Who of us has not sat for an inordinate amount of time in front of a character creation screen or avatar maker app. If you haven’t then you’re probably one of the few of us who does not enjoy bouts of maladaptive daydreaming. I both admire and pity you.
Since I could click a mouse, I’ve been engrossed in building the perfect digital me. Then I’d roleplay that confident, boisterous, completely graceful unicorn version of myself in forums, video games, and TTRPGs. Dedicating myself to the role of DM in my home game, however, has meant relinquishing control over the personalities, desires, and style choices of the main characters in my narrative.
I have become what I so love: a character builder.
And you wanna know what? Watching my friends struggle has reminded me how much practice it takes to put together a roleplay-able fantasy self.
In this article, I’ll provide two methods (archetypal and templative) for getting to the core of who your next TTRPG character is. It is my hope that these tools will support players and GMs alike to enjoy organic and thought provoking roleplay.
Having recently attended a Dabble workshop on WRITING compelling characters, I knew that the work of Destiny Salter was where I wanted to start.
From there, adapted her theory that the Enegram (and similar personality tests) can be applied to writing and the template she provided to the TTRPG-verse.
Part of the beauty of using these methods (either combined or separate) is that they can go as in depth as you want AND apply to any setting of your choice. While I love a good foray into the “Who the f*** is my #DND character?” page, there is nothing quite like creating your TTRPG self from scratch.
The Trope-Free Archetypal Method
If there’s anything that Crit Role’s OpalGate taught us it’s that everything is derivative. Even though our post-hipsterdom culture doesn’t like to admit that, it should be a freeing (rather than constricting) sentiment where TTRPGs are concerned. In fact, by the very nature of role play games it is impossible for an archetype to be “stale” or “overplayed.” Why?
Because we each bring our unique selves to bear when embodying our characters.
Instead of scrolling through TV Tropes, however, I posit that Destiny Salter’s application of the Enneagram to literary characters can be extrapolated to TTRPsG. Whether you believe in the pseudo science of typology (the classification of people into categories) or not, the nine types of the Enneagram can serve as a basis for your character’s:
- Personality Traits
- And more!
What’s more is that the Enneagram can even go as far as establishing whether your character internalizes, suppresses, or externalizes their emotions. This makes roleplay feel more natural as it gives the player a basis from which to make in-game decisions and even cultivate their abilities during Session 0.
Using the archetypal method is particularly handy for players and Game Masters who crave meaningful roleplay but may:
- Not have the time to invest
- Participate in a one shot
- Be in a teaching role
- Be new to RPGing
As I stated before, the following template can be used in tandem with the Enneagram (or other topography systems like Myers Briggs) OR it can be used completely separately. It can even pair with your chosen system’s character prompts such as DnD 5e’s “traits” recommendations.
Rather than being something “different” this template expands on qualities such as alignments, ideals, bonds, and flaws. To get started, go ahead and envision a beloved character and see what comes to mind for each category:
I bet you’re saying: “Okay, I gave you the benefit of the doubt on the whole Enneagram thing….but what makes this less like a cringey team-building seminar and more like a TTRPG tool?
Three key prompts from Destiny Salter ( their lie, ghost, and superobjective) and two from my adaptation (their biggest asset and greatest liability). Here’s a quick breakdown to jump start your brainstorm:
The Lie- What a character thinks about themselves or the world around them that can be true, but is a lie because truth is always on a sliding scale. Take Ron Weasely, for example. His lie is that the only thing he has going for him is being friends with Harry Potter. This lie is usually suppressed or internalized, but comes to bear while Ron is succumbing to the power of the locket horcrux. This is vaguely true as many people have treated him as such. However, it is also false because of his admirable qualities of loyalty, bravery, and dedication.
The Ghost- The instigating factor in a character’s past that has put them on a trajectory that makes them worth writing/role playing. Keeping with the Harry Potter theme, one only need to look at Harry for an example. His parents’ murders and being a horcrux are not the only things that put Harry on the path towards vanquishing Voldemort. Additionally, his affinity to muggles through being raised as one, pseudo familial ties to the Weasley’s, and Sirius Black’s murder all drive him towards becoming “the one.”
The Superobjective- How a character intends to accomplish their goals is just as important as what motivates them. Two characters may be incentivised by the same thing to achieve the same goal, but can differ on how it should be achieved. To round out the trio we look at Hermione. In book one she and Harry share the same goal of fitting in at Hogwarts. Whereas Harry’s takes a sort of “experiential” approach, Hermione dedicates herself to learning magic as best she can.
These two methods were written with DnD5e in mind, yes, but I believe that they are compatible with most TTRPG systems. Even if your game already includes a specific character creation mechanics, it pays to know what your character is going to be before wading through choices.
For those of us juggling Game Master, player, and real life responsibilities these methods are a time saver (if not a game changer).
Role playing is a constant pull between “what would I do” versus “what would my character do.” These methods give a solid basis for not letting yourself bleed into your character.
In the end, your TTRPG characters will always be a reflection of you. They may be as opposite as can be, but that’s just the curious parts of your mind playing out on paper. Hopefully, the tools I’ve provided will be both food for thought and concrete tools for your next game.