How do you come up with character concepts?

Pathfinder RPG General Discussion

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It's something I have trouble with myself. So I'm curious how do other people come up with their character concepts?

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Some Random Dood wrote:
It's something I have trouble with myself. So I'm curious how do other people come up with their character concepts?

If I try to make a concept from scratch, I'm either paralyzed with indecision or can think of nothing but derivitave rip-offs of cliche's or existing fictional characters.

What I usually do instead is start with a mechanical build (though even then I'm still sometimes paralyzed with indecision), start playing it as a "blank slate", and let my character take on a life of his own.

It's a fun experience to "get to know" your character instead of knowing them inside and out from the get-go. Also I think it makes it easier for them to evolve organically over time if you don't have too much pre-written stuff.

So I guess I'm an "on-the-fly concept guy". ;)

Dark Archive

Sometimes, by watching movies and wanting to emulate specific characters. Or, listening to music, and wanting to try emulating the "feel" or theme of the song through a character. Or, as I did once, just sit at the food court at your local mall, and watch people. See how they interact, sometimes you can get ideas from that. Combine the last two for added effect.

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Sometimes I see a class feature, and build around that. Other times I come up with an idea, and find a class to fit the idea. Sometime it is loosely based on a movie or book.

Dark Archive

Sometimes it's a single trait they have. This could be someone who is a total badass, or someone with amnesia for example.
That's all you need to start. From there on, you start asking questions. Race, gender, class. Everything has to fit in with the main concept.

I too look to books and movies for inspiration sometimes. I like to write down some personality quirks as well. Like maybe I want to play a pacifist I may go with a cleric or monk, or maybe I want to play a scoundrel and go with a swashbuckler or rogue. Maybe I want to have OCD and go with a wizard who suffers from it. I like to expound upon things like that.

I feel that a more "human" character with strengths and flaws makes me a better role player and it's much more fun to play. Other things I like to take into consideration are having my character grow during the session. He may suffer from a wicked hit where the DM throws down a crit and confirms it, I may ask the DM to permanently lower my Cha by 1 point because I lost a finger or got a wicked scar down the length of my face.

When i'm trying to make a really good character backstory, i go through this

I've only ever made one backtory that used that properly, though. And she is a character who i've been building in my head for 7 years (only got to play her once, so sad...)

But once i have a character in mind, i just run as many cliche scenarios through my head as i can, and think about how 'character X' would deal with them.

Like, What is his sister were kidnapped? what if he could save someones life, but only by taking another? what if he's in a bar and someone just took the last tankard of his favourite beer?

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Some Random Dood wrote:
It's something I have trouble with myself. So I'm curious how do other people come up with their character concepts?

Pretty much like everyone else has mentioned, I use standard sources.

1. Books and poems I've read
2. Movies and videos I've seen
3. Other characters I've encountered while playing RPGs
4. Biographies of historical characters
5. Interesting people I have known in my real life.

I focus on something to start--a habit, a characteristic, an ability, a cool action or move, an interesting nickname--anything to stimulate my thoughts on where to go.

Now, a couple examples. My GM is always expressing his distaste for the Bard class. I take that as a challenge. I told him I thought I could play a bard's he would find acceptable and flavorful. I immediately thought of Cyrano DeBergerac as the ultimate example of a bard. Any character who can compose a ballad while dueling his enemy is perfect. I came up with a long, aristocratic name, envisioned him as a Shakespearean actor and, as a twist, made him a Gnome. I almost always do a twist to distance my character from being too cliche. He is verbose, histrionic in the extreme, and is writing an epic poem based on the group's adventures. My most recent character is my first fighter. My GM in that campaign wanted a nickname for the character that reflected his personality. I wanted determination to be his defining characteristic, so I chose "Badger" as a nickname. I then looked up the badger and found that the badger has the rage ability. I immediately adjusted my concept to include a one level dip in barbarian to give my character the same ability. Once you start, possibilities always seem to open up like that.

I use song lyrics a lot. I've gotten more than a couple from My Chemical Romance. "would I die for you? Here is your answer in spades. Shotgun sinners, wild eyed jokers. Got you in my sights. Gunnin while I'm holdin on. Don't stop if I fall and don't look back."

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I can do it two ways:

Bottom Up: I think of a scene, a thought, an idea of a person or something they did, or a catchphrase. From there I slowly assemble the character piece by piece - why are they like this, why do they do can I fit them into the adventure...Once I have that, I can choose the most appropriate class for them and fill out their attributes, skills and feats.

Top Down: If I know I have to fill a particular role or play a particular class, I start with what they have to do and how they can do it. Then I select an option and go from there.

I've used a lot of the standard inspirations, literature, movies, and the like, but I'll add another inspiration; that is finding a cool mini and building the character around it.

Although, I find most of the time my backstory and character concept doesn't always match what happens storywise so actual gameplay is a big influence on the final character concept.

I read as many classes and archetypes as I can get my hands on when one strikes my fancy I start to get a picture of the character in my head. from there I try to figure out how he would act and what he does well. then I find ways to make him do the things he does mechanically

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i base them on characters from big bang theory

I think that I do a pretty good job of coming up with very interesting character concepts. But I do think I could be a little more "out there" with them. But even with all of my concepts being humanoids with relatively normal backgrounds, I think the end results are pretty fun.

I typically start with a background. I enjoy custom races, or at least unusual races, and one GM has been very willing and helpful in the pursuit of building balanced custom races. I typically come up with custom races by hybridizing existing races. That's how I came up with my "elf/dryad" and my "gnome/pixie" races. The race itself tends towards a background and personality type. Usually there is a sort of "outcast" feel to the unique race as both parent races tend to be unsure how to deal with the result.

The abilities of the races as well as their likely upbringing also factor in. An elf/dryad raised in a dryad grove would have some fairly predictable life experiences. She'd have some natural abilities, would be comfortable outdoors (and uncomfortable indoors), would be in touch with nature and suspicious of civilization, would be terrified by axes and big strong humanoids in metal armor... class preferences would almost certainly be druid or maybe ranger...

Then I build out a specific personality from there. Is she brave? timid? wise? strong? clever? etc...

Then I ask myself "what would this character want to do with his/her life? That leads to a choice in classes and alignment. Then I roll or buy stats and start building the specific mechanical example of the concept.

If the GM doesn't allow custom races (most don't) then I do more or less the same thing but I pick a "standard" race but try to come up with some outlier society. A half-orc raised by his human adventurer father after his orc mother was killed by a crazed anti-orc bigot. A human raised in a cajun swamp drug culture.

It's sort of like sculpting. I start with the very basic "skeleton" and then add in the organs, muscles and finally skin. Then I roll or buy stats, build the mechanical result and off we go!

I find the process of building character concepts and then creating individual characters from them to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the game.

Generally it rolls one of two ways for me.

1. I'll get a slight notion of a personality trait for a character and I try to flesh it out in a way that makes for a dynamic versatile character but still carries out that trait to a logical extreme.

For example I'm playing an alchemist/souldrinker from nex. He is a mutant in all concepts of the word. His mother had three arms and two heads. A flesh warped monstrosity. He was an evolutionist. He believed that magic and evolution would blend and that life would constantly evolve to a higher and more profound state. He was originally intended to be a clone master and believed primarily in Irori. A few months ago he fell from grace. He stopped believing in life and perfection. He became obsessed with the notion of pure nihilism primarily due to the belief that existence was self defeating. Perfection can never be reached, but perfect silence can be. He is now primarily a souldrinker of Charon. He is a fleshwarped monster just like his mother. (dm allowed me to use the fleshwarped template on him)

2. The other way I tend to develop characters is an alteration of fluff for a class mechanic and then I start working out logical extensions of the personality traits that would be attributed to ideal or rather altered function of the fluff.

For an evil campaign we've got coming up I'm debating on playing a 16 year old girl that is haunted. She stepped into a horrifically haunted house as a little girl and the spirits followed her out. She is an ancestor oracle with the haunted curse. I'm flavoring all of her ancestor powers as being through the aid of malevolent spirits that only hold affection for her. Where she'll go from there I'm not sure. I know mechanically she is going to focus on spiritual weapon and spiritual ally and have them manifest as some of those malevolent spirits killing for her.

I prefer the first method as opposed to the second generally. The character's personality seems to flow better.

I think of tactics, how they will fight as an adventurer, feats, weapons, what I will be doing in combat.

I think of personality type, characterisation, alignment, who they are. Why are they interesting or unusual?

Then I go check online sources for names.

movies, series or books are great for inspiration.
Then there are archetypes and such, it's fun to play a "typical" something, like dwarf fighter, elf wizard and such.

As my immediate, unvoluntary tought shifts towards optimizing (to not say munchkinism) I ask myself if I want to play a serious character or not, and how strong he should be.

If I really have no clue I just roll my ability scores already assigned to stats and see what I get.

Shadow Lodge

First, I focus on what role the character is going to have in the party. I then determine the personality of the character. My alias is actually a Wizard that I played in curse of the crimson throne. He had a terrible relationship with his familiar, a bat named Mr. Peepers. He also despised peasants, and cast spells on them after he got drunk. Overall, it was fun playing a jerk. Imagine if Dr. House was a wizard... That was Modu. My most recent character is an alchemist named Churchwood that is completely nuts. He has a problem with uncontrollable impulses, which can be dangerous when combined with alchemy.

Shadow Lodge

Heresy i know but...

I usually let the mechanics help me with the personality. I come up with something I want do to mechanically and then build a personality around that, and then tweak the personality and mechanics back and forth at each other a bit.

King Modu wrote:
First, I focus on what role the character is going to have in the party.

Role is very important. Good idea.

One thing I sometimes do is go thru my gaming figures, and pick one out that looks cool (and fits the role) then make the PC to fit.

I like the mechanical aspect of building a character. I usually fixate on some cool interaction of abilities, or some overall build concept. Once I have the mechanical nature of the character figured out, I let the mechanical choices inform me of what the character would probably be like. So in a sense, I profile my characters based on their mechanical make-up. What kind of person would have made the choices to focus in such areas?

Once I get an idea for what kind of person they are based on what the mechanical skeleton says about them, then I go further out, and ask myself: What kind of environment produces a person like this? And then I try and figure out what happened to them to turn them into the kind of person who would have that certain style that the mechanics dictate.

Now that you've worked out from the mechanics to the personality to the's just a matter of putting on the finishing touches, which are really the cosmetic features such as quirks, sayings, appearance, style, name, faith, occupation, etc. Obviously, those should tie in to personality and background. The trick is to get creative here and see how you can "storytell" the cosmetic features to tie in with the personality and background. When you can do that, you've got a character who is pretty well fleshed out AND (maybe more importantly) makes sense and has actual reasons as to why he/she is the way they are.

Of course, the real fun comes in trying to figure out how this person you've created with their unique personality and background will REACT and CHANGE in the face of events. Adventuring, if you really think about it, would be EXTREMELY traumatic from a psychological standpoint....that said, depending on your background, different parts of "adventuring" would certainly effect you in different ways. It's the changes that make the character, not so much the beginning (though how they change HAS to be based on what they come pre-loaded with).

Dark Archive

Some Random Dood wrote:
It's something I have trouble with myself. So I'm curious how do other people come up with their character concepts?

I read TV Tropes until I find a Trope I like then base a character around that personality. Most recently I created a Chaotic Good Blood Knight

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Modules, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

I have a few of things I do...

1. My main concepts come from cool miniatures. Like a number of people on these boards, I paint minis, but paint many more minis that I have characters.

2. Sometimes a concept can come from reading something in the Campaign line. eg. My latest character came from the description of the Fountain of Tabis in Heart of the Jungle.

3. If all else fails and I am absolutely stuck, I have a copy of Central Casting, which is basically a set of linked tables which outlines the character's background....very useful.

My ideas for a certain flavor of character come mainly from literature (which for me is mainly ancient and medieval literature).

Once there is a skeleton of a character concept based on whatever the inspiration was, the rest gets filled in based on what I think would be cool, how the concept might work differently in the campaign world, etc. For instance, I've got an upcoming character, part of whose inspiration was the old Greco-Roman mystery cults of Isis. However, in a Dnd world, you can have religious mysteries incorporate spells and otherwise go in a lot of unique ways.

So you might start with the idea of an old Greco-Roman mystery cult that promised its initiates would be resurrected after death, toss in a couple other common ancient themes such as the hero's living journey through the underworld, adapt it, and come up with a religious wizard who voluntarily undergoes death and resurrection in search of enlightenment.

Often they just come to me. I tend to write down about a dozen concepts and then start to see how the mechanics can support them. I try to find about 2 to 4 different ways to build the same character. I then start crossing off the ones that are either not going to work the way I want or are boring (there are some classes that simply don't appeal to me).

I usually find something like a picture, a character, a personality, or an underused mechanic and go from there. You can have some fun if you type a few words into Google images and see what pops up. I recommend you have Safe Search turned on when you do this.

First I come up with what kind of character I want to play and what kind of weapons and how I will fight in combat and try to make that. Then work on mechanics and come up with a personality.

For example one character I might want to play is an ulfen magus with a battleaxe and a raven familiar. Then I work on the mechanics first, high sterngth dex int and con. and then I might think he might be a little quiet smart but a strong combatant. when he does talk he know what is he is doing and talking about. I haven't actually built this character but now I want to.

Character development is an extended process for me. Rarely do I have the luck or luxury of just sitting down and fleshing one out in one sitting. For me, it starts with a concept, either flavor or crunch. "This guy is a guard for one of the gangs in the city, he's a big dude who grew up poor in the farmland and wanted a way to get out of that life. He prefers to use the threat of force, but will back it up if he needs to. Sounds like he's a Barbarian."

Or, "I want a ranged Paladin build. Okay, this girl is a warrior of a sun god. Her armor is inlayed with gold, and she sends forth her arrows like rays of the sun to smite the enemies of her god. She has curly golden locks and eyes of serene blue, like a clear sky. She hates undead, and is suspicious of any race that has a vulnerability to bright light."

Then, I'll probably pick something up and run with it. A few days later, I might revisit one of the characters and fill in some more details, some of the finer brush strokes.

my 2 most recent character ideas have come from some odd fantasy influences for me. The first being jarlaxle from the forgotten realms novels by Salvatore. He deffinatly isn't overly power gamed, even with a custom magic item made to simulate his dagger throwing, the rest of the concept is mostly flavor and collecting the right magic items. Namely a bunch of wands and a large collection of jewelry that rattles around noisily when I want and goes silent when I need it to.

The second just kinda hit me while I was looking thru the druid stats. The fellow who intercedes in the cinematic scenes of warcraft 3 struck my fancy. Turns into a crow to fly around visiting various leaders, steering events as best he can to fend off some great peril. I'm not done with it yet but I'll likely throw in a little IK blackclad flavoring and drop him into the kingmaker campaign I'm looking to run as a recurring visitor. Not really against the party, but not neccesarily helping them either. =)


Typically, whatever inspires me at the time. If it's a game mechanic, I fluff around it (like my halfling monk focused on the Fleet feat), if it's a concept, I chose mechanics around it (My poison & affliction-based Cross Wild Blooded Envenomed Pestilence bloodline Sorcerer with Accursed Eldritch Heritage). If it's based off a character or characters (like my Ulfen Barbarian who is basically Conan + Kull), I'll fluff and mechanics in a manner not EXACTLY like them, but that honors their concept.

I like to look at what I've played in the past and see what's new for me to play.

I look at class features that would be interesting and figure out what's an angle I haven't taken before.

For example, I played a war orphaned human monk in an Eberron campaign, who was a bit anti-social because of his upbringing. In a Rise of the Rune Lords campaign, I chose to play a halfling ranger, because of the boost to charisma and was the party face.

I find reading through the background books on the campaign setting helps in figuring out what type of characters would be viable, especially with regards to how, when and where they learned their class.

For example, in the Rise of the Rune Lords campaign, I'd flirted with the idea of playing a Tian witch, who was a scholar come to explore the ruins of Varisia because witch's should have high intelligence scores and it makes sense for a smart character to study/learn to expand his knowledge. I chose not to go that route, because the earlier character I played was a human and I wanted to play another race.

GnomePaladin wrote:
I read TV Tropes until I find a Trope I like then base a character around that personality.

An excellent source of inspiration, that.

For me, I start off with a class I want to play(which I discuss with the GM and any other players to see how it'll fit the party). Then, I barebones the backstory. For my latest character, her barebones backstory was "Only survivor of a destroyed village, cleric acolyte turned witch seeking vengeance upon the destroyer of the village."

Then, over the course of the next couple weeks, I seek inspiration. Sometimes it's random flashes of insight while I'm in the shower or listening to music. Other times, it's from TVTropes or other random web crawling. Still others, I'll be reading more on the class and it'll give me ideas that'll lead to more plans for the character. And others, the barebones gives me questions I need to answer which lead to further development.

Then I'll fully flesh out the character concept and backstory using these various ideas until I have a fully fleshed out character I want to play.

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The secret is booze.

GnomePaladin wrote:
Some Random Dood wrote:
It's something I have trouble with myself. So I'm curious how do other people come up with their character concepts?
I read TV Tropes until I find a Trope I like then base a character around that personality. Most recently I created a Chaotic Good Blood Knight

step 1 click link.

step 2 see Mufasa die
step 3 epic sad face
step 4 never click a another link

Scarab Sages

It depends. I've used minis, books, throw away lines form gaming products, movies, songs, or just let the chracter grow organically. Sometimes it'll grow out of an odd conversation.

One of 2 ways:

1) Start with a character from a movie or book. Then I change it enough that it is not recognizable (especially if it is a really common one such as wolverine or iron man). Then try to figure out how I would build it. I want to be Morralon from the Jerreg novels. The books call it a sorcerer but the description is probably closer to PF wizard. he still weapon fights great. So prob either a magus or ftr/wiz/ek. He doesn't seem to use armor, so lets go with the ftr/wiz/ek and use spells and items for defense. He does seem to lose his temper alot and hack people to bits, so maybe I should see if I can make a raging bar/wiz/ek build work. etc... I use a backstory similar to what is in the book or movie, again with enough changes that most people won't recognize it.

2) Start with some ability/facet of a build or a task I want to perform.
Ex: I want a melee character, but all the hack/dead builds get quickly boring. I want to play with the opponent. Lets make a fast mover that strikes all over the field and trips and disarms people. I look over the feats, ok too many let's skip the disarm (since many things don't even use weapons). Whip sounds ideal, but I've seen a buzillion whip builds on the boards. I just got the ISWG, there's this new weapon the 'horse chopper' ok, sounds kool and seems mechanically viable. I want to be fast so lets use lore warden since I won't want heavy armor anyway. Lore warden sounds like a human thing to me so we'll go with human for now. So lets get feats to take advantage of the reach and trip people. etc... With this method, I usually don't create the backstory until I am nearly done with the build. ( I say nearly only in case the back story I come up with needs to alter the build slightly. )

Either method tends to give me a decent start. Then I throw a half-ashed version up here on the boards and let them tear it up.

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