The Difference between a Detailed Character and an Interesting One.

Every game that has a narrative or storytelling bend emphasizes the importance of having a well-defined, three dimensional character since being able to collectively craft a good story requires characters that are more than just a block of stats, skills, and equipment. Aside from the character creation rules, they will often give players a set of questions to ask about their character such as who is their family, when did they first learn about X (Usually a game universe’s MacGuffin) what was the happiest day of their life, the worst, or how does the character see themselves. These are good questions that can fill in vital gaps, or give a GM a nice hook to use in the game. There is one thing about these questions that gets overlooked. Most of them are pointless, at least in terms of what makes a character interesting. Don’t get me wrong. Detailed is good, but don’t let pages of random facts and backstory get confused with interesting.
What makes a character interesting, and why, is a question that not very many RPG’s ask. Every player character should be interesting to the GM and other players. The people around the table or at the other end of the webcam are the audience, and one should never make the audience bored. Making a character interesting is more important than knowing their birthday or how many siblings they have. What was Han Solo’s birthday, how many siblings did he have if any? When did he first hear about the Force? None of that matters because what made him interesting, aside from a cool ship and the swagger Harrison Ford brought to the character, was his selfishness. Han Solo was just selfish enough to almost take the easy way out, and skip the whole hero thing. That made him relatable to the audience who have enough of a moral dilemma deciding between buying a candy bar or putting that money in the donation jar for an uninsured mother of three with cancer. He was very different than many of the main characters who charged off to fight the Empire without a second thought. That’s not to say that everyone else in Star Wars wasn’t interesting, but Han’s popularity speaks for itself.
So what makes your character interesting? It’s a hard question to answer, and often can’t be until after a session or two. A characters actions can show how they might be interesting, like Han shooting first, saying “Better her than me,” and changing his mind when he hears “her” is rich before finally tossing aside his old life and joining the Rebellion. Often it’s the sum of a few actions that solidify into that, “Ah ha!” moment when a character finally points the spotlight on themselves. Just remember that random actions for the sake of doing something to get a rise out of people gets boring-fast; that’s pandering. Another way to create interest is through conflict, like Han’s internal moral struggle. The key to keeping it interesting over the long term is to not make it easy to resolve. Citing Star Wars as an example again, Luke wanted to go out into the galaxy and find adventure, but felt obliged to stay on the farm for yet another season. Once Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. were killed by the Empire, that conflict was resolved. (A two hopur movie about Luke working on the farm would have been boring anyway.) Try to keep it long term, but even short term ones are good. One long term conflict could be the character not fitting into the organization or society where the game is set. An example of an overt external conflict like being the only surviving heir to a dynasty (royal, criminal, corporate, etc,) when all the character wants to do is pretty much anything but that. Whether they avoid it or get wrangled in doesn’t matter. The conflict is there.
Players should talk to one another before character creation starts about what each one plans on playing and why. An interesting thing is for the individual players ask the other table jockeys what would be a good idea for them to play. This doesn’t have to be binding, and shouldn’t be, unless everyone thinks something like that would be fun. Love it or hate it, hearing their opinion could lead you to new ideas and concepts that hadn’t been considered. None of this is meant to trump player agency, or force a decision on someone. What a person plays is ultimately up to them, assuming GM approval.

It’s your game, so you get to decide what’s fun,
Kell Myers

Leave a Reply