When we build our characters, we are setting the foundation for how we're going to experience the world we play in and the entire campaign. As such, we should really put some thought into the characters we play and what makes them compelling for the narrative, fun for the others at the table to be around, and entertaining for us to play as.
Honestly, the image I've chosen above (from the old Baldur's Gate game) lists out the various things you really need for an effective character.
Gender: What gender does your character identify as, if any. This is relevant for how they chose to present themselves to others in the gaming world, and noting this information on your character sheet helps the GM and fellow players to refer to them by the correct pronouns and such. In general, having this information known is good for clarity and comfort of those at the table. Also, while we're here, it's is probably a good place to note a character's sexuality if you feel it's relevant. While sexuality and gender are of course different, they're both important to a someone's identity.
Race: What race is your character? Are you an orc, or an elf? And while we're at it, let's try to note our subrace if applicable, as well as any cultures that might be relevant to our character's identity. For example, saying a character is a dwarf is good, but you might as well note that you're a Mountain Dwarf from Khaz Dolatar. This makes you distinct on several different axes. You are a dwarf (as opposed to an elf or human or anything else) you are specifically a Mountain Dwarf (As opposed to a Hill Dwarf) and from Khaz Dolatar (as opposed to being from a different cultural group of dwarves.)
Class: Your character's class says a lot about their role in an adventuring party. What class your character is might be the single most important choice you make for your character in terms of effecting the game. Every other choice you make is important in that it sets a foundation for who your character is, but your character's class scales as they advance in level (assuming we're playing a system that has classes and levels) meaning this choice will have implications further down the line.
Alignment: Your character's alignment defines their morality. It may not be the entire basis of their ethical decisions, but it represents the general color of their responses. You can expect characters of similar alignments to work better together than those of opposed alignments.
Abilities: Think of these as your feats or other useful features that define your character. These can be class features or racial traits, or even the powers afforded by certain magical items they carry. But knowing what tricks your character is capable of helps contextualize your character's role in the party and establish what they're good for.
Skills: Your character's skills are useful in that they allow your character to function and do what you want them to do. Your choice of skills should reflect what you want your character to be good at and be known for.
Appearance: What you character looks like or presents as is helpful to create a mental image for everyone at the table. Things like race, class, and gender might feed into this. Think about your characters distinctive features such as scars and tattoos. You can also mention things like your character's posture or style of dress. Hair color, eye color, skin color, and general body build are popular starting places.
Name: Choose a name for your character. Remember, this is what people in the world and fellow players will be calling you, so make it good! You might want to consider your character's race, gender, and culture when choosing a name for yourself. If you have trouble picking a name, you can check out this helpful article on my personal blog for some help. Oh, and also consider the tone of your campaign. Try to choose a serious name if your campaign is of a serious tone. If your game is comical, you can open yourself up to weird and wacky things. It might be tempting to use those anyway, but keep in mind there are others at the table. It's hard to have a serious game when one player doesn't take things seriously. So in general, try not to have an adventuring party with Jordaval, Kaenfrith, Lysa, and Spongebob.
Biography: Create a backstory for your character. Who were they? What does their past look like? What is their personality like? What are their interests and dislikes? Maybe fill out a character questionnaire if you're having trouble with that.
Try to keep these in mind when building your character. If you have a well thought-out answer for all of these categories, you can't be far from the mark from having a well developed character.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For more from me, feel free to check out my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.