D&D — How to Make Interesting Player Characters

A couple of friends have asked me recently (for different an unrelated campaigns, even) about how I make a player character that I am excited to play. It’s worth noting that they were relatively inexperienced, and while they knew what D&D is and how to play, they didn’t have enough experience to know their options and how to capitalize them for maximum anticipation. I’ve talked about this a bit, but haven’t made a full blog post about it, so here it is, oh friends of mine from the future that have asked me this same question.

That said, this guide will be geared towards those players. I would say the majority of people who play D&D regularly as a hobby tend to have a backlog of possible characters they would like to play and are simply waiting for the opportunity to pull them out (like me). Even if that is the case, though, maybe they’re not as fleshed out as they could be, and this guide will help you learn more about that cool idea.

Here we go.

Step One: Identify your Rule of Cool. This can be anything. Maybe your cool thing is casting spells on your enemy to make them think you’re their friend. Maybe it’s the too-cool-for-school rogue that only feels happy when she’s stabbing somebody. Maybe it’s a backstory, like your parents were murdered by birds and now you are on a quest to kill every bird for revenge. It doesn’t matter what it is, just search deep inside your soul and find the answer to the question “How do I achieve maximum coolness?” because everyone should be able to feel cool when playing their heroes.

  • To follow along with an example of my own characters, one of my Rule of Cool things was that I wanted to play a Lawful Evil character. Somebody that is selfish and manipulative, but still helps the party. (We’ll get to that part.)

Step Two: Identify how your Rule of Cool manifests. How much of that thing is narrative, and how much of it is actually gameplay mechanics? Wanting to murder every bird is narrative, because it doesn’t have any influence on what race or class you are. Wanting to mind control all your enemies does inform your class, though. You’d be hardpressed to make a barbarian whose main purpose in combat is to mind control, for example. Once you figure this out, you can more easily identify what parts of your character you still need to figure out.

  • My Lawful Evil character was a dark elf, or a drow, because in most common lore, dark elves are lawful evil. So this Rule of Cool informed race, which helps inform backstory, but there is no hint of class yet.

Step Three: Find the ‘But’. This is the critical point in which your cool idea becomes an interesting and nuanced character. The idea here is to fill out the rest of your basic character concept with something that significantly contrasts your Rule of Cool idea. Maybe your mind control character is a big dumb goliath. Maybe the guy that wants to kill all birds is, secretly, a bird. Maybe your edgy rogue character secretly just wants to be loved. It doesn’t have to make sense (yet), it just has to be interesting enough to get you interested.

  • My drow still didn’t have a class here, so that’s what I used for the ‘But’. Lawful Evil drow? What if he’s a bard that sings songs and inspires people around him? How does that work?

And now for Step 4: Use those two mismatching ideas, and find a way to make it work. This will pretty much always tell you the basics of their backstory and make filling out details easy. How did this dumb goliath get mind control powers? Why did your edgy rogue turn to stabbing people when really they’re just lonely? Why does a bird and his parents get attacked by other birds? The idea with the ‘But’ here is that it allows you to ask specific and direct questions that inspire their own answers. The Cool idea and the But idea should be mismatched in a way that asks these obvious questions.

  • How does a lawful evil drow become a bard? Easy, he found himself orphaned on the surface (for reasons that aren’t important so I don’t care yet) and was adopted by a nice noble family. They loved him and cherished him. Gave him an education and taught him music. He hated it, because he wanted to have a cruel, twisted life so that he could use that hatred to be edgy and drow-like. Instead, he had a cushy lifestyle he was too embarrassed to talk about. Which is a fun secret to keep from the rest of the party!

And you’re done! …ish. It’s important to note here that none of this process actually nails down anything concrete. It can, but really the point is to figure out all of the important basics for your character and then decide what you want later. Our friend that murders birds still doesn’t have a class, for example. Our mind controlling-goliath has a few different options regarding class. Our edgy rogue can still be any race, and there’s lots of room for growth and exploration regarding their backstory.

That’s pretty much it. Getting interested in your character is really just a matter of brainstorming the right questions and coming up with answers that add depth and dimension to your character. The specifics can always be more refined later.

Poem — Tea for Who?

I once thought that I knew who
I was put on this world to be,
But then I was thrust into a new view
And ’twas not my cup of tea.

To learn that you have never stood
Where you say you had grown up
Would mess with your head for good—
It sure overfilled my cup.

All those friends I thought I knew,
Had all just been a dream.
A clever reconstruction, brewed,
Though that place had no cream.

To push ahead, I know I should,
But still I want what never was.
Things are better now than childhood
But I want to scream—as the kettle does.

(Proud to say I slammed this out in 15 minutes, though the sloppy flow probably makes that glaringly obvious. It was an hour past my bedtime before I even started. Whoops.)

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/sandara/art/Tea-Party-800368122

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Review — The Mandalorian

It’s been a while since I’ve actually reviewed something, and since I watched the whole first (and for now only) season of The Mandalorian in one sitting while staying home sick from work, I thought now would be a great time to talk about it, since it’s still fresh.

Since it is relatively new, though, this review will be completely spoiler-free. I was intending to add a spoiler-section at the bottom as I normally do, but my typical commentary went on long enough, and I didn’t feel I had much to add that required spoiling. So if you’d like to chat, feel free to comment and I’ll add spoiler tags if necessary.

My understanding is that everybody loves this show. It’s got everything from Space John Wick to Baby Yoda, what’s not to love? Well, I’ll tell you something contentious (to incentivize your reading): I thought the show was okay at best.

The biggest problem I had can be tied in a nice little bow, too. Every character the show told me to root for felt… edgy. The Mandolorian is the resident Batman/John Wick/whatever of Star Wars. So cool he never even takes off his helmet. He gets a pass because this is long-established Mandalorian lore, but I believe it is still worth mentioning. You have Cara Dune. Ex soldier and so awesome she can mop the floor with several guys at once ’cause she has a huge gun. You can tell she’s competent because our resident Batman likes her and wants to team up. You have Kuiil, who is so wise and obviously always right that you’ll be facepalming every single time the other characters don’t listen to what he has to say. And of course, you have Baby Yoda, who is so adorable that even when he’s being stupid you can’t help but ugly cry every time he’s on screen. And so on. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea.

Tied to the concept of edgy characters, this show had a serious problem with presenting and solving problems to the character. Often, these problems would arise without warning, or worse, would be solved out of nowhere, or both!

It felt like everyone was cool stereotypes that had X amount of their #cool scenes, and only failed when the plot felt it was necessary for them to be less competent. Successes and sudden salvations felt unearned because the show taught me that success and failure alike cannot be predicted.

For example, in the very beginning, when Mando (which is a stupid abbreviation, given “Lando” is already a character) is fighting the blurrgs, he is suddenly attacked. He does not hear footsteps and has no inclination that danger is near. Interesting that a master bounty hunter failed to notice a huge primal beast. Then, in the same fight, he is saved, again without warning, by Kuiil. This is more forgivable, as Mando is a little preoccupied with possible death to notice a tiny man coming to his rescue (even if he is on another blurrg). The stakes feel weird in this scene because danger was both presented to and taken away from our hero without his input in the situation at all. He was just… there. If the actor had been replaced with a punching bag, the entire scene could have played out exactly the same way (given that blurrgs are a punching bag’s natural predator, of course). This scenario happened multiple times throughout the show, but this is the best example of it because it shows both problem and answer being solved suddenly, and in the same scene to boot.

How do you solve this? Easy. You present the characters, and the audience, with a problem that seems like there is no way out. Then, when the character makes a clever use of the resources they have available to win the day, that success feels earned. If the character notices a crumbling wall earlier that day and later uses that crumbling wall to get away from the bad guy, it turns into foreshadowing and makes our hero look more competent. When salvation comes out of nowhere, the opposite happens.

The show, as a whole, also does a poor job making me care. The Mandalorian protects the asset in a way that is—as the show tells us—uncharacteristic of somebody like him. This is fine, I have no problem with that concept, but it fails to tell me why I should believe he would do such a thing. Spoilers I won’t mention aside, character choices like this are important enough to at least hint at their root. Also, the Mandalorian has a very strange gauge for who he can and can’t trust. He implicitly trusts some strangers with the most valuable baby in the galaxy while he goes off to kill people, then doesn’t trust a droid who was practically designed to protect him. Now I know what you’re going to say. “But the plot! But the plot!” And I get it. The reason he doesn’t trust droids makes sense. My point is more that he trusts random people for no reason. Also, he doesn’t trust that protector droid, but in a previous episode he leaves the baby alone on his ship with a droid he knows even less.

Overall, though. It’s a great series and has some awesome moments. The scene where he gets trapped behind a door (and the way he gets out) is incredibly well done, and did a great job at making the Mandalorian feel awesome in ways other scenes failed. The Mandalorian Armorer very much feels like a “rest zone” in a video game where you come back to upgrade your gear, and while the armorer herself is pretty one-dimensional like the other characters, I couldn’t help but enjoy every minute of screen time she had. Maybe she was my edgy OC whereas the other characters simply didn’t vibe with me.

P.S. I thought the way they ended the season was weird, as they revealed a thing that seemed too important to throw into an “after credits” style scene, but after talking to my brother about it, he made a good point. You need something to tease the next season with, and revealing it earlier in the episode/season would have left nothing to be excited for for later.

Story — Counting the Days

Day 25.

They make eye contact. She smiles. He pulls out an earbud and leans over. “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

She shuffles through her bag and hands him one with the same smile. He returns it and thanks her.

Day 26.

“Hey, sorry to ask again. Could I borrow another pen?” he asks, pulling out an earbud.

“Sure,” she says. “No problem.”

Day 30.

They wave to each other when he walks in. She hands him a pen with a knowing smile, and he takes it.

Day 38.

She hands him his pen. He takes it with a smile. She gestures towards her ears, and he takes his earbuds out. “What are you listening to?” she asks.

Singin’ in the Rain showtunes.”

“Really? Can I hear?”

He scoots his seat closer and gives her an earbud. They sit together in silence for a moment as they listen.

Day 50.

She hands him his pen, he hands her half of his earbuds. They listen for a while.

“Have you seen Endgame?” he asks.

“I’m not really much of a moviegoer,” she winces.

“Oh, got it. No problem.”

More silence.

Day 62.

She is sitting in his seat when he gets there. “Somebody was in mine when I got here,” she explains, handing him his pen. He takes it and shrugs.

He hands her an earbud, and she puts it in her ear, but frowns. She takes it back out. “You gave me the wrong ear, let’s swap.”

“We can’t.”

“Why?”

He shrugs, avoiding her gaze. “The right earbud is busted, it doesn’t play anymore.”

Day 68.

“You know,” she starts, holding out the pen. “You can keep it. You obviously need it more than I do.”

“Well, I actually have a confession,” he replies. He takes out a pen of his own. He scribbles a quick note and hands it to her.

She blushes. “Tonight?”

“If you’re free.”

She was.

Day 77.

He walks in, and she hands him a box. He takes his earbuds out.

“Happy birthday!” she says.

“It’s not my birthday,” he replies, taking it.

“But it was. And it will be again.”

He opens it. It’s a new pair of earbuds.

Day 82.

They sit together for a while. She takes the last sip of her cup and frowns.

He looks up. “I have coffee at my place, you know. And it’s free.”

She considers it.

“I also have movies. Those are free too.”

“I do like free,” she says.

“I thought you might.”

They leave.

The same Day 82. Before or after the first.

They make eye contact as he walks in. A curt smile and a subtle nod. He sits down next to her. The only free seat. They sit next to each other for a while but have not met. He thinks about saying something. About asking for a pen. But just as he plans to execute, she packs her things and leaves.

He sits there, pretending to be working, but gets nothing done. Next time, he thinks. Next time will be different.

Me — Where to Go After the First Draft?

As you may or may not know, I’m putting together my second short story anthology, which will be collected stories from three established universes as well as several standalone shorts. I’ve been bringing a few of these into my writer’s group, and depending on the story, I’m getting lots of varying types of feedback. What I mean by that is, I’ve heard everything from “this is perfect, don’t change a word” to “it’s a solid concept, but it needs a lot more polishing before it’s ready” (which is a nice way of saying it’s terrible).

When you’re getting lots of feedback that wildly contradicts one another, it can be difficult to know what you should think. It’s easy to agree with the person who loves it and simply move on to the next story, but it can also be soul-wrenching to hear that somebody doesn’t like the thing you’ve worked so hard putting together. It might even be enough to make you want to throw it in the garbage and start over completely.

And maybe that’s what the story needs, but I’m of the opinion that you should never destroy your work. Instead of deleting the file where you keep your first draft, if you must start over from scratch, why not simply make a new file titled “second draft”?

That being said, how are you supposed to know when a story needs to be rewritten completely, or if it simply needs some edits?

As with virtually any writing advice you receive, what comes next is going to be hearsay, so take it with a grain of salt.

In my experience, when I go to my writer’s group I will already know if a story needs to be rewritten from scratch, but it all depends on what I’m trying to do with that piece versus what it actually does.

For example, I wrote a short story in my Spear Gate universe that was essentially written for the atmosphere and the scene. I fell in love with the crazy weird locale the story was set in, so I wanted to make it about the locale. This meant thorough descriptions and a narrative style that matches the mood of the setting. But what ended up being written was a story about a mom with a robot butler worried about her son, and the mom happened to live in a weird place with odd descriptions. The difference is the focus of the story. Instead of writing about Neda and how anxious she was that the sun was setting and her son was supposed to be home by now, I should have written about the cold steel of the walkway she sat on, and the warm cup of coffee doing little to stave off the chilly breeze.

This is a flaw that edits would not fix. Or rather they could, but the wording would have been altered so drastically that it would become a ship of Theseus. If you have to change every sentence, is it really the same old story? In this case, it’s clearly better to simply rewrite it. So I did, and as you might imagine, I think it works much better than it did.

If, however, the story is accomplishing your basic goals, whether it is an interesting character, or a cool plot twist, etc., then more than likely the only thing you’ll need to change is how well the story accomplishes those goals. Maybe the plot twist could be better if it was more subtly foreshadowed, or the interesting character needs a longer interaction to really shine. In this case, you don’t have to tear the whole scaffolding apart, you just need to go back and reinforce what’s already there.

Now this is a huge topic, so I might discuss it more thoroughly later, but the main point here is that you’re the author, so you’re the deciding factor on what the story needs. Don’t let somebody tell you your story sucks if your character simply needs clearer motivations. But if they have good points and you agree that your character simply isn’t interesting enough to be the protagonist, maybe a rewrite is in order. Just think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your story and look at how critical the flaws are, and woven into the story those flaws happen to be.

Voice Acting — Fantasy Script Samples 4

More voice acting sample monologues with which to practice silly voices! I’m writing these for D&D, but you can use them however you’d like. If you’d like me to add some to my list I would be happy to include them in the next post.

Previous posts can be found herehere, and here.

(Obviously you can do different voices than what I have labeled for each paragraph, I just made labels and wrote dialogues based on them.)

  • Optimistic Adventurer:
    I believe that an adventure should be more than killing a dragon and taking its treasure. The journey is more important than the destination, as they say. It isn’t the dragon the heroes defeat. It is the wonderful places they go, the friends they make, and the moments they share along the way. It’s the one-too-many pints of ale in the rundown tavern. The soft whistles of an undetected dart trap. The thankful smiles of the people helped along the way.

    I want to dance to every song I hear and tell a spooky story at every campfire I have. I know it won’t all be fun and games, but I think life can sometimes be most precious when it is at its most trying. I can tell that it isn’t my purpose to lie and wait for destiny to find me—I have to go and make my own, and even if I can’t solve every problem I’m faced with, I want happiness to follow in my wake as best as I am able, like sunflowers in the thick of spring.

    Life is what you make it, and I want mine to be like the ones told in fairy tales.

 

  • Surfer Bro, doesn’t have a care in the world:
    Well well well, if it isn’t my main man! What is up my dudes? How’s it going? I see you have a few tag-alongs this time around, that’s cool. It’s all chill, man. Listen, I know the last one I sold you wasn’t so hot, but I got a buddy of mine that says he’ll sell you a boat for eighty gold. This guy is the real deal, I swear. Matter of fact, he patched it up himself. Got a full mast and a working rudder and everything. And I know what you’re gonna say. You don’t want to pay that much money after the last time we talked, I get it, that’s chill. But hear me out. I like you guys, you really did me a solid by saving me from those thugs a few months back. So here’s the thing. I’ll front twenty gold to help you pay for it, and if it blows up, no big deal, that money is yours. If you like it, next time you’re in town you just pay me the rest of the dough and everything is solid. You guys game?

 

  • Ogre/Giant. Not too bright:
    Lookie here, Enk! We got a little peoples tryna sneak by! Says his name is… whadya say it was again? Nunya? Stupid peoples and their stupid names. What should we do wif em? I’m still kinda full from the last ones we ate. Maybe we could ask em to stay so we can eats em later? Whadya say little peoples? Do you wanna stay around so we can eat y—uh, I mean, we won’t eat you, oh hey. Where’d he go? …Enk, I lost the little peoples. I think the bugger ran off while you was distracting me. Shut up next time, okay? We almost tricked em!

 

D&D — Aleor Campaign Diary 1: The Night of Fire

(Here is the first of a series of posts retelling the story of my most recent campaign. I’m going to translate this into mostly narrative, but there will be a few D&D terms as well.

If you’d like to read the Lore intro to Aleor, you can catch up on it here.)

Our story begins in a tiny village called Soulrest. Little more than a pitstop, Soulrest is famous for its large inn, being a convenient place to rest for travelers between the region of Eastbend and what remains of the once-great Aloran Empire to the west. The town counts its population in the hundreds here. Everyone knows everyone else, and the most notable thing to happen in the span of a few months is when Ubin, the de-facto mayor, was uncharacteristically nice to some people.

There is no adventuring here. At least, not yet. But at year’s end the town gets excited for their yearly bonfire: a ritual called the Night of Fire. This holiday is held at the top of the ruined tower that overlooks the village, and a great bonfire is lit where townsfolk throw away things they no longer need in preparation for a new year. Jeremy Squips, a traveler from Eastbend, is staying at the inn when he hears about this event. He had planned on continuing on, but decides to stay an extra night so he can enjoy the festivities.

Our players, not yet heroes (or even adventurers by any means), are Balgraff Greyhand, the dwarf blacksmith, Sieg Warsen, son of the inkeeper, and Buck Holder, son of the cobbler.

Many of the townsfolk gather at the top of the old tower. Ubin has lit the huge bonfire, and its height allows it to be seen for miles. Then, one by one, the people go up to Ubin’s large red orb, touch it, then throw something into the fire. Not everyone does this, but a good many folk do. Jeremy chimes in with a bit of music to add to the festivities. Buck is given a box by his father to throw in. He doesn’t know what was inside, but he takes it. As soon as he touches the orb, it cracks, and for a moment everything stops. Ubin rushes up to him, but when he inspects the orb, there doesn’t seem to be any missing or sharp pieces, and Buck appears unharmed. The wise old elf appears clueless, but Buck swears he saw him nod to himself ever so slightly.

The Night continues until a loud explosion centered in town fills the air. They look to see the Happy Camper, the local general store, going up in flames. Everyone bursts into action, but none are as quick to act as Buck, Sieg, Balgraff, and Jeremy. They hasten down the hill and start doing all they can to fight the fire, throwing water pails at it and smothering it with whatever they can find.

When all is said and done, the fire is put out, but not before it destroyed the town’s beloved store. The smithy and inn were on both sides of the Happy Camper, and they sustained a bit of damage on their own. It’s a bad start to the new year, and to top it all off, Jeremy comments that he saw hooded figures running into the nearby forest immediately after the explosion…

To be continued…