Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Editor's Note: While this may be a D&D article, the basic concepts within are shared by most roleplaying games. After all, good character design should be fundamental to any game.

This series of articles is on the theories and practice of good character design. If you're the sort of person who asks "why should I care?", then this article is not for you. This article is for the kind of person who wants to make a sincere effort to improve their play-style.

Good roleplayers can recognize that the foundation of a good game is themselves. Character design only truly guides the mechanical workings of the game, but an excellent design can provide both inspiration and opportunities for roleplaying.

In this article we'll look at some character design philosophies and some negative player traits that often accompany some poor character choices.

The first thing any player does is make a character. For many, this is an old hand, but many others find themselves paralyzed by indecision, whether through the rolls or the roles of their character.

Now, for a moment, let's talk about some definitions that we'll be using in this article.

Mechanics: These are the defining and often numerical attributes of your character. Race, class, feats and skill points are all included in this definition, along with ability scores, saving throws and any other kind of statistic that can have an effect on gameplay. This is also known as the roll.

Philosophy: These are the intangible qualities of your character. Their ambitions, goals, personality and so on. This is often the more difficult of the two parts of a character for players, especially new ones, to grasp. This is also known as the role.

When beginning to design your character, the first step is to decide first, which, the roll or the role will take precedence in your approach to creating your adventurer. Either approach is correct, and have their upsides and downsides. You should always work with what approach you're the most comfortable with.

Building the Role to the Roll
This is the most common approach to character design. The design determines the character's roleplaying possibilities. Feats like Toughness may make the character act with a little extra swagger, since they're harder to put down than others. Characters with higher ranks in the Move Silently and Hide skills may make good thieves, but their skills may have stemmed from cowardice or paranoia.

Building the Roll to the Role
With this concept, the player creates the philosophy of the character first, and then builds the mechanics around that. This can be a more difficult approach, especially for players who have little experience in roleplaying. It ultimately provides a much richer gaming experience as the character's personality takes front stage.

Now we'll go over the three basic character types that can be created.

Specialty: By default, any character with a single class and feats selected to accommodate and compliment that class's features is a specialty character. Most characters are specialty characters since they are the easiest to make. This can be taken to an extreme by min-maxing. Such characters are very powerful, often overly so, but only in a limited field. Outside that focus, they are usually much weaker.

Jack-of-all-Trades: Characters with more than one specific focus, or several of them, are considered to be jacks-of-all-trades. Dual-classed characters and some classes like ranger and paladin can be considered jacks-of-all-trades by default. Multiclassed characters are more so. By gaining several abilities through feat selection and multiclassing, the character can be extremely versatile, but the more abilities they gain, the less powerful their abilities are.

Novelties: Often created for a laugh, novelty characters are designed to show off a joke, a quirk discovered in the rules or even to emulate a figure from history, literature or pop-culture. These characters, due to the short-sighted nature of their design, and often restrictive roleplaying opportunities, are not generally suitable for a long-term campaign.

So, now that you've chosen your design philosophy and you've got an idea of what kind of character you'll build, it's time to talk about some of the player attitudes that can negatively affect character design and in fact, the entire game itself.

Munchkin: No other word can inspire as much fear in the heart of even a competent dungeon master. Such a player can easily destroy a game by creating feelings of anger and resentment between themselves and everybody else at the table. These players often cheat on die rolls or fudge calculations to achieve their goals, which often means trying to be the 'main' character by being the most powerful character. Munchkins often create jack-of-all-trades characters who have been built to have abilities beyond all reasonable expectations.

Min-Maxer: While a munchkin might utilize min-maxing to help achieve their goals, min-maxers utilize it in order to create 'the best' character they can make, at least mathematically. Such characters are often specialized beyond the norm and min-maxers usually become frustrated at their character's limitations.

Rules Lawyer: Nobody likes a know-it-all, but in roleplaying games, with their abundance of rules, tend to attract people who can endlessly recite from memory and hunt down loopholes that they can exploit. These players are usually harmless but they usually annoy those around them with their preoccupation with mechanics. As a result, their roleplaying suffers. Rules lawyers tend to make novelty characters that show off how clever they are while using ridiculous concepts and flimsy philosophies.

So, now that we have the basic philosophy down, we can get to working with the nitty-gritty. Check out the next installment where we'll discuss races, along with the rewards and pitfalls that choosing one can entail.

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