Initial Character Description


Advice


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I'm not an especially visual person. So when it comes time to describe a character's appearance, I often rely on the stat block rather than my own creativity.

"He's a dwarf in medium armor."

"She's an elf with a bow and a magical cloak."

Do you try to avoid confusion by using character art? Or do you prefer to let literary description + the mind’s eye do all the work? Is there a good rule of thumb for figuring out how the happy medium between "vague description" and "overkill?"

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)


I generally don't mind how other's imagine my character. The fact that they even have a mental image of the character is more than enough for me.

As for how I handle the communication of the character's appearance, I generally tend to find a piece of artwork that I like and use it as a basis for designing the aesthetics of the character. That way, 99% of the work is already done and it helps me pick flavorful options that suite the character better. If I cannot find a suitable picture, I am not slouch when it comes to describing them with words, but many people just don't seem to have the willingness (or ability) to read through a few paragraphs.


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I usually grab a piece of character art to throw on a char sheet b/c I'm a terrible artist and other players I've gamed with aren't great at remembering flowery descriptions. A couple characters ago I played a female half-elf wizard; 2 of the other 4 players played 3 entire levels alongside me and forgot my PC was a woman.

I know who I'm pretending to be, and that's enough for me, but for the benefit of everyone else I'll try to have an image for reference.


I usually go to DeviantArt, Pintrest, or Ye Olde Google Machine and find a character portrait that I like. I can usually find what I'm looking for, but if not, I will bring up several pictures that "piece together" what I'm looking for. For example, if I have a Lionfolk Pirate Captain who wields a Spiked Chain, and I cannot find a specific picture that I like, then I'll break it down. I'll find pic of a Lionfolk, I'll find a pic Swashbuckler's Garb, and then find a pic of a Spiked Chain I like. "This is what he looks like, this is what he's wearing, and this is his weapon." Done and done.


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I am a pretty visual person, so I will frequently draw portraits of my characters (gotta use my art degree somehow!) or find interesting art online. I also build LEGO minis of all my characters, so there's always a visual reminder on the table, too (even if it's just a token on a VTT).

But I also try to think of a brief verbal description to introduce each character in a memorable way:

"Bjorn is a dwarf wearing shining mithral platemail, and has the holy symbol of Torag proudly displayed on his shield and his beard-clasps. He carries a rune-covered waraxe."

"Millicent is a tall Chelaxian woman dressed in a black robe and cloak, and wearing dramatic, somewhat morbid makeup. She's surprisingly pleasant and chatty, but if you offend her, her green eyes will bore a hole right through you."


I like writing out extensive descriptions. I used to have a passion for drawing, but squandered my talent long ago. My lazy approach now involves searching through image galleries of 15th-19th century masters and then loading the best painting/portrait I can find through a face-replacement/blending/modifying app until I arrive at the desired appearance.


My characters are rarely finished when we start the game, so I have only the vaguest idea what they look like, and any descriptions I give others are even less detailed than what I have in my head. As I play them and find out what they are like, their appearance coalesces. If I've played a character long enough I can give you detailed descriptions of them, their mannerisms, their clothes and equipment, favorite foods and pastimes, etc.

If necessary, I will find some piece of art or a mini that gives the general impression.


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I am a very visual person and it's a point of pride for me to be able to describe things in my games. The first DM I ever had could "make you smell the bread baking" and I learned from him and just continued on an ongoing mission to be better and better at helping my players "see" our setting.

Another reason I try as hard as I do is we don't use miniatures and never have, really. We don't even have an actual table to sit around while we roll our bones. I have three sofas in my living room with coffee tables or sturdy wooden tv trays for the players and I sit at a small desk with everything either pulled up onscreen or in the notebook where I keep my ideas, usually both. So without minis or terrain pieces, I have to be good at describing things.


I have found that it's often very difficult to get free artwork that truly matches my PCs. Hiring an artist is expensive. I also game in person and on VTT with a few visually disabled players so I tend to lean more toward literary description.

This is triple true in Paizo play-by-post, a written medium where forum art is super limited.


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I use heroforge for my pcs.

Here is my War Priest of Norgorber that I will probably never play.

Linky...


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I try to describe my character(s) without using their race or class.

If they happen to be an Elf or Half-Elf, I will describe the visual clues, like ears, but I will not specify the actual race. If they happen to use a specific type of armor or weapon, I try describe its appearance without using game terms like full plate or greatsword. If they worship a god, I describe the holy symbol and/or colors they wear without mention of the god's name.

I challenge myself to keep all the $#!+ on the character sheet out of my description.


Ryze Kuja wrote:
I usually go to DeviantArt, Pintrest, or Ye Olde Google Machine and find a character portrait that I like. I can usually find what I'm looking for, but if not, I will bring up several pictures that "piece together" what I'm looking for. For example, if I have a Lionfolk Pirate Captain who wields a Spiked Chain, and I cannot find a specific picture that I like, then I'll break it down. I'll find pic of a Lionfolk, I'll find a pic Swashbuckler's Garb, and then find a pic of a Spiked Chain I like. "This is what he looks like, this is what he's wearing, and this is his weapon." Done and done.

I've had some artist friends express discomfort at the idea of "stealing my OC" for use in a game. Seems like a weird hangup to me. But have you ever run into that?


DRD1812 wrote:
Ryze Kuja wrote:
I usually go to DeviantArt, Pintrest, or Ye Olde Google Machine and find a character portrait that I like. I can usually find what I'm looking for, but if not, I will bring up several pictures that "piece together" what I'm looking for. For example, if I have a Lionfolk Pirate Captain who wields a Spiked Chain, and I cannot find a specific picture that I like, then I'll break it down. I'll find pic of a Lionfolk, I'll find a pic Swashbuckler's Garb, and then find a pic of a Spiked Chain I like. "This is what he looks like, this is what he's wearing, and this is his weapon." Done and done.
I've had some artist friends express discomfort at the idea of "stealing my OC" for use in a game. Seems like a weird hangup to me. But have you ever run into that?

Its fair use if its not commercial. I had a guy whose avatar was the Mona Lisa. Shelynite priestess (with a dip in that cat burglar like rouge archetype), and a hilariously over the top loot monkey for anything artistic.

"IT ALL BELONGS IN MY MUSEUM!" (which is free for the public because most of the art was stolen haha)

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