no idea where to go from here. The Player's Handbook is generally good about what makes a character tick, asking questions to determine how you might handle certain situations. But, it's one thing to say, "My character is brave" and quite another to prove it. When it comes to showcasing your character, actions speak louder than words.

Before I go too far, I will warn you that I am not an actor. I played Uncle Drosselmeyer in the Nutcracker, and Mr. Darling/an Indian Brave/a Pirate in Peter Pan in high school, but I am by no means an actor. I'm an engineer, I shouldn't even know how to talk to you, let alone act. So, some of what I say will be very obvious, but please bear with me.

Remember Mark? My longtooth shifter fighter I talked about last time? The one who loved a shield and only fought when he had to? Well, here is how some of the early character came through with him. First off, the DM had a very interesting way for us to create characters, pretty much the best I've seen, and that was to have us make our characters together. I will go into this on a separate post, but doing this allowed us to confer and literally build upon our ideas. We were able to weave much more convincing histories together and our characters seemed more real because of it. DMs, I suggest you consider this.

The second thing, is to try to be fluid. Think about what's happening around you, and try to adapt to the current situation. Without even considering the DM's choice of having us build our characters, my powers alone had me thinking I would play a reluctant fighter. Someone who wishes peace, not war. Since one of the conditions of the backstory was that I had to be raised in a specific town, the same one where all the other characters had to be raised, I gave some thought as to where I was from. Being a longtooth shifter was not that common in the city, and my DM told me this as I considered playing the race. So, I thought, "How would I end up here?" I opted for a classic orphan story. Mark was found by a cleric as a pup, and raised in a temple his entire life. He interacted with the other players growing up, (as per the DM's conditions on backstory which helped build party cohesion), but a lot of who he was was based on his upbringing.

After looking through the Player's Handbook, I decided that the temple would serve Erathis, goddess of civilization. I thought, "How great would it be to play such a wild looking character who was actually more peaceful and civilized than most?" I thought this combination of peaceful fighter, of civil beast, would make for some interesting character development later, and boy was I right. Of course, you don't have to do this, but it's important to give some thought into your history, how it will affect you at first, and maybe how it will affect you later. I try to have a reason for everything I do, and I like to have reasons for certain prejudices, mannerisms, or talents my character has. Mark, for example, learned how to heal people, remember I chose the Heal skill, from the clerics of Erathis. He learned many things from them, including patience, meditation, and thinking ahead.

But how to get him trained as a fighter? Well, I had that covered. I decided that some of the experience would come from being picked on by other children. Mark was visibly different, and some like to take advantage of that. But also, my clerics knew I had a feral nature. They found me abandoned for pity's sake, so they knew I would not be content with a cleric's life. So, they trained me, as best they could, not only for the meditative benefits of martial arts, but because they knew I would need it someday, and hopefully, would use it for the greater good!

Okay, so, Dallas, you've spent a little too much of my time talking about backstory when you said you were going to talk about becoming my character. What gives? Well, I'm just getting you caught up.

So the game has started, the DM is describing the scene. We, the characters are all hanging out, when one of the character's guardians comes in and gives us some news. I announce that I start writing this down. "Whoa, where did that come from?" Well, I said my character learned the power of meditation, and one of the best techniques is to write your thoughts, or to write a journal. (It's relaxing me now!) So, I made it obvious, so that the players and DM could get a sense of my character and would know the difference between what I was doing, and what Mark was doing.

A situation has ensued, player hook initiated. My character makes sounds of pondering, hmms, and such. I deliver the options to the other players, calling them by character name, to show I am being Mark, and we make a decision. Not only does calling them by name help me remember them, but it makes the game seem more real and flows nicely. Also, I just showed them that my character is not rash, but that he is deliberative.

At night, when our characters rest. I make very clear that I take first watch, writing in my journal. When day breaks, I wake up as early as possible to practice my martial techniques. Little things like this, which I just pulled out the air when I considered my choices and history so far, really brought my character to life! The other players got to know me even more so than simple words could convey. If I decide to continue reflecting about Mark's adventures, which I recommend you read as it is an exciting story, I will show how I added to my character as the game developed.

Also, consider what the other players are doing at all times and try to make your actions work with theirs. For example, I had never seen/made/played a D&D Sorcerer before this campaign. I did not know they could have phases. One of my friends, one of the other players, was a Sorcerer and during a little skirmish the players got into with some thug monsters, her phase changed from Sun to Moon phase. I literally asked her to repeat what she just said. She repeated it, explaining what it was. Well, here was a great opportunity! Taking a quick second, I said out loud, "That's perfect! Okay, Mark was holding this guy, but as soon as you shift into your Moon phase, you notice a change in Mark. He growls a little, laughs, and throws the guy he was holding into the next booth (we were at a bazaar). Mark then rushes over to defend you!"

See, I decided that since my character was a longtooth shifter, and thus related in some way to werewolves, it would make sense and be interesting that he would have some tie to the moon. I thought it would be neat if his mood could actually change via the sorcerer's phase shift! It was a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself, as it not only added in some extra personality and interest in my character, but it helped my character relate to hers. It intertwined our characters in a way that is often missing in D&D. Sometimes, I feel D&D is like 4-5 random people who meet and decide they're going in the same direction. By coming up with this, I showed that my character cared for her, and since I had shown how stalwart and more specifically how calm my character normally was, to see him change because a character changed, and to see him come to her aid so nobly, and so recklessly, well it really worked to make my character seem real.

And you can do the same. Always pay attention in D&D. Always know what the characters are doing, and try to know why. Try to think, "What would I be doing right now if I was this character? If I had the life (s)he had, how would I be acting?" Even in boring times, the DM is describing an empty room, you can still be developing your character. Trained in Dungeoneering? Roll the dice and inspect the walls. No skills match the situation? Check your gear and exclaim that you're doing so. Or recite a poem/make a joke your character might make, say out loud that you are doing nothing but standing there. Neither the DM nor the players can read your mind, so narrate as much as possible without being annoying as it will give you ideas later, and help the other characters get to know you.

One last thing: flavour every thing you do. This includes all situations out of combat, as mentioned just above, but also in combat. No matter how much of a pacifist you are, the excitement in D&D comes out so much more readily in the combat. I understand the need to think, and think a lot, about your next move. Tactics, combining the skills of your teammates and the terrain, it all takes a lot of time and thought to get it right. To ready that action to flank so the rogue can have combat advantage, etc. But, please, for the love of all those who hate boredom like it's a level 30 monster in the first session, please narrate your powers. Your powers are cool, they just are, okay? You can't wield a sword, and even if you can, you haven't defended the innocent with them and cut orcs in half, don't lie to me. You can't cast magic, unless waving to the Kinect counts, so please, make it exciting.

Don't say, "I use Tide of Iron." Say, "I'm going to bash that goblin with my shield!...Yes, I will be using Tide of Iron...oops, I rolled a 3...well, I swung my shield valiantly, but he ducked just in time."  You might not be able to think of something really cool each time, but the more you get to know your character and the situation, the more you'll be able to make these things up, they'll seem natural. And, if you're unsure of what to say, read your powers, first outside of playing to give yourself a heads-up, to allow you to flavour it the way you wish, but even in combat. After each mighty swing, you bring your shield to bear and use it to push your enemy back sounds WAY better than...I use Tide of Iron. And thinking about flavouring it in different ways will not only make the game more interesting, it will allow you to build on your character and give the other players a chance to grow with you.

And there you have it. Some basics to get you going. I really hope this has helped you gain confidence to grow and develop your character very naturally. If you do this right, you'll eventually know your character as you do yourself, and even better, the other players will know. Yes, sometimes it takes a long time, but in Mark's game, everyone knew that when things got crazy, Mark would be on the front line, bringing his shield to bear!

-Thanks for reading!

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