One of the most important aspects of roleplay is character creation. Creating a roleplaying character is easy, creating an interesting character is not. Often players fall back to standard stereotypes, using cliches to their leisure. Sure, at the end you get a character to play with, but the character is unlikely to be interesting or very original. You may have fun playing the character for a while, but inevitably you will get bored.
If you want to create a character that will stand the test of times, developing and growing as the roleplay moves onward, you will need to put a bit more effort in character creation. Every player uses a different approach to character creation, and there is no one right way of doing things. What follows are a few basic guidelines you can use when you want to build a new character. If you don’t like the methods described below, forget it entirely and use your own methods. As long as the result is an interesting character that is both fun to play and fun for others to interact with, the means are irrelevant.
The defining aspect of a roleplaying character is its concept. A character concept can be one word or one sentence description of the essence of your character. Examples of character concepts are "Introvert Music Composer", or "Prophet of Gehenna". A concept can be very simple, or it can be a very complex idea. A character concept can even be a stereotype. When you have determined a concept for your character, then you can continue with adding depth and color to the character. When determining a concept, all you have to keep in mind is what you want to play.
As essential as a good concept is a character’s background. Some players write extensive biographies for their characters, others suffice with a few sentences. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when creating a character’s background, to help you fill in the blanks.
How old is your character?
What was unique about your character’s childhood?
What kind of person was he?
What was his first experience with the supernatural?
How did he become a supernatural being (vampire, ghoul or otherwise)?
What is his supernatural life like?
What motivates him?
A character’s motivation is extremely important. We all have goals we want to achieve, things we want to learn and experience. It is no different for roleplaying characters. A character should have something to strive for, otherwise there is no point for the character to exist.
During this stage of the character’s creation you can select a clan, bloodline, revenant family or such that your character belongs to. You can pick a group that fits best with his concept and background, or you can choose something that is entirely different, which can be the source of many interesting situations. Don't be afraid to break stereotypes. Not all Nosferatu are information-brokers, and not all Malkavians are teddybear-toting hug-freaks. Sabbat vampires are as much violent warriors as they are scholars, scientists, explorers and politicians. It's okay to break a few boundaries here, just don't go overboard. There are limits to what kind of Childe a certain Sire looks for, and to what kind of ghouls are useful to a domitor.
Nature and Demeanor
When you have fleshed out the character’s background, you can determine his Nature and Demeanor. With her background in mind you can imagine how the character interacts with others and how he responds to certain situations. This way you can select the most appropriate Nature and Demeanor for your character. A character’s Nature and Demeanor can be the same, although this is rarely the case. Look at yourself, are you really exactly as you behave yourself towards others? People who show their true face all the time are rare indeed.
Numbers and such
Now comes the most overestimated part of character creation: the stats. For some players character creation is only adding stats to a sheet, and for others stats never come into the picture. Personally I believe that a character’s stats are important, but only marginally so. Stats can add strengths and weaknesses to a character, adding more flavor to the mix. Stats can also turn a good concept into a flat two-dimensional stereotype.
What we need to keep in mind is that stats, and the related dice-rolling, are secondary in roleplay. Roleplaying is about imagination first, putting yourself into the shoes of someone completely different, and acting out what he would do in certain situations. Stats are only used to emulate certain aspects of real life that cannot easily be roleplayed. Stats also represent the unpredictable flow of luck.
When filling the dots on a charactersheet you can use the basic guidelines as described in White Wolf sourcebooks, or you can randomly add dots as you see fit. Whatever method you choose, keep in mind that a character’s statistics should fit her background and concept. Try not to go overboard with your character’s traits, you really do not need 30 dots in various Disciplines to have an interesting character. What is the fun in playing a character that can do almost anything, that has virtually no challenging enemies left, and can change the course of history with a few commands? For such a character there is no goal to strive for. As said earlier, motivation is paramount, and godcharacters have nothing left to motivate them. Personally I have found out that playing neonate and ancilla characters with limited knowledge and skills is much more fun than playing jaded, omnipotent elders.
When you have created your character, you can begin with the actual fun: roleplay. You may have written a ten-page biography of your character, or spent hours working on the perfect combination of Attributes, Abilities and Disciplines, it means nothing when you don’t play the character. You learn the most about the character when you actually portray him. Do not be afraid to make changes to a character after the first few times of play. If a certain Ability suits him better that another, or if a certain Discipline in no way correlates to the character’s behaviour, feel free to alter the shatsheet and background as you please. However, after a few weeks of play you should keep the charactersheet as it is, since making radical changes to the sheet after your character has interacted with many others is unfair to the other players.
Development and Experience
I know a few players who start collecting massive amounts of Experience Points from the moment they fill the last dot on their sheet, and use this XP to quickly expand their character to enormous heights of power. I also know players who finish their character creation and then change nothing at all until the character dies or is retired. Personally I think neither way is preferably. A player needs to find a good balance in the growth and development of a character. In online roleplay this can be very difficult, since there is no Storyteller to award XP or to (dis)approve a certain Discipline that you want your character to learn. I cannot tell you how you should evolve your character, that is something every player has to decide for himself. I can only advise you to moderate your own decisions in this matter. Does it make sense for your character to learn Obtenebration 6 after two weeks of roleplay? Is a dedicated scholar likely to advance in Firearms? Use your common sense, and your sense of fair play.
If after reading this you have any question regarding character creation, feel free to send me an e-mail at email@example.com. And remember: have fun.
- Barry / Adamus
P.S. For the sake of simplicity I have used "he" and "him" in this article. Of course this in no way excludes female players and characters. I just didn't feel like typing "him/her" and "(s)he" all the time.