Everyone goes through a procedure in making a character for any RPG, be it LARP or standard tabletop. I thought it might be a worthwhile discussion to talk about /how/ we go about doing that - what process each of us follows in the quest for the most interesting alter-ego, and its good and bad points. A lot of folks, I've noticed, are just getting started with Roleplay - this might be a way for us old-hats to let the new folks in on a few of our secrets in making believable, fun personas.
Mine, in fact, is fairly involved, and very formulaic:
First, I look /very/ closely at the setting and theme of the game, and question my GM about any specifics I feel are important. Is it modern, future, fantasy, past? Are we Film Noir heroes or Conan the Barbarian types? Anti-heroes or a full heroic campaign? Note - a very, very good GM will give you a lot of this himself - "hey guys, I'm starting a new D&D campaign. You'll want to make heroic characters that all come from this little village outside of Greyhawk. No evil, and being true or chaotic neutral requires justification." Most GM's though, go 'We're playing DND saturday - bring a character?".. that's not really good enough, for me. For a Star Wars game I've the fortune of being involved in, for instance, I discovered that the GM was looking for a sort of swashbuckling pirate adventure set in the Empire period before Episode 4. There isn't a Rebellion yet - but we might be in on its formation, the Senate still exists but is weak, Palpatine's moving from being loved to being feared.. darkness is descending, and people are just getting by.
Once I have a firm idea of the theme, setting, and flavour of intent for the campaign, I start thinking about Archetypes that fit into it. Yeah, they're stereotypes - but just one or two word ones... the 'Moody Loner', the 'Wannabe Hero', the 'Tired Artist'... whatever works. For that Star Wars game I decided to run with Wannabe Hero. It's one of my favorite archetypes - the person who sees one goal, and forever tries to live up to it.. but can't, for whatever reason, becoming his own kind of hero in the bargain, if all goes well. It fits well with the above theme - the Wannabe Hero has to be a pragmatic idealist, perfect for a darker story, but he's one that will generally do the right thing instead of cowering in corners - witness the 'dawn of the rebellion' story arc.
Alright, theme - archetype... next is the Flaw. Every hero is flawed, else they're not a hero; every human is flawed, else they wouldn't be human. Here's where I designate what my character Can't do, and what he's weak in. I find that picking my limitations before I get too in-depth with anything else often makes the character leap out in sharp relief. With the above archetype, I decided he'd be a Jedi afficianado/worshipper - a wannabe Jedi. Thing is - he'd have /no/ access to the Force.. and only enough understanding to not understand why they didn't pick him. I thought about it a bit, and further decided he'd be blount, pragmatic, and get a bit of humor at the expense of others - he's not mean, he just tends to lack a great deal of tact. That works for him - for other campaigns, this is where you'll put the spin on - is he blind? deaf? Colorblind? Maybe Bad Things like him a lot.. I try to avoid the obvious weaknessess.. all of my characters have nuclear families, for instance, and most have relatively quiet childhoods. No bastard-son-of-the-king or need-for-revenge characters for me - they're too easy, and not all that common (at least, relative to how much they're played). If it works for you though, go for it.. just be interesting.
Next comes the background - just a few sentences to get the character firmly fixed in my mind - and a name. Sometimes, the background is brainstorming on a blank sheet of paper, sometimes it's a bio, somtimes it's just a sentence - but it's always there before I go into stats. A name shows up here, too.. in the case of my Star Wars guy:
Val Terren comes from a minor corprate colony world near Suluss Van, son of a corporate militiaman and his wife, only child. His father is a veteran of the Clone Wars as they engulfed the galaxy, having served on the side of the Loyalists - he grew up hearing the stories of the Jedi and the battles, reading the pulp fiction of the time. When rumors popped up about the Jedi's plot to take over the power of the Senate, he refused to believe. When the Jedi were driven from Corusant, he started to think he might have been wrong.. Right now he works as a bodyguard for a Hutt on Tattooine, hating the sand, and hoping he'll have enough to get offplanet at the end of the cycle.
Good enough to start with.
Next comes the fun bit - the stats. With a background in mind, and his flaws already chosen - laying in the rest is easy and fun. Stats don't have to be perfect - they just have to be about right; I never, ever min-max beyond what it takes to make my character able to do the job I've layed out for him. Remember folks - min-maxing is using stats to make up for a certain lack of imagination; don't let yourself fall into the trap. Anyroad, at this point,t he character takes shape. Beyond the basics, I always do three things: 1) Every character I've /ever/ had has a hobby. Nobody's so specialized they don't have an interest - think about the people you meet. Heck, even Stallone's character in Demolition Man knew how to knit.... 2) Every character I have is as realistically statted as possible. Is it a modern game? 9 out of 10 folks know how to drive. Is there a resource stat? Use it! Unused points are discarded. 3) Most important: I pick one thing my character will do better 'n anything else. We're generalists, but every tom, Dick, and Harry has some claim to fame..
Val ended up with exotic Proficiency: Lightsaber ('cause I'm a sucker for glowing blades), tinkering with electronics as a hobby, and a host of useful mercenary-soldier skills. He has some knowledge of the Jedi too, but not much - weak in Charisma, fairly bright - but really just /hardy/. (primary CON, lowest CHA, decent intelligence)... His claim to fame is his ability to fight up-close-and-personal, and the d20 system's stingy on points, so not much was left behind.
Finally - finish fleshing out the background, writing it out into something comprehensable and fairly specific. Val's BG ended up being around six pages, nailing down everything from where his skills came from to how he ended up with a 'saber (okay - a bit twinkie, but I've /always/ wanted to do that) - and the GM hasn't cared to see it. But.. he's a solid character, always knowing exactly what he's going to do and when, easily being Val. I think it's telling that in the group most of us use real names.. unless they're talking about ol' Val or the ship's pilot... we two have deep characters, more than just numbers on a sheet.
And that's what it's about - going past the numbers into something meaningful. How do the rest of you do it?