What questions do you ask yourself about your characters to flesh them out a bit more?

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

So, This is something I struggle with,m Fleshing out my characters and connecting with them. I'm trying to get better but I'm not very good at it currently...

So I decided to ask here, What are the questions you ask yourself about your character to help you flesh out them and their backstory?

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Merellin wrote:

So, This is something I struggle with,m Fleshing out my characters and connecting with them. I'm trying to get better but I'm not very good at it currently...

So I decided to ask here, What are the questions you ask yourself about your character to help you flesh out them and their backstory?

Does this character have a family, and if so how do they feel about them

Does this character have a religion/philosophy/belief system, and if so, how seriously do they take it
Why is this character adventuring
What would this character be doing if they weren’t adventuring.

Even if you start from something like, “hasn’t seen family for years, doesn’t believe in anything except personal power, adventures for personal power and would be a mugger” as the answers you have something to start with.

That are some good questions to get things started with, Thank you! :D

Once I have the basics ironed out, like class, race, gender... any forced associations due to planned feats or traits or whatever...

I like to start with some family. Always leave some family alive so the GM has something to work with. Always make a favorite and least favorite within your family.

Then, where are you and your family from? Sometimes region is set up by traits or feats or archetypes. Work that in. Look up neihhboring cities or nations, pick a spot you used to vacation or visit or pilgrimage to.

Speaking of pilgrimages, who do you or your family worship. I love the Deific Obedience feat, so my characters almost always worship someone... carry a symbol, wear the proper colors, roleplay your Obedience. Look up who opposes your chosen deity... conflict is flavor.

Did you take a Drawback for an extra trait? ALWAYS take a Drawback... traits are awesome and you can never have too many... roleplaying your Drawback should bring you great joy. It's like your one weakness, I'm sure it's not TOO much to ask that you remember to roleplay it. How does it affect your character? Where or when did they develop this? I think yhe Drawback is a goldmine opportunity for every characters' backstory...

Explain your murderhobo choices... why does your chsracter use a Rapier? It's finesseable, blah blah blah, nobody cares... without using boring game mechanics to explain yourself, why does your character choose the gear they do? Work in why you started with your starting equipmemt, and include ambitions for better gear. Part of my backstory is that I always wanted a breastplate made of mithral because my childhood hero, Ba'Lzak the ballsy, used to have one, or whatever.

And, yeah, why the hell is your character out adventuring instead of doing literally anything else?

One piece of advice: be willing to grow and change. People IRL develop over time and so should your character. Its ok for your naïve level 1 character to become jaded and cynical later on, though hopefully some of that level 1 personality still shines through.

Knowing that motivation of why the character adventures is a good set of bones from which to develop the character. A blaster type wizard that's all about being powerful to hide their fear from a trauma when they were young is a far cry from a blaster type wizard who is trying to use that power to protect their loved ones.

Another thing to think about are goals, and not just mechanical stuff like crafting magic armor or being able to cast 6th level spells. Things like marrying a childhood sweetheart, penning the definitive treatise on the drow, becoming a famous opera star and so on. You can also develop short term goals like constructing a wilderness base or clearing out a small dungeon.

Pro tip: if you come up with goals that align to the campaign, such that your GM wants to incorporate those into the ongoing narrative, be prepared for your own goals to NOT go exactly how YOU planned them.

One last bit of advice... think about what your character LOOKS like. Personalize them. You don't have to go all out; hair color, eye color, general build are fine details, but pick one or two things that are really unique to you that you as a player feel like you can keep in mind long term.

For example: let's say you're a halfling warpriest (divine commander) 1. Your halfling slingstaff is your signature weapon; what does it look like? Is it worn and well-used, or are you constantly cleaning and repairing the club while replacing the sling cup and strapping? You've spent years in the saddle of your divine mount, a medium sized wolf; what does the animal look like, or the saddle, and are you built like a Small sized cowboy or do you have thick thighs and middle from your lifestyle?

If you can close your eyes and picture your character, you're on the right track.

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Several of my more booze affine characters have various "Can openers" attached to their melee weapons.

And of course the Orc butchering axe to which a char has the attached drawback is called "ferocious overcompensation".

Think about what sets people apart...

Jenny is super quiet, organized, and likes her coffee black as sin.

Jeff smells of pipe smoke, takes no nonsense from nobody, and walks with a limp he picked up in what he refers to as "the War".

Jim can't hold still and won't shut up, but he is kind and loyal to a fault.

Jax is bold and beautiful, she is hilarious and can drink anyone under the table. She is the number one "man" you want with you in a bar fight. And you always know if she is fed up with someone and is going to hit them first because she itches her belly with her left hand before she clobbers them with her right hand.

You can literally just think of the people you work with, encounter, or know... describe them each in one or two sentences. Now describe your character the same way.

If your character doesn't have quirks or nuances or methods that stand out for such a description, you still have work to do. Some people maintain their equipment, some do not. Some tidy up their work station, some do not. Some say good morning, some do not.

Would you sit next to your character on a bus/subway? Why or why not?

Thanks everyone! Lots of good tips here. :D I have two characters I'm working on and I'l try to use what I learn from this thread to expand them and make them more full and real characters. :)

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I'm sure there's a million systems that do this, but I used to like the old Cyberpunk 2020 character gen flowchart. There were sections for general style and affectations, like having neon tattoos or cat's eye contacts or whatever.

Back in 2e I had a superstitious "savage fighter" kit character who made a point to have dozens of different holy symbols. Before particularly scary fights or if there was some kind of niche situation one god would suit, like sailing on a ship or fighting a demon, he'd pull the appropriate holy symbol and I'd make up some kind of prayer and say it in character.

For PF1, I've had:

Gerard Steelhold, Human Fighter (Shielded Fighter) 3 for PFS who always dressed in green, had decent Int and skills to express his survivalist nature and who kept his heavy steel kite shield in pristine condition, calling her "old girl."

Argentica "Argie" Silvermane, Half-Elf Wizard (Universalist/Arcane Builder) 5 for a homebrew campaign. She had a Valet archetype owl familiar she referred to as Mr Nails. I tried (badly) a cockney accent with her and modeled her appearance after Billie Piper's Rose Tyler in the NuWho episodes. Of course, owing to her name, her hair was silver-blonde. Her whole schtick was applying buffs to Mr Nails and using him in combat or delivering Touch attacks, so the two were basically inseparable

Kaleb Kimbertoes, halfling Warpriest (Divine Commander) 5/Hunter 3. A devout worshipper of Erastil, though in a more naturalistic, almost druidic aspect, Kaleb was all about home and family. Unfortunately, this was a Reign of Winter AP so suffice it to say, home was far away. Still, his focus on small, tight knit communities endeared Kaleb quickly to lots of Irrisen's villages. He was always fiddling in his off time, even riding in the saddle, with leatherworking, maintaining his snares, crafting slings and leather goods for his allies or as gifts for common folks, etc. Finally, we found some kind of ruby cod piece in a troll's treasure and for some reason I asked if it could be worn by a halfling. Kaleb quickly adopted this garish piece of jewelry, added a new masterwork belt to it and eventually got the party wizard to craft it into a Belt of Dexterity. If we manage to ever get the AP back up and running, my plan is to add more powers to the ruby belt going forward.

How to be a murderous mercenary murderhobo but still have character.
This is battletech, but can easily applied to Pathfinder/Starfinder

Murderhobo with character themesong

All good advice on here so far. For something from a slightly different angle, I like to develop what I think of as a theme for my characters. Whatever first made you want to put the character on paper, that's your seed, possibly it's the theme. I could be some "boring" game mechanic like AoOs. If that's what excited you, nothing wrong with it, make it work. It could be something silly, like my husband's character who carries around a little cube of jello that he insists is his baby Gelatinous Cube familiar named Roomba (no mechanical support for that at all). I tend to think of elemental themes and/or totem animals; that's what works for me.

From this seed/theme, you start to build the character. Choose all the race, class, and mechanical bits using your theme as a guide to your choices. Along the way you'll almost certainly have to make choices where your core idea just isn't relevant. Hopefully the choices you make here give you some flavor additions as others have pointed out. But, as you make these branching choices, you are likely to find patterns or links developing in your mind. Just for instance, let's say that "water" was your theme. Soooo many options, but lets just look at weapon for a moment. Does a water themed character to you make you think pirate, merfolk, elemental, or something else entirely? Depending on your answer, you might choose to wield a cutlass, a trident, a spear, a whip, or some other weapon; and that weapon, for you and that character becomes associated with water. For me the water weapon is an ax, and that only makes sense in my mind.

Anyway, be the time you've made all your mechanical choices, you will hopefully have several new words or concepts to tie into and nuance your original theme. Going with the water example. One variant of that theme for me ended up including: fox totem, battle ax, healing abilities, the color blue, water AND ice magic. Those bits led to more associations, and ways to tie all the parts together into a character that made sense for me (a kid with mystical gifts from a shamanistic culture, eventually recruited into the army, where he turned his gifts into being a medic/doctor). Once I'm here, I just start trying to think of different game scenarios, or other characters I've read, played, or otherwise enjoyed. I ask myself how my character might handle himself in different situations. How do I face not only combats, but puzzles, traps, trade negotiations, state dinners, romantic overtures, missed dinners, country faires, abandoned baby bunnies, whatever. The theme helps guide these answers too, because I think how my powers, traits, or abilities might manifest, reflect in, or influence by personality and choices. And those choices lead to more choices, more little quirks or stories about who my character is, and why I do what I do.

Just one way to approach things, but I hope it helps.

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I have a bit of a checklist that I go down for all of my characters… though not every question has an answer for all characters…

1) what is their overall character concept? (Usually a character archetype or trope)
2) do they worship a deity? If so who and to what degree? If not why?
3) how do they view themselves vs how others see them, and are they aware of this difference in perception? (A very important question as it can shape a large part of a characters personality)
4) what type of person are they? (Friendly, abrasive, brash, aggressive, kind, clueless, nurturing, etc…?)
5) do they have any companions? If so what are they like? (Answer is usually no if they do not have a familiar or animal companion… but not always)
6) family? Do they have one? If so who are they, what are they like, and what do they mean to the character? If not what happened, and how did it affect the character?
7) friends? Same follow up questions as Family.
8) do they have an occupation? (If the answer is no, then they are either a wanderer or adventure defines them.)
9) how do they react to violence? Fear? Death? Acts of evil? Acts of good? Charity? Slavery? Hunting? Sacrifice? (It is important to have a good understanding of how a character reacts to different good and bad things in life, it helps to shape them and prepares you for when such an event crosses their path. Keep in mind how severe these reactions are as well, does a character just fume at the mention of it or are they completely enraged at the mere mention of such a thing…)
10) do they have any hobbies? (It’s a minor detail most of the time, but the inclusion of a hobby can help liven up a character especially when the party sets up camp for the night)
11) special character quirks? (Is there something especially strange or unique about them? Something about them that most might overlook but they themselves cannot? Something that most wouldn’t ever notice?)

An example of these questions applied to one of my past characters.
Character: Ime
1) Tiefling/Aasimar wizard twins
2) Minor devotion to Calistria.
3) She sees herself as a fledgling novice Tiefling wizard just trying to keep herself and her twin sister safe. Others see her as a fledgling novice Aasimar wizard traveling around with a Tiefling that looks oddly similar to her. She is aware of this difference and is quick to correct people.
4) Ime is slightly arrogant and friendly, though she can be quite flirty with girls and very abrasive to men.
5) she is accompanied by her twin sister Lavih. Lavih is also a fledgling wizard much like her sister though she’s not quite as skilled and often scared of everything. Unlike Ime, Lavih has prominent Tiefling traits.
5b) she also has a pet viper named Pearl that she has bonded with as her familiar. Pearl is fiercely protective of the twins and willingly obeys both sisters, showing no preference for one over the other. Pearl can usually be found curled around Ime’s upper arm.
6) Other than her sister, the only family they have is their mother, a half-succubus. They have never met their father, and only know that he was an Aasimar. Family is one of the most important things to them.
7) due to where they grew up, friendships were always short lived.
8) no occupation.
9) both sisters are quite Squamish and don’t much care for violence. Fear is something they have grown accustomed to over the years, though not something they are fond of or easy to overlook. Death is something they arn’t used to, their reaction to it is yet unknown. General acts of evil are something they are largely opposed to, though if their is a good reason for it or if it benefits a good cause they will usually overlook it. They are often skeptical of those performing things “out of the goodness of ones own heart” believing it to usually be for an ulterior motive, the same goes for charity. Slavery is a big no to them. They don’t much care for hunting, but they understand it is necessary for survival. They abhor sacrifices, no matter the reason, should someone offer to sacrifice themselves for a cause they would try to stop them and find another way.
10) no hobbies
11) Ime hates it when others call her an Aasimar, she will always correct them and insist that she is a Tiefling. She’s not entirely wrong to do so since she is technically a Tiefling despite having predominantly Aasimar traits. This hatred stems from watching her sister suffer from discriminative behavior growing up while she herself was often treated with special privileges due to her angelic appearance. She just can’t stand it.

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I also tend to pick out characters from movies, TV, comic books and so on and try to build a character to them. I once played a caricature of Randy "Macho Man" savage in the form of Gravitun, a wrestler affected by a particle accelerator and turned into a super hero for a Marvel Super Heroes game back in the early 2000's. The best was his power stunts, the special attacks he could do with his gravity manipulation power, were all signature wrestling moves, like his "Black Hole Bear Hug" or the "Zero G Piledriver!"

My buddies rolled their eyes and the Judge complained this was a "serious" game, but I still got through an entire campaign with him so it worked out.

I just try to bring them to life. While role playing their stats to help form a personality.

Example my current character is Magmir Thunderforge, Paladin level 3
STR: 14 DEX :12 CON: 14 INT: 10 WIS: 9 CHA: 14

First I dissect what the numbers actually mean so per the tables:

STR: Visibly toned, throws small objects for long distances.
DEX: Able to often hit large targets at a distance.
CON: Able to labor for twelve hours most days.
INT: Knows what they need to know to get by.
WIS: Forgets or fails to consider options before taking action.
CHA: Interesting, almost always knows what to say.

So physically a strong looking, non clumsy dwarf. Mentally implosive. Not book smart but very people smart.

As a paladin of Torag I follow his code

Paladins of Torag are dedicated to protecting not just the lives but the way of life for those under their charge, and hold the ways of their chosen people as holy, especially when they are the centuries-old works and traditions of an entire race. Their tenets include the following affirmations:

1)My word is my bond. When I give my word formally, I defend my oath to my death. Traps lie in idle banter or thoughtless talk, and so I watch my tongue.

2)I am at all times truthful, honorable, and forthright, but my allegiance is to my people. I will do what is necessary to serve them, including misleading others if need be.

3)I respect the forge, and never sully it with half-hearted work. My creations reflect the depth of my faith, and I will not allow flaws save in direst need.

4)Against my people’s enemies, I will show no mercy. I will not allow their surrender, except when strategy warrants. I will defeat them, yet even in the direst struggle, I will act in a way that brings honor to Torag.

So my Combining my stats with my paladin code I helps shape more

Quiet dwarf who doesn’t speak to speak, instead my words have meaning. Respects my craft as a forge master and it is my shrine away from My shrine. Action wise will not think things through unless its a beyond obvious trap, consequences be damned Torag will protect me. When not adventuring I am crafting and will only put forth gear of Master work quality.

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Ooh yeah Mc'y D, that's yet another good suggestion! I encourage my own players to take it a step further though, when coming up with a backstory to kickstart their RP of a character from.

I always let my players take 2 Traits, sometimes I throw in an extra "campaign" Trait too. Since these aren't feats and they only happen at level 1 unless the PC takes the feat Extra Traits, I always ask my players to explain how they got their Traits.

Like, there might be some fluff around a Trait that says you got it from being bullied or something, but I ask my players to expand on that. Who bullied you, why did that make you Reactionary and not cripple you with fear? That kind of thing.

So for example, I took the Traits Slippery and Seeker for Argie. When she was growing up she was adopted by a group of vagabond travelers that made their way through performing but also through thievery. Argie, with her keen half-elven senses was always their lookout. Later when she discovered and bonded with Mr Nails, the two began to go with her adopted family on night-time "excursions." However, her adopted father wanted a better life for Argie so eventually she was left behind in a city with a letter explaining it all to her.

The campaign died pretty quickly, but the intention was to have Argie privately in search of her family, hoping she could do something to help them and pay them back for the kindness they'd shown her. I actually made a hand-written letter to keep in my notebook with the hard copy of the character as a reminder of her origin and a roleplaying aid.

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Attribute spread is also a very good consideration for fleshing out characters… though it doesn’t play as big of a roll at some tables as it does at others due to character creation rules… at a table that rolls stats or uses point buy your attribute scores could easily define many aspects of your character… but if your table uses a stat array then it could be less impactful depending on the chosen array… for example my group uses a non-standard array of 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18… so attributes tend to play a smaller roll on character backstory and personality… it’s kinda hard to have meaningful attributes with that array… but before we started using that array I had some interesting stat spreads… one I actually was super excited to see since I already had the character concept in mind before I rolled and it all sorta hinges on getting two bad rolls… a Goblin Sorcerer who believes herself to be a priestess of “the fire goddess”… I deliberately wanted her Int and Wis to be below 10, and as luck would have it I rolled 2 9’s.

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A couplee of other questions to consider:

1. How did the character get their class/whatever abilities - natural talent, long hours of study, divine intervention, trained from childhood or whatever

2. What three fictional / famous / historic characters is your character an amalgam of. It doesn't have to be exact, but can you come up with three characters that the PC takes aspects of and mash them together to create a consistent whole.

Neriathale wrote:

A couplee of other questions to consider:

1. How did the character get their class/whatever abilities - natural talent, long hours of study, divine intervention, trained from childhood or whatever

2. What three fictional / famous / historic characters is your character an amalgam of. It doesn't have to be exact, but can you come up with three characters that the PC takes aspects of and mash them together to create a consistent whole.

The amalgan question is pure gold. Excellent idea.

Silver Crusade

I played an elven alchemist in Mummy's Mask that was an amalgam of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Richard Francis Burton, with a splash of British Indian Department agent thrown in. It worked out to be a very memorable character.

Scarab Sages

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I usually go with one of two ways when fleshing out the details of characters. After I have the basics: ability scores, class, race, etc., and some broad stroke notions of what the character is like as a person, I spend some time thinking about models I can steal from that are already out there. I don't use just one, but take some characteristics from a couple or more and hybridize them. I range very widely, so television, movies, fiction and non-fiction books, and don't limit myself to fantasy.

For example I have an Investigator who is a combination of traits from Eliza Doolittle, Charlotte Ritter from the show Babylon Berlin, and Chrisjen Avasarala from The Expanse. She's really fun to play.

If the first way doesn't come together, I instead use the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator test. I choose each of the four options, like Extraversion vs. Introversion and Thinking vs. Feeling, based on what seems better for my broad idea. Then I take my type, say ESFJ, and find the details I want to adopt to refine the character's personality. This can be done to make a character that runs as close to, or as far against a typical individual according to class, race, etc., as I want.

THEN, I go back and look at my basics like ability scores and class, making any changes that seem to make sense now that I have the personality locked down.

The end goal is to eliminate contradictions so the character will act and think consistently given who they're supposed to be. I should be able to think of a hypothetical situation and predict how my character will respond in it based on what I have.

I also like leaving the smaller details until later, so the character can be adapted to the other party members and campaign. These can build up like a pearl as the character accumulates experiences and more personal history.

Holy crap, using the Myers–Briggs Type test is brilliant. I might start doing that to all my characters as just another step in the process.

Thank you all! So many great ideas here. :D

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Legend of the 5 Rings has the 20 questions to get you started. You can make similar sets for other settings.

For me the main issue is how well do I know the setting and what does it give me to work with. Having been given generic settings with basically nothing to work with other than 'you all come from a remote village' I have a hard time starting out with a proper personality. My PCs in such games start out as cardboard cut-outs with a build and grow a personality over time. Settings with lots history and culture have done half the job for you of determining what and why and when you turned out the way you did.

Even when I have a decent setting to work with I may have a general concept but in play the character soon turns out vastly different than I had originally intended.

Most of my characters, level 1: Today is gonna be a GREAT day!

Most of my characters, level 6: I've... SEEN things, you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion...

No joke, I had a literal pretend-screaming meltdown at a White Witch over the atrocities I'd either seen or learned of in Irrisen during a session of RoW. I lost it on the villain in character. It made the other players at the table super uncomfortable.

The point is: it's ok if your character's whole essence isn't fully formed by session 1 or for you to add RP elements later on. Your PC has likely not experienced THAT much by the start of the campaign, unless you start at a level above 1.

Just have fun with it!

Scarab Sages

Setting is something I forgot about. Yeah, it helps immensely to know something about the setting. I play almost exclusively in the Golarion setting so I take it into account so much that when a recent homebrew recruitment (I play PbP only) came up without an established setting it was at least twice as hard to make a character for it.

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