What goes into creating a character?

We all know that with playing RPGs building a character is an important part of it. Whether it is purely mechanical, a paperthin character with one notable quirk or deep introspective characters with eight pages of backstory and everything in between. They are all legit ways to play in their own games and campaigns and often made for a specific game style.

Your Call of Cthulhu one-shot character might not be as developed as your Vampire: the Masquerade Chronicle character. Each game needs its own style of building. But still we all have our preferences and ways how we get inspiration.

Most of the following questions are just things that went through my head when I thought about this topic. They focus on more character focused stories (because that is what I like). If you don’t like it that is fine too. You don’t have to answer any of them but I invite you to think about it and your process and maybe share it as well.


  • My question is how do you gain inspiration for a character concept?
  • Game Synergies? Art? Other Stories? Your own experiences? Ikea furniture names?

  • Do you start with a concept and then make the mechanical things or do you start with the mechanics and then develop a concept that fits it?

  • How do you develop a concept? How long in average does it take you to be happy?
  • Do you write? Paint it? Make an interview? A Moodboard? Or simply a character sheet?
  • An hour? A day? Weeks or are you still working on it while in the game?

  • Do you pre-plan your characters journey or do you put hooks into it and let it happen naturally?
  • What sort of character arcs do you like? Do you like them at all?

  • Do you use any tools in character creation?
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Inspiration … different for every character … sometimes I’ve just got an idea and start writing up a character (or at least ordering my thoughts about them), at other times I want to play a specific mechanical concept and start creating a character around it

I do usually have a couple of semi finished characters just lieing around, because inspiration strikes more often than I get to play.

Developing a concept for me usually happens over the course of play by writing an in-character diary

I do like to plan out my characters mechanics but always adapt them to what is happening during play. As for character arcs, I’ll take what I get, but I usually prefer not to be in the spotlight too much, so there’s that :slight_smile:

not really using any tools usually

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For me the first question is “how much time do I have developing the character?” / “When will I play it?”

Out of 4 characters that I made 2 of them are based on fictional characters, 1 is based on game mechanics and 1 is based on a story trope.

My characters start out with a rough concept on how they’ll develop but they don’t stick to the plan. Usually I spend a lot of time researching what options the character has in terms of mechanics and then decide right before the next session on what choice the character would take.

The one that’s based on game mechanics roughly follows a build guide.

So all in all. Whatever happens happens. Don’t plan to get ahead.

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I get inspiration from all sorts of characters. My most recent concept I got was because I found a dead moth on my balcony and I wanted to identify it and sunk into the hellhole of nice and beautiful moths and art about moths. Thus a moth lightkeeper was born.

Another character was made because I watched the musical Phantom of the Opera a lot and was like: What if the phantom was undead and a warlock patron, and so over time a Ghostchestra appeared in my head.

Most of the time I have a concept but there are times where I started with mechanics first. I want a character to do certain things that fit him and build him to that end.

Timewise it really depends I often keep it in my mind over some days and think about it until I’m somewhat happy with the core concept. An important step for me is art. I often draw my character concepts. Not well, mind you but I like to associate them with a tarot card which represents them personality and concept wise.

In my recent campaign characters I used interviews to get a feel for how they would think about certain topics and react. I think it is pretty nice to do.

I normally don’t pre-plan their journey rather I use the classic flaw - developing cycle. The character has a lot of internal and external flaws and problems which they need to overcome to achieve some sort of fulfillment. How that happens I’ll see in the game. If you give it a bit time in the oven you’ll have a nice character arc.

As I like looking at pretty art a lot. Google images, Pinterest, ect. is my friend if I’m looking for inspiration.

Mhm. I’m not sure how to broach the topic. Not because I don’t have thoughts on the matter, but because for me personally it feels like the process is very fluid. That is to say that I don’t have a checklist, but rather jump from idea to idea while creating characters. That probably also means that the way I approach character creation is somewhat different every time, although to be honest I’ve never given it much thought. If there’s one thing that all my characters probably have in common, it’s that they are very malleable, especially in the beginning. Let me give an example:

My now highest level character, Smod, started out as a barbarian gimmick. The gimmick being a max hp build and near unkillable character. It was partially inspired by a heroforge mini I had worked on, which is how I determined that Smod would have raid braided hair and a red braided beard. Early concept of Smod, I guess you could say, was that I call him “The red Dread”. (Pun intended) I had little personality or character planned out beforehand. All I knew is that Smod is a HERO! and wants everyone to know about it. He walks around looking for trouble and people who need helping against monsters. Then when actually playing sessions I winged what he would be and joined those attributes and details I played out into him canonically. I played him to be pretty calm and leveheaded for a barbarian, so now he is. Instead of going into a blind rage and screaming his runes, which would cover his body would light up and fill him with supernatural strength. (Zealot Barbarian flavouring) I played for him to be gregarious and a teamplayer so now he is. I try to keep continuity with traits I play out in further sessions. Once he reached a very high level (high tier 3) I retroactively made up an epic backstory for him, being an avatar of Moradin or something, always resurrecting or reincarnating and never ceasing his quest until all Frost Giants are dead.

Mechanically speaking I had Smod planned out far in advance, although I never knew I’d actually get this far. Most characters or character concepts I have don’t survive for very long. Often I don’t play the same char for more than 3 sessions before I try a new one that I like better. I guess you could say that I cycle and try through a lot of characters before I stick with one I like.

In terms of how long I need to create a char, I guess it varies. Many ideas I come up with I can stat out within an hour if I want. Although usually I take way more time just because the process of character creation is pretty fun for me. And then it’s back to improvising on the details as I get to play…

I don’t know if this answers any of your questions but thats how I do it. I hope my thoughts / stream of conscioussness make some sense. Idk

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As for character inspirations or ideas, the impetus for going forward with character creation can be quite simple at times.

Detective Felgrim, the Field Agent from Gnomeland Security was solely based on a pun.

Lay’En, the Desert Nomad Wizard was was based just on the idea of a wizard who roams from place to place, tries to see other places and cultures and learn as much about the world as he can.

Smod was inspiried by an optimized meme build and is now my favorite character.

Malark is inspired by the idea: What if a divine sorcerer tries to pass as a cleric in order to become a cult leader and bullshit himself into a cult of personality.

I could go on.

Perhaps to get to some kind of point or summary of what im trying to say. A character concept, idea or whatever is fairly worthless to me. For me it is a lot of exploration on what I can do with it and where it goes and in doing so I flesh the character out. If I like where it is going I perhaps fall with the character and play him for many more sessions to come. If I don’t like where it is going I dump them by the wayside and try again. No matter what concept/Inspiration/Idea I started out with.

Interviews - sounds interesting. Could you expand on that - between the character and who?

For me I reverse engineer my characters to the campaign:

  • What have I not done before = class/race choice list
  • What does the party need (not relevant for one-shots) = trim to a shortlist
  • What makes sense for this class/race in the setting = pick from the shortlist

Then let the campaign hit me old-school style and stamp the character out through adversity. I rarely cook up a backstory more than a few lines since I want to see what this campaign does to the character.

I usually stick to pretty central tropes mainly because as a forever DM I still haven’t played all the character classes (never done a sorcerer, druid, warlock, paladin) so running a vanilla hero lets me get a proper feel for who the character is through what they can do - no point going ‘this is a sneaky guy’ and actually its a paladin who can’t do stealth to save his life (literally).

To contrast, I spend a lot more time figuring out what makes NPCs in my campaigns tick than any of my characters I actually play at table.

We do?

you could try the ginny di PoV roleplay videos, some of them are interviews, some are just general character interactions in fantasy world situations

I tend to get inspired by various things into creating characters, like videogames I play, music I listen to, reading, talking with other people - and of course from games I play or DM. Actually, I would say music is my main source of inspiration. Whenever I listen to music, I start thinking of chararacters that work with this song or theme, sometimes these characters are ones that already exist, sometimes these characters are new ones that I then start building.

Once I have settled on a concept, I will work out the build on the mechanical side. What classes I should take, which spells and feats, what race will work the best. I also like to reflavor stuff that works well mechanically for the character I have in mind, but comes with ill-fitting flavor text. What I want is a character that is thematic, efficient, versatile and works well. Theme and flavor is indeed quite important for me, I do not like builds that have just the sole goal of being powerful.

When I work out a character’s build, I often toy around with it, playtesting it (sometimes playtesting a homebrewed monster ends up being a playtest for builds too), imagining various scenarious (particularly in combat) and what the character could do to deal with them. For example, massive melee damage potential does not help when the character only rarely gets into melee range to actually deal that damage and/or is easy to shut down by difficult terrain and restraining effects.

Basically, character creation for me typically goes as follows:

  • Something inspires me, I have a character concept that I want to play.
  • I think about who the character is in terms of character traits and how they would appear and fight - is the character a martial, a caster, a gish, is he/she more focused on buffing, crowd control or damage…?
  • Then I will try to craft a build for that character, a build that allows me to play the character as I imagine him/her, with whatever resources - stats, starting items, sourcebooks - I have (shoutouts to certain belts, gauntlets and headbands :slight_smile: )
  • Once I have the build, I will think of strategies with that build, consider what weaknesses they have and if I can play around them, and do small refinements like swapping out spells until I am happy (or the game starts).

If I build a character for a campaign or a specific oneshot, another important consideration is what the party already consists of and what is still needed. I like being the last one to build their character to ensure that I can fill whatever roles are left. Also, if stats are rolled, I always roll first and decide on my build once I see my stats. I want to make use of well-rolled stats for difficult to achieve builds with high stat requirements like a bladesinger/paladin or bard/cleric multiclass, but on the other hand I do not want to make overly stat-reliant builds with weak stat rolls.

If I like a character I created, I tend to keep them around, developing rather extensive backstories and places of origin for them, which in some cases was the inspiration for major parts of my homebrew setting.

In addition, I like using D&D characters as player characters in games like Baldur’s Game 3 or Skyrim, roleplaying them and seeing how they fare in that world and scenario - whether that is them smiting evil, bringing light to cursed lands, consuming brain worms, giving in to certain urges or something different.

Also, I am a big fan of bringing my characters to life by creating detailed heroforge miniatures and/or commissioning artworks of them.

in short:

it vastly depends if it is a character for a campaign or oneshots (incl. VALUE games)

for campaigns:
I try to build a character out of the setting and tie them to the story
so most of the time I look/read stuff about that setting incl. sources that inspired said setting
looking for art as inspiration (or generating AI art) also helps me visualize my upcoming PC.
The “final refinement” comes when I write their backstory.

for oneshots incl. VALUE:
I am more motivated by the game-statistics of a character, and craft the personality round that
… sometimes I also “play-test” stuff (e.g. “Would I have fun playing such a character?”)
… or have something specific in mind (e.g. “How can I play a 4E warlord in a 5E game?”)
:point_up: this is also true for pregens I created for oneshots

For the origin of a character idea, half the time an image pops into my head of a character pretty randomly. I’ll then work the mechanics from that, which will sometimes develop the background. For example, for the rabbit, when I was reading through the Haregon for the first time, the image of a rabbit dressed as a magician popped into my head. Then I figure out how to do it. There’s obvious the wizard aspect, but any true showperson needs thaumaturgy, which developed into a level of cleric, and that aspect developed a background in wanting to help the poor, which became a street urchin background, etc. This is primarily true for VALUE and one-shots.

For campaigns, it’s more often mechanics based. I enjoy having a balanced party where everyone can play a role, and I’m pretty flexible, so often I’ll create a character based on party need. I also enjoy the “I wonder if I can do this…?” aspect of trying to make something work. I’ve never maximized a character for combat though, I save rules lawyering for Warhammer :slight_smile:

I enjoy the act of writing on paper, so I still write my characters on sheets of notebook paper. I can create a character really quickly if I need to, but if I’m enjoying it I’ll take a few hours. For character development, I’ve always left it to the DM. I like seeing where campaign stories go and what happens to my character.

For me, it mostly happens in one of two ways:

  1. I see some really cool character concept art on ArtStation, which inspires me to create a story for them.
  2. I fall in love with a world/setting, and come up with a bunch of characters that fit into its story/themes/motifs.