Roleplaying and Character Design Tips

For now, this is where I'll be jotting down my thoughts on, well, character design and roleplaying. If any other experienced roleplayers want to add anything to this, they may feel free to.- Jailbait Scannypoo Scantron

First Rule: Play your character as a person first, and a ______ second. You can put whatever you want there, so long as you keep in mind that you are playing a person with thoughts and feelings that might not be yours or what you want them to be. Your job as a roleplayer is to explore this person and allow them to grow.

Character talents: Most people are only good at a few things. If they're good at more than a few things, it's because they've either put a lot of effort into learning it on the side or they were forced to learn it by circumstances. For example, a D-Class who was incarcerated for mail fraud originally might pick up some stabbing skills while in the slammer, but probably not a taste for classic literature. Similarly, a surgeon might enjoy some mixed martial arts on his off time, but probably not much else. A good metric for this is, if you list all the things your character is good at, the more times you say "and", the less a character makes sense.

Believable character backgrounds: Without saying, your character's background should be believable. A good test of this is if the character were telling you their life's story in a bar, would you call bullshit on them? This obviously doesn't apply to characters like Tyke, but if you're playing someone human or pretty close to it, it's easy to give the character an overly complicated back story.

Also, keep in mind that shit takes time, and that learning takes a while. A Bachelor's Degree and a Master's Degree take about four years each, and a PhD takes around eight. So no 25-year-olds with PhD's, unless part of their character is being a super genius (in which case don't make them an athletic bruiser too). To really have life experiences be meaningful and impact your character, they might have to have a certain lifestyle for a long time. Players, in their tendency to make characters in their 20's or early 30's, often pack too much life experience into too little a timeframe, which strains suspension of disbelief.

Wish Fulfillment: Everybody can tell when you're playing a character who's everything you want to be, or someone who is everything you want in a partner. So don't bother trying. Also, no furries.

Separation from the player: How can you avoid wish fulfillment? Make characters different from you. Playing a different gender can be hard to pull off right, but if you have someone willing to give you advice on it, it can be a learning experience. Playing a character of a different sexuality, nationality, and ethnicity also make for a greater variety of characters, so long as you are extra careful about not stereotyping them. Taking a look at the world as a whole, straight white young adult males are not a majority, and they shouldn't be in the RP either.

Even the little things can make a difference. Make them taller or shorter than you. Fatter or thinner. Different political/social views. In my experience, if you play a character who thinks and acts differently than you would, you force yourself to differentiate between your thought patterns and theirs, resulting in you staying in-character more and your RP skills improving as a whole.

Keep in mind, however, that while making characters different from you will make you a better roleplayer, until that happens, you won't be roleplaying as believably as you would if you make a character similar to you. If you find that you're having a lot of trouble with it, it's probably a good idea to stick with what you know until you have your feet under you.

Stereotypes: If your character's response to a situation is "do whatever a/an X would do", you're doing it wrong. X can be asshole, Indiana Jones, clown, Japanese person, airhead, whatever. This is called a stereotype, and it is bad roleplaying. The best characters have conflicting interests, goals, tendencies, and morals within themselves that determine who they are and how they grow. Stereotypes do not have inner conflict — they have ritualized responses to situations based on the few character traits their player has decided to give them, and it takes a very skilled roleplayer to make a stereotype character grow. Odds are, if any of this is sounding new to you, you are not an experienced roleplayer.

Stock characters: There are a few staple characters that are distinct from stereotypes in that they're easier to build off of, and I won't discourage their use. Fighters are likely to be strong, serious, men on a mission. Healers rarely fight, and are physically weaker and more touchy-feely than other people. The smart guy is either a shy, stuttering bookworm who is bad with the other sex, or is a "mad scientist" type with crazy concoctions and high ambitions. You get the idea — these characters are called stocks because they're common not only in roleplaying but in fiction as a whole.

Like I said, playing a staple characters is fine; ultimately, it's probably impossible for a setting to remain devoid of stock characters. But it can also be particularly fun to deliberately put a twist on and subvert these expectations. If you want to play a wild-west gunslinger, you could make him socially awkward and give them a tendency to use big words. Or she could be a paranoid insomniac. Your doctor could be a fat, sleazy surgeon, or an acerbic drug addict with a cane1. Really, have fun with the format and see what sort of interesting characters you can make.

Rule of Echo: Unless you have military experience, you will probably fuck up most things military. Not saying that you should necessarily shy away from playing characters with military experience, but either be prepared to bullshit hard or have good reasons why they don't know as much as they should.

Sex: It can be difficult to pull this off well, and it's probably not a good idea unless you really know what you're doing. This applies to roleplaying your character, too.

Pemander's advice: Don't play a self-pitying attention whore.

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