How do you build your characters?


Pathfinder RPG General Discussion


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I'm very good at statting characters. I love the systems part of pathfinder and creating ideas of what to play. I usually know exactly what I'll pick at least until 8th with a good idea after that.

I have no idea how to make a backstory. It normally comes from systems. (Spheres of power) Caster has a drawback and has a magical sign that always goes off when casting? Flare for the dramatic and showman. Fighter crafts his own gear (master craftsman) because the party wizard is only taking wondrous? Fighter is an expert blacksmith and is annoyed at buying anyone else's "low quality" work.

I get little quirks or ideas, but it doesn't make a character. They seem hollow. Any advice for helping create actual characters?


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Think about getting to know someone new. if you know their "class" you can ask questions like:

a) Why did you become a "class"?
This lets you create a story for them that hooks their background into the adventure. Perhaps they wanted to be a "class" since they were a child. Perhaps some earlier mishap which a "class" helped fix made them want to be a "class".

b) How did you become a "class"
Do they have formal training? Did someone in their childhood notice their skills and encourage them? Conversely, did they have to hide those skills as a child?

c) What do you like best about being a "class"?

d) What's the most exciting thing you've been involved in as a "class".

So just figure out why someone with that class would be in the town they're in and about to go on an adventure. Your GM may have described the party's motivation, so you can adjust your character's motivation to be something that would be interested in solving that problem.

If you like I can interview you "in character" here in this thread or via PMs to help you think up answers to those questions


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

You just need to sit down and ask yourself "what did this character do yesterday? what was he doing last year? why did he choose to learn what he has learned? what sort of family or society does he come from?"

The backstory doesn't have to be elaborate. It doesn't have to be fancy. It doesn't have to be filled with drama or tension. But it should give you an idea how to play the character without needing stats. Was he a street urchin? Was he a younger son of a minor aristocrat? Did her family have any authority whether political or part of a craft guild? Were they poor? Did they farm or run a business? How does that affect how the character sees the world?


Bill Dunn wrote:

You just need to sit down and ask yourself "what did this character do yesterday? what was he doing last year? why did he choose to learn what he has learned? what sort of family or society does he come from?"

The backstory doesn't have to be elaborate. It doesn't have to be fancy. It doesn't have to be filled with drama or tension. But it should give you an idea how to play the character without needing stats. Was he a street urchin? Was he a younger son of a minor aristocrat? Did her family have any authority whether political or part of a craft guild? Were they poor? Did they farm or run a business? How does that affect how the character sees the world?

This.

The backstory only needs to explain why the adventurer is adventuring.

She is the first daughter of the 3rd daughter of General Grawlix Blakovitch the Unspeakable and her Human prisoner, always too small no matter how hard her mother tried to starve and beat her into growing. She decided to leave the tribe before her Shaman began to noticed her newly budding maturity like he did with so many other girls.

I had a Tripping Fighter who used a Halberd. Who do I think of when I think of Halberds: well the Swiss and the Highland Scots, only they called their Halberds Lochaber Axes. Well, I wanted to make him Chaotic Good, so I thought of those disciplined Swiss Pike and Halberd Squares that skewered Charles the Bold of Burgundy's knights in 1475, and I thought "No, Highlander it is, then." Then I thought, the party needs a Rogue, but I really want to play a fighter, how about some kind of military engineer? To make him a better skill monkey, I gave him the Nymph's Kiss Feat. Nymph's kiss? He dallied with a Nymphp? What's that story? He was supposed to be watching his clan's flock, and a Nymph lured him into her fairy mound. When he emerged, his flock had been stolen by a rival clan. Embarrassed about shirking his duty, he made up a story about being overwhelmed by a dozen clansmen, fighting in vain. The Clan was up in arms and a huge war started.

SorrySleeping wrote:
I get little quirks or ideas, but it doesn't make a character.

Keep thinking up your little quirks, remember what they are for each character, think of more to explain the ones you have. They will eventually blossom into a rich character.


Once I build the character (stats and skills etc) I want to play mechanically I design a backstory around how that person came to be... With traits you get some backstory, adopted, for example explains your childhood spent with dwarves even though you're an orc.. etc. The reason you have 20 int is because your father worked his hands to the bone sending you to fifteen different schools to learn to not be a farmer like himself. You have blue eyes and it is a bad sign in your tribe so you were left as a sacrifice on a hillside and some fey found you and took care of you...


I'm a visual thinker, and I start with an image of a character in mind. The image inspires a sense of personality, and from there I begin simultaneously searching through character options and thinking of backstory. The traits, feats, races, classes, archetypes, etc. all inspire backstory ideas and those ideas inspire future choices. It becomes this feedback loop recursive iteration cycle until it resolves back into a clear picture.

Pretty much any mechanical choice I make I try to back up with story.
Fey-bloodlined sorceror? What happened the first time they discovered their innate magic? What's the story behind the fey blood?
Druid with an animal companion? How did this beast come to join them? What is their relationship like?
Who taught the fighter to fight? Or the wizard to wiz? How did the psychedelia disciplined psychic first turn on , tune in, and drop out?


djdust wrote:

I'm a visual thinker, and I start with an image of a character in mind. The image inspires a sense of personality, and from there I begin simultaneously searching through character options and thinking of backstory. The traits, feats, races, classes, archetypes, etc. all inspire backstory ideas and those ideas inspire future choices. It becomes this feedback loop recursive iteration cycle until it resolves back into a clear picture.

I use a similar process, but rather than starting with an image I often start with a character from a novel, comic or movie. Oh, I don't try to play the actual character - that's a recipe for disaster - but I use the character as a starting point. Sometimes I use a blend of two characters.

This gives me an idea of the character's appearance, personality and abilities. I then plan the character out to about 15th level. And the choices I make prompt changes to the original concept because what works in a novel may not work well in game. The final product is often very different to the original concept.

My current character is Ser Mindi Moonclanger, a female gnome paladin of Iomedae. She was inspired by Hit Girl and Tasslehoff Burrfoot!

Liberty's Edge

I tend to look to a setting first for inspiration. Someone the culture, politics or economy would foster, who'd have a call to adventure. They don't have to be a local or part of that culture, but it still ought to have meaning.

Only after that do I start fishing through my mind for the various builds I want to try, and work on the stats - they're never as fun if they don't fit the campaign.

Then fine details of personality and the tuning of things like traits, weapon choice and spell selection come together. APs' campaign traits are great for this.

I find that some stuff just comes together after a few sessions, once the setting and goals are more clearly established.


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One idea is to take one of those online personality quizzes like the Briggs Myers one. While the accuracy is not exactly agreed upon, it does help you get into the mindset. Kind've like method acting.

When I stat things out I intentionally do really weird and obtuse stuff, like a bloodrager dip for a paladin, or a half elf grabbing shoanti tattoo. This helps me fill in the blank and answer why a half elf would be in a shoanti tribe, or why x would y.


Pathfinder Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

After reflecting on my past creations, I've realized I mostly use a grid. A character creation grid, if you will. Pardon my trash MS Paint skills. My character concepts begin life at one of those four points. And from there, I just go through the circle.

For example. I had a concept for a boisterous pirate character who told tall tales about how she used to the best pirate ever no seriously you guys. As a conversion of an old WOW character, writing up the details was easy and pretty fun. However, her mechanics would be too cluttered and awkward to try and recreate in PF so I rebuild from the ground up. I go with Bard, a very fitting class for the concept. I play up the theme with a rapier, with Weapon Finesse and eventually feats like Bodyguard to protect her 'crew' during missions. I top it off with a dip in Mysterious Stranger Gunslinger. That gives her the pirate flavor of having a loaded pistol for a one shot backup weapon, as well as using her boosted charisma to give it some punch.

Or my character who began as a mechanical concept. I take a basic idea, mounted Unchained Summoner, and go from there. I build it as a demon riding halfling with a Dragoon Fighter dip to cut on feat taxes. Personality wise, this guy looks to be a pretty strange guy, so I give him the story of a legally freed Cheliax slave with magical potential. His uncomfortable past helps to explain his hatred of authority and occasional violent urges, which in turn inform his synergy with the spider-themed demon eidolon. Lastly, I name them Estrek and Vsarki because I like anagrams and references that nobody at the table will get.

Of course, the grid is a simplification. Character developments, realizing 4 levels in the build needs to improve, new content releases, all of these change the course. But this is still a pretty good visualization of the basics.


I start with a picture in mind. Or a cool visual. This sometimes means less than ideal race class combos but that is part of the fun. After I make the character I attempt to place him or her in the world.

When thinking of backstory I don't think of the character as an adventurer (usually) I think of them as an ocuppation. Sure I'm building a Ranger. But Bhoors Thistledown is a hunter trapper who trades furs for a living. If I want him to be not just a pesant. Perhaps he is from a merchant family but wants to be outdoors and as such looks to his family's timber interests. He has the same skillset. But a different place in the world or perspective.

Background skills make this process even better. It's a bonus skill to have a job or skill that is often not on the normal list.

After I answer the how the character lives when not threatened by danger or drawn to adventure. I try to think of something that shaped the character an event that he likey remembers which reveals something of a personality trait.

After all this I might also sit down with the 10 minute background and flesh out some other particulars.


I love watching the feedback loop between rules and backstory. Here's an example of my method:

"OK. I want to play an occultist. He needs special objects to focus his powers. What if one of them was a weapon? Cool, I'll go with transmutation and choose... What haven't I used before? Bardiche looks cool. Maybe he can be a traveling executioner. Cool! So with all those dead people in his past, he probably has some ties to necromancy. Maybe this 'necromantic servant' power calls upon the spirits of the people he's beheaded? Neat! OK then, what kind of object do you need for necromancy? This 'ferryman's slug' sacred implement sounds interesting. How did my guy meet the boatman on the river of death then...?"

That's the most fun for me, watching rules cascade into story and back into rules again.

If you're really struggling with personality (which is arguably more important than backstory), then there's nothing wrong with using a template. Some of my most successful characters have been based on Taxi era Danny DeVito, Futurama's Zapp Brannigan, or Dr. Orpheus from The Venture Bros. These are not subtle characters. They are selfish, or arrogant, or melodramatic. But even though they started out based on stock characters, they grew and changed through the course of play. I’m not a professional actor, and I’m certainly not good enough to nail a perfect DeVito impression for hundreds of hours worth of play. I didn’t have to though. That character became its own thing over time, and relying on the DeVito template as a start was vital to its success. My fellow players were able to understand who I was and what I was trying to convey immediately. Strong relationships and a satisfying campaign followed.

Good luck out there, and happy gaming.

Silver Crusade

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I start with one simple question:

"How can I hurt the GM emotionally more than they can hurt me?"

Scarab Sages

In Pathfinder, since the game is so mechanically oriented, typically around combat, I come up with a build that I think is unique, or that does something well known in a different way that makes sense with the setting. I will likely be experiencing the mechanical aspect of the game primarily, so I focus on making sure that element will be fun.

Next, I come up with reasons why my character is the way he is. For example, if I decide to play a wizard, I NEED to come up with a reason my character has a spellbook. How did he come by it? What does his intelligence mean for who he is? If he's planning on multiclassing, how is that built into his character from the start? However, my character probably wouldn't refer to himself as a "wizard." I find it very inorganic when characters refer to themselves, and other characters, by class names, and avoid them like the plague. The sole exception to this is Paladin, because Paladins, regardless of faith, fulfill a very specific role that is iconic to the name.

Finally, I come up with family ties if I can. Giving the DM that kind of info keeps you emotionally invested in your character, and provides the DM with story arcs and adventure hooks that immediately get you engaged.


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The more technically optimal but obtuse, weird, or convoluted your build is, the more fun you have in deciding your backstory.


Davor wrote:

In Pathfinder, since the game is so mechanically oriented, typically around combat, I come up with a build that I think is unique, or that does something well known in a different way that makes sense with the setting. I will likely be experiencing the mechanical aspect of the game primarily, so I focus on making sure that element will be fun.

Next, I come up with reasons why my character is the way he is. For example, if I decide to play a wizard, I NEED to come up with a reason my character has a spellbook. How did he come by it? What does his intelligence mean for who he is? If he's planning on multiclassing, how is that built into his character from the start? However, my character probably wouldn't refer to himself as a "wizard." I find it very inorganic when characters refer to themselves, and other characters, by class names, and avoid them like the plague. The sole exception to this is Paladin, because Paladins, regardless of faith, fulfill a very specific role that is iconic to the name.

Finally, I come up with family ties if I can. Giving the DM that kind of info keeps you emotionally invested in your character, and provides the DM with story arcs and adventure hooks that immediately get you engaged.

I'm mostly the same way, only the build doesn't have to be unique, just new to me.

Using mechanical terms in-character, such as some class names, can be jarring in some circumstances. A term like "bard" refers to something far more specific than the range of possible characters that may use the Bard class, and in my experience few "capital-B" Bards are actually "small-b" bards. However, on a certain level the game rules reflect the way the game world works. The learned among magic-users would certainly know the difference between a Wizard and Sorcerer and would likely categorize them as such—perhaps defaulting to "mage" if they don't know.


There's a really nice discussion on writing backstories in this thread.

Typically, I let my race, class, and stats inform my decisions on background. You've got some high stats and some low ones: what do those say about your personality? About your upbringing? What advantages and disadvantages did you have?

Then I think about PC's and NPC's in the upcoming campaign. Who do I know? How do I know them? I may ask the GM for information about one or mroe important NPC's and figure out how I know them, and what kind of relationship we had. For the PC's, I'll talk to the other players, and figure out where they are from, then decide who I know, and how, and for how long.

After that, I think about what my family situation was like. Are one or both of my parents still alive? What about my family life has me interested in a life of adventuring? Did I have supportive parents? Abusive ones? Indifferent/uninvolved?

Then, I look at my flaws. I know what I'm good at, but what am I not good at? How did that come in to play while I was growing up? How did that affect my relationship to people around me?

Then, I just start stitching it together.

The secret to creating a good background, if you want to boil it down to just one secret, is that it's really about relationships, not events. People are interesting. How people interact with other people is interesting. The things that we do are just actions and deeds. Some shape us, some are shaped by us, but in the end it's "us" that others want to know about.

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