Fantasist's Scroll

Fun, Fiction and Strange Things from the Desk of the Fantasist.


Characterization Made EZ

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Building characters is as easy as writing their biography.
Okay, so maybe that’s not quite as easy as it sounds at first. The first step to knowing about what your character is going to do is knowing who they are and where they’ve been. What was their start in life? How has that shaped their desires, fears and goals? Get the answer to those questions and you should know your character pretty well. Of course, if you’ve never done this, it can be a challenge. Or, if you just want to flesh out a character in a game, but aren’t sure what questions to ask, it might be hard to get started.
Well, back in the day, when Advanced Dungeons and Dragons ruled the fantasy role-playing game universe, there was a handy, little magazine called Dragon that was put out by TSR, which got bought by Wizards of the Coast, which is now a subsidiary of Hasbro. One particular issue included an article titled “Characterization Made Easy” by Scott Bennie. Below is a list of questions cribbed from that article that, when answered, will help you get to know your character.

  1. Background
    • Where was your character born?
    • Who raised them?
    • What was happening in the region when they was growing up?
    • Do they have any relatives? If so, how did they get along with them? What are they doing now?
  2. Motivation
    • What are your character’s immediate goals (i.e., what would they like to do in the coming year)?
    • What are their long-term goals (i.e., what would they like to be doing 20 years from now)?
    • What type of person would be their ideal mate?
    • Who is their patron deity? Are they a devout worshiper?
    • Are they a devout member of any nonreligious cause (i.e., Are they a loyal servant of a king or baron)?
    • Is there any race, creed, alignment, religion, or the like against which they are strongly prejudiced?
    • What is their greatest fear?
    • What is the one task they absolutely refuses to do?
  3. Idiosyncrasies
    • What is your character’s motto or favorite saying?
    • What is their favorite color?
    • Describe what they would wear if money were no object.
    • What is their favorite food? Their favorite drink?
    • What is their favorite animal?
    • What habits of their friends annoy them most?
  4. Traits
  5. Rate these behaviors for your character on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 means they has no trace of the trait, behaving in a completely opposite manner; 10 means they have great amounts of the trait).

    • Courtesy
    • Valor
    • Self-sacrifice
    • Generosity
    • Sobriety
    • Calm temper
    • Optimism
    • Curiosity
    • Forgiveness
    • Cheerfulness
    • Patience
    • Honesty
    • Helpfulness
    • Loyalty

    Name at least one other trait in which your character possesses a rating of 8 or better.

  6. Miscellaneous
    • What well-known media figure from sports, movies, or politics most closely resembles your character?
    • What would be their theme song?
    • If their friends were to write your character’s epitaph, what would it be?
    • What would their job be in modern society?

And, here are some stereotypes to avoid:

  1. All wizards are old men with long beards and robes.
  2. All evil characters wear black.
  3. All good characters wear white.
  4. All giants are stupid.
  5. All fighters are stupid jocks.
  6. All thieves are small and cowardly.
  7. Evil characters are irredeemably awful.
  8. Elves are flighty and carefree.
  9. Major bridges are guarded by trolls, who ask for a toll.

Obviously, this is geared toward a fantasy setting, but, with some small variation, it can apply to almost any character in almost any fictional setting.
If you’d like to read the whole article, you can still find it in the Dragon Magazine Archive on CD-ROM.

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