So how do you guys build your concepts & characters?

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Different characters come to me in different ways.

Sometimes a name or a picture will start me down the path, other times its a concept or a class that piques my fancy and the challenge of making it work. (Sometimes they fall a bit flat - thank you 3.5 Celestial Sorcerer)

First, I wonder what my character is going to become, what is his/her goal, you know "why is she/he putting themselves in danger?". What's a motivation?

Then, character stuff starts to creep in - at this time I won't have written anything down. Things like race, style of personality, role in party. Sometimes a role will have been bubbling away on the back of my mind for some time already, months even.

Next, I look at the mechanics that will take me in the direction I want to take the character, at this time the progression is just a wire-frame, something I can see but is still flexible to change. So if I see him riding on the back of large flying wyrm - I have to consider what sort of feats, traits and skills that will be part of the progression whilst making sure that his role in the party is filled. So if he in this case a fighter. He must be a shield (to protect his allies) and an effective combatant.

Tweaking, GM's usually have opinions, in PFS you can be more relaxed and go with your own concepts - If you have a well-rounded character and have a clear vision it can help. With a GM the creation process can be collaborative and sometimes annoying as two creative forces try work 'it' out. A GM may sometimes push for items or traits or skills that will tie into elements of the campaign that you may not be aware of. Try and step back and 'hear' what is being said. (not always easy if your idea is starting to get firmly fixed.

Backstory, The backstory should now be ready to come together, take a good look at the mechanics you have included; the ranks in Profession (Sailor) etc... and think how these parts can be woven together for something that is coherent, something you feel comfortable playing - if there is a part you don't like then go back and change it and keep on changing bits until you get something you like and can call your own.

You never know which character you will suddenly find going the distance.

Scarab Sages

Kierato wrote:
Can we move the munchkin vs role player to another thread, or at least spoiler it?

How can we, when it's the whole point and intent of the thread?

Step 1

I choose a class I want to play. I didn't play every class, so it's usually one I didn't play. So far, I've played a Rogue (althogh 3.5), a Wizard, a Paladin, a Ranger. By played I mean, for an extended period of time, I don't count campaigns that fell apart after few sessions. So, my next character will be either a Sorcerer, Bard or a Fighter. Depending on the campaign.

Step 2

I think up a concept for the character. Or at least an archetype. I like for each of my characters to have something inspired by other fictional characters (whether from a book/movie/game/etc). So, the fighter would be a mobile fighter, dual wielder, like Gannicus from Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. Sorcerer would be an Aquatic Sorcerer, based on Damphair from Song of Ice and Fire. Or a ranger with a dog animal companion named Toadkiller... :P

Step 3

Mechanical stuff. I optimize character to be good at what they do, withing limits of the concept. I wouldn't have that Mobile Fighter wear a mithral full plate, even if he could, because I like the idea of a slightly armored fighter. We always play with 15 PB, and I like well balanced approach to it, so the usual array I start with is 14 14 14 12 10 8 and then modify it a bit. Then I decide what I want my character to do, and plan the feats accordingly for the first five levels or so.

Step 4

If I have an idea for it, I write a backstory. If not, I write it at some point during the campaign. For the Paladin, I wrote the account of his death following the events of the end of the campaign.

I like to think that I'm a decent role player and that my characters are mechanically strong.

Wow that's a lotta new posts.... Also, someone remind me to smack myself later for starting a Munchkin vs Roleplayer debate... Despite the fact that said debate was never meant nor intended to be part of the topic of how people build their characters....

And to clarify: When I use the term munchkin, I use it much the way my current play group does. Squeeze out every digit you can to the exclusion of all else.

I'll be the first to admit (and believe I have already), that I'm not holding a damn thing against anybody. Personally I'm surprised at all the hostility and misunderstandings between people on these boards. Then again, as I stated before, they're the interwebz, and subtext often gets lost in the text book vernacular... The fact that everyone on the internet has an opinion and must make it known doesn't help either. The lure of being an internet critic is too great... [/joke]

Hell people, I was just curious on HOW ya'll come up with your characters. Mechanical, role play, literary, random-wtf-pulled-outta-my-arse, what have you. And despite all of what I have said before, a lot of mine tend to be the random-wtf-pulled-outta-my-arse type with a preference for at least some rp over pure combat. Optimization occurs depending on how integral it is to the character, balanced with being effective in the group. Sure, I know Wish is a god awful powerful spell that almost every caster should take, but if I'm playing a character with a personal preference to poisons, curses, disease, and general mass suffering, I'd rather take Plague Storm or something of the like.


Snorter wrote:
Kierato wrote:
Can we move the munchkin vs role player to another thread, or at least spoiler it?
How can we, when it's the whole point and intent of the thread?

No, this is what people have MADE the point to be. In short, curiosity and seeing how people create their characters got thread jacked by pure munchkin vs pure roleplayers.

Also... IceniQueen. Good to see someone else play in IMVU. My GF and I used to do IMVU a lot, but have kind of dropped off the face of the program, lol. We still hop on and RP there, it's nice having a visual sometimes. But she often tries to find an outfit on IMVU that can match her character and print screen it. Sadly, neither of us know how to 'edit' it to make it fit exactly xD.

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First, I sell down INT and CHA to 7.
Next, I buy STR to 18 and put my racial bonus there.
Then I put a 12 DEX, 14 CON and 12 WIS.

I take Heirloom Weapon and use a Large Falcata.
I take Power Attack and Weapon Focus (Falcata).
If I'm playing Human, I take a roleplaying feat, like Cleave.

Then I give this character a name like Baglbow Biggens, 'cause it causes another player to get cranky about how he spent all that time making Tharvilwhatsernamiel the Angsty Elven Sorcerer. Ess. Or something.

Everyone just calls him "Jim's damned fighter."

Yum! Earwax!


For those who think their sarcasm detectors are firing, they are. Tongue pressed so far in cheek, I'm tasting earwax.

Lantern Lodge

i think of an artistic visual of the character. i don't always draw it, but i usually imagine something anime inspired (especially magical girl type stuff). i take this artistic visual, develop a rough character around it, then jerry rig it into the rules. if i have to ask the DM to fudge minor things to make the concept work, so let it be done. i beleive a good DM should be able to make accomodations for the sake of concept and not be a complete blind slave to the rules as written.

as an example

lets say i wanted to base a "monk" off of Sanji from one piece. a Chef who fights with his feet because he refuses to stain the hands he uses in his culinary practices. there is currently no Viable way to do that. and i don't want to be forced into the trenchcoat wearing, brass knuckle wielding "Streets of Rage" mold. but i don't want my kicks to suck and don't want to be unfairly taxed compared to the guy that uses brass knuckles. i would ask the DM if they would allow me to enchant my feet as a magic weapon for the purpose the character. i would explain the rough idea. and point out the existence of brass knuckles to assist my case. because, maybe i don't want to use brass knuckles because it would hurt the visual, but would want a similar benefit for the feet. i would even volunteer to let it take up the feet slot. i would also point out the other key parts of the concept and point out the source material for the inspiration.

Silver Crusade

Luminiere Solas wrote:
lets say i wanted to base a "monk" off of Sanji from one piece. a Chef who fights with his feet because he refuses to stain the hands he uses in his culinary practices. there is currently no Viable way to do that.

... this is what even the vanilla monk, redhead stepchild of Pathfinder classes, can do all day. You may already enhance your body parts as weapons with a Permanent Greater Magic Fang, or with an amulet of mighty fists ; and a monk's flurry of blows may be done with any body part - so you may attack only with your feet if you choose to do so.

Lantern Lodge

permanent greater magic fang can be dispelled and not many DMs will let that slide. and the amulet is too expensive. and it sacrifices that precious natural armor bonus from the big 6 unless you find a DM that allows "Custom Items". i don't see that as Viable. a 3rd level spell can shut you down.

Shadow Lodge

First, I find out what the party make up is so far, what they need (if they need anything), and what chargen rules are in place.

I then pick one of my character archetypes and stat him as the chosen class. Once the game starts, I learn how his personality differs from the last time I played him, and see how events in the game shape him.

I'm always inspired to play concepts based on characters from other media. They aren't 100% carbon copies, nor can they be given the rules sometimes, but they still manage to be close enough to make me happy. I plan out a 1-20 level build, even if I don't play that far, and optimize them with flavor. Sometimes the battle optimization is built into that flavor, and sometimes it isn't. I just want to play a certain character, but infuse it with my own personal touches.

For the first time, I have recently been able to create a second character several months after the start of our campaign. Since I have a better idea of what the world is like, it's a completely different process for me. I still plan out a 1-20 level build, but this time I have insight. It feels more organic. I create a brand new persona influenced by the game itself instead of forcing a preexisting one into it. My first character in on hiatus due to plot reasons, but I'm afraid I will miss playing my new character when she returns.

Ologath wrote:

I start with a personality trait. For example, it wanted to play a character who thought of everything as a game. Or one who was scared of his own shadow.

Then I move on to class and race combo. For the first example, I came to a dwarf barbarian, while for the second I made a human wizard.

From there, I like to try to tweak the flavor of the character by adding some kind of neat fluff. My dwarf barbarian was powered by a demon bound in his body. No change in the rules, just a happy-go-lucky dwarf who got glowing eyes when he raged. Or a wizard who turned invisible at the drop of a hat and hid behind his summons.

Im similar: I start with a single descriptor, such as "Wise" or "Noble-hearted" or "Brave" or "Vapid" and sort of expand from there. I've found that this really helps me keep the concept grounded in something firm that gives me an easy handle into playing it, either as a PC or NPC.

Silver Crusade

Luminiere Solas wrote:
permanent greater magic fang can be dispelled and not many DMs will let that slide. and the amulet is too expensive. and it sacrifices that precious natural armor bonus from the big 6 unless you find a DM that allows "Custom Items". i don't see that as Viable. a 3rd level spell can shut you down.

Amulets too can be dispelled. Weapons too. Armors too. Heck, any magic thing of the game may be dispelled, magic items are no exception to the rules but you're the first player I see that uses it as an argument for something not being viable. Greater Magic Fang is no more cheesy than an amulet, and it doesn't take any slot. It could even be something that naturally happens to you spontaneously after some levels, instead of a real spell cast on your feet - but still costing you money in your wealth. And right now, you get the best roleplay solution to expying Sanji : with training, your feet naturally enhance.

If you want to fight like Sanji, you may also use a "brass kuckle" on one foot and make any flurry of blows with this foot exclusively. It could even not be a bass knuckle, just your foot being considered as one ; with your shoe being a weak point that makes your foot more fragile if removed/disarmed. The amulet is expensive because it doesn't increase only one attack, but ALL attacks made with unarmed strikes or natural attacks, and may not be disarmed, only stolen with a maneuver.

Silver Crusade

I can't remember who started the thread, but the title sticks in my head. It's what I do practical optimization. Where you tell the story but make the character able to do what you intend them to do.

1. Come up with what kind of character I want to play.
I try and play a different character each time. I have played for over 20 years now it's getting harder and harder to come up with unique concepts for characters.
2. Find a good race class that can make the concept work.
Even if it's not the best for what I want to do. It must pass one of two things before ill start work on the over all character. Can it do what I want? Can I make it do it?
3. Do back ground story for the character.
Until you have the character. Is there relay a need for a back ground? More often then not role players calmer. X dose not fit my back ground I want to use. The optimizer response then change the back ground to fit the character. It is easy to play a good character that can do what you want. Then it is to play a poorly made character that can not do what you want.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Here's an example of my creation process partway through.

It started with "this weapon is cool", which was followed by how to use it competently. Then came "this feat is cool", which was followed by "hey! There's a fun way to thematically tie the weapon and feat together!" That was followed by a simultaneous endeavor to both decide on the general flavor and the best mechanical implementation. (This process is still underway.)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

To answer the original OP, There isn't any thing particularly consistent in the way I come up with characters, sometimes I'll get an inspiration out of the blue, sometimes I'll read something create a character based on that inspiration and file it for some eventual use. (yes, this means I've got a fair number of stillborns :)

After running with a concept, I generate the numbers with a main intent on making the concept work and viable. I generally don't knock more than one attribute any lower than 8 if I can help it.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

LazarX wrote:
I generally don't knock more than one attribute any lower than 8 if I can help it.

Same here. One dump stat adds roleplay depth; 2+ and things can get difficult fast.

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I am definately a mechanically minded gamer. I like to roleplay, but roleplay alone wont satisfy me, I need the mechanics of the character to be interesting to enjoy the game.

Usually I start with something I find mechanically interesting. Usually something general like a class, or archetype. I see what within that scope I think I would enjoy playing. I then start thinking of what concept can flow from those mechanics. I like to have my character's personality and background be inspired by the basic mechanics I choose, and then continue to choose options that fit that vein (with an eye towards optimization).

For instance I am playing a magus in a kingmaker game. I liked the way the magus was put together and the way spell combat and spell strike function appeal to me. To go with that I created a character that was originally that was trained as a swordsman but always struggled, untill finally one day he used magic inadvertently (I was using a 3rd party archetype that made the magus spontaneous) to win a sparing match, getting him thrown out of the school training him.

To go with that general concept I decided to use a longsword weilding magus. Though it would be mechanically better to use a scimitar and go dervish dance, it didnt fit the concept I had initially created. That isnt to say I didnt optimize the heck out of my longsword wielding magus, I did. So I have sort of a spiral creation process where mechinics feed into concept/flavor which then feeds back into mechanics. But I am always initially inspired by some mechanical aspect of the character.

The Exchange

unforgivn wrote:
Kierato wrote:

TV Tropes

Of note is the "Stormwind Fallacy," which states that a min-maxed character and a well-roleplayed character are not mutually exclusive: an effective character is not necessarily something that gets in the way of narrative. Similarly, purposefully weakened characters may not always be better for the narrative.

I find that when you(or I) advance up the min-max scale, you begin to sacrifice skills (abilities, feats, powers, etc) that support organic, well rounded characters for favor of one that support mechanical strength. You can still have fluff and roleplay without the mechanics to back it up, but it means less. (e.g. The fighter "who was a blacksmith", with no skill points in craft or profession skills, instead maxed out perception, swim, and climb)

But that's just the thing: not every bit of fluff has to be represented on the character sheet by investment of character creation resources. If you never, ever plan on rolling Craft(blacksmithing), what's wrong with just saying that the character was a blacksmith before adventuring and leaving it at that? I'm not saying that leaving those skills empty is the "right" choice. I'm just asking why it's the "wrong" choice.

It is wrong when the true munchkin demands that his background in blacksmithing makes him have skills he never put ranks into. It is the munchkining of RP that bugs me the most.

The Exchange

Luminiere Solas wrote:
permanent greater magic fang can be dispelled and not many DMs will let that slide. and the amulet is too expensive. and it sacrifices that precious natural armor bonus from the big 6 unless you find a DM that allows "Custom Items". i don't see that as Viable. a 3rd level spell can shut you down.

Sometimes you just can't have everything.

I begin building with a concept that I think would be fun. This could be a background, but more often is a mechanic or archetype. One time the concept was "a ranger," another time it was "Yes I'm playing a melee character with nothing but Wizard levels, what of it?"

I then build to being able to contibute effectively while still keeping to concept. The level of optimization involved depends on group and concept. Some concepts are based on scraping a non optimal but fun idea up to viable levels.

Lastly, I look at the character that has unfolded in front of me and think in broad terms about what their life and personality would be like. Their personality details usually develop as I play the character and make gut choices.

On my last character, a 1e game, I was asked "So what are you playing"
I responded "I don't know, I haven't finished rolling"

My favorite system is this:

Everyone define three events that happened to their character that were life changing events prior to them becoming adventurers.

Everyone hand the character sheet to the player on their left, who adds a fourth event. Sheets are handed in to the GM who adds a fifth event.

Everyone uses a consistent point buy or pre-gen array for stats.

Then you pick your class, and hand the sheet to the person on your right - they choose your skills based on the life defining events. Then they hand it to the person to their right, who selects 3 traits (you keep two) and two feats (you keep one) and hands them back.

This tends to ensure everyone's character knows the others, and the GM usually writes that last event in the biography as something to link characters together via common background.

It doesn't work for everyone, but for the groups it works for, it's great.

For myself, a lot of character concepts and ideas comes from media. Pretty much anything Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Anime, American Cartoons, movies, comics, etc. that looks cool or inspires me to do a character. For some examples: "V" from V for Vendetta (knife thrower, martial artists), Batman, Scott Monroe (Red Steel), Sleepy Hollow's Headless Horseman (my favorite, though not-headless as a PC), Gohan (Dragonball Z), Raiden (Mortal Combat).....all can be done via the rules and the interesting part is trying to come up with something viable.

Or, if an external source isn't providing ideas then just concepts in general such as a warrior of virtue that uses shadows and hexes (hexblade/swordsage) or a disposed knight of vengenace (knight/crusader of Hexor) to a mage that uses the elements (sorcerer, warmage, wizard with Elemental Substitution feat).

From there, it's a simple matter of figuring out how to tweak the mechanics to fit this style. Sure, some liberties with role-play can be done to fit the math side and you have to assume your not going to be 100% exactly like what you invision yet the core concepts should remain. Also, it depends on what level your starting at. A 1st level character should not expect to represent a character like Gohan (Dragonball Z) but a 17th level character could.

Then optimize what I have and see how far it can take you. This also might call for more re-imaging and changes in fluff to fit mechanics. A friend wanted an Artificer yet not BE an artificer so he played a Wizard but cast all his spells from a "Gun" requiring ammunition, which was the spell's component in a compartment fired from the "gun". The Gun itself had the mechanics of a hand-crossbow (he took a feat to use one proficiently) yet functioned like a gun. In addition, he used a Toad as a familiar yet he didn't like toads. So we changed it to a small, mechanical creature with the same stats and HP as a toad. His character was in full belief that he was creating the effects of spells yet not really drawing on magical nature itself. Worked out perfectly and nothing was broken or unbalanced.

Luminiere Solas wrote:
permanent greater magic fang can be dispelled and not many DMs will let that slide. and the amulet is too expensive. and it sacrifices that precious natural armor bonus from the big 6 unless you find a DM that allows "Custom Items". i don't see that as Viable. a 3rd level spell can shut you down.

psst.....get a Ring of Counterspells and put a Dispel Magic in it...

I often start with an inspiration, then pick a class that both fits the party's needs and can be wrapped around my inspiration, and then build a viable member of that class. Doesn't have to be (and usually isn't, in my case) an OPTIMIZED version of the class, just a workable one that will be able to contribute. There's a difference between "Sub-optimal" and "Unplayable".

The Exchange

rando1000 wrote:
I often start with an inspiration, then pick a class that both fits the party's needs and can be wrapped around my inspiration, and then build a viable member of that class. Doesn't have to be (and usually isn't, in my case) an OPTIMIZED version of the class, just a workable one that will be able to contribute. There's a difference between "Sub-optimal" and "Unplayable".

Don't say that too loud around here, some here think 30 dmg per attack is weak by level 5.....

Andrew R wrote:
Don't say that too loud around here, some here think 30 dmg per attack is weak by level 5.....

That would depend on the class, honestly. A wizard or cleric or druid doing that much damage is pretty respectable in my eyes. A Rogue, optimized fighter, charging paladin, gunslinger should probably be meeting this number quite often and probably surpassing this number on a daily or semi-daily basis based on options provided. Outside PF sources should almost make the damage threshold almost a consistant factor.

Liberty's Edge

Brambleman wrote:

I begin building with a concept that I think would be fun. This could be a background, but more often is a mechanic or archetype. One time the concept was "a ranger," another time it was "Yes I'm playing a melee character with nothing but Wizard levels, what of it?"

I then build to being able to contibute effectively while still keeping to concept. The level of optimization involved depends on group and concept. Some concepts are based on scraping a non optimal but fun idea up to viable levels.

Lastly, I look at the character that has unfolded in front of me and think in broad terms about what their life and personality would be like. Their personality details usually develop as I play the character and make gut choices.

Almost exactly how I do it, except that sometimes I have an precise idea of their personality beforehand and I just add it to the mechanic/archetype concept, mostly through alignment and skill choices (both at creation and when the PC levels up).

It has happened twice (both recently) that I asked the GM to be allowed to rebuild a character during play, either because a new mechanic/archetype exactly fitting my concept appeared in a new book, or because the events of the campaign took the PC in a completely unforeseen direction for which I clearly did not built him (ie, a Ranger with CHA 7 becoming a Paladin of Erastil).

Liberty's Edge

Artemis Moonstar wrote:
Snorter wrote:
Kierato wrote:
Can we move the munchkin vs role player to another thread, or at least spoiler it?
How can we, when it's the whole point and intent of the thread?
No, this is what people have MADE the point to be. In short, curiosity and seeing how people create their characters got thread jacked by pure munchkin vs pure roleplayers.

In all honesty, your posts gave so many hooks for the munchkin vs RP debate that blaming other people for "threadjacking" it is a bit disingenuous IMO.

That said, it seems to me that you are wondering how to prevent optimization from killing concept creativity.

I believe that the answer is two-fold :

1) Write down what your objectives are for playing this character : how will you have fun playing him ? What kind of situations and actions are you already envisioning him in ? What will you consider as successfully playing this character ?

This will give you your compass that you can check at every step of character building/optimization

2) Find someone who has both a great understanding of the rules (including an in-depth knowledge of what is available and how it all interacts) and an even better understanding that optimal is not restricted to damage-dealing. And then ask him to accompany you, by using his expansive knowledge of the rules, in building the character you want to play. Insist that he has to keep you from optimizing so much that your character loses all flavor end becomes just a set of numbers on a sheet of paper.

You can even ask one of the "munchkins" (God, how I hate this word) at your table to do it, as long as you are very clear with him on what you want to optimize (for example, your Profession : sailor skill). He will likely see it as a challenge and be very eager to put his skills at your disposal.

Have fun.

Wow I am a little late to this... 78 posts.

When I make a character I start with an idea. Anything can give me the idea. Reading boooks, comics, and magazines Or watching TV, anime, or movies are great sources of fictional concepts. But I can also often be inspired by a stereotype (or the breaking of one), a new game mechanic, or especially a game setting. Game settings are filled with cool character ideas that are often easy to build in the game they were intended for.

After that I answer the question: How does this character fight? This basically tells me what class or classes the character should be. It gives me an idea about what feats I should be taking and which stats should be prioritized. And it lets me know if the idea and battle style mesh with the mechanics of the game.

After that brief glance at mechanics, I go back and build this character's background. I think about where she grew up, the people she would be exposed to, and likely events she would have been part of. I start writing about not just the events but about how she would have felt about those events.

Off of that background I detail her personality, motivation, and assign an alignment.

I then look at where I want her to be in 20 levels of play. Is she a good fit concept wise for a PrC or perhaps some other feat chain that requires me to plan for it from early in life. Any of these I find I make note of and list the level she needs to buy them at. Any left over feat slots or choices can be left to either better reinforce the idea of the character, her background, or wait to be filled as the story unfolds.

Now I have a fully fleshed out character with a personality, background, motivation, and role. I know what path I want her career to take and how she handles difficulties. Now it's time to fill out the mechanical side completely. Roll HP and fill in all that mechanical stuff that the game seems to need.

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PS: I would second the part about asking an optimizer for help. They can find rule needles in the haystack of rule books. They can take your neat character and tell you that by swapping out three feats and adding a special build option you can double your PC's effectiveness. I do this when I am playing next to optimizers and power gamers. It helps keep me from falling way behind in the sort of challenges the GM is going to have to toss at us.

Scarab Sages Reaper Miniatures

Min2007 wrote:

PS: I would second the part about asking an optimizer for help. They can find rule needles in the haystack of rule books. They can take your neat character and tell you that by swapping out three feats and adding a special build option you can double your PC's effectiveness. I do this when I am playing next to optimizers and power gamers. It helps keep me from falling way behind in the sort of challenges the GM is going to have to toss at us.

I usually ask one of my friends who is a better optimiser than I am about feats than enhance my concept - but I do so with the caveat that concept, for me, is king.

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

The goal of an RPG is it's entertainment value to the group. That being said, if characters are run of the mill types that might diminish the fun a bit. So what's the problem with optimizing a character? Now, what each player optimizes towards might be a different story. If a campaign is combat centric, then there were certainly be a lot of damage dealing optimizations going on. But if a campaign has puzzles, politics and economics involved, it might be to the parties advantage to take these aspects to heart as well. For example, in a piracy campaign I played in, one of the most key players we had was created to be a merchant. After we started raiding ships on the high seas for a bit, which he generally played the bystander for the most part in, he really kicked in. He fenced goods and even managed to set up a legitimate business front that made the game so much more interesting. With the gold we profited from these endeavors we managed to build a secret hideout, acquire so fairly nice magic items and recruit a fairly large number of cannon fodder for some of our bigger battles. In this campaign, it was not unusual to go an entire gaming session without any combat, and yet it is still one I look back at with fond memories.

The bottom line is that a good DM will be adaptable to the mix of the party and their specializations, and try to offer circumstances that will allow them to succeed. And he/she should balance based on the parties current abilities, not just their levels. This way it really doesn't matter whether they are optimized or not. Monsters can be advanced, challenge ratings for tasks can be adjusted, and NPC'S levels can be adjusted (or the NPC'S themselves can be optimized) to preserve game balance and entertainment level.

And one more thing, a good character concept works best when the DM and party members all help determine the flavor of the campaign before characters are generated. I partipated in a campaign where all the players wanted to be dwarves in an underground adventure. The DM obtained a copy of "The World's Largest Dungeon" and off we went. We had characters that specialized in many craft skills and other things to aid survival since we knew we were going to have to do most of the game without civilized creature comforts. I think one of the most satisfying moments in the early part of the game was when we were actually able to build a cart out of all the loot we could salvage.

I've been playing for long enough now that for me, the character begins with the stat rolls. I roll my attributes up and look at what I get and start creating a background that fits the stats.

I do this even when I'm forced to use point buy (which I hate). Usually my rolls won't fit into a point buy total but I try to mimic the overall disparity between the stats as best as I can so that I have something fairly random.

Once I've gotten a feel for what it'd be like to grow up with a set of stats like the ones I've rolled, I start thinking about a race that intrigues me and works well with my stats. Once I get the race locked in, I give thought to the classes that I'm interested in and try to work out which best fit the stats and race.

After the class is chosen, I fill in the gaps of the character history that led him to that particular class. I start thinking about what sort of things interest him, what kinds of weapons he might have access to in his background, how much the setting of his upbringing impacts him and what sorts of skills and feats he's learned.

At that point I should have a rough draft of feats and skill ranks for starting the character and eventually advancing him. With that in place, I turn a critical eye on them to make sure the feats and skills will be useful for game play and occasionally make a few tweaks, always restricting myself to what makes sense for his background. Feats and traits always have a background driven purpose.

Once I've got the character put together I tend to have a general outline of how I think he might advance but I always keep myself open to how things develop in game. If the PC becomes friends with a bard, for example, and starts to enjoy the story telling he might just pick up a Perform rank. If he's in the wilderness a lot he'll increase his Survival check; if he's spending a lot of time in the city doing research for one reason or another, I'll bump up a Knowledge skill.

My focus is first and foremost on character; his personality, his interest and his motivations. The mechanics fall in line around that and if he's not the most useful member of the party as a result, so be it. Usually I can figure out useful ways to use him in combat that might not fit the traditional expectations and that, along with the roleplay, is usually what I find most satisfying about the game.

I don't have a standard character creation process. The end result is more important than the inspiration or path taken to get to the finished product. Some characters are inspired by background fluff for a particular race or geographic region. Some are inspired by non-game fiction. Others are inspired by a particular feat, ability or other mechanics concept. All have had their mechanics tweaked to be as successful as possible because I optimize systems for a living in my professional life. All have a textured backstory and personality because fiction-writing has been an integral part of my life as well.

As long as the end result is a character you enjoy playing and that others enjoy having at the gaming table, all is good.

tangent about Stormwind Fallacy:
As most can probably guess from reading that first paragraph, I agree wholeheartedly with Jiggy on this. Optimization and roleplaying have nothing to do with each other. They are mutually exclusive elements in any role-playing that is not entirely free-form and rules-free. It's not like there is a formula of min-max + role-play = total game effort; one player could be both a better optimizer and more involved roleplayer than another.

If someone seems to lack any role-play element to their character, this is not because they have min-maxed their mechanics... it is because they are not roleplaying to the level expected by the observer. Conversely, if someone seems to not be optimizing their character it is because the observer expects more mechanical competence. As long as everyone at the gaming table is having a good time, any and all playing styles should be encouraged. It's not like we all have to both study Stanislavskian method acting plus have an MS in Actuarial Science in order to be accepted at a gaming table. Players that are skilled optimizers can always help others get their character idea on paper, and players that are skilled roleplayers can encourage others to create a more immersive environment.

example of starting with a single mechanics element but wind up with more than just a block of stats:
I decided to see if I could make a PFS character that uses the Splintering Weapon feat. My rules for PFS character builds are: 1) it has to contribute to a group at all levels 1-12; 2) it needs to be able to handle a wide variety of encounters; 3) it has to be fun to play; and 4) it needs to be able to work well with others without relying on having any specific character or character type (you never know who you're sitting down with for the session).

Analyzing this subpar feat, I decided that using fragile throwing weapons would be best. I would apply bleed effects mostly while throwing the weapon, but would also be able to splinter the weapon with a melee attack if needed. With no idea of class(es) at this point, I chose stone shortspears to give me a weapon pretty much any idea could use. I liked the 20' range increment and melee functionality more than any benefit I could get from other thrown weapons.

Okay, splintering stone shortspears... not the most optimal start to be sure. I needed to figure out a build that could handle melee and short-range combat but didn't rely on crits or the weapon itself for most of its contribution to the group. I chose the magus. While part of the class' hallmark spellstrike ability lets it use high threat-range weapons to deal tons of spell damage, that tends to get focused on so much the fact that spellstrike can deliver save/suck and debuffs gets overlooked. Since I started with a debuff (bleed) feat to begin with, I decided to focus more on debuffs and enemy neutralization rather than raw damage. This led me to the hexcrafter archetype.

I took a cursory look at other classes to see if I could get a lot of function from a dip into something else. Magus loses out if you slow its progression too much so I nixed most options really quickly. I liked the idea of dipping into sorcerer with a wildblooded Karmic bloodline because it had useful abilities and fit the hexcrafter theme. My idea, however, was already going to suffer from MAD. For purely mechanical reasons, the Sage wildblooded bloodline would help me out. Since the magus is already getting good Will saves, I decided to take a one-level dip into sorcerer (crossblooded, wildblooded - Karmic/Sage).

Attributes: S-14, D-14, C-14, I-18, W-9, Ch-7. Normally a magus can get rid of either Str or Dex, but I'm going to need a decent rating in both. Con has to be 14 minimum because a magus is too close to melee combat. Int has to be primary because I'm going to be relying on saving throws more than the "standard optimized" magus. Cha can be dumped, as this concept will have no use for it. Wis would be better at 10, but I can't afford to lower anything else.

(Here's a quick summary of build, a full breakdown would take too much time considering I'm trying to explain my thought process as I go.)

Race: human (bonus feat and skills will be worthwhile)
1st lvl - Sorcerer (Karmic/Sage). Combat Casting and Expanded Arcana (true strike) feats. Liberating command, acid splash, mending, and prestidigitation for spells known. Reactionary and vagabond child traits for mechanical reasons (+init and Escape Artist to sync with the anti-grapple spell). Skills - acrobatics, escape artist, know (arcana, engineering, history), linguistics, spellcraft. He's a functional skirmisher with decent skills. After his first couple chronicles, he'll pick up wands of shield and either color spray or grease.
2nd-12th level - Magus. He'll focus on control, debuffing and incapacitating foes with ill omen, blindness/deafness, ghoul touch, bestow curse, and the slumber hex... capable of doing damage himself but more effective working as part of a team. Isolated enemies get coup de graced. Basically a skirmishing gish. Plenty of skills to provide problem-solving utility out of combat.

Okay, once I had the stats acceptable I needed to work on the real meat of the character and incorporate my creation choices into one story. My first thought was that he could belong to an esoteric group of magi. Where could you find plenty of weird orders of casters? Nex was an obvious choice so I decided to dub the character a Nexan Cursestabber, one of an anachronistic group of magi who were assassins and military irregulars that damned themselves with a karmic imbalance in service to their wizard-king during the conflict with Geb.

The remnants of this order still exist, skulking their way through fractured Nexan culture. Their ranks come from kidnapped orphans born of magical blood, not a rarity in the magic-saturated and war-ravaged land of Nex. At a young age, their souls are bound by ritual to the forces of vengeance and karma.

They are taught the dreamkilling curse, forcing others into a slumber that leaves them with a vague feeling of time and memory stolen from them. They are taught to steal sight and breath, to plague an enemy with the Thousand Maleficences, and to paralyze them with a touch stolen from their ancient undead enemies of Geb. They are taught to utilize the Four Words of Knekh-Mahb, sacred spears of rune-carved stone that cause spiteful, bleeding wounds when used by one who knows their secret meaning. Like most of their abilities, these magi's control of karmic forces grant them immediate power at the cost of unfathomable punishment later. Each wound caused will be returned tenfold to the Cursestabber in the afterlife.

One example of a modern Cursestabber is Rahvan. The young Nexan of Vudrani ancestry has no surname; he remembers none from his childhood and was provided none by his order. A wiry man marred by pockmarks and nose fractures from years as a street urchin, Rahvan's looks and twitchy personality do little to endear him to others. What memories he does have of his years before the order claimed him have left him uncomfortable around children and borderline phobic of rats.

His years growing up with the order have instilled a profound love of knowledge and need for ritual structure in Rahvan's life. From morning prayers to Calistria to quiet evening reflections on Groetus, he sees each moment of his day as having the potential to increase his debt in the afterlife. This is one of the main factors that caused Rahvan to strike out on his own as an adventurer and sign on with the Pathfinder Society. He has naturally gravitated to the Shadow Lodge, his view of himself as a karmic arbitrator fitting in well with the Lodge's motives.

Silver Crusade

I always do some optimization of my characters, but I don't live and die by it. And I do seem to focus more on backstory and personality than a lot of the people I play with. For me, part of the fun of the game is reading the books and working on your characters between sessions, not just playing during sessions. And working on the characters includes both deciding how to be make the characters more useful in combat/skill situations, and also making decisions about personality and backstory.

As for how I come up with characters, I usually start with knowing what class I want to play, then coming up with the rest of the details from there. For example, let me explain how I came up with my recent characters.

1. Lemuel Lightfoot, halfling thief (4e - random gaming store group)

I only recently returned to RPG's again after a 20+ year hiatus (1st edition D&D/AD&D player back in the 80's). I started with the 4e red box Starter Kit and Heroes of Fallen Lands Essentials book (kinda like a Players Handbook lite, with only the "core" classes of fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric).

I discovered a group that meets for open gaming sessions at a local gaming store, so I made a rogue character to play with that group, just because I figure that would be the easiest class to create/play while learning the game. I've always had an affinity for halflings, and their dex bonus plays well with a rogue, so I made my character a halfling. I decided to go with the stereotypical "orphan thief from the streets" back story, but expanded it to include details of how he became an orphan, and how he found religion, which led him to become a noble thief who only steals from rich jerks and donates to charity, never stealing from good or poor people.

While building the character, I read through all the powers and stuff to find the most useful, but I did make one or two decisions based on the character's story and personality, rather than what would be best for adventuring going forward (ie training the streetwise skill instead of perception). Then I showed up to play one session at the local gaming shop, and realized that they don't pay attention to backstories in that environment, and the group meets randomly enough that I ended up not playing with them (or that character) again.

2. Lithaniel Lightfoot, halfling bard (no relation - I just couldn't come up with another halfling sounding last name) (Pathfinder - Greyhawk campaign)

In looking for more gaming groups to join, I found a group for RPG players in my area. I was invited to join one group for a Pathfinder campaign, so I bought the Core Rulebook and started reading. Back in the 80's, bards weren't really a class option, and I like the concept for RP purposes, but I had no idea how they play. I also wanted to make sure whatever character I built would work with the group. So I waited until I showed up for a character creation session before deciding for sure what type of character to make. When the other players seemed to be making characters that filled all the major roles in the group, I figured I could go bard and not worry about having to fill a specific niche.

I chose another halfling, again because I've always liked them and their racial stats go well with the class. Not knowing how to make an effective bard, I asked advice from the other players, and only later realized that the result is a bard who's optimized for role playing, not for combat. (18 charisma, points in intelligence for skills and bardic knowledge, etc)

Only after the character creation session did I go home and start working on the back story. Since I wasn't getting any use out of my halfling thief character, above, I figured I'd steal some stuff from him, starting with the last name, and the description of how he became an orphan when goblins raided his halfling village and killed everyone, with him barely escaping alone. But instead of turning to thievery to survive on the streets of a major city, this one had a good singing voice, and his storytelling style while begging for help and telling people about his situation was quite good. After a few weeks on the streets, he attracted the attention of a half-elf in the local bard's guild, and she took him in as an apprentice.

Again, I ended up working his backstory into some of the mechanical details, such as giving him elven as a language, because of his half-elf mentor, but the focus was on making a useful character first, and fleshing out the details, including backstory, later.

3. "Mash" (Reginald Bartholomew Brightsword VII), human barbarian (Pathfinder Society)

Around that time, I was also invited to join a Pathfinder Society group. Since it was explained that this would be play with random people at each session, I wanted a generically "useful" character that could work with any group. Also, the organizer mentioned what characters most of the players would be playing at the first session I'd be attending, and it was mostly spellcasters. So I figured a front line melee combatant would work out well. It was pretty much a coin toss between fighter and barbarian.

This time, I actually started looking at online info here for optimization info, though I didn't follow the details exactly, but I made a fairly powerfully built barbarian. I chose human for him just for the extra feat at level 1. Does that make me a munchkin?

But I still came up with a detailed backstory (I think I'm the only one in that PFS group who did, actually, though the organizer/part time DM has been encouraging everyone to do more of that lately). I just thought it would be funny to have a chaotic barbarian who was descended from a long line of paladins. Then I thought about what would cause a person to rebel that hard against his family, and I decided that he had 6 older sisters, and he was the only male child, so his father put tons of pressure on him to carry on the family legacy as the only male heir. But he wasn't smart enough to excel at the intellectual/relgious training. He let out his frustration at the pressure from his family by becoming a bully as a child, and he thought all that honor stuff was boring, while enjoying the combat training. So he grew up to be a barbarian.

And in actual play, I've done more real role playing than half the people I've played this character with. I've used this character in 6 sessions so far, enough to reach level 3, and he's definitely grown as a person during that time. As he leveled, I've given him skill ranks and abilities based on his past experiences (ie training the swim skill right after a long voyage on a boat made him wish he was better at it). And even the way he talks to his team/companions, and to NPC's has changed over time based on what he's learned from his adventures.

4. No first name yet (family name Brightsword), female human cleric (Pathfinder Society)

Because we have different people there each time, our Pathfinder Society group has characters advancing at different rates. Those of us who are there most weeks are thinking of making second characters at level 1, so we can still play with the guys who only show up rarely and are still only level 1 or 2, once our first characters are up to level 5+.

Reading the Core Rulebook, clerics look really cool in Pathfinder, so I had already decided that I want to try playing one eventually. In talking last night with my group, some of us were joking about what the rest of my barbarian's family might be like. I was thinking Mash's older sisters were probably housewives, married to paladins or other noble types, but someone suggested they might be paladins themselves, or clerics of LG gods, joining their father in the Silver Crusade in the Pathfinder Society. So we joked that since I wanted to make a cleric, maybe my next character could be one of Mash's older sisters. I've been mulling around the idea in my head ever since, and I have ideas for personality details that I think would work well for this one. I've never actually played a female character before, and I tend to shy away from lawful alignments, so this could be a fun and interesting challenge from a role playing perspective.

But when I make the character, I'll look over the gods, domains, spells, etc and give her good stats to come up with a powerful build. Probably not uber-munchkin powerful, but just because I'm starting with a personality and backstory idea, it doesn't mean that I won't try to make her excel at what she does.

Wow, I wrote a lot here. Sorry for the long post, but I thought the examples would demonstrate how I think when creating characters. But the short answer is that I usually start with one mechanical detail, which is usually a character class, but sometimes specific powers/mechanics, or a general role in the party (melee combatant, healer, etc), and then build the rest around that. In the end, I focus more on the role playing side during playing sessions than most gamers I play with, but I do try to optimize a bit, so that my character is effective.

My method is to think of a class I'd like to play and at the same time with some defining feature that makes me unique from any other character I, or others in my group, have ever played.
Ex. I wanted to try out new rules for a spellcasting class based on the setting we were in, and I also wanted to play a child character.

Next I get my stats and distribute them, which usually sparks a few ideas of what my character will be about.
Ex. I gave the kid some charisma anticipating a time where he'd use him being a kid to save his life or something of the sort, in addition to a lot of intelligence.

Next I look into traits, which usually give me hints of the basis of my past or give me ideas of personality.
Ex. I chose Adopted(elf) and Street Child. He was raised by elves, because his human parents were killed after an orc attack. For the street child, his elven parents sent him to an academy for magic, but he didn't like it and often skipped school and wandered the city.

Next I look into physical descriptions.
Ex. I gave him unruly black hair to reflect his chaotic nature. Bright blue eyes, because eyes are a defining feature of children. And to connect with his whole elven side, his ears were cut like an elf's by the orcs that attacked his home village, never having seen a child before and thought the strange little elf needed to have elf ears. Also I gave him a strange tattoo on his chest, which reflects something special about his past that I still haven't learned about and which was incorporated into the campaign.

At this point I grab my abilities, feats, spells, skills, etc.
Ex. He is obviously a genius child for being able to work spells with PC proficiency, so I gave him feats to reflect his control and amplify the prodigy feel. Skills were fairly standard, but I gave him some stealth and sleight of hand and bluff, because he's got street smarts. For spells, I didn't like the idea of a child casting fireball and other offensive spells trying to kill his enemies. Instead, he uses mostly buffs and debuffs, with some illusion to enhance his mischevious nature.

And then the equipment. I try to use slightly different equipment from character to character, finding it boring to use the standard, backpack, rope, bedroll, etc. And I try to use different weapons if I can.
Ex. I gave him a magic sword called Moonblade that glows blue in moonlight, a relic of his past. I gave him a green cloak, which he always wears the hood up. I gave him a journal, as is required by his class, but put it in a waterproof bag because its important. I gave him a silver whistle which is another relic of his past.

The last step prior to playing for me is, NPC connections. They should be significant enough to matter, but won't unbalance the game.
Ex. like his parents, sister, headmaster of the academy who is looking for him, etc. But he isn't best friends with the King's son or anything to the point where he'd get special treatment.

So now I have a character that is more than just "a wizard" or "a fighter". But this is only the beginning. The character develops over the course of the campaign. As I go I add little features that further the character as the situations present themselves, like what food they eat, what they fear, what they enjoy, and other mannerisms, and what abilities they choose from then on.
Ex. As I went I made him: Not eat meat with the exception of rabbit like the elves of this setting, he's allergic to the elven tea, he's scared of heights, the dark, and deep/fast/stormy water(just like most kids), he likes animals/exploring/adventures/figuring things out, he half-smiles(smiling with one side), he collects various types of whistles, he isn't very money smart, he admires an elf-ranger in our group and tries to do what he does.

So those is my creation guidelines. The order may vary a little between characters, but its generally the same.

I always build the character first and come up with the rest later.

Concept is a bit iffy... I find it to be somewhat like the roleplaying version of min/maxing sometimes. My current characters have very strong concepts (something of a missionary Paladin and an ecoprotectionextremist Druid), but they crash with the AP (Serpent's Skull) most of the time (in the sense they don't fit when it comes to motivation). Now they just seem shallow and "what the hell am I doing here, I'll just do what these people want me to do".

Since I made those a long while back, I have changed my character creation ways:

1. Research campaigny stuff.
Does the campaign have a strong theme/story? If yes, what is it? If not, will the GM base things on what the character is like, or will just random stuff happen? What will other players play?

2. Pick class/combat concept
Pick something that suits what was found out in 1, that can work well in that style. (And try to at least do the combat concept well, unless the whole point of the campaign is not to do it well)

3. Background
A few notes on what the character did before he turned adventurer, and why he turned into this vagabond fellow. Some kind of strong motivation is the most important bit (cash, wenches, see strange places, meet people, self improvement, learn rowdy songs etc)

4. Pick feats/traits that fit both 2) and 3).

5. Pick a couple of roleplaying chains. (Voice, wording, rush into things or slow and careful, some moral [or lack of moral] guidelines, opinions on some setting related stuff [factions, countries, deities, people]). Feats and traits often help here.

HAVE CONCEPT EVOLVE THROUGH PLAY ITSELF. Note down experiences with what the character encounters, keep opinions on things, life and other stuff updated as roleplaying experience gets richer.

Something initially inspires me, it can be anything from a class (wow, magus looks like fun to try) or a rule (hrmm... sunder has some very different potential in Pathfinder from 3.5 where I almost never saw it used... I wonder if I could make a character around that) to more fluff driven inspiration (reading about a region or group with in the world) or my favorite would be taking the information that the GM is giving me about the campaign he intends to run and building a character that would fit nicely into that setting.

I also like to keep a good dialogue open with my fellow players as to what they are doing so we can create a team that compliments each other instead of vying for the same piece of the spotlight while leaving a gaping whole in another area of need, as well as do what we can to work each other into our backgrounds if possible for a more cohesive play experience.

So I guess an example then...

Say I am asked to play in a Kingmaker campaign that the GM is all gung-ho to run (the best games are ones the GM is excited about). I read through the Player's Guide and then check with the GM if I can check other sources on regions in the area (campaign setting, River Kingdoms guide, etc.).

From reading that and what little I know about the story of the campaign (that the group will start a Kingdom and we are starting in Brevoy who is sending the group down to explore the area to south of them and stabalize it with out them expanding into the south themselves as it would be seen politically as a power grab by the southern nobility.), and decide that it would be cool to come from a family that wields political power and using family connections to send my character south with one of these groups as a backup plan in case other plans they have for Brevoy (revolt?/power grab?) go bad.

Reading through the various noble families and what not in the area the Swordlords seem the perfect fit. So it would be kind of cool to have a character who is the child of one of the swordlords of restov who has been sent to the best schools and primed for what his parents political plans are. That would likely mean someone who is a duelist sort of thing.

Magus (Kensai) actually is the first thing that springs to mind. It would be someone who has developed a fairly unique style of swordplay (intermixing magic) and maybe isn't welcome in the academies of Restov any longer as a result. This could explain his personal interest in helping start a new kingdom... perhaps he could start his own dueling school to prove the merits of his style over the styles of his 'stodgy, old teachers.'

Regardless at this point I have a basic concept I want to go with (Child of swordlord who is trained by dueling academies), but the magus part is not set in stone.

Now I go to the books. I look through all the classes and archetypes and feats and even magic items for things that jump out and inspire me that are related to this concept.

The big things that jump out are: The Aldori Swordlord archetype for the fighter, the Aldori Dueling Sword, and the dueling sword, and the Aldori Dueling Mastery feat. These are just too specific to the idea I was looking at going into to be passed up assuming they make mechanical sense and aren't just traps (i.e. assuming I can't make a character I call an aldori duelist with other options that just does the same thing better). In this case the archetype seems focused around a lightly armored fighter who still has great defenses (a concept I have always wanted to stat up); the sword itself is decent but not fantastic, but since I can finesse it and the archetype lends itself to high dex anyway, it would fun, flavorful, and effective, which sounds like a win; and the feat is somewhat lackluster other than it would allow me to use the sword if I go into the Duelist prestige class (which seems like a good choice, but is by no means set in stone).

Now I have a list of pontential classes, feats and what not that might work with the general concept, but I want to look for things I haven't thought of, so I search for Aldori builds, duelist builds, etc. on the boards and come up with an interesting thread that has some suggestions for dipping two levels of Monk (Master of Many Styles) to get Crane Style and Crane Wing... which works beautifully mechanically, but I am unsure of how it works role-playing wise with what I am thinking of in my head.

I think about that for a while, would the monk fit? After some thought I decide I actually really like it. The schools he is training at are basically focusing him body and mind to think of his sword as an extension of himself. He is martially focused on his art. That sounds similar to the monk and works out nicely for what I want to do with the character... so that should probably go in.

But I also really like the idea of dipping some Barbarian (Urban Barbarian) and using the Dex boosting rage as an almost 'bullet time' that he enters into while in the middle of a duel that he feels challenges him, pushing him to impressive heights of skill. But... Barbarian and Monk don't play well together... oil and water and all that... or is it? Can I make that work? Is it even worth 4 levels of dipping madness away from the Fighter (Aldori Swordlord) and what does that delay me getting for abilities, is it worth it? What does that do to entering the duelist prestige class? Is it worth even doing the duelist prestige class?

I also need to make sure this build isn't a trap. I will be focused on buffing my AC as much as possible, can I keep the enemies attention even if they can't hit me? Can I keep up with the enemies bonus to hit with AC by going this route or will there be a certain point at which I can't keep up and my focus just won't be good enough to be effective (which is disappointing when you really like the character but they are not working out mechanically to feel fun and heroic). Need to do some math as well then, but it looks promising enough to start working on.

Anyway... I will stop here... but I think you get the idea. I like to bounce back and forth between mechanics and concept, each one defining and driving the other with out limiting my choices until I have a background and a build from 1-20 (or 16 or whatever if playing an AP) that I am excited about both from an RP sense and a mechanical sense.

Sean Mahoney

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

I have no real set way. It can depend on GM, campaign type, and system. I can say generally it's an even mix of a concept that inspires me and a mechanical structure that excites me gameplay wise.

Sometimes, if I know the setting we're playing in very well, I have a concept that comes first and build the character to be the best reflection of that concept.

Sometimes, especially if I know system but not campaign world well, I see a mechanical class/race/etc. combo that just really interests me and make it.

Sometimes other external influences work their way in--say, if we roll stats, I may realize the concept I had in mind won't work with the stats I rolled (which is why I prefer point buy personally, for the record, but do let's not tangent on that). Then I have to come up on the fly with a new concept based on what I have to work with, or pull from reserves of builds/concepts I haven't gotten a chance to try, even if I wasn't planning on playing them.

For example, let's look at the characters I'm playing now.
Case 1: Actually nearly a decade ago, a GM asked me to write up character backgrounds for starting character templates he was writing up. I wrote backgrounds for every core 3.0 class, and only a few got used. One of the ones that got shelved was actually an idea I really liked--sorceress from an isolated elf city who was just seeing the rest of the world for the first time. I had no control over the stats of the original build so I just wrote a background that I found interesting. Much much later, when the APG came out, I really liked the mechanics of the Starsoul sorcerer. When a GM wanted characters for a spellcaster heavy game set in the setting, I combined the background I wrote with the Starsoul mechanical concept. It worked to great effect. The background definitely came first and I could have tried other builds that worked with the background. I made sure to throw skill points in to areas that fit her background (something the GM encouraged), even if they weren't "optimal." At the same time I think I've created an effective, playable character who is quite good at what she does--one with a lengthy background and lots of character stuff to go on forever.

Case 2: I really like the Caught off Guard feat. And I started building a concept around that mechanical construct, which turned into a bar-brawling dwarf who liked to hit people with her favorite barstool. When I was invited into a campaign, I had to roll stats before deciding what to play. I rolled... well, not great. I think not even 15 point buy. But I realized if I put my best stats in Strength and made her a dwarf I'd have good Str and Con with a respectable Wis... a good dwarven fighter with a not too crappy Will save... and then I thought, hey, let's use the bar brawler concept I had. She's ended up working very well, and definitely serves the party in a strong tank capacity (at 3rd level, she's started applying oil of magic weapon to her barstool... but she does also have a light pick if she needs to deal damage with a real weapon). She's taken some ranger levels for in-campaign reasons (and mechanically, to get some extra class skills and skill points). She's a tremendous amount of fun, with a very strong personality. But her background is still mostly "She likes to hit people with chairs," all built around one feat. But for her, it works.

My best (most fun and interesting) characters have started out as just an image in my mind. Once I have mental snapshot of a character I start asking myself Who is this person? What motivates him? What's his background? et. It just kind of grows organically from there. After that I try to find the rules to flesh out the concept.

Some of the things I do for Pathfinder characters:

1) Is there an archetype for a given race and class combo? If so, what happens when we invert an element of the archetypal example? Thus, halfling barbarian, or stealthy paladin.

2) Is there a combination of abilities that the party needs that synergize into a concept? For a PbP campaign, this resulted in a Monk spending four ranks in Linguistics because the party needed to be able to read certain dead languages. Since the Monk was a Hungry Ghost build, I rationalized that the languages he speaks are imparted to him by the spirits of his ancestors who haunt him and try to get him to use his ki powers selfishly.

Once I figure out what the character's 'game abilities' are - and do the Shopping For Super Powers part of D&D - I then make up three or four events that happened to them prior to their adventuring career.

I then try to talk one of my friends into assigning skill ranks the character should've had to survive those events.

Or I make the character in Minimus and then stat them out in Pathfinder.

I play pathfinder for the versability, the classes, the possibilities of creation. i like more to play an interesting class than to actually create a personality and roleplaying it. that being said, i also like to create a personality but is after i have the class and the objective of the character.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

A fictional character for inspiration then I put my own twist into it. Copy Paste a character 100% usually doesn't work because you need to consider what kind of campaign setting you are in. Also sometimes it might lead to anachronism especially modern setting characters.

Well for my part I start with the SKIN! How does my character look? And he's generaly badass or charming. If I can find a nice artwork it's even better. This step decide the race.

Then I try to choose an origin (Varisia, Taldor...) and a role in the group I want to play (Support/ Hybrid, Melee, Range, Full Caster). And I choose a class in harmony with my skin/ country. It gives me a little background and a mechanical role.

At last, I min/max the character with the less possible dip and books. I try to use only the core books (UM, APG...) and no underground options except the archetypes of the Setting (Winter Witch in Reign of Winter for example). But I always try to have a strong character. Then I complete my background with a few personnality traits, things he likes/dislikes and former friends family. And it's good to go.

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I think the inherent imbalances in the class system greatly contribute to the plague of min/maxing that I have seen in D&D and Pathfinder. Simply put, if you want to play a character belonging to one of the weaker classes, pretty much the only way to make him useful is to munchkin the crap out of him.

Which is why, in the increasingly rare instances when I am a player these days, I generally select one of the magic-using classes. As a cleric or wizard, I don't feel like I have to go munchkin in order to be effective. I understand the game and the magic system, and that is enough. I can make the character as flavorful and unoptimized as I like, and he/she/it is still going to be quite strong because that's how the game is designed.

Ultimately, I think poor balance in game design goes a long way to creating arms races wherein players who favor certain classes feel they have little choice but to exploit every loophole they can find. A more level playing field would probably allow a lot of people to relax in character-building, and that is what I try to achieve as a DM, through rather heavy houseruling which brings the martial classes up a good bit in power. It's not perfect, but I find getting the mechanical balance better helps with the roleplaying aspects, as well. Most players genuinely want to roleplay, but they also want to feel strong and competent at what their characters are supposed to do. It's a delicate balance.

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