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8 steps to Character Building

One of the most essential parts of roleplaying is being able to create, maintain and develop a character. This whole process is known as ‘character building’. Character building is a secondary part of semi-serious roleplay, and a primary part of serious roleplay; you can’t really immerse yourself in these types of game modes without it.

Character – The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.

There are many different stages in this process, and in this guide, I will teach you what they all entail and how to master them. If you are new to the roleplay scene, or just want to improve on your existing knowledge, you have found the right place.

1. Have a plan for your character

Even though you could still carry out this process without a plan, your end result would be more than likely muddled and incomplete. It is prudent to have a rough draft and idea of what sort of character you wish to create – where do they come from? What is their gender? What will they vaguely look like? All of these questions can be answered in proper detail when you flesh out your character, but a plan ensures you will have a concrete path to follow.

On top of this, planning can allow you to add irony or juxtaposition to your character with more ease, such as giving them a name with connotations of being happy when their personality is permanently moody.

2. Name your toon

The name is the foundation and building block of your character, which arguably makes it the most important asset; it paths the way for the rest of your character’s development.

There are two methods I would recommend for creating a unique name.

I call method one ‘slicing’. You take slices of objects in your visible or knowledge spectrum, and fuse them together to create a name. To start this method, you take a generic and common first name of the culture you wish to portray, such as ‘Daniel’. Because surnames can generally be more unique than the forename, you can fuse almost anything together; on my desk, I can see a can of soda and a comb. You then combine these two words to make a surname, in this case, ‘Socomb’. On top of sounding like an Italian pasta dish, ‘Socomb’ is a surname that will be completely exclusive to your character, as it is a random fuse of object names. If you don’t want to do this, you can simply take an already established name of someone and change it slightly. For example, my roleplay character ‘Steve Burwin’ is a take on the Crocodile Hunter, ‘Stephen Irwin’.

The second method is easier and quicker – use a random online name generator. Even though these are easier, they usually give you a common name. Although probably unique, it will likely be unmemorable, which if is something you worry about, you should stay away from.

Generic names such as ‘John Smith’ should be avoided, as this is not only extremely stereotypical and carries mixed labels, but is also unimaginative and makes you look like you’ve not put any effort into it.

You can also roleplay as real world people, such as Pierce Brosnan or the Queen. However, these people already have a developed identity and public persona, which makes the rest of this process unnecessary; you will be essentially acting in a pre-assigned role. I would advise you to stay clear of doing this if you are playing in a serious roleplay community.

3. Decide on a personality

This part is mostly self-explanatory. What traits do you want your character to possess?

I would recommend picking traits either you yourself, or someone you know very well, have. This is because you can more accurately act out how they will react to new situations, as you are accustomed to the behavior. This will help you to fit into character.

On some serious roleplay servers, there is a ‘levelling up abilities system’. When creating a new character, be sure to allocate your given tokens to the items that correlate as closely to your chosen traits as possible. For example, if your character is sporty, you will place a high number of tokens on stamina, as it reflects that trait.

Additionally, even though it could lead to some interesting roleplay, do not include any form of overly aggressive traits or rare mental disorders in your character’s personality. As these can sometimes be disruptive to the environment around you, you will be held in a negative perspective, and therefore be assumed to be playing to waste others time and ruin the experience. Be considerate.

4. Decide on their physical appearance

Again, this is self-explanatory. What do you want your character to look like? How old are they?

As with before, you should allocate ability tokens, if you are given them, into corresponding traits. If you wish for your character to have strong muscles, put a majority of your tokens into the ‘strength’ category. As you are given a limited number of tokens, it reminds you that not everyone is perfect at everything; you will be forced you to go back and rework your character’s personality to make it more believable, as a super attractive, muscular man, with an IQ of 200, is a very rare occurrence, and is a rather one in a million affair.

Another dimension of physical appearance is the character’s fashion sense. This is a great way to make your character memorable, as vintage or uncommon pieces allow them to stand out.

5. Decide on nuances

‘Nuance’:  A subtle or slight degree of difference, as in meaning, feeling, or tone; a gradation.

As we have already created most of your new character, it is time to add some details.

A nuance within a character can be both physical or psychological; What do they smell like? Do they have any habits? Have they got any injuries or impairments? Do they repeatedly do anything specific when unoccupied, such as lean up against a wall?

Nuances can also be themes or objects your character is interested in or gravitates towards, such as only driving a certain type of vehicle, or preferring modern architecture over classical; these nuances should sublimate into your interactions and opinions in game, or become clear through your actions. This will give the character increased depth and credibility, especially to other players.

6. Create a backstory

You have decided on your character’s nationality, age and personality.

Create a short, yet sweet, backstory to encompass their history, and to possibly give an indication to why they are what they are today.

This is an example of a backstory:

‘Steve Burwin grew up in Essex, a county situated next to England’s capital London.

Steve Burwin is a non-practising Roman Catholic who attended a Catholic secondary school which is where he found his passion for English, History and Computer Science. Naturally excelling at English, his communicational skills developed in subjects which similarly required high levels of organization and planning. In 2005, Steve undertook his GCSE examinations. With hard work, Steve achieved good grades and 100% attainment in History. His expertise in Historical politics leaves Steve a shrewd and prudent individual who has studied the inner working of modernist sociology, such as Communist Russia and Nazi Germany, in a way he sees applicable to post-modern society today.

Following on from successful results, Steve started studying for his A-Levels at the same educational institute. Here, he chose to study History, Sociology, Maths and Computer Science, all in which resulted with an eventual grade of A*.

Steve then went to study Computer Science at Cambridge University in England, specialising in cyber security. When he graduated in 2012, he contemplated his next step in life and eventually decided to move to the United States in pursuit of a career within his chosen field. After browsing through a newspaper, he found an article about a company known as the ‘Estleback Corporation’, who had gathered fame for their successful security operation within a troubled nightclub in EvoCity. After posting an application, he was accepted for an interview; the story of Estleback and Steve Burwin begins.’

This is mostly for your benefit, as after this exercise, you will feel more personal and at one with the character. Again, try and lean away unrealistic stories and events; the case of the Baudelaire family is very uncommon, and will certainly not haunt every new inhabitant of a community!

7. You got to have flaws

Even though you are finished with the bulk of your character, there are still a few things that you can do to polish them off.

A ‘Mary Sue’ is ‘a fictional character whose implausible talents and likableness weaken the story’. In other words, make sure your character isn’t perfect at everything. Their vulnerabilities should shine through every once and awhile in in-character interactions with other players. Again, I would advise allocating vulnerabilities you are accustomed with, as you will be more acquainted with the associated coping mechanisms, and how people react when faced with the reality and concept. This will again add depth to your character and your portrayal of them.

8. Do your research

Finally, you should do your research. If a part of your character’s backstory or culture is unfamiliar to you, look it up and familiarise yourself. This way, if someone asks you about something your character’s backstory has revealed, you can talk about it in more depth and show yourself to be more intelligent, both in and out-of-character.

Overall, this whole process is about creating a sense of depth and maintaining a strong level of credibility throughout your time playing a character. The more you to this, the better you get, as an expert role-player can switch and swap between multiple aliases and characters without much of a problem.