A guide to creating a character who will be enjoyable to play
Each character should be particularly suited to tackle particular challenges. Class-based games, such as D&D, often suggest a default set of party members who cover the bases, but the concept applies just as much in a purely point-based game such as GURPS. If two characters have exactly the same abilities, either one will become redundant, the characters will become rivals for the spotlight, or the group will be overloaded against a particular kind of challenge.
There are two aspects to niche protection worth considering. First, have you covered all the bases? Some classic roles include the face or talker, the bodyguard or "meat shield," the striker or blaster, the skill monkey, and the support specialist. Some genres will have more specific roles. For instance, in D&D it is assumed each group has a competent trap finder, such as a rogue or a properly prepared spell-caster, a wizard or other arcane caster, and a cleric or other healer, plus one or more durable fighters. This aspect of niche protection is called differentiation by class or differentiation by archetype.
The second form of niche protection is differentiation by ability. For instance, a group might have two fighters. In that case, it is preferable for each fighter to have a slightly different, or significantly different, set of abilities. That way, the group is equipped to cover more situations and there is less chance of one of the characters being redundant in a given situation. More differentiation means more tactical options, more resource options, and greater depth of specialization.
It is also important that characters be distinguishable from each other. Ideally, you should not double up on backgrounds, adopt confusingly similar names, and so forth. At a higher level, each character needs their own personality.
Differentiation by personality archetype means characters belong to different, recognizable types of character. For instance, inspiring leaders, rebels, love interests, loners, tragic heroes, and the like are all personality archetypes. Having two tragic loners can be as problematic as having two clerics or two ninjas if the characters do not have much to distinguish them. Even if the characters individually lack depth, a variety of personality types will at least give the party some kind of dynamic.
Differentiation by personality means characters having individual traits that define only them. Even characters with similar personality types can be strongly contrasted by identifying traits specific to them that give them depth and recognizability. For instance, Batman and Superman are both forceful, charismatic characters driven by a desire for justice. However, in the Justice League they are easily distinguished by Batman's calculating nature, humanism, and suspiciousness in contrast to Superman's idealism, moralism, and trusting soul. While both are capable leaders and warriors, each has a different way of interacting with other beings and a different code that guides their actions.
In general, there should be a reason the PCs all know and (usually) trust each other. This can take many forms, from chartered teams, to relatives, to people thrown together by chance. While the GM provides some of the structure for the story and hence for the group's relationship, the unifying group dynamic is ultimately up to the players to define. If the characters are not conceived in such a way as to be motivated to help the other PCs, the party will falter and certain kinds of stories will be hard to tell.
Be a team playerEdit
These suggestions are not a presscription by which you can judge fellow players, but suggestions to be pondered by all, and ideally adopted as a motivating force for each player individually. Party creation should be done by a process of discussion through which roles and preferences are fairly and agreeably distributed, and each player tries to contribute something unique to the group's arsenal, dramatic potential, and unified story.
Each character should have a unique personality. Some games have special traits related to personality, while others leave it to each player to give their character a dramatic spark. Each character needs a compelling (but brief) back story, several motivating traits that cause them to have adventures, and somewhat recognizable characteristics similar to real people.
Personality can include generic descriptions, such as a "happy go lucky," quirks and habits, a credo or allegiance, vices and flaws, inspirations and loves, and any number of relevant details. A character voice] can help bring life to a character. On a superficial level, style, mannerisms, and a thematically suggestive appearance or name bring a character to life.
Optimization simply refers to making a character fit a specific task. It can include
- Role or class optimization: ability to perform certain critical adventuring tasks.
- Realization: making the character on paper who resembles the character in your head and successfully mimics that imagined character in play.
- Minmaxing: optimizing to gain the maximum numerical advantages in play.
- Dramatic optimization: optimizing the character's ability to have interesting adventures.
- Style optimization: the character's ability to do a task in a certain distinctive way. For instance, there might be several ways to make an effective melee combatant, but making an elf fighter-mage is a specific stylistic choice.
Is the character plausible in the game setting? Is their backstory plausible at all? Do they conform to the game world's history and reality? If they have a rare or unusual background, have you figured out how this will affect their development and relationship with the game world and other characters? These are all important questions.
Just as an example, you might make a "mutant super hero" only to discover that in the game being run, all super powers come from powerful otherworldly beings. The problems can be more subtle, however. Imagine a game based on the Indiana Jones movies. There is no ostensible problem with a sympathetic German archaeologist character, but such a character might cause party dynamic problems or may raise issues that the GM finds problematic for the kind of two-fisted stories he had in mind. Another example might be a 1950s era masked supehero who is gay; this would be perfectly acceptable in some games, but it would be extremely out of genre for a character to wrestle with the possible social stigma, psychological stress, and shame in a game that is supposed to be a light-hearted homage to the old pulp serials and Golden Age comic books.