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RPG Design: Character Development

September 24th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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And back to the game design topic! The part I love most about game design is that you can create worlds full of life, intricacy, intrigue and interesting characters, experimenting with scenarios and situations (that would otherwise probably have negative  repercussions in RL™).

As a programmer you’d ever only write your code and if you are happy with it that’s fine but we one-man-game-developer types are more like Jack of all trades who want to create complete worlds … and stories. And then tell those stories by means of the game. And maybe throw a bit (or a large chunk) of dynamics in there again … as programmers.

One extremely satisfying aspect of game design (for games where narrative is important) is the development of characters that should act throughout the game. Creating characters is just as much fun as the other bases! If you do it right and create deep and sympathetic characters people will love them.

And even villains can be sympathetic. In fact they should be! Who likes an antagonist that is completely unsympathetic? Nobody, right? But why should you even like a villain, after all he’s the guy who needs to be defeated? The answer to this is that the guy who is the villain is so only in the context of our story. Maybe he’s not so bad after all in a different context. Or in short: Antagonists also have a life, feelings … but guess what? Now I totally digress! I actually wanted to show you my new and all fresh character template that I came up with to shape out characters for my game.

[ad#gog_arcanum_box]The template I’m introducing here is based on a template that is used by the two authors of  The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design, a book I’ve recently purchased which I think is just slightly overrated on Amazon but still definitely worth it’s money. The two authors have the character building template fully laid out in their book for the purpose of their example but I’ve made modifications to it so that it suits the holy needs of my RPG design.

This character building template is quite extensive and there might be a few items that you want to throw out for your design or you’d want to add other questions appropriately. Also, as stated in the book by the authors, when designing a new character with this it’s not required to go through this in a linear way. Skip sections and fill them in later … like a puzzle. Likewise it’s not always necessary to fill out all the boxes. Some minor characters don’t need that level of detail.

It’s also worth to note that most of what you fill into this template is for your eyes (or for your teams eyes) only. So write away care-freely!  Only some of this information makes it into the game anyway however the whole additional info helps to give the character the amount of depth that is needed to make him/her an exceptionally outstanding character.

The template consists of several tables with rows of questions on the left column and the answers or details to fill in on the right side (in which for the purpose of explanation I’ve entered a description of the kind of text that goes in).

So without much further ado here’s my character building template used to help creating the story for my totally epic role-playing game (which *cough* should be in the shelves somewhere within the next millennium!). In the next post I will show an example of how the template is used with one of my (player party) co-protagonist characters … hopefully without revealing too much information about the game’s story.

Of course feel free to use it, change it, adapt it or come up with your own template! I’d love to hear about them! And always keep in mind: We’re not digging ditches or performing brain surgery here, we’re making games. Lighten up, for chrissakes. (That was an actual quote from the above mentioned book).

Full Name

The complete name of the character.

Nickname or short name

A nickname or short name (if the full name is too long to be used practically in-game).

Image

An image of the character. This can also be a first sketch or a vague idea to see in which direction it goes.

Character Type

Pick one (or two if necessary) from the following list: Protagonist, Co-Protagonist, Antagonist, Hero, Anti-Hero, Mentor, Helper, Herald, Pivotal, Sidekick, Lackey, Ally, Henchman, Mole, Love Interest, Best Friend, Confidante, Partner, Catalyst

Gender

Male/Female

Species

The species (or race, ethnicity) of the character.

Class

RPG-related character class as it appears in-game.

Age

The age of the character. This can also be an approximation.

Summary

A short descriptive text about the character.

Biography

A biographical text about the character. Optimally as it should appear somewhere in-game for the player to be readable.

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Appearance Information

General Appearance

Describe the general appearance of the character.

Dress Style

What the character usually wears and how he/she wears it, clothing, armor etc.

Trademark Objects(s)

The trademark object of the character can be for example the favorite weapon of him/her or other items with that the character is seen often.

Other worn objects
(Jewelry, Tattoos, etc.)

What else does the character wear? Jewelry? A tattoo somewhere on the body, glasses or maybe a portable wrist computer?

Height

The impressionistic height of the character.

Weight

The impressionistic weight of the character.

Body Type

Is he/she slim, slender, athletic, muscular, obese, average etc.?

Eye Color

The eye color.

Hairstyle & Color

Short, long, straight, curly, thick, thin, greasy, unkempt etc.?

Facial Hair

If the character is male and sports a beard, describe the beard here.

Other distinguishing or

species-related features

This could be unique appearance features that the character posses. Like for example a mole, a scar or a rare color pattern on those head fins of your aquatic species.

Health Condition

Is the character healthy or in a rather poor condition? Antagonists often have some sort of ailment to associate a physical negative side with them. But also the good guys could be affected by this.

Signature Movement or Tic

Does the character move in a specific way or has any movement-related tics? And why does he/she have these? Handle with care, don’t make your character look like a fool (unless they are supposed to be one).

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Behavioral Information

Persona

One or two words that fit as the characters persona. Examples could be “The bad-ass”, “The naïve cutie”, “the thinker” etc.

Alignment

You can draw this from the D&D rules, e.g. lawful good, true neutral, chaotic evil etc. or just pick any other system’s or your own definitions.

Single adjective to describe

this character

Smart, Tough, Arrogant, Weary, Optimistic etc.

General Disposition

The general nature and tendency of the character. What is the character’s most common attitude and why?

Traits

Specific traits and characteristics that he/she possesses. Does the character have any phobia, is he/she blind or maybe a person who cannot swim?

Common Emotions

Enter three or four common emotions here. E.g. amused, angry, confused, bitter, callous, cheerful, cynical, depressed, hopeful, love-struck etc.

Emotional Stability

How well is the characters spirit? Is he/she the confidence in person or perhaps slowly turning into insanity?

Likes & Loves

What or whom does the character likes or loves?

Fears

What fears does the character possess? Unlike any phobias mentioned under ‘traits’ this text should describe a larger fear that might be relevant to the story.

Addictions

Is the character addicted to any drugs (alcohol, sweets, tobacco, harder stuff?), maybe a gambler or a nympho?

Secrets

What secrets does the character carry with them? These might be dark or embarrassing secrets from the past that nobody else should know about but that might or might not be revealed during the game.

Dichotomy (inner conflict

of the character)

Does the character possess any inner conflict? For example an (to the outside appearing) ruthless mercenary who actually has a good heart.

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Professional Information

Education/Intelligence

What kind of education did the character receive. Maybe he/she is/was a doctor or a professor.

Profession and attitude

towards it (good or bad)

Profession can be (but doesn’t necessarily has to be) the same as the character’s class . How does the character stand to this profession?

Skills

Noteworthy skills that he/she possesses. Not necessarily skills as they appear in the game.

Special Abilities

Characters in role-playing games usually posses one or more of these. A psychic who can see into the future, a species that has the ability to see in the dark …

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Location Information

Residential Place

Where does the character live?

Places often visited by

the character

These can be places that the character frequently visits or where he/she often can be found.

Where has the character been?

Did the character travel a lot and gathered much experience meanwhile or was the character stuck in a limited area?

Locations where the character

is most likely to “blend in”

A hunter might best blend into a wilderness environment, a rogue-like character might blend into the shady streets and bars of a city etc.

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Background Information

Birthplace

Where was the character born?

Family

Information about the characters family if it’s relevant. Parents, brothers or sisters, cousins, niece or nephew, etc.

Backstory

What happened in the character’s life that led to his/her current situation.

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Story-related Information

Story Purpose

What is the character’s purpose in the game’s story? Do they have their own agenda? (They better have!) In Role-playing games this often becomes a whole quest related to the character, even if it’s a side character (remember Yuffie from Final Fantasy VII?)

Gameplay Purpose

What purposes does the character have for the gameplay? If this us the player character then it’s obvious: the purpose is to be controlled by the player. If it’s a side character they could have all kinds of gameplay purposes, for example this character can lead the player somewhere where he/she would otherwise not be able to go. Or they could be a shop owner who sells items to the player or perhaps they are just combat support etc.

Why does the character involve

him/herself into this situation?

Maybe he/she has no other choice or they are on the hunt for the same goal as the player character (and their ways cross because of this), or are a mole and want to lure the player into a trap, or they are altruists (heh, yeah right!) …

What does the character want?

The ultimate goal that the character seeks.

Other roles and identities

Does the character have an alter ego, maybe a secret one? For example in Star Wars Emperor Palpatine was Darth Sidious at the same time, Ben Kenobi the Hermit was once known as Obi-Wan Kenobi the Jedi Knight.

Aspirations

This could be just something the character desires, perhaps an adventurous life, wisdom, barrels of rum or being left alone.

Objective(s)

Objectives the character needs to fulfill throughout the game to achieve his/her goal.

Reports/Answers to

If this is one of the player’s sidekicks they usually only reports to the player character. Other characters might report to their hierarchical leader. Maybe the player character needs to report to a specific NPC in-game.

Who reports to this character?

Other characters that report to this character.

Reactions to different events

in the game

Are there any noteworthy events in the story that make the character react in a certain way? Maybe the character is a cold-blooded killer but one event in the game makes him reluctant to kill a specific person, maybe he’s falling in love with one of his victims? Or a quiet and shy character starts to run berserk because something enrages her.

Moral choices the character

has to make in the game

Will he save the damsel in distress … and with that neglect the fate of hundred’s of other people? Or there might be a situation where the player can make a choice between either him or the rest of his crew being caught and imprisoned by adversary forces.

Relation to other significant

characters

To which other characters does this character has a special relation? He/she could be a love-interest for the player character, a buddy of another character in the crew or a character who has an aversion toward another party member.

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Dialog-related Information

Tagline

The tagline of your character. For T-800 this was “I’ll be back!”, for Sgt. Murtaugh this was “I’m getting too old for this shit!”. Maybe your character doesn’t need this but it’s good to think about it.

Dialog Tics and Slang

Does the character use any specific words or talking style? Maybe he’s addressing himself in the third person, talks in a very noble manner … or the opposite (and by this I don’t mean to overuse the F-bomb!) or maybe he’s an Orc with a very low, smooth voice like Barry White.

Accent

Does the character possess a certain accent? Perhaps he/she speaks human language but has a strong accent of their own species.

Dialog Ideas

Enter any dialog ideas related to this character here.

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Additional Information

Where will (did) the

character die?

In case the character is supposed to die in the game (driven by the story) or the character died already. Where and how did it happen?

Epitaph: What will go on the

character’s tomb stone?

Regardless of whether the character dies or not.

How did the character loose

his/her virginity?

Might or might not be relevant to your story but it’s a fun question nevertheless.

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Extra Information

Plot Ideas

List any plot ideas that are related to this character here.

Other Notes & Ideas

You can enter any notes and ideas here that further help shaping the character.

Concepts & Inspirations

A field to paste images and photos into. Maybe you already have other sketches that might be candidates for this character or you associate the character with a certain actor/actress.

  1. September 24th, 2009 at 21:59 | #1

    I love this series. One of my great childhood dreams: taking the time and actually create one by myself- thanks for the nice read.

  2. Arjun
    October 5th, 2009 at 06:57 | #2

    Thanx for this. I love how you go into so much detail about the character creation prosses in the templates.

    It’ll realy help when I start developing the characters for my game!

  1. November 19th, 2009 at 22:38 | #1
  2. April 12th, 2011 at 13:37 | #2
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