There’s always talk about how much role-playing affects writing and creation – world-building, storylines, motivations, whathaveyou. And it’s pretty-much a given that any RPG background is a fantastic way to learn how to (convincingly) create, visualise and share the things that live in your head.
And nothing more strongly than character development.
Fairly obviously, there are a multitude of systems that all handle this differently. Your basic D&D (‘fessing here that I’ve only ever played up to third edition), offers you feats and abilities, a selection of (weapons) skills that allow you to frame your character in slightly more detail than just their ‘to hit’ roll and/or how difficult it is to listen at a door. I love D&D, always have, but its characters can be quite flat – and there are many more ways to add dimensions to your favourite kobold-masher.
D&D shows you only what they can do, not really who they are – they leave that very much up to you.
CyberPunk brings us the lifepath generator, now online for CyberPunk 2077. It’s adaptable to any system – or any fiction – and it’s a wonderful way to flesh out those past years, not only with skills, but with possibilities. Contacts, enemies and lovers gain names and backgrounds and gangs and grudges; they spawn scenarios in their own right. And they add depth and timbre to a character, and to their surroundings, that’ll come in handy over and over again. Generated contacts can also gain gravitas in their own right – those enemies or lovers can keep cropping up. If you cross-reference the lifepath with the much-beloved random encounter table, you can have hours of gaming fun.
A step beyond that, we find World of Darkness – Vampire, Werewolf, Kindred of the East, etc. And if you then fold in the basic ‘archetype’ concepts of Nature and Demeanour, and have a look at the Merits and Flaws list, you can add a good ol’ sprinkling of needs, weaknesses and distinctive traits that extend the character still further.
Going back to the D&D, WoD shows you who they are, as well as what they can do.
Any which way, character creation is a wonderful thing, and adding layers like these can bring us right out beyond ourselves (and beyond our favourite tropes!) and really make things striking. It can help us past blocks, give us chunks of history, or let us know how a character would react in any given situation. I’ve spent my morning rolling two lifepaths for the two central characters of the current WIP, finding out what they’ve been up to in the 25 years since the ending of the previous story. And, not only has it thrown up some fascinating results, it has helped me build the history of the setting and the intervening narrative.
One final word – about names. (I’m very fond of saying how Ecko (originally called Oxy) had to have a new name when I started Rising for real and how Caph kept his shortened family name as a nod to his essentially ‘public school’ background). We know that names are critical for our characters, but you can create a whole NPC from just the right name. So, all those lifepath contacts – name them. Look something up, give them a label. Call them ‘Gravel’ or ‘Lavish’ or ‘Dances-in Moonlight’ or ‘Vomit-Face Rick’ or something with an apostrophe. Whatever you chose to name them, it immediately brings them to life.
If you like, you can pick something from here – hands-down the single best N/PC name generator I’ve ever found.
But whatever you do – enjoy it!