Some time back on the Hero Message Boards, a thread was started titled Pictures That Could Be A Super Team. The idea behind the thread was simple: post images that could be superheroes of some fashion. I liked the idea and eventually worked up a section of my website titled: Pictures That Could Be Campaign Characters. While there are superheroes on the page, I have also gone on to put up Dark Champions characters, fantasy heroes, martial artists, pulp and science fiction characters, not to mention beasts and vehicles.
After a while I decided to go beyond just a paragraph of color text and started working up fully-fledged character sheets based on the images I had collected. This practice eventually led me to develop a set of unwritten ‘rules’ or steps for developing such characters. I’ve since written said steps down, and present them to you here. Of course, you can use these ‘rules’ when developing any character, not just one based off of a visual image you might have found on the internet.
To illustrate the various rules (or steps) I’m including the image on to the right. One my early entries for my Pictures That Could Be Campaign Characters page, I intend to use this to show how I go about developing something from image to finished concept (and since I still haven’t finished the character sheet, I figure this will prompt me to do so).
Step Number One: Know Your Character.
In other words, ‘what is the character?’ Do you have any idea of what he does, knows, or has? Do you have a basic personality? With the dark elf image, the pose, the clothes, and expression all said ‘haughty and arrogant.’ In addition the baroque outfit made me think ‘sorceress’ while the strange sword said ‘warrior.’ Okay, so I have an dark (or night) elf warrior-mage, what next?
As the basics of what the character was started to jell, I knew I needed a name. As it happens, I own two excellent sources for names. One is The Everyone Everywhere List, a random name generator listing names from roughly 40 cultures. The other is Gary Gygax’s Extraordinary Book Of Names, from Troll Lord Games and contains something like 100,000 names from around the world.
Using the latter book, I ended up using the Romany (a.k.a. Gypsy) listing, and since the book lists names in big blocks I think I just closed my eyes and pointed. At any rate, I ended up selecting the name “Donya” from the list of female personal names. So, Donya the Night Elf it is.
Step Number Two: Let HERO Do Your Work For You.
Simply put, take advantage of the various Racial, Cultural, and Professional Package Deals found in the different genre books to start putting your character together. You get suggested Characteristics, Skills, and Powers right out of the box and can build the bulk of your PC this way. While best suited for Heroic-Level settings, you can still use this technique to flesh out your superhero’s secret ID.
In Donya’s case, the initial phase of character development was pretty easy—I went through Fantasy Hero and selected the Elf Racial Package Deal, the Deep Environmental Package Deal, and the Commander, Wizard, and the Noble Professional Package Deals. Since I knew I wanted a warrior-mage, I selected various options suitable for such a character, thus developing the concept as I went.
At this point I estimate that well over 50% of the character has been built for me, and all I did was pick stuff from lists and type them into Hero Designer.
Step Number Three: Fill In The Details.
Step back and look at the character sheet. Did you get everything you need? If no, add it in. Did you select something from a Package Deal you’ve decided doesn’t fit? Take it out. This is also the time to try and fill in some of those open-ended Knowledge Skills some Package Deals hand you.
This is also the time to start writing out any custom powers and abilities the character may have. Donya, for example, has this bizarre double-bladed sword-thing behind her back. What is it? I have a fairly vague idea as to what it really is (the character is from the game Lineage II, and the “sword” is some sort of mystical power focus), but that wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I decided that if it looks like a sword, then it is a sword.
Now anyone who has used a sword, or has any clue as to how a sword works would recognize Donya’s weapon as pretty improbable. But hey, this is fantasy (and anime fantasy on top of that), so I developed a name for the weapon, some color text on how it’s used, stats, and gave Donya several Martial Arts maneuvers to go with it. Yet more of the character has been written up!.
Step Number Four: Check The Totals.
Now is a good time to check your numbers. How much does your character cost? Donya is easily over 200 points by now, but I don’t mind that. She’s not meant for anything specific (and certainly isn’t meant to be a PC) so for her, when she’s done, she’s done. However, if you’re building to a set mark now is when you want to see if you’re under, over, of spot on. If you’re over, you’re going to need to remove items to bring the character’s cost down. Is there anything you bought that you don’t need? Things you can buy later with Experience Points? Conversely, are you under? Did you skimp on certain values and now can buy them up? Or, have you been given a blank check, told to ‘build to concept’ (more on this later), and been let loose? If so, is this the concept you envisioned?
No matter what the situation, now is editing time. Time to power up, power down, or fine tune the character. You’re not done with character creation yet, but you’re getting close.
Step Number Five: Tell Us About Your Character.
Your character is anywhere from 75% to 90% complete. You have Characteristics, Powers, Skills, and so on all written out. Now comes the hard part—bringing the character to life. By this point you should know what your character is, so tell us, the reader, about it. Develop the character’s background, personality, motivations; in short fill out all of those paragraphs that are part of any published character. It’s often called ‘fluff’ text, but it’s no mere ‘fluff,’ it’s often what sells the character to readers like you and me. It’s also a good time to flesh out ideas, fill out some additional Skills, and get everything ready for Rule Number 6—Disadvantages.
As of this moment, as I write this, Donya’s ‘fluff’ text is mostly blank. I don’t have anything written down, aside from a description of her sword and of Donya herself. I do have a rough idea of her personality (haughty and arrogant), and line I want to use for her personality (“Let’s get one thing straight, odds are, Donya doesn't like you”), and her origins (warrior mage for a noble house), but little else.
Step Number Six: Disadvantages.
Or as I hope 6th Edition calls them: ‘Complications.’ By this point your character is practically done. Now you need to balance everything with a concise, but complete, set of Disadvantages. The HERO System might have done some of your work for you, as some packages come with built in Disads (such as Distinctive Features or Hunteds). If you’ve completed Step 5, then you have the character’s background and personality figured out, so you should be able to develop a few Disads from that (Hunted, Psychological Limitations, Rivalries, even Social Limitations). Try to keep your Disads direct and to the point. Also, don’t feel the need to make the character balance perfectly (unless it is a PC intended for play and needs to). Finally, if developing an open-ended NPC meant to be used in different setting, don’t be afraid to create ‘generic’ Disadvantages. Generic Disadvantages, such as Hunted, Watched, or Rivalry, allow a character to be used in different settings by simply filling in the needed name(s).
Step Number Seven: One Last Look
Time to give your character a final going over. Did you miss anything? Double check your math (usually not an issue if you’re using Hero Designer), and proof your grammar and spelling. Oh, and if you are using Hero Designer, try and make sure everything is in its proper place. Personally, I format all of my character to follow the Writer’s Guide rules. Why? Well, I was writing quite a bit of stuff for Digital Hero, and doing so helped me keep in practice. I also find it makes character sheets much easier to read.
Step Number Eight: What Do Others Think?
Yes, what do others think? Do they like the design? Do they have suggestions for how to edit or improve the character? Try submitting the character to the Hero Message Boards (if you’re part of it), the Hero Mailing List (yes, it’s still around), or to Haymaker!. The first two choices have the advantage of instant feedback, while Haymaker! means a wait of around 3 months to see what anyone will have to say. Still, once you get feedback, evaluate it, and then edit your character if desired.
So, what of Donya, what does she look like now that she’s gone through Steps One through Seven and is ready for Step Eight? Well, she’s right here!