Character Creation: An Exercise

I used to DM RPGs. Or translated into English, I was a Dungeon Master (aka Game Master) for table-top role-playing games. Part of this role [roll?] includes developing non-player characters that are still interesting/challenging/terrifying for the players to deal with. And then trying to figure out what to do next when players went in a totally different direction than planned, within the constraints of their roles.

Sounds a lot like writing fiction, doesn’t it, for certain writing styles?

Since all monsters, magical or high tech gizmos, aliens, armor, weapons, and beasts within a gaming system have certain fixed characteristics the DM/GM and players have to deal with, dice are used to determine outcomes from actions. Dice are also used to create characters, drawing from a roster of strengths, weaknesses, and so on. I recently went back to this when I was trying to kick my mind out of a bit of a writing and imagination rut. I needed to do something creative but different that was NOT writing or working on a craft project. Out came a gaming book, and the dice.

I’m going to be rather vague here, because I don’t know which if any RPG systems you have access to. The idea is more “here’s something you can do to stimulated little grey cells to creativity” rather than a hard-and-fast exercise. So here’s an old character creation sheet from the first run of D&D™:

Used under Creative Commons Fair Use. Original Source: A Weebley that won’t allow me time to copy the URL. Sorry.

The one below is for a more modern game:


Now, these are both from fantasy worlds, where you choose your species (dwarf, elf, human, half-elf, and so on) and your general character type (ranger, thief, barbarian, adventurer, bard, cleric, . . .).

Again from Pinterest:

They all are based on characters going places and doing things. To my knowledge there’s not a “farmer” or “archivist” player character in the original D&D, but I could be wrong. Someone has probably found a way to do it. The point being, you see characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. The dice make it either fun or challenging, depending on how you look at it. There are also sci-fi based games, like the Dr. Who set that I have under my bed, and more modern ones.

As a writer, let’s say I want to challenge myself with a character I don’t design on my own – make myself work, but not borrow from another author. So, using Ravenloft™ world-data for D&D™ I start with a damphir artisan lawful neutral. My dice rolls *clatter clatter clatter* Hmm. This character is easily startled but not a coward, is an adrenaline junkie [I hear player groans], lost someone he cares about but still sees them in visions and recurring dreams, and needs to see the best in people even if that means ignoring actual malice [more groans from the team]. This character fled into the Mist to get away from something haunting him, and cannot rest. Since this is a horror-based game, you can see that there’s lot to work with, even if I as a writer will have my work cut out for me. Is this a good or a bad person? Well lawful neutral, so more like a person trying to stay out of sight, not battling evil but not seeking to cause active harm, either.

I’d probably try this with a short story or a scene first, because it’s going to be a challenge, and I do have other things I’m supposed to be working on. But the goal is to force you, the writer, out of your mental comfort zone. How would you work with a “not my usual” character? What sort of world would develop around him, her, it, your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine?

Copyright: D&D, Dungeons and Dragons, Ravenloft are all (C) Wizards of the Coast LLC, 2021.


13 thoughts on “Character Creation: An Exercise

  1. What? YOU were the narrator?!? :mock shock: I can’t believe it!

    Someone has probably found a way to do it.

    K, I’m convinced, you definitely were. 😉

  2. How does that character survive in the “wilderness” without coffee? [Big Crazy Grin]

  3. Has there ever been a game that does less to enforce genre conventions than Ravenloft?

    (I made my will save, otherwise I’d start talking about 1e AD&D, 0-level characters, sages, etc.)

    This one is straightforward.
    Pick the player with the gender-flipped character*. Your antagonist believes their PC is the reincarnation of a tragically lost love. The squick of the creepy gender thing parallels and heightens the squick of the creepy undead thing.
    Naturally, the antagonist’s goal is to get the PC to join them In eternal undeath, preferably voluntarily.
    As the antagonist is Lord of this slice of RL, the selling should be one of mists and graves, heavy on the Ophelia vibe. Very few living people, but quite a few incorporeal undead.

    *In my experience, people who run characters of a different sex than their own are trying to make others uncomfortable, and are ill prepared for the tables to be turned. (Or they aren’t expecting the campaign to revolve around their characters and think they’re just passenger #3 on the railroad.)

    • Maaaaybe that one game that was a sort of parody of D&D, and you got points for crazy trope breaking? (Which would probably work far better in a short story than as a full-blown novel.)

    • STR—Strength
      CON—Constitution (how healthy you are)
      INT—Intelligence (tomatoes are a fruit)
      WIS—Wisdom (tomatoes don’t belong in fruit salad)
      CHR—Charisma (convince others to eat tomato fruit salad)

  4. Okay, that first character sheet of D&D mashed with Fallout is hilarious.
    For a great character building game, try Knave by Ben Milton. It’s a best seller for a reason besides being cheap.

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