WorldbuildingWednesday - Characters (Part 2)

in Worldbuilding17 days ago (edited)



Welcome to today's #WorldbuildingWednesday post! For those of you new to this series, I'm @oblivioncubed. In this series of posts, I break down what Worldbuilding means to me, how I build a setting, why I choose to build what I do, and hopefully provide you with some inspiration to use in your Worldbuilding.

My world - Trothguard - is a setting I've created as a catch-all location for any tabletop RPG games I run, so everything I build is filtered through a lens of 'how will this improve the game for myself and my players?'.

Today we're going to complete Characters (Part 2)!

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Last time, I talked a bit about how important extra characters are for the media you're producing, and what the purpose for the character you're adding is. Today, I'm going to look at two different types of characters, and I'm going to show some templates I use for each.

Before I do that though, I should give a shout-out to @alonicus, who last time brought up the fact that of course... you don't have to have any worldbuilding purpose to support characters. Sometimes a shopkeep is just a shopkeep. In my prior post, I had said that it was nice to always give some little worldbuilding element to each character, but failed to properly illustrate that that's just something I like to do for my own purposes. Trothguard is both my D&D / generic tabletop setting, as well as the world where almost all of my fiction writing takes place. So for me, it's sometimes super useful to think of those extra details while I'm designing my TTRPG setting, as it lets me lean on them later. That might not be the case for you. Hell, it probably isn't the case for most folks. So, thanks @alonicus for pointing that out! As with all of my advice... I'm no expert, this is just what works for me, and I encourage every worldbuilder out there to find what works for them. Take the parts you like, bin the parts you don't. There are no rules in this space but the ones we create.

Now, with that said... Let's get down to business and talk about some character design! I like to split characters into two basic categories: Main characters (or Player Characters for TTRPGs), and Secondary Characters (Or NPCs).

Main/Player Characters

Writing

So, depending on the medium I'm designing a character for... I usually have slightly different needs. For my writing, I want a wealth of information at my fingertips so that I can more easily keep on the right path for my character. If I don't have a complete picture of who and what my main character is, I inevitably end up missing character development points and the story gets a little... janky. I'll think of something cool and before I know it I'm 4 pages in on a scene that is 100% not suited for the character I'm writing. Motivations or actions end up being in stark contrast to the character's morals or values. That, of course, makes for a bad story. It's okay for a character to change, but it should be a planned change that coincides with story elements and character development. It's okay for the person we END our story with to be completely different than the one we BEGAN the story with... but that change shouldn't happen in the span of a chapter! Which I'm awful for doing, and then undoing, and then diving into another entirely different tangent because freewriting is fun and who cares about plot and motivations and where we're going?!

But seriously, it's a real problem for me and I've found that the best way for me to combat this, is to make my character as real as possible. I need to know who they are, what they've been through, what they want, and what their skills and weaknesses are... along with a ton of other information. The more I have, the more I can get into that character while I'm writing and I can think 'would this character really do this?'.

This happens even to well-known published authors. Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance famously has two versions exactly because of this problem. Near to the end of the book, Brandon wrote a scene where his main character - Kaladin - took an action that in the flow of the scene made perfect sense. This got published and only after the fact did Brandon realize that the thing Kaladin had done was completely out of sync with the character's morals and values. So, he walked it back and changed it. Thus, there are two versions of the scene depending on which printing you got. I have the first copy, but I one hundred percent understand and agree with the now-canon change to the scene. These things happen, even to prolific writers who make their living with this stuff.

So, now that you know why I make a ton of information, let me show you the character templates that I've been using for the last 20 years or so. After this, we'll look at Player Characters, so you can get an idea of how differently I approach them. For writing, I flip-flop between two templates, and occasionally steal from one or the other as needed.

An example from a long-abandoned story back around 2001:

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TEMPLATE 1
Name:
Date & Place of Birth:
Height:
Weight:
Physical Description:
Health/Physical Condition/Distinguishing Marks/Disabilities:
Personal Qualities:
Citizenship/Ethnic Origins:
Parents' Names and Occupations:
Other family members:
Significant Other's Name & Occupation:
Notable Friends' Names & Occupations:
Social Class:
Community Status:
Education:
Occupation/Employer:
Salary/Income:
Skills/Abilities:
Policical Beliefs/Affiliations:
Hobbies/Recreations:
Greatest Strengths:
Greatest Weaknesses:
Ambitions:
Fears/Anxieties/Hangups:
Intelligence:
Sense of Humor:
Most Painful Setback/Disappointment:
Most Instructive/Meaningful Experience:
Sexual Orientation/Experience/Values:
Tastes (food, drink, art, etc):
Attitude Towards Life:
Attitude Towards Death:
Philosophy on Life(As a phrase/statement):



Now, that's a lot - I know. But... It's actually my smaller template. There are elements of this one that I don't like as much as my second template, but overall it gives us a pretty good idea of who the character is, what they believe, and what has made them into the person that they are.

My second template here goes into a lot more depth for each category I care about with my characters, but that makes it a little harder to reference at a glance. For figuring out who the character is though, this provides us a lot more to think about which makes converting the end result into important jot-notes easier.

TEMPLATE 2
Name:
Reason/Meaning of name (if any):
Nickname(s):
Reason for Nickname(s):
Citizenship/Ethnic Origins:
Occupation/Class:
Social Status:
-------------------
Physical Appearance
-------------------
Age:
Apparent age (if different than physical age):
Eye colour:
Glasses/contacts?:
Hair colour/length/style:
Weight:
Height:
Body build/type:
Skin tone/type:
Distinguishing Marks:
Tattoos:
Predominant feature:
Health/Physical Condition/Disabilities:
------------------
Favorites/Dislikes
------------------
Colour:
Music:
Food:
Clothing:
Literature:
Expressions:
Curses/Swears:
Mode of transport:
Hobbies:
[etc, expand as needed]
-----------
Personality
-----------
Risk aversion (daredevil, cautious, etc):
Habits/mannerisms/peculiarities:
Drinking/Drugs/Vices:
Strengths:
Weaknesses:
Vulnerabilities:
Most prized possession & why:
People they admire & why:
-----
Goals
-----
Immediate/short-term goal(s):
Long-term goal(s):
Plan to accomplish each goal:
Motivated towards goal(s) by:
----------
Background
----------
Hometown/Place of birth/childhood:
Type of childhood:
First significant memory:
Most important childhood event (and why?):
Education:
Religion:
Finances:
--------------
Family/Friends
--------------
Mother's name & occupation:
Father's name & occupation:
Relationship with family members:
Sibling(s) name, age, & occupation:
Extended family (names/ages/occupations/relationship):
Are they close to their extended family (if not, why?):
Friends' names & occupations:
Significant Other's name(s) & occupation(s):
What do family & friends like & dislike most about this character?
---------------
Attitude/Traits
---------------
Most at ease when:
Most uneasy when:
Priorities:
Philosophies:
How they feel about themselves:
Past failure that haunts them (why?):
What would they wish for if they had 1 wish?:
Outlook on life (Optimist/pessimist):
Introvert/Extrovert:
Drives/Motives:
Talents/Skills:
Particularly Skilled at:
Particularly Unskilled at:
Character flaw:
Biggest regret:
Minor regrets:
Biggest accomplishment:
Minor accomplishments:
Darkest Secret:
Is their secret known to anyone else? How/Why/What are they going to do about it:
----------------------------
Self Perception/Interactions
----------------------------
How would they describe themselves:
What would they consider their best characteristic?:
What would they consider their worst characteristic & why:
Do they have realistic assessments of themselves?
How do they think others see them:
How are they actually seen by strangers (in general):
What would they change about themselves & why?:
How do they relate with others?:
How do they react in a crisis:
How do they face problems:
Typical problems they commonly run into:
How they react to new situations/problems:
How they react to change:

As you can see, this is quite a bit more detailed. It's still not perfect, but between the two I can usually scan over the prompts and pick out ones I like/think are useful and fill them out. This is really only done for the main character(s) in my stories. If I'm not actively writing from the character's point of view, I don't bother filling out anywhere near this level of detail... so it's not as bad as it might seem.

Tabletop

For my tabletop characters, I do a lot less. Basically for these, I fill out whatever character sheet the game I'm playing provides and then I consider only a handful of other things because I want this living character to be a lot more fluid. In a TTRPG setting, we want to be able to work with the world crafted for us, the players we're at the table with, and the events of the game. So, I only really try to figure out:

  • What motivates my character?
  • What's one defining event from their past?
  • What motivates them?
  • What lengths will they go to, to achieve their goals?
  • What odd mannerisms/habits/'tells' do they have?

Things like... who their parents are, etc... might never come up, so often I don't even bother to think of that ahead of time. If it comes up at the table I just make it up on the spot and jot it down. As the game goes on I might keep something like my writing template on hand to fill in with details as I make them up during play. This helps me be consistent without anchoring me to a rigid character concept from day 1 of play. Last time I played for example, I kept almost dying - so I had a section to keep track of mortal wound scars left over after healing. It never really came up, but it was a fun thing to be consistent about.

Secondary Characters/NPCs

Now, if you've made it this far and you're thinking 'oh no, there's more?!' fear not. This next section is actually quite small, because be it in writing or at the table... there's only a few things I care about for secondary characters. As we discussed last time, these characters are here for a specific purpose, and as such, a ton of what we care about for main characters just... doesn't matter for these folks.

What we do care about breaks down to the following:

Secondary/NPC Template
Name:
Race/Citizenship/Ethnic Origins:
Age:
Physical Description:
Occupation:
Relevant skills:
Personality:
Short-Term Goal:

As an example from my on-hold tabletop campaign:

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This is basically the same as I'd write out secondary characters for any stories I was doing too. A single paragraph is all the detail we need for any background character, and if I'm feeling totally uninspired... there's a ton of character generators around that work just as well for writing as they do for TTRPGs.

Like for example, my own NPC generator which you can download from my website:

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There's a ton of these out there, and I find that just having a randomized output of motivations and personality traits is super super valuable. If you look around, I'm sure you'll find (or create!) something that fits your needs and provides you with a ton of inspiration for your secondary characters/NPCs.


Whew! Well that was a long one. I think that's all I really have to say about Characters. We'll probably reference this in future blogs, as some plot-related worldbuilding elements like Crafting a BigBadEvilGuy for your Setting will definitely have character templates as well, but we'll save that for another time and keep it all grouped together.

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Thank you for reading today's #WorldbuildingWednesday! I hope this has provided you with some inspiration!

If there's something else you'd like to ask me about, please do so! I will make every effort to answer it next Wednesday.

WorldbuildingWednesdays - Prior Posts:
0: Introduction to WorldbuildingWednesday10: Economy & Currency
1: Starting the World11: Creating Governments
2: Kingdoms, Factions, and Notable People12: Shops & Markets
3: Creation Facts and Creation Myths13: Worldbuilding Exercise
4: Shaping History14: Legendary Items of Trothguard (Part 1)
5: Myths & Legends15: Legendary Items of Trothguard (Part 2)
5.a: Player Visions (Supplemental)16: Legendary Items of Trothguard (Part3)
6: Gods & Lesser Deities17: Building the City of Modnae
7: Creating Cultures18: Adventure Hooks
8: Making Religions19: Making Hooks Into Adventures
9: Building Cults20: Fleshing out your Adventure
21: Characters (Part 1)

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Thank you for the shout-out ! :)

I have to admit I'm pretty old-school about character development, but then I tend to create characters for tabletop games rather than as an author. For gaming, I find keeping it simple helps with initial RP, and allows time for other characteristics to develop during play.

But I'm not a total Philistine, I've moved on from the idea that first level IS the backstory. However I still sometimes wind players up by explaining that first level is a great time for DM's to implant phobias that will stick with a character throughout their career.

I also think it's great to not always plan character development, although I appreciate that only works for RPG characters, not fictional ones. The events a character experiences in-game, even though not planned, can really make for interesting development opportunities. I have a cleric who (shortly after being cut down by a massive critical hit, and then resurrected) adopted the catchphrase "Death is a life changing experience".

Something which can be useful for a player's first time in a homebrew setting is for their character (with mutual agreement) to deliberately be from another world or plane. That way, they can explore the world as a "foreigner" and can pick up setting-related background information as they go.

I also think it's great to not always plan character development, although I appreciate that only works for RPG characters, not fictional ones.

I definitely agree. I like my TTRGP characters to be pretty loose. I want a basic idea, some defining moments prior to the game, and that's it. TTRPG characters to me have to grow with the campaign, it just amps up the verisimilitude.

I have a cleric who (shortly after being cut down by a massive critical hit, and then resurrected) adopted the catchphrase "Death is a life changing experience".

Exactly! This is so fuckin awesome haha. We had a running joke after an amazing series of events in my last campaign where the Rogue every time he got caught would be like 'hey do you guys know Bob?'. Good times, it's that kind of organic inclusion to the character that really sets tabletop apart from every other form of entertainment for me.

This is so great thanks for sharing, reading this has really given me some inspiration to nail down these details for my own characters.

Some of the ones I'm writing have very specific details about who they are and why they are how they are. But, there are one or two people who are kind of blank slates that I discover more about as I write.

!PIZZA

I've definitely done blank slates a lot before too - Its sometimes super fun to just discover a character as you go... but those I find almost always end up as a mostly-self-insert character. Their morals end up being my morals, and their motivations are mirrors of mine, which is okay for some things but, if it's not a for-fun free write, or it's something I want to be longer... I gotta have a well defined character so I can avoid slipping haha

PIZZA!

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