Character Creation Guidelines

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Introduction

Character creation is a very simple process, but I have just a few rules that I need to address in order to maintain a smooth gaming environment…and reduce the headaches I have to deal with down the road.

It’s just good business.

Backstory

Every character must have some kind of backstory – I don’t need a novel (I do reward creativity and effort, however) but I do need to know a few basic things.

  1. Where does your character come from? Are they from the low of the low of society, or have they had a hand in the politics of nations?
  2. What motivates your character? What brought them to where they are, and what drives them to keep going?
  3. What kinds of things does your character enjoy? Are they fond of driving operettas, or do they rather just enjoy a good apple now and again?
  4. What kinds of things does your character dislike? Do they have a vendetta against doors, or rather do they feel that trees are a conspiracy against small people?
  5. What kinds of mannerisms does your character exhibit? Do they spend hours in deep contemplation, considering the mysteries of the world, or something more mundane such as constantly chewing gum or winking a lot?
  6. What type of personality does your character have? Are they grim, fatalistic, and honest, or is every word they speak laced with double meanings and hidden insinuation?
  7. What other traits does your character have? (Note: these are intended to be used as a frame of reference for role-playing purposes only, and thus cannot be used for any mechanical benefit/detriment.)
Other things to consider:
  1. Who does your character know? Are they friends with the chapel priest, or do they count amongst the friends the local barony? And, within the party, who do you know? How far do you go back? Is your friendship, or rivalry, one of good nature, or is there a deeper tension to it?
  2. How do they view and manage their own power source? Does your character view their power greater than another, such as Arcane over Divine? Do they understand what it means to draw upon that power source?
    1. If Divine or a Warlock, how does your character view their patron? Is it with great reverence, fear and suspicion, some mixture in between, or something altogether different? If Divine, do you worship only your own deity, or do you hold all in equal esteem? What drew you to seek the god’s favor, and what was it like to have your prayers answered?
    2. If Primal, how does your character interact with the spirits on a daily basis? Does your shaman regularly converse with their spirit, or would your Barbarian prefer only to seek out spiritual guidance when their mind is empty of anything but primal rage, allowing them to truly feel as one with nature’s fury?
    3. If Shadow, what was it like to journey into the Shadowfell and give up a piece of your soul, filling the void with a potent shard of the Shadowfell’s own energy? Was it painful, or did it feel liberating? How do you fare without that piece of your soul, and what drove you to seek the Shadowfell’s dark magics and hexes for your own ends?
    4. If Arcane, were you formally educated, or did you come upon your power of your own volition? Does your blood sing with your connection to the chaotic energies of the arcane, or do you master it through determined study and theoretical debates? Is your mastery of magic an art form or have mysterious, perhaps even sinister, forces gifted you with your gifts?
    5. If Psionic, when did you learn to harness your own power? Were you always able to tap into at least a little bit of it, or was it intense focus and devotion to your training regimen that brought you mastery over your inner magic?
    6. If Martial, where did you train at? Or were you always a career mercenary, honing your skills instinctively as you fought to survive? Are you a master of multiple weapons, or do you prefer a certain style to another? Are you a master of battlefield tactics, and do you lead your allies from the front of combat, or rather do you prefer to guide their actions with stirring speeches and words of encouragement?
  3. Does your character have knowledge of the area they grew up in, or have they spent most, if not all, of their life traveling? Have they studied certain subjects or taken particulars crafts or trades in their life, either on the side or to help get by?
  4. Has your character done things in their life they wish they could do differently? Was there some event in their life that they never speak of or feel ashamed about? Is there some point of their life where they wish they could do it again, no matter what anyone else tells them?

And even beyond these questions, consider taking one or more character backgrounds, and taking the questions they pose to your character at heart. If you were born under a bad omen, for instance, what impact did it have on your development and relationships in your life?

Mechanics and Roleplaying

When it comes to designing your character, I don’t encourage nor discourage power gaming – what I do require, however, is that if you’re just picking powers, feats, magic items, etc. that just focuses on usefulness in combat or social encounter, you must make it a flavorful part of your character.

Whenever you gain a feat, you must add into your backstory how you obtained it – such things don’t just happen, as they were. For instance, if, at level up, you pick up weapon expertise, add into your background how, through practice, training, or even watching other experts with that weapon has taught you how to better utilize the blade. Just a little sentence or two and done. This prevents feats from just being mechanical benefits and makes your character more depth.

I expect the same with magic items, though with powers I assume that, on the side, your character is training/experimenting with new ideas and the power is the culmination of that effort.

When it comes to your defenses, don’t stress over having a perceived ‘low ac’ or other non-ac stat. As I custom-generate my monsters, based on the scores you have, I adjust their attacks accordingly. I follow the same guidelines with accuracy bonuses and monster defenses.

Now, if, as an overall group, your defenses and/or attacks are inordinately high, I of course compensate with my monsters and their difficulty in a matching upwards fashion – this way, combat will be challenging but never unfair…

Until I need it to be.

The golden rule here, however, is that I don’t want you focusing on the mechanics over your flavor – I want you to use the mechanics as a tool in making that flavor, making your character more of a person than a jumble of numbers and powers. Remember, D&D is about creating a persona to engage the world, and while combat is a large part of that, even there you’ll find ample room for description and roleplay.

Conclusion

To summarize, just make sure you have a fairly engaging backstory, something you can reference – and something I can reference to motivate your decisions – and that your character is more than the numbers. They only serve as a framework in deciding whether you hit, get hit, or how well you do something – but ultimately, are guidelines, not absolutes.

Character Creation Guidelines

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