We recently had one of our regular cabin trips, which gave me the chance to make a character. Upon reflection, however, I realized that something was missing. I ended up completely scrapping that character, and going back to the drawing board. Today, I’ll tell you how I used My Character Checklist to improve the second version.
My first attempt was something of a loner. However, he had a cool hook. In a human dominated world, he’d married an elf, and kept his growing family a secret.
I loved the concept. It would have been my first Ranger since 2nd Edition AD&D, and my first character with children. It would have provided instant justification for wanting to fight the dangers in the area. Also, it provided great leverage for the GM to move the character.
What I realized, however, was that he just didn’t fit. Whenever I tried to figure out how he related to the other characters in the game, I hit a brick wall. He had a nice backstory, but I couldn’t picture him with the group.
I thought I had followed my checklist. He fit the setting, and the history of the game. He was a realistic character, from a fantasy perspective at least, and had plenty of foibles.
What I’d forgotten was that fitting the game doesn’t just mean having the right home town. Joining the story doesn’t mean simply working some of the existing conflict into the character’s background. It means figuring out how the character relates to the other PCs, and making sure that his story is a part of the game’s story.
My first character had been a loner more at home in the woods than the city, so for my second try, I swung in the opposite direction. Sam Porter was a poor city boy who had saved the son of the local nobleman. He became friends with the heir, and grew up as a part of his retinue. While his ex-guardsman father taught him some fighting skills, Sam believed his talent for it was due to direct guidance by his goddess. Not long before the start of the game, he met a man who claimed that Sam was, in fact, the son of a bandit who had been executed by the heir’s father, but he’d been spirited out of the prison as a baby by his adoptive parents.
Fit the Game
I rooted Sam squarely into the city around which the game would be based, right down to naming the church at which his parents worked as caretakers. He was thouroughly tied into the culture and religion of the region. Though the religion angle was initially a side effect of dabbling in the Avenger class of Fourth Edition D&D, I retained it even after converting to a Rogue, and I think this element helped hook him into the setting.
Take Part in the Story
Having unintentially been drawn into the entourage of the city’s heir, Sam was already pretty likely to be well placed for any events that came their way. If the rumors of his parantage are true, though, he’s also potentially connected to the bandit antagonists that featured prominantly in the game’s background material. He’s also strongly connected to a church going through turmoil, a street boy trying to survive in a noble court, and has a mysterious (even to him) past. In short, he’s placed squarely in the path of the story.
I’ll admit, some of the elements of his background are a bit unlikely, especially to have all occurred to one person. However, the interesting stories are often about folks who experience unlikely things. None of the events of his life so far are too far beyond the pale for fiction, or even real life come to that.
Have an Interesting Background
Sam has several elements that make him interesting for me. He’s not the “trickster” archetype that so many rogues fall into. He’s a godly kid; a genuinely nice guy who happens to be uncomfortably good at sneaking around and killing people. Even after he answers the question of his ancestry, he may also have to come to terms with his mother having been executed by his best friend’s father.
Have Room for Growth
There are two main areas in which Sam can grow in future games. First, he really has nowhere he fits outside the entourage. At court he’s a poor boy in a noble’s world, and at home he’s a neighborhood kid “putting on airs”. I played this up in the game, when he (being a city boy) kept failing checks while the party struggled through a swamp outside town. As they sat around the camp exhausted at night, he was forced to conclude, “I don’t belong here M’Lord, and I shouldn’t have come.”
He also has a lack of confidence, possibly born from spending most of his time around his “betters”, or maybe from his sincere belief that, whenever he succeeds, it’s due to divine guidance instead of talent. While the latter might seem to make him more confident, he holds that belief without the Paladin’s zeal and utter confidence in the righteousness of his actions. Sam’s character arc, then, should involve him learning more about himself, finding out where he belongs, and gaining confidence in his capability to handle the world