Before you sit down to play a tabletop RPG like Pathfinder or Starfinder, you need a character. I mean, sure, you could play one of our nifty pregenerated characters for a while. But sooner or later, you’re gonna want to let your own imagination roam, making characters that help you tell the stories you want to be part of. But where to start? Here are four sources of inspiration that work well for me and other people I’ve played with.
- Inspiration from Media: Who are your favorite characters in books, movies, TV shows, video games, comics, etc. and why do you like them so much? Is it their attitude? Their personality? Their style and flair? Their aesthetic? The way they approach challenges? Thinking about why you like certain characters is a useful springboard to come up with characters that capture the fun of an idea without directly copying them. The characters you use as sources could come from modern works or from traditional legends.
You might want to play a character based off a general archetype that appears in many stories, like an absentminded detective, a wise sage, or a master archer. Inspiration can also arise from arts of all sorts that aren’t tied directly to a specific narrative, such as drawings, paintings, clothing, and music.
- Inspiration from Lore: More specifically, the setting lore information in Pathfinder and Starfinder books is designed to help you and your GM build fully realized characters that have a place in the game world. Knowing information about the setting helps inspire answers to key questions about your character’s history and motivations. Where did your character grow up? What is their personal philosophy, and how does that compare to the philosophies of others around them? What are their formative experiences? Which organizations they are affiliated with? What are their goals, and how do they plan to achieve them?
- Inspiration from Mechanics: This could be as straightforward as wanting to play a character that fills a particular role in the party. Perhaps you want to play a strong character that deals a lot of damage, or a character who is a master of noticing dangers of all kinds. Maybe you want to try out a new character class you haven’t played yet. Or maybe you’ve found a combination of rules that lets you express a new idea. Pathfinder and Starfinder are chock-full of mechanics that interact in all sorts of interesting ways. There are so many ways to mix and match the rules, so look for mechanics that fit your play style.
- Inspiration from Players: I’ve found that the best ideas are ones that draw on the creativity of more than one person. Consider making characters that have connections to other player’s PCs and collaborating on backstory elements. You can also use what you see other players doing to help fill in the blanks of your character’s story.
Once you have identified points of inspiration, you can start chaining them together. Here are a couple examples of my character creation process. The first is my first PFS character, Trade Princess Natani Copperlock.
"Well, I haven't really played this Pathfinder system yet, but rogues don't have spells, so they're probably easier to throw together quickly before the next convention slot. A treasure-loving halfling's a pretty classic archetype for a rogue, so let's go with that. Always looking to prove herself...where in this new setting book do they like money...how about Druma? If she was poor during her childhood in Druma, that would have a particular impact on her worldview. And the Qadira faction likes money too, so maybe she wants to establish herself through trade and diplomacy, but isn't above ‘liberating’ goods from their former owners to help gain an advantage."
My most recent one that is more than an amorphous blob of GM credit, Kragrak, with leshy companion Oak Sprout followed the same process.
"Leshys are awesome, and I want one to basically be my character in social situations. How about a taciturn leshy warden druid with a gregarious leshy companion? And to give the warden some plant theming despite not being a plant, well, plants grow into ground, so how about an oread with little cacti sprouting out of his shoulders? He uses them to fasten his cloak. And with cactus-shoulders, he probably grew up in a location with deserts...what if he was raised among the Pahmet dwarves of Osirion? Middle-aged oreads often feel an irresistible pull to travel, which would be a great reason to leave his comfort zone as a member of a relatively insular culture and seek membership in an organization like the Pathfinder Society."
I’ve shared a couple of my character seeds. What are your favorite sources of inspiration for character building? Do you have tons of character ideas you’d love to play, but there’s never enough time to play them all? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.
Organized Play Managing Developer
The Seeds of Characters
Thursday, September 10, 2020