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The Character Sheet & Back-story

The Character Sheet & Back-story

Written by: Theus Ethaniel & Vanatosis Arentire
Images by: Their respective owners

Creating a character is more than just slapping an avatar together and running off to play with the gang. To enjoy a truly immersive role-play experience, you need to flesh out your character. The easiest way to accomplish this task is using character sheets and writing a back story for your character.

Many role-play sims in virtual space, and nearly all table-top RP games, require the use of character sheets in the story application and character creation process. When applying for a role in a story, you should not send a fully developed back story to the game admins. Anything that requires an excessive amount of reading will only cause you to be placed back at the end of a queue of players vying for entry. This is your introduction to the game in a sense, as it is the first look that anyone gets of your character, and you should provide them instead with a nice concise character sheet.

Dungeons & Dragons Character Sheet from http://files.meetup.com (Copyright Dungeons & Dragons)

There are many different styles and concepts when it comes to a character sheet, but at the root, they remain consistent, despite whatever particular genre or system you’re role-playing: name, class, race (if applicable), skills, powers and weaknesses.

Name

Naming your character may seem self-explanatory but some thought should be placed into it the process. Names should match the race and type of character you’re playing in order to allow for smoother suspension of disbelief and a deeper immersion in the storyline. An elf named Chuck, for instance, is not going to be as helpful in this regard as one named Ilmari. Also unless your back alley, thug thief character has a secret trust fund, his name shouldn’t be too upper crust, as say for example: Winston Fitz-Simmons Smith-Thornburg IV. Doing a little research on names, whether it is looking up Dwarfish proper names online, or simply some reflection on the nature of your new character, will definitely help here.

Class

Classes may represent archetypes, or specific careers, in a role-play game system or sim. Typical classes may be: warrior/fighter, mage, thief, cleric, assassin, etc. When determining your character’s class refer to the rules of the game or RP sim you’re planning to join and make sure your chosen class gels with its theme and is within the guidelines. A modern urban role-play game would not be the appropriate place for a mage, but a thief however fits in quite well. Keep in mind the enjoyment of other players as well and the integrity of the game’s setting: don’t try to force a bad fit (like a technomage in a Dungeons & Dragons fantasy realm). If you have any questions on this topic research the classes which interest you most and refer to the game admins for clarification on any guidelines you do not understand.

Race

Races also require more thought than one usually assumes. First, check the game rules or with the  admins to verify that the race you wish to play is available. Second, research your chosen race and make sure it is one you feel comfortable with playing. Many races have intrinsic attributes, powers and characteristics that come with the package. Most of the time these racial traits are non-negotiable, so unless you have a good, well thought out rationale for being a cursing, belching depressed elf with hygiene issues, the admin will probably not allow it. Most games however offers a wide selection of races based upon a broad array of archetypes and traits. If you want to play a surly, hard-headed coal miner’s daughter with an addiction to gold and precious stones – no problem, be a dwarf. Browse all the available races and chose wisely the one you would enjoy most. Don’t lock yourself into playing something that isn’t enjoyable.

Skills

Skills are the non-magical abilities your character possesses – his or her “everyman” abilities. Brawling, lock picking, coercion, stealth, flute playing, etc. are all skills that a characters may access. Consider also your race, class and personality when defining your skills. If you choose to play a warrior then a skill like brawling would seem a natural choice, and shouldn’t a dwarf have a working knowledge of metallurgy? Ask yourself, “why would a pious cleric know how to pick locks?” Perhaps she was a street urchin before taking her vows. While your skills do not have to be determined exclusively by your race or class, they do need to be justified in some way – even if it is simply an explanation in your back story.

Powers

Powers usually take the form of magical or supernatural abilities. Your character’s powers should be few in number and usually no more than three at most. This can vary, though, depending on the game you are playing. Your character’s race will affect the amount and types of powers available to you also. Different sims and games have different rules as far as this goes, so make sure to RTFM (Read The Fine Manual) or whatever informational note cards you’re provided.

If you are playing a magic-based character, be prepared to construct grimoire, or spell book, for the admin to review. Be sure you check the game’s rules to clarify spell restrictions and determine if certain spells and magic are banned, or if there are certain sim/server specific spells available. Also include some basic information, such as: name of spell, duration, damage, range and description of effects. This enables the admins to determine ways to balance out your powers if they deem them too excessive.

Example:

  • Fireball
    • Range: 100ft
    • Duration: instant
    • Damage: fire, area of effect 20ft
    • Description: hurl a ball of fire at your enemies

Weakness

Weakness can be broken down into two groups: racial weaknesses and non-racial weaknesses. Most racial weaknesses are known to the admins of a sim or table top game, but listing them is nevertheless a good idea. Keeping these weaknesses in sight reminds you of your character’s limitations and keeps the character balanced. Other weaknesses should be listed too in order to flesh the character out and make him or her more believable. A character with no weaknesses listed will probably end up rejected by game admins. Playing an un-flawed character can also become boring after awhile. Examples of weaknesses can be an old injury, a vulnerability to a certain type of magic or even odious personal habits such as bad hygiene or compulsive lying.

The Back-story

Once your character sheet is completed, you’re ready for the next step: the back story. While the character sheet contains the basic information that you use to form a character, the back story is where you can go into detail about your character and his or her past. A good rule of thumb when writing a back story is to learn to ask yourself questions about your character. Where did he grow up? Did she have any siblings?  Any parents? Was he abandoned as a child and adopted? A bit of research will help here as well. Explore and learn about the world in which you’re playing.  Explore its history and the battles fought throughout the ages. Check up on racial conflicts and prejudices. All these things can be implemented into the story you are creating for your character.

Back stories can also include the character’s mental state, heritage, social status, wealth, friends, enemies and many other things. It just depends on how developed you want to make your character. A back story’s length is situational. You wouldn’t want to create a long, in-depth back story for a one-shot campaign or a place you will not play often. Neither would you want to write a small blurb for an epic campaign or a game you plan to play for a long duration. Bottom line: tailor your back story to the needs of the campaign and your personal tastes. Include what you like and leave out what you deem unnecessary, but most of all have fun with it. That is, after all, why we do what we do.

A great example of a shared back-story was turned into a written story and shared on this website, here:

  1. Siblings from Another Mother, Part 1
  2. Siblings from Another Mother, Part 2

[hero]A role-play character isn’t simply a piece of paper or pixels on a computer monitor, a RP character is a role which you actually take on. You become this character for the purpose of the game. Simple preparation including a concise, descriptive character sheet and well thought out back story will be invaluable aids for developing this persona and will enhance your role-play experience.[/hero]

Reproduced with permission from Roleplay Guide Magazine.
April 2011June 2011August 2011Sept 2011Oct 2011Nov/Dec 2011January 2012 – Oct 2014

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About The Author

I am Filipa Thespian, Editor-In-Chief of Nu Vibez Magazine and Founder/Publisher of Roleplay Guide Magazine (now a part of Nu Vibez). Additionally, I am a builder/content creator inside Second Life (www.GodsOfValor.com), am CEO of iMoogi Entperprises, LLC, owners of iMoogiRadio.com, iMoogi.tv and other brands and am a graphic artist/web developer/marketer and all around multi-media professional with more than 20 years of experience under my belt.

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