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Creating a durable PC by Amun Quoi

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1 Creating a durable PC by Amun Quoi on Mon Oct 25, 2010 10:36 am

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Fanfare for the common man
When I was a player in an NWN1 persistent world, I met several people who had incredibly long and twisted background tales for their characters, with enough drama for a season of the Bold and the Beautiful.

Don't judge a character by the length of his biography. It's the simple things that count.

If it takes you half an hour to explain your history at level 1, you're doing something wrong. Smile

Not everyone has to have arrived to where they are now via a freak planewalking accident, or be a drow exile, or the destroyer of worlds reformed, or the sole son of the supreme ruler of the 497th plane of the Abyss, or whatever.

Most adventurers have just reached adulthood. They have rarely seen more than the next town over. This game world is the place where heroes are made, you don't have to be one before you even enter. I don't hold much value on words and history, it's the actions of a character that count.

Characters defined by their actions
I can't stress that enough: your character is formed by how they act in the situations presented to them in game. It's perfectly possible to communicate your character's personality without speaking a single word of the past.

In that vein, I don't care if you are Gabriel Holylight son of Goodness Gracious who was there when the world began, or Bob son of Phil the Farmer. Both have equal opportunities to become memorable heroes and great characters.

It's not a shameful thing to have a simple biography. It speaks of you counting on your abilities to develop your character instead of just handing out a book to read. This is a game where heroes and stories are made, not read. To be able to tell the story of something that actually happened is infinitely more interesting than providing background information. In fact, if your character has a long history, what is there left for him to do anymore? After you have spent that hour recounting your life's story, what are you going to do for the next three months or so when you're reaching for level 20? Kill stuff?

If you consider yourself a beginner, don't feel as if you are somehow incompetent if you can't produce a magnificent biography. Start out simple, and let the character develop himself. Don't fret too much over the biography.

Examples
I'm going to present some character ideas that I don't see much of, but which really should make up most of the adventuring community in a fantasy campaign.

Remember that you have just reached maturity, and are level 1, meaning you have just started your profession. It's much easier to say that you are learning, instead of coming up with amnesia or power drain or whatever.

When you use a simple biography, it's much easier to tie it into the world you play as well. You don't need any planar travel or exiling or whatever, just say you are from the next town over, and the world seems like a much more immersive place.
  • Farmer's son, out to see the world and make a name for himself.
  • City elf, drawn back to the forests by wanderlust.
  • Former city guard, bored of the patrolling.
  • Druid's son, continuing in his parents' steps.
  • A young man from the barbarian tribes who's come of age and has to leave the tribe.
  • An initiate at a temple (remember, level 1 clerics have just began their duties at the temple and are likely performing menial tasks such as running messages or gathering tithes)
  • who has just discovered the talent of sorcery
  • A boy who made his first trip into a library last month and has now learned his first few spells.

And so on, and so on.

Now, I will move on to actually writing the character's biography.

Biography and "biography"
This chapter only applies to Neverwinter Nights.

First of all, there are two different biographies. When you create a character, you have a text box labeled "biography". This isn't a real biography. Don't type in your entire life story there. Smile

The contents of this text box are what is displayed to other players when they examine your character in game. So, it should be a description of what they see when they look at your character.

Keep it simple, few people want to take the time to read through pages and pages of text in the small window in game.

Making a biography
This section will help you come up with a backstory for your character - but you're not going to write it just yet. Some players prefer to have a biography sketch or even a written story before they start playing, but it comes down to personal preference. You won't know until you've tried.

What you should have before you begin is a concept and a rough sketch of the personality of your character. That's not the point of this article - there are other sources that will help you on this. The important thing is not to write about his history yet - simply put him into a variety of hypothetical situations and figure out how he would react. For example: imagine that he's fighting goblins and sees them surrender. What does he say and do? Or maybe he spots a thief stealing without the guard noticing. How does he react? And so on.

When your concept is ready, it's time to take two steps back and look at the thing you just created. Now is the time to ask the big question: Why and how did the character become the way he is now? We are the sum of our experiences, and there's always a reason for why a character makes the choices he does.

Remember, you don't have to tear out your hair trying to answer these questions at the character creation screen. The best way to answer the questions is to interact with players in game. So go ahead and create your character, and start talking. Don't feel down if you can't get everything together in one day, no-one can do that. It'll take a while, maybe a week or two, just like personality development.

You should be looking for answers to the following questions:[list][*]Why did his personality become what it is?
[*]How did he become an adventurer, or whatever you chose him to be?
[*]How did he end up in his starting location?
[*]And for each in-game situation you encounter, why did he react to them the way he did?

Thinking of the story in chronological order may help you find holes you might have missed, or even come up with new ideas based on the time or distance between major events.

Practical hints
Adventurers usually have a pretty good reason for leaving their previous lives and putting themselves at great risks every day.

Some may have not become adventurers willingly, but are victims of circumstance. A tragedy in a previous life, such as separation from loved ones often makes a person reconsider themselves. It doesn't have to be epic, though. Having lost your first love to an orc is more believable than having your entire village burned down, then reanimated by an evil necromancer to hunt down the last survivor.

Some want to take part in building a better future on the frontier - the means for this can be anything, however. The meaning of "better future" is also open for interpretation. Again, you don't have to have gotten daily beatings with morningstars. Think about citizen activity in the modern world - there are problems in every society, and regular people with happy childhoods can decide to try to make a difference.

Some look to the future with bright eyes, escaping the stagnation of their old lives - they are out to make a name for themselves. You don't have to be utterly selfish and greedy either, the wish for glory does not have to cloud the mind altogether.

Of course, there are those that really are greedy, and are in the business for the money. Even they can be as good-natured and friendly as anyone, but there are so many interesting stories to be written.

Writing a biography
If you want, you can also put your biography in writing.

I won't go into explaining how to become a good writer, but I'll give a few hints.

You don't have to put in everything about your character - leaving out some key aspects may provide much-needed mystery.

Use paragraphs. Don't write everything in one large block, that's horrible to read. Wink

There are several styles available for writing a biography, I'll describe the three most common ones.

1. History book
This is perhaps the most widely used writing style. The character's story is described in third person, as if you were reading it from an encyclopedia. It starts along these lines: "Joe was a farmer's son. He was born in the town of..."

2. Journals
Writing up journals for your character gives you a chance to get deeper under his skin. The journals are written by the character himself, so you can practice speaking as your character. Journals are also very biased, and you can bring out your characters emotions very well.

In the journal style, you must also remember the limitations of your character. He may not know the reasons behind events, and his descriptions are heavily biased. Journals are also written right after major events, so the character can have strong emotions as he is writing the journal.

All this makes a journal a very personal way of describing your character.

3. Autobiography
An autobiography is somewhat similar to journals, but it is written at a later time. While journals deal with things as they happen, an autobiography often contains insights into events - and much less emotion.

4. Story
Some biographies are written like novels or short stories. Instead of listing out the entire life of a character, they concentrate on describing specific events in a narrative manner.

There are many other unique ways to write a biography, such as a song or a poem, the biography of a different person, a collection of mystic writings... your imagination is the only limit. Smile

And that's it for this article. Hope you've found something to think about!

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