In previous posts in this series, I provided basic advice on creating a character, table etiquette, and dealing with problems.
This post is all about going one step beyond and creating an interesting, deep character.
Any character is (simplistically) made of two things: nature and nurture.
The nature comes from the character’s inherent physical and mental makeup: their biology. Does the character have any unusual physical or mental attributes that would have changed his/her path through life, like poor eyesight, a bad leg, or shyness? In other words, what’s fundamentally different about this character, in a way that the character can’t easily change?
Also, importantly, how did the character react to that nature? Did the character with a bad leg exercise and become even stronger than an average person, or favor that leg and use it as an excuse to get out of physical activities?
The nurture comes from external circumstances in the character’s life: his or her backstory. What major events in the character’s life significantly affected him or her, and changed his/her mind? Did the character face a trauma that affected his or her ability to cope with something? Did the character have a particularly positive experience that bolstered his or her confidence, like a child who grew up in the theater and is thus more comfortable speaking in front of crowds? Personality is often driven by circumstance; a child surrounded by unstable personalities might grow up to be adept at talking to people without upsetting them.
Okay, so how do you put this into practice in a tabletop role-playing context?
First off, before play, invent 1 or 2 unusual physical or mental characteristics for your character. You may already have these. Importantly, these characteristics should be more or less beyond your character’s control, like an ugly face or an extremely analytical mind. Your character just can’t help it when it comes to these characteristics.
Then, define 2 or 3 major life events that affected your character’s outlook on life. They can be positive (a long stay with an old relative that made the character appreciate the contributions of the old or the sick) or negative (the character was constantly bullied, which gave him or her a very strong sense of justice).
Then, invent catchphrases that sum up the character’s reactions to those characteristics and events, like “I’m Just as the Gods Made Me,” “Sherlockian Mind,” “The Weak Deserve Respect,” and “Always Protect the Oppressed.”
Then write those catchphrases down and have them in front of you while you play. No matter the situation, consult that piece of paper like an oracle. Look at your catchphrases constantly as a guide to how your character should act, and act accordingly.
Hope this helps!