Thursday, 14 April 2011

OOC: RP Guide #2. Character Creation

Part two in a less-occasional-than-anticipated series.

Hey! I've created my character already, what's this about?
"Your job is to craft my doom, so I am not sure how well I should wish you. But I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun." - Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal.
So, I (or, more likely, someone more persuasive) has convinced you to try roleplaying and, correctly, you have worked out that the first thing you need is a character. EVE Online character creation finishes after you've selected a race, a bloodline and a gender, and pushed and pulled at the character model until you have a portrait you're relatively pleased with.

That's not the kind of character creation I'm talking about here, though it's a start. Before you start roleplaying your character, there's some things you need to consider. What are they like? What have they done? This is usually called a background. Let's look at a typical first stab at one:
I'm a hard-bitten space pilot who's been around the universe and back, seen it all and come back to tell the tale. I'm an Amarrian, who, disgusted with the slave trade, has rebelled and run with the Minmatar for a while till I got recruited by the Caldari State to work there. I've had my heart broken a thousand times and I'm not looking for one thousand and one.
Well, that's certainly atmospheric. The problem is that it's a character at the end of their story, or at least a long way into it. All the dramatic stuff has already happened. When roleplaying, timescales tend to get compressed rather, so three years of RPing a character can be rather more eventful than you would expect three "real" years to be.

TV Series tend to talk about character arcs, and that's a sensible way to look at it. You want to leave some space for the character to develop, to experience, to change, and to do that you need to begin RPing them earlier in their story.

You can take this too far. There's no need to begin /at the very beginning/. Two years of RP before your character learns to talk is going to trend towards the dull, and it's not very easy to picture newborns in control of spaceships.

If you're starting RPing with an existing character, you can probably start a little further along the arc, but if your character is fresh out of school with the ink still drying on her pilot's license then it's probably best to begin her earlier on the arc. Let her have those experiences IC, rather than have her already having done it all.

It's way harder to come back from being a cynical and bitter veteran than it is to get there. Start your characters as enthusiastic, or at least vaguely positive. They'll probably end up as tired and sceptical old codgers anyway, broken in more ways than you can count, so you might as well enjoy playing their descent.

Everyone's Special.
"Y'know, I know there are people who are normal...but I don't know what they do." - Prison Ward Patient, House of Games.
It's important that your character be interesting. Unfortunately, there are lots of ways to do this, and most of them don't work very well.
My character was abused as a child, then ran away to join the circus Guristas. She then abandoned them to go to the Angels and she has big purple eyes and wings and was captured and modified by rogue drones so she gets on really well with them in a kind of hurt/comfort way.
You should regard it as if there are a limited number of "special points" for you to spend on your background. Pick at most two things that are /really unusual/. There are two reasons for this:
  1. Don't break the world, it's not your toy. Remember that the point of all this is to bring the world of New Eden into your game experience. If everybody's character is well outside of the expectation parameters, then the world we end up playing in doesn't resemble the one that we thought we would, and that's disappointing for everyone. By playing someone who fits at least /mostly/ into what would be regarded as exceptional-but-not-unusual, you enhance and strengthen the world, rather than breaking it.
  2. It's a base, not an anchor. Complex and over-dramatic backgrounds become a lead weight around a character's neck. Really, your backstory is the foundation of the character and the roleplay you build, not the be-all and end-all. If you spend more time talking about your background in character than you do making new stories, you've probably got too much background.
What makes characters interesting and special is not what's in their background. It's how they interact with other characters, how their motivations and ambitions affect other people and how other people affect them. It's about the stories you make collaboratively, not the one you made by yourself. When you didn't know what you were doing. And anyway...

Characters never quite come out how you plan them. You can have a strong image of what they're like, and a good solid backstory and yet, when you start RPing them, they aren't what you anticipated. They develop senses of humour you were sure you'd not intended. They go running off after goals you didn't mean for them to pursue. They're supposed to be the silent type but they keep talking. This is OK. As you start to play a character, you'll start to explore what they're like, and find it isn't quite what you imagined when you created them. It's important that you not get locked in to that original expectation, because if you do, then you'll be disappointed, and stop playing them.

I've seen people do that over and over - start new characters, get disappointed, do it again. Same mistake.

There are limits to this. Too much wiggling around and being inconsistent will end up with you being unsure of what your character is, and losing track of them. They'll be... amorphous masses, rather than characters. But a little bit of it is actually more realistic - people are complex, they're variable and they change. Reacting to what happens IC and your character developing and changing is what it's about.

In the end, the choices you make when envisaging your character are less important than the choices you make when RPing them, but it's good to try and set a solid foundation they can grow from. Start them off early in their story, let them change and develop and allow yourself some space to find them and their voice.

But what's my motivation in this scene?
"We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired." - Blake, Glengarry Glenn Ross
More important than facts about their past is a character's needs, wants, goals, aspirations, fears, neuroses, habits and interests. Let's call these drivers. Drivers can be long or short term, internal (I want to be like /this/) and external (I want to free slaves!), changeable or constant. It's important to realise that small, short term, drivers are more powerful than longer term ones - for example, yes, I want to pass my literature degree, but right now I need the facilities. Negative drivers ("I am scared of being alone") are stronger than positive ones ("I like dancing"). Be aware of what your character's drivers are, and always be looking for new ones. A character with good strong drivers will always have something to do, something to work towards, something to avoid. Characters with agendas (rather than players with agendas - important distinction) are more interesting to RP with than ones without. If you run out of drivers, it's OK to invent some new ones. It's the kind of meta-gaming that's good.

It's even better if some of these drivers conflict. In fact, that's where a lot of interest comes from. "I want to be the best combat pilot in the Universe!" vs "I'm scared when I see a red ship on overview." Internal conflict (within a character)  is, if anything, more interesting than external conflict (between characters). Internal conflict is harder to resolve, but less disruptive. It creates plot that doesn't have limitations.

This may seem like an awful lot to think about, but it quickly becomes instinct. You internalise the character's drivers when playing them in the same way that you do when you read a book. It's just part of getting to know the multi-faceted, deep, character that you've built. Which is kind of where the fun is.


  1. Excellent guide. It articulates a lot of points that I wish I had known about when I was starting RP (Though I managed to avoid purple eyes).

  2. A Silver Night said: Excellent!

    Personally, I am not that much into roleplaying (mostly because I can't fully suspend my own disbelief), but when I do, I found it helpful to give my characters a one-sentence motto, as a reminder to myself. For example. one of my characters had as motto "Pick up that can!" (Half-Life 2 players will recognize it), which crystallizes her power-abusing character.

  3. Complex and over-dramatic backgrounds become a lead weight around a character's neck.

    *snickers* Quite true. And this leads to alts.