When I was a teen, I used to spend a lot of time in my bedroom, door closed, playing games so that I could escape the attention of my parents. I didn’t want to watch TV (at least, not their choices) and I certainly didn’t want another lecture on how inadequate I was as a son, brother, and student. I’d go to my room and, especially once I was at secondary school, I’d spend many an evening creating characters.
I have notebooks filled with old character ideas. I found one featuring Star Frontiers characters some months back and it was fascinating to peruse. I remember designing character sheets too – drawing them out by hand with a ruler and pencil, then filling them out. This was, of course, before photocopiers were widely available in the UK and I could afford to design a sheet and get a bunch of copies.
My particular passion at the time was creating characters for the Rolemaster and Palladium Fantasy games. I was fascinated by the D100 mechanisms of play and the delicious choices available as you decided on skills and other abilities. While I did play a lot of Rolemaster, we never really saw Palladium at the table in those early days – but I was deep into playing around with the rules, making up characters and running test fights.
Which brings us to now.
I still love creating characters for roleplaying games. I especially love it when I can build a particular character idea and very closely model that idea using whichever game system is on the table. That said, I am also generally happy to discover a character through random means… just as long as the random generation process has a few choices along the way.
What’s weird is that, as a GM, I rarely bring this love of making characters all the way through to making non-player characters. I’m not sure why, but I much prefer to design a character I imagine myself playing in-role as a player than I do as a GM. As a consequence, my NPCs have tended to suffer in terms of lacking depth and clarity. Instead, I easily fall to grabbing quick stereotypes and improvising around old tropes.
Which brings me to the idea that I could channel my love for character creation into becoming enjoyment in designing NPCs. I suppose my worry is that I’ll become too attached and not be able to adjudicate these creations fairly… but that’s a bit of a thin worry. In truth, I am always keen to give the players a tough challenge without unfairly hampering them. The upside might be some more interesting NPCs.
Of course, the other reflection is that I truly do enjoy tinkering with the possibilities offered by a set of game rules around character creation. That’s why I dislike the abstracted “class system” games and much prefer the more broadly customisable skill-based mechanisms. I cut my teeth on RuneQuest, Rolemaster, and Palladium… is it little wonder that I graduated on to GURPS?
While it’s not necessary to point-build an NPC, it seems to me that there’s also nothing to stop me from trying. Perhaps if I can imagine some more interesting potentially villainous characters for my world, there’s a chance that I might end up playing them a little more convincingly and giving myself a stronger motivation to prep for their new villainous plan.
Either way, I get to tinker with character design and I love that!
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