I’m sure we’ve all made stagnant characters at some point in our gaming career. My share of uninteresting characters probably number more than most. Tabletop roleplaying games are different from their video game counterparts, in that the players have unlimited choices at character creation. The reason a character in a video game is fun is generally based on how powerful–in one way or another–that character is. But in a tabletop game a character needs something more than just stats and powers to make him interesting. He needs to be more than three-dimensional. He needs a fourth dimension.
What’s the fourth dimension, you ask?
It’s easy to get bored with a character if he has nothing in his backstory that motivates him to drive the story forward. When he goes from dungeon to dungeon, adventure to adventure, doing nothing different from the last three characters you made, you eventually begin to lose interest again.
Does this happen to you? I’ve found that a fully fleshed out character can get much more mileage in a game. Here are some tips I use for making my characters four-dimensional:
I like to view the first three dimensions of a character as appearance, abilities, and backstory. While those three are vital for creating a believable and functional character, there is a missing element that will allow him to last an entire campaign (if he survives that long).
Just as some might say “time” is the fourth dimension in our universe, “motivation” in a player character can drive the story forward, transcending time. There are several different forces that motivate us to act a particular way.
1] Love: We all have love of some form or another. What would your character do to protect the things that he loves?
2] Desire: This could encompass greed, lust, and the many desires of the flesh. These things test our willpower, tempting us to take what we want. Is your character susceptible to selfish desires?
3] Vengeance: A very powerful motivator, vengeance can spell the end for many in the name of justice. Has your character been wronged by someone who must be repaid in kind?
4] Freedom: What meaning does life have without the freedom to make our own choices? Is your character struggling to break free from the bonds of law and society? Or does he aim to bring freedom to other people? Or is he held captive by the ghosts of his past that he can’t seem to shake from his conscience?
5] Truth: Some of us are driven to find truth in the universe. We need things to make sense, so we seek knowledge and understanding. Does your character need to know the answer to something from his past?
6] Mastery: The sense of accomplishment from getting better at something can motivate us to strive for more. Is your character trying to better himself, perfect a talent, or rise to a higher position in his field of expertise?
7] Purpose: We all want to feel like we belong, like we have a purpose in the world. We need to know that what we’re doing has some sort of meaning in the grand scheme of things. Is your character seeking his purpose in the world or is he questioning the purpose he has already found?
8] Power: In a fantasy world, power is something that many people struggle for. Some seek magic, while others seek position–political, militaristic, or otherwise. Is your character hungry for power? Is he desperate for control of something in his life?
9] Fear: One of the greatest motivators to sentient beings is fear. It can make us flee, or behave in a manner we otherwise would not. It can make us forget things or fabricate memories that never happened. Fear can even make us soil ourselves, paralyzing us to inaction. In its most common form, it causes worry and anxiety, leading us to protect ourselves or others from the dangers of the world. What does your character fear, and how can he overcome?
The list could go on but this covers enough ground…
What happens when your character resolves his motivating force? For example, he avenges his father’s death by tracking his killer down and putting an end to him. What’s left for him to do? The answer is simple: find a new motivation for your character. Motivation can change throughout the campaign based on events that affect him or other events that you’ve added to his backstory. Get creative! That’s the fun part of tabletop roleplaying games.
Players! What are some motivations that you’ve used for your own characters? The community would love to hear them.
Thanks for any comments and feedback, and stay tuned for weekly updates!
Next week’s topic: Adding horror to your campaign…