How to create a fantastic character for Dungeons and Dragons and other TRPGs
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
Welcome to the gaming table! #Players, when it's time to sit down and roll up a new character there are simple guidelines for bringing to life a surefire fantastic character. Whether new to Dungeons and Dragons (#dnd), a veteran to the hobby, or even just trying out a new tabletop roleplaying game (#trpg) these tips can be (and should be, please) applied! Without further ado!
The short version, to save everyone time!
The character is a team player.
The character seeks adventure.
The character is motivated.
The character's defining trait doesn't provoke PvP.
Now for the verbose version, to understand why.
The character ought to be a team player. This character can have any personality and past. They can be troubled. They can be a loner. They can be going through an edgelord phase. Perhaps they prefer the company of dogs over other humanoids. Maybe they don't trust many people. All of that is fine. If they also can work within a team and be a team player. Because that's what cooperative tabletop roleplay games are all about. The game isn't about the Dungeon Master (#DM) or any single player character. D&D is about a party of adventurers going on adventures together, fighting as a team, and overcoming great adversity while having each other's backs.
Party drama will write itself as the game unfolds, but at the end of the day when it is time for a long rest the characters know — should an ambush befall them — that the party will assemble and work together to survive the night. Then they can go back to bickering over who gets the loot or brooding over their dark pasts and dislike for rowdy company. The character doesn't have to be sunshine and rainbows, they just have to be an asset to the team dynamic and care enough about making that team function.
The character seeks adventure. Speaking of going on adventures together, it is key that the character actively pursues adventure. Conceive a character that wants to participate in the world. They should want to take the quest hooks. They should be compelled to explore, fight evil, and reap the rewards. The reason why is upon the player to figure out. Determine what motivates that character and lean into it. If the DM has to actively convince a character to participate, or if the character is content to sit at home drinking tea, then it may be time to roll up a new character with a passion for adventure!
The character is motivated. If characters are to seek adventure, then they ought to have the motivation to do so. Are they out for revenge and everything they do in the campaign is to bolster their resources for exacting said vengeance? Do they require substantial amounts of gold to make a big purchase and adventuring pays well? Are they serving their god by going on these adventures? Do they seek knowledge and wisdom that can be found in ruins, dungeons, and distant settlements?
Whatever the reason, characters with motivation to adventure will be that much more satisfying to play as and play with! Every character should have at least one small goal and one big goal. The small goal is something that the character can achieve relatively soon, while the big goal may not be realized until the character arc completes or the campaign ends. Manageable goals include learning new spells, acquiring specific equipment, fulfilling requirements to multiclass, getting a date with that one NPC, paying back a debt, and so on. Once a bite-sized goal is complete the character can focus on a new goal.
Ideally, goals and motivations should not be in direct conflict with the general direction of the campaign. If there is an urgent event happening in the world that the party has agreed to participate in, don't force a personal goal that would take the character across the continent in the wrong direction. Work with the DM to help align the character's goals with the direction of the game.
The character's defining trait doesn't provoke PvP. For those not familiar with the term, PvP stands for Player versus Player. In D&D, and other co-op TRPGs, it can mean player characters (PCs) fighting against each other in combat or it can mean player characters doing anything that creates unnecessary conflict within the party. This is different from narrative conflict and differing party opinions, which when handled tactfully can add depth to an adventuring party. PvP generally actively undermines other PCs and can lead to quietly simmering bitterness that explodes into exasperated Reddit posts.
When creating a character, avoid making their defining trait something that will incite PvP. For example, if the character's main trait is that they love to steal... from anyone... then there might be an issue when that character tries to steal from a fellow party member. This can manifest in the form of hiding loot after an encounter, actively taking from another party member's pack, or raiding the quest giver's coffers before the reward is distributed among the party. All of these behaviors are Rogue 101 for new and inexperienced players who believe this is normal. I suggest not normalizing this behavior. It may be fun once, twice, or on occasion. But remember, if this is that character's defining trait, it is going to get old and fast.
A fantastic character can still battle with that itch to steal shinies as a secondary or tertiary trait. They'll fight this cleptomania when it comes to their friends and allies. But that NPC noble the party just met? Her pearl necklace is fair game. The character still gets to be as the player envisioned. They're a sticky-fingered thief. Now the trait no longer comes in direct conflict with other party members. It may still cause trouble for the party but in much more interesting ways.
There it is. With these four tips at the forefront, any character can be fantastic. It doesn't matter what race, class, background, or personality the character has, this underlying framework will ensure any combination can be great with the right attitude.