Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Character Cake: One stick of backstory, Two cups of description

After I gave my players the general setting for our roleplay (an American wizarding school set in the Harry Potter universe), I gave them a few weeks to think about what their characters would be like. I then sat down with each player and asked them a long series of questions so that their characters would be totally fleshed out. 

Remember, character creation is like baking a cake -- you've got to have the right mix of ingredients. You need to know more than just what the character looks like. You need to know her past and her personality as well (though of course, these things will likely be added to as you play). This is a list of most of the questions I asked my players about their characters. You can use it as a jumping off point to make your own recipe.

Flour (Appearance):

  • Age:
  • Gender:
  • Race:
  • Ethnicity, Nationality:
  • Figure/Build:
  • Hairstyle and color:
  • Eye color:
  • Strange or unique physical attributes:
  • Preferred style of clothing:
  • Defining gestures/movements:
  • What this person likes and dislikes about appearance:

Sugar and Vanilla (Character History):
  • Does she have notable ancestors?
  • What were her parents like? What was their relationship with each other like? Did the character know both of her parents?
  • What were/are their jobs? Did/do they enjoy their jobs?
  • What important lessons did her parents teach her?
  • Did/does the character like one parent more than the other?
  • Any brothers or sisters? If so, what were they like?
  • Any other family members that were important to her?
  • Where did she grow up? Was it a large city? A town? A farm? An experimental commune?
  • What was she like as a baby?
  • Who were her rolemodels?
  • What skills did she learn as a child?
  • How did she treat other children? How did they treat her?
  • What were her favorite subjects in school? What did the teachers think of her?
  • Who were her best friends growing up? How did they become friends? Are they still friends?
  • What is her fondest memory?
  • What is the worst thing that ever happened to this character?
  • How do other people see this character?

Chocolate (Personality):
  • Hobbies and Interests?
  • What does this person really care about? What are her passions? What drives her? Does she even have something to be passionate about?
  • What are her religious beliefs? What are her personal philosophies?
  • What embarrasses her?
  • What maker her angry?
  • What is she afraid of?
  • What are her insecurities?
  • What qualities make this person likable? Why would someone want to be friends with this person? What are her strengths?
  • What qualities make this person dislikable? Why would someone not want to be friends with her? What are her weaknesses?
  • What are her quirks?
  • Does she keep any secrets? From whom? What are they?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pros and Cons of The Window

I have never used a system or watched someone else use a system that is better than the Window. It is simple, flexible, and, most importantly, completely free. The rules to the Window can be found at There is talk amongst roleplayers that the Window should not be used by beginners, but such a beautiful system should be what roleplayers interested in storytelling use first.

Strengths of the Window:

  • It is an incredibly simple system. Each ability that a character possesses has a corresponding die. When you need to use that ability, you simply roll the die and see if you get a 6 or lower. That’s it.
  • You do not have to limit your characters to archetypes. There are no pre-determined character classes. As long as the Storyteller (Game Master, i.e. the person running the game) agrees, an Actor (Player) can make a character with whatever combination of abilities that she wants and she can be just as good or as bad at those abilities as she desires. It is difficult, though not impossible, to play a suave and cunning orc rogue in Dungeons and Dragons. It is incredibly easy in the Window. 
  • The Window does not pit the Game Master against the Players. Everyone is working towards the same goal — making a good story.
  • It is totally free. All of the rules for and theory behind the Window are online. There are no books to buy.
  • All you need are dice and an imagination. Also some paper. Paper helps.

Difficulties of the Window:

  • You have to make everything yourself. Before our first session, both the players and I had to go through a lot of preparation. 
  • The Window is not as good for people interested solely in “winning.” If all you want is time to zone out and fight some monsters with your friends, then a d20 system might be better.