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What does it take / how long does it take to "get into" a character?

innerdude

Legend
I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago. We were building level 5 characters for a very, very short 5e, 3-session mini-adventure.

And I'm not sure what happened, but I somehow stumbled on a really interesting character concept and personality that resonated with me.

I ended up playing a halfling fey-pact warlock, but envisioned him as being a bit jaded, and a bit fed up with all of the "nonsense" and social niceties most people wear as masks, brought on because he was a widow, and his adult son had already left the nest to make his own way.

There was just something about the way I set up his powers and incantations that sort of made it easy to picture what this character was about (combat- and nature-skill focused, with Pact Blade and Shadow Armor, and Fly as his level 3 spell, to of course go with his ranged eldritch blast).

It was interesting, because it was really easy to play that character for those three sessions.

On the other hand I've created characters where I didn't even begin to know who they were for 6-10 sessions, but even after that never really had a full grasp on their internal mentality / attitudes.

So I'm wondering what other people's experiences with this are --- what system, group, or other factors combine to make a character interesting, internally realized, playable, and memorable?
 
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Yora

Legend
I think a huge part is to make a character who really wants to be on this adventure. Either because doing whatever the party is trying to do is very rewarding to the character, or because the stakes really matter. The character needs to be invested in what's happening.
Characters who don't really want to be there and are annoyed that they have to do it are difficult to get enthusiastic for.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
For me to get invested into a character I have to be invested into their situation. What they care about, what their goals are, their relationship with the other characters and to the overall situation of the game. That can happen quickly if we put in the work right away, but often if it happens it takes a good deal of time.
 

aco175

Legend
Sometimes I have a concept but they start off like Phoebe from the TV show Friends. The first episode had her as over the top flighty and odd, but eventually it was dialed back to tolerable levels after a few seasons/levels. Some depends on how long the campaign is and how long I am being invested in the idea. If the game is a one-shot or two or three, then it is fun to play a type, but gamers lasting a year provides room for growth and development.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
All of the groups I'm in are heavy RP. For me, finding the cadence and word choice and sound of a character's voice goes a long way. I have a concept of what they are like before play, but it never survives the first sessions or two perfectly intact. For example I had a half-elven paladin (ancients) of the elven god of love and beauty, and I had pictured him as a bit of a Cyrano-esqe twist, constantly giving advice to others to find and be with their "oen true love", but himself holding off. That part never materialized, but the noble background came to the fore more than I expected in a casual entitlement sort of way he didn't even realize, as did his distrust of the Tiefling in the party (with blessing from the player of the Tiefling - intra-party drama can be fun, inter-player drama is not). Other aspects of him did survive fairly intact, and new ones came about - like climbing onto the roof of wherever they were staying in Waterdeep because "the air of the city made such magnificent sunrises".
 
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For me, this very much depends on the game and the group and even the format of play.

I usually come up with like a bullet list of elements or traits or background details. I tend to come up with a lot. This is a list of ideas that I think will be interesting. Sometimes I’ll actually jot this list down and reference it once play begins, other times it may just be my mental conception. I keep these in my mind when play begins and I portray the character accordingly. Some stuff will stick and some won’t, and I’ll cross off those that don’t, or maybe even add new bits that come up during play.

I also tend to be a “utility player”, in that I’ll try and fill a role that’s otherwise missing. This may be something like the classic “we don’t have a healer” in D&D, or it may be more narrative based, like “we don’t have a hothead” or similar. I’m pretty comfortable playing different types of characters, and I tend not to craft them so soecifically early on that they can’t morph a bit.

I tend to narrate in third person a lot, so voice isn’t as much of a concern for me, except if I specifically think it’s an important element of the character. So most of my PCs likely sound very much like me, or like me doing an impression of an actor I’m using as a model. I’m much more focused on their outlook and thought process than I am about their voice.

With online play, I’ve been focusing on some of the challenges of the format. So in my D&D game, my PC is a ranger who’s kind of quiet and focused (“I am an arrow” is something I jotted down in my list, and which I reference in play a lot). I made this choice because we have a larger group than what I think is ideal for online play, and because I find that when the game moves slower, it’s even worse for online play, so I wanted my turns to be brief and to the point. Not a lot of options….it comes to me and I shoot my two arrows and then it’s the next person’s turn.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
And I'm not sure what happened, but I somehow stumbled on a really interesting character concept and personality that resonated with me...

I ended up playing a halfling fey-pact warlock, but envisioned him as being a bit jaded, and a bit fed up with all of the "nonsense" and social niceties most people wear as masks, brought on because he was a widow, and his adult son had already left the nest to make his own way.
For me, this is the key. Knowing the character a bit...their personality, some ideas of backstory, etc that kick things off. If I know that, even if it's not hyper-detailed, then the other decision become a lot easier to make, including the role-playing. It doesn't need to be any more than a few sentences at most...and I've found that longer is actually worse as it more confines and restricts the character rather than sets some loose guide rails in place. I like to play to find out.
So I'm wondering what other people's experiences with this are --- what system, group, or other factors combine to make a character interesting, internally realized, playable, and memorable?
Interesting, playable, and memorable all stem from at least partially internally realized...for me. Again, the shorter the better. Even just a general attitude and something that would make them go against that attitude can be enough. I think it's that contradiction that makes it work. Like the typically grumpy dwarf...who has a soft spot of dogs, or children, or is a baker instead of the typical miner. Though sometimes that will fall flat as well.
 

innerdude

Legend
For me, this is the key. Knowing the character a bit...their personality, some ideas of backstory, etc that kick things off. If I know that, even if it's not hyper-detailed, then the other decision become a lot easier to make, including the role-playing. It doesn't need to be any more than a few sentences at most...and I've found that longer is actually worse as it more confines and restricts the character rather than sets some loose guide rails in place. I like to play to find out.

I very much agree with you about not trying to shoehorn too much into a character profile/personality up front. There's a definite feeling out of a character's general persona as he/she starts interacting with the rest of the group and the game world. There's little details you start to see that would make more sense, or wouldn't make sense at all in the context of play.
 

innerdude

Legend
I think a huge part is to make a character who really wants to be on this adventure. Either because doing whatever the party is trying to do is very rewarding to the character, or because the stakes really matter. The character needs to be invested in what's happening.
Characters who don't really want to be there and are annoyed that they have to do it are difficult to get enthusiastic for.

For me to get invested into a character I have to be invested into their situation. What they care about, what their goals are, their relationship with the other characters and to the overall situation of the game. That can happen quickly if we put in the work right away, but often if it happens it takes a good deal of time.

There's a strong overlap between these answers, I'd think.

"Stakes mattering," at least in my experience, almost always involves connectivity to the game world through relationships and goals.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
One thing that helps me get into character is to for the character to have reasons for an internal monologue.

If a character is defined by what they do, or how they interact with others, it can be hard to get into character until you have had those kind of external interactions. If you've a character who has reasons to think about what is going on, or the people around them, you get to develop that voice without waiting for the external interactions to happen.

An example I recently worked with was a lizardfolk character, for whom I wanted to experiment with having a different cultural perspective and emotional life than most mammalian characters. So, I wound up with a running train of thought in my head of his opinions of most of the things the rest of the party did, which helped me solidify who he was, without having to wait for external interactions to help set those up.
 

schneeland

Adventurer
For me, it mostly takes a couple of sessions to get into a character (a bit like shoes that need to be worn in) - over the years I have largely abandoned any preconceived notions of who a character is and now start with an often stereotypical concept (gruff dwarven warrior with a shady past, good-hearted troll with impulse-control issues) and a few bullet points that can serve as cues for other player or the GM. Everything else is established through play (assuming the character lives long enough).
Admittedly that requires the right people to play with and at least semi-regular game nights (preferably every two weeks). A good sessions zero to establish connections to other characters and the world helps, too.
 

innerdude

Legend
One of things I've noticed over the years is that the most memorable characters are usually memorable based on what they do within the campaign.

There doesn't seem to be a strong correlation between character internalization and being memorable.

The things a player does with a character are largely based on character playability. If (s)he does something memorable as a character, it's because the player built in some specific action loops with the mechanics that allows the character to be in positions to do certain things in certain circumstances.
 

One of things I've noticed over the years is that the most memorable characters are usually memorable based on what they do within the campaign.

Hmm. Character actions can certainly be memorable, but when I think back over recent campaigns, those aren't usually the elements that stand out the most. I recall a heated argument between two PCs about whether or not they should torture a prisoner. Or a scene where one of the PCs was betrayed by a trusted NPC. Or when a character retired from the campaign after his two brothers were killed. Game mechanics and character abilities weren't involved in any of these scenes. Their gravitas was generated by the backstories of the characters involved.

I have a concept of what they are like before play, but it never survives the first sessions or two perfectly intact.

This is certainly true for me, too. I usually start with a reasonably detailed sense of who I think the character is. This gets filtered through my own roleplaying capabilities (not terrible, but I'm not an actor). Some characterizations are easier for me to accomplish than others. (And some require too much spotlight time, so they get deprecated.) My conception of a character also changes significantly after I interact with the other PCs.

When I'm GMing a game where some personality traits are mechanized (like Disadvantages in GURPS), I explicitly allow players to retroactively adjust those traits over the first few sessions as they get to know their characters.
 

For me, it's generally in that first adventure. I can plan out a character in advance, but until I open my mouth and start saying what they're going to do, or what they're saying, it's just a sketch.

Sometimes, a character takes time to come into their own, but I find that my most vivid, favorite ones just sort of come to life in the game in the very beginning. They might change overtime, but for the really good ones, it almost feels like what R.E. Howard would say about his characters standing there and talking to him. I open my mouth and their words come out. I never doubt what they'd want to do in a situation because their presence and ideas are so strong.
 
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Darth Solo

Explorer
I complete an Enneagram Personality Test for important PCs & NPCs which informs me of how the character will behave. Then I toss in a few setting seeds to give the character 3 dimensions. I don't want to have to guess how the character will act in certain situations and I want their behavior to be largely consistent. The test does that for me and it has enough to suggest levels of character transformation as well.

So I can jump into character very quickly because I have a clear picture of who they are and who they can grow to be.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

shrug

Art. It's nutty like that.
:)

Yes, I think that creating a character is "art"...mostly. It has technical "tools" (re: the game system and dice/cards/whatever) that you use, but the end result is a purely creative product: A Player Character.

Because of this, I don't think I've ever managed to find the 'perfect' way to create a character that resonates right off the bat, every time. You have to find something that gives you the highest success rate for this...and stick to it. For me and most of my group, it's Random dice rolls, in order for Stats (when talking about D&D and most other RPG's). Sometimes a player will have a specific character concept in mind...in this case, we just pick stats and whatever.

For me in particular, I just start rolling dice and then when I start to see numbers, I'll get an idea. Or not. If not, then I keep using dice and keep rolling on random stuff; so I'll just take a d10 and say 1:Elf, 2: Dwarf, 3:Halfling, 4-5:Human, 6:Half-Elf, 7: Half-Orc, 8: Dragonborn, 9:Tiefling, 10:Gnome (or whatever). That gives me a race with my stats. That is USUALLY enough to get my creative juices flowing. If not... well, I have a whole pile of dice and choices! :)

Then again, sometimes I end up with a PC who I thought was a cool idea/concept, but when I start playing them...it just doesn't "do it" for me. So they retire/leave and I make a new one. My players experience the same thing sometimes.

As I said... Art is Nutty like that.
:)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

darkbard

Hero
Hmm. Character actions can certainly be memorable, but when I think back over recent campaigns, those aren't usually the elements that stand out the most. I recall a heated argument between two PCs about whether or not they should torture a prisoner. Or a scene where one of the PCs was betrayed by a trusted NPC. Or when a character retired from the campaign after his two brothers were killed. Game mechanics and character abilities weren't involved in any of these scenes. Their gravitas was generated by the backstories of the characters involved.



This is certainly true for me, too. I usually start with a reasonably detailed sense of who I think the character is. This gets filtered through my own roleplaying capabilities (not terrible, but I'm not an actor). Some characterizations are easier for me to accomplish than others. (And some require too much spotlight time, so they get deprecated.) My conception of a character also changes significantly after I interact with the other PCs.

When I'm GMing a game where some personality traits are mechanized (like Disadvantages in GURPS), I explicitly allow players to retroactively adjust those traits over the first few sessions as they get to know their characters.
For me, the process of discovering who a character is rather than preconceiving character in overly detailed fashion is pretty important. And that is virtually impossible without exposing that PC to the pressure cooker of gameplay wherein actions taken when stakes matter often determine who that PC is. Often that can be part of mechanical build, like when my wife's (@Nephis ) Wizard in our Dungeon World game used her Storm Aura spell (a custom move that allows the Wizard to discharge Hold either to cast a lightning bolt or ride the wind a la Storm from X-Men) to leap down a well alone to confront the source of a miasma animating the skeletal remains of a dragon graveyard against us. This character from before Session Zero was framed as impulsive, but this particular instance defines for me (and for the rest of the group, I think) what that impulsive nature really means and looks like.

But I also recall an example from one of @pemerton 's Actual Play posts when a Dwarf PC made a critical Diplomacy roll in that 4E game (if memory serves, without any training in that Skill) for the deciding roll in a Skill Challenge. I don't know how pemerton or the player feels about that moment of play, but it certainly stands out in my memory as an outsidw observer as character defining because of what was at stake in play and the particular action the PC took. We found out something vital about that character in that moment of play, what mattered enough to be attempted outside of the usual widgets of build etc.

So ultimately, I think PC actions, regardless of mechanical in/outputs, fundamentally determine PC character. And those actions require at least a modicum of actual gaming episodes to manifest.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think PC actions, regardless of mechanical in/outputs, fundamentally determine PC character. And those actions require at least a modicum of actual gaming episodes to manifest.
This might seem like disagreement, but I'm not sure it is. I'm curious what you think.

I think you've read me post about my Burning Wheel dark elf, who tried to stab an innkeeper in his bed, in order to steal his strongbox. My co-player/co-GM demanded that I make a Steel test; which I failed, and so Aedhros hesitated long enough for Alicia (the other PC) to cast Persuasion and suggest that I not follow through with the killing.

Casting the spell caused Alicia to fall unconscious from tax, so Aedhros took the money from the box (the innkeeper was already unconscious, as a result of a chokehold from Alicia) and the innkeeper's boots, and carried the unconscious Alicia down to the quayside.

What establishes the character, here, is a complicated intersection of build elements (Beliefs and Instincts that underlie the situation), declared actions (as per your post), resolution outcomes (eg failing the Steel check - Aedhros isn't as hard as he thinks he is), and then "mopping up" in light of how things have landed.

I'm guessing that a fair bit of DW play - and the revelation of character - feels like this too?
 

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