Last night, I finally got to be a player in a campaign again as one of my friends began his. (Fear not, I’m still DMing my campaign and its still in full swing epic tier.) I got to refresh myself on what it was like to build a character and fully bring him to life. Brandis, the human swordmage was born. A skilled blademaster and seeker of knowledge, Brandis met his party and they began their journey.
Character development is a campaign-long event. Characters are constantly evolving (they should be) and changing into the being they were destined to be. I write this post from the vantage point of character creation. These tips and tricks, however, can be applied at any time and any level to add more depth and create a more developed character.
Ask and ANSWER Questions
Most roleplaying issues that I see occur in not having a well-developed character. Players aren’t aware how their characters would act under certain circumstances. “My character doesn’t talk much and he’s fighting for good” is not an example of a developed character. To develop a great character, make sure you have a background that details his/her life (backgrounds post coming soon). What major events have occurred? What was his/her greatest moment? What was his/her worst moment? Ask these questions and then ANSWER them! I always say to write it down rather than just in your head. It will stick better and means that event happened and its not just a thought.
The Player’s Handbook is a GREAT resource for this. In chapter 2 (pages 18-25 specifically) it walks you through roleplaying and creating a great character that will be remembered. Your alignment and deity should hover above all else. You may not fully go along with them at all times if your character is not very religious, yet your morals will influence your actions somewhat so keep that in mind. Next up, personality. The PHB asks GREAT questions to help you develop! Use them! Answer them! I put the adjectives that I chose for Brandis on his character sheet as a constant reminder! These questions will help you to know what you would do in certain situations (Like a roleplaying cheat sheet!).
Appearance is self-explanatory and I won’t spend much time on it. Just go into detail. Eye color, hair color, clothing, etc. Know what your character looks like! It can help you dive into the character. Finally, mannerisms are an AMAZING tool to use. They really do bring your character to life at the table. After Brandis surprises someone or tricks them, he likes to wink at them. He just does it based on his attitude. Another, more powerful example, is that being a blademaster and accomplished swordsman, Brandis loves to criticize monsters or enemies during fights. “Your footing is off,” he’ll say as he side-steps an attack. “You grip the blade too tightly!” he shouts as he deflects another attack. He even used luring strike to place himself between two enemies that were having trouble hitting him. “You must flank to gain an advantage over your foe! Like this!” It may get annoying but its his personality! It brings him to life at the table and makes him so much more fun to play.
Dive into the Player’s Handbook and walk yourself through character development in Chapter 2. It doesn’t matter what level you are at, you can always add more depth to a character. Bring them to life and watch your game truly come to life.
Keep it fun and game on!
roleplaying – the acting out, or performance, of a particular role
What is Dungeons & Dragons without roleplaying? A video game of the mind. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s examine. Assume that no roleplaying is allowed. You play Vengeance, a dragonborn warrior by choosing his actions and guiding him through an adventure. You have a set list of things you can do (powers, feats, rituals, etc.) and you execute them and wait for the consequence. To me, this sounds like the slight upgrade of a video game. (The upgrade being that your imagination does not have a special effects budget) “Vengeance uses breath weapon and deals the orc 24 points of damage.”
What is Dungeons & Dragons with roleplaying? An immersing experience that allows you to stretch your creativity and step out of your own shoes and into the game. Vengeance’s background now affects the game. Vengeance was a tiefling general, cast out by his own people for avenging his murdered family. He contracted a fatal disease but through a ritual and the sacrifice of a friend, Vengeance’s being was placed in the body of a recently-killed dragonborn warrior. Holy-roleplaying-opportunity, Batman! (This story actually happened in our campaign…)
Now you are conflicted! Now you are angry! You’re stuck inside the body of a race you despise yet your own race cast you out! Do you take advantage of this new body and get revenge? Do you accept your punishment and live out your life the best you can? These affect your every decision! Your game now has depth. Your game now has meaning. “Channeling my inner anger, I unleash this new breath weapon in a fury! The fire burns the orc for 24 damage. I step back, amazed at what this new body can do!”
Roll With It
I hope the above example illustrates just what roleplaying can do for you and your game. Not only will it bring out the fun, it will fix a lot of gaming problems. Meta-gaming is reduced, players that are in-character waste less time, and distractions are fewer. To truly add roleplaying depth, have your players each write a background for their character and imagine they went through that. How would it affect their decisions? The way they talk? The way they act?
What are your thoughts/comments/concerns?
Our campaign is run in a semi-created world known as…well, actually we do not have a name yet. But we’re working on that! The 4th Edition D&D campaign known as “Quest for Starfire” takes place in a world that includes some of the published D&D world. You can find remnants of Bael Turath as well as the Nentir Vale in the southeastern region of our world. The special portion of our map is of a region known as “Aestonia.” This is place, originally created by me but expanded upon by our gaming group. Most of the campaign takes place on this massive continent. I’ve created a map of what the place looks like as well as an interactive map on our Obsidian Portal (OP) campaign page (see the new button on the right for a direct link!)
Our shared creation
The map shown here is the main region of Aestonia. Most of the events occur near this area. Keep in mind that this map shows no cities, townships, kingdoms, etc. I like to add them on our OP page as we find them or create them. I’ve been inspired by countless DMs before me to begin world-building more and more. It creates a more connected and real world for the game. The fun part and the secret is this:
Involve your players!
Players who want to participate in world-building should be allowed to! Creative minds working together can create some memorable worlds for memorable campaigns. When the players are familiar with the world and they have put an effort in to help bring it to life, they become more involved during gameplay. Decisions impact them more and they feel the consequences of their actions. NPCs and places come to life! Treasures and stories are spread around and you actually bring life to your campaign and your world.
I even dish out assignments to players who are interested. I have recently had Mac (who plays Stelian) bring to life Shadow’s (played by Cole) hometown by creating a story/history on it. Cole wanted a small northern town ruled by a tyrant lord to be where he was from. He called it Lysoria in his biography. I let Mac handle the rest. I told him to bring to life the tyrant lord and the culture of this northern town. Max (who plays Three) created an artifact sought after by his older character Baurus. Check out “Moradin’s Voice” on our OP Items tab. This is one of the coolest items I have ever seen. It brings to life the dwarven community and heritage of Baurus while creating a story that can be linked into future adventures.
I deal out rewards for players who help create our world and add to it. I will hand out either XP, magic items, or smaller bonuses for a session based on how much they help build. Example: Max currently has a token for the Big Brother bonus. This allows him an immediate reaction to save a teammate who activates a trap from taking damage.
Building comes in the form of stories, people, places, races, magic items, maps, pictures, etc. Anything a player can dream up can help make a world more real. Explore our OP campaign pages via the cool new button on the right and feel free to use it as inspiration! Build, assign, reward, enjoy. Watch your campaign and world come to life through collective world building!
Until next time,
The party heads to the desert city of Maetrage to find the meaning of the drow in their shared dream. This is the only city known to be the home of several drow in the land. The group ends up at the Buka ‘Ukan, a coliseum-like structure that is home to the largest flea market/slave trade in the world. After helping a shop owner retrieve a local debt, the party outbids the local mafia (The Rising Fall) on an eladrin slave girl. They learn from her that the Cascades, a region with the wealthiest families in all of Aestonia, is under extreme tensions. In order to get to the Rising Fall, the players head to the mines (The Deepening Stalls) to find Larg Axeforged, a dwarf that is league with the group. They experience a strange sensation in the mines and also see the name Starfire on the list of people that entered the mines that day. Larg nearly defeats the group but they get past him and to the Rising Fall. They enter the throne room to find it a mess with a large broken window and the drow leader, Elkantar Mal’Een, horribly wounded. They convince him that they are not with Starfire and he sends them after the mysterious being to retrieve a stolen stone. They get onto a ship just in time to follow him to the Astral Sea. As they sail into the sky, an arrow with a message from Graster reveals that the Misty Kingdom is under attack from two fronts.
Saturday, December 17th, 2011…$H*T WENT DOWN! This campaign hadn’t been played in over three months and the pressure had been building up. I decided to go all George R.R. Martin and make things crazy. The players have been chasing after “Starfire” for over a year (real time) and have nothing to show for it. Saturday, I practically had them run into the mysterious character. It turned into quite the chase and, as quoted by one of our veteran players, “One of the best D&D sessions [I] have ever played.”
The session went well for 3 reasons and I believe all DMs can improve sessions by implementing these very reasons.
- Last Minute Relaxation. I don’t know about you but I get very jacked up before a D&D session. This goes double for times where I write most of the adventure. Believe it or not, I actually get stressed out once in a while. I wonder if the session will live up to the hype I put behind it. Before Saturday’s session, I simply relaxed. We cleared the living room and set up 3 tables for the game. I had my own table and I must admit, having that much space really allowed me to spread my things out and relax. That put me in the zone.
- Make $H*T Happen! I wrote the adventure during the two weeks prior to game night. I revised the adventure in the two nights prior to game night. What I had originally seemed to dull and too ordinary. I had a dungeon, some combat encounters, and some noncombat encounters. The story was interesting but not enough. In the last two days, I made it enough. I had plot twists around every corner. My characters were level 20 so I made different plot lines all merge and round out. They have been chasing clues long enough and I felt like it was time to throw the book at them. So I did and it paid off. It gave us one of the most memorable nights in D&D history.
- Allowing Room For Change. I had the night go 90% the way I wanted it to story-wise. The characters met a dwarf forge-master named Larg Axeforged and tried to talk their way out of a fight but I was having none of it. Larg was a badass and strong as hell and he was going to prove that point. However, they arrived at the final battle of the night with almost no powers left, virtually no healing surges, and mentally drained. I was planning on fighting them to death or close to it. The cleric, Three, stepped forward and attempted to talk down the drow leader of the local mafia. I hadn’t planned on this leader being very diplomatic. The player had a nice soapbox and really put a point on how they were on the same side in the Starfire issue. I quickly evaluated the situation and realized the possibilities it gave me to let them live and keep the drow alive. Last minute, I allowed them past the drow and after Starfire. The drow left them with a threat and they moved on to the final chase scene of the night.
The relaxation gave me a cool head for a night of creative genius. The plot twists and crazy story left us the most memorable night of our campaign. Allowing the characters to change the course of the adventure let them feel like their effort truly let them effect things in our shared world. Everything clicked and the night went down perfectly. I hope many of your games to be as fun as this one. After all, if we don’t fully engage our imagination and draw out the fun, we are not giving Dungeons and Dragons a chance to be what it always has been.
Play. Write. Create. Enjoy. Happy gaming everyone and merry Christmas.