Character Creation in the Fast Lane

A good role-playing character can be measured in MPH.

As a game master, does your story drive your player characters, or do your player characters drive your story? The former can lead to disinterested players and linear adventures. To throw some curves into your plot lines, look to your players. Get them into the game by suggesting a quick and easy character creation method.

Following the mantra of motivation, personality and history (MPH)™ will give your players' characters the background depth they need to jump off the page. Players who are new to gaming may not understand the importance of MPH to role playing. Even veteran gamers who write 4,000-word backgrounds for their PCs may only include their history, and not explain how it influences the numbers on their character sheets. Determining a character's MPH before rolling up the stats will speed up the character creation process and lead to better role playing.

Motivation Matters Most

Why does an adventurer adventure? Adventuring is hard work. Whether delving into dungeons or trying to fix a jump drive before being boarded, it's a tough lifestyle. Why didn't he/she remain a farmer or a middle manager? Look beyond the standard motivations of fame and fortune to make a unique character. A few motivation suggestions:

  • Revenge
  • Necessity
  • Circumstance
  • Redemption
  • Power
  • The greater good
  • Something to prove
  • Boredom
  • Enlightenment
  • Friendship
  • Love
  • Lust

Motivation does not have to be intertwined with your PC's abilities. A 23rd century space jockey can thirst for revenge just as much as a 10th century warrior king can. But motivation does need to mesh with a character's personality and history.

For example, take Kuruk the Bear. He's a primalist shaman whose tribe was decimated during the Night of Fire. His motivation is to find new hunting grounds for his people so that they can continue their traditions from Before. However, if he was not the son of the chieftain, he might be motivated to join with other survivors from outside his tribe, build a homestead and raise a family. That would be the easiest thing to do. His childhood as the son of the tribe’s leader and his bullheadedness influence his reaction to the motivation. He must adventure to save his peoples' culture. His personality and history stop him from choosing the path of least resistance.

A Perfect Personality is Boring

A character with a perfect personality is too unbelievable, even for the most fantastic fantasy setting. Flaws are what make the personality seem real. That doesn't mean that characters have to be a bad or broken people (though that can spice up a campaign as well), it just means that they should have a weakness or two, or more.

Flaws can manifest themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Some game settings include flaws in the character-creation process, giving extra points to spend on other skills or feats for every flaw taken. If your favorite game doesn't, as a GM you can reward players who take on (and accurately role play) character flaws.

It's easy to add flaws, but difficult for the player to honestly role-play them. When Lennoth, an arachnophobia-plagued swordsman, is face-to-face with a giant spider, he should run or be frozen in fear, even if the rest of the party is already webbed. That may not be the popular choice, but it is in character and should be encouraged.

History Determines the Present

History is not only what happened. It explains why characters became how they are today.

History guides PC motivation and personality traits. History is also the background element tied most closely to the abilities, skills, feats and faults on the character sheet. It can guide character creation, lending support to character stat choices as players build upon their characters' pasts to create them.

How does a peat moss farmer from tiny Loslolin know how to speak four languages? Why does a blacksmith from the Warlands know how to sail a ship? Where did the rune caster learn to use that sword? History answers these questions for the players.

Take Rohri, for example: In the Before, he was an Ascodean soldier whose barren mother made a deal with a necromancer that allowed for his birth. The deal was not without consequences, and Rohri's mother, the village healer, began marking the sick with strange symbols instead of saving them. Her neighbors burned her at the stake. Rohri promised his ailing father that he would avenge her death.

That history is why Rohri was motivated to hunt down necromancers. It's why he became a soldier of the Empire and volunteered for a post guarding the border along the kingdom controlled by necromancers. It's also why the GM dropped a hint about the man who tricked Rohri's mother into feeding him the life energy of her patients.

Player history can also drive your plot. In a group of four players, adding one plot hook from each of their pasts can drive your entire campaign. And the adventure will be better for it, because it’s a character-driven story.

Instead of following your story arc because that's what they're expected to do, player characters with MPH will respond to your plot in different ways, taking your story in unexpected directions. Role-playing will become the interactive experience it was meant to be, with both GM and player contributing to the adventure. Only then can your storytelling skills shine. And if they don't, at least you know it's not your players' fault. Maybe your non-player characters need some MPH too.

Gaming at Your
Own Speed

Time is at a premium for game masters and players alike. The motivation, personality, history (MPH) method of character creation can be as simple or as complicated as your group wants to make it. Below are a few PC examples of how quickly it can be done.

Kuruk the Bear
Motivation: Proving himself to be a powerful shaman worthy of leading his people. Personality: brave, bullheaded, rough, honorable, uncouth, power-hungry. History: Father died during the Night of Fire, grandfather filled his head with tales of his proud ancestors.

Motivation: Help his friends, uncover the mystery surrounding his family, punish those who have wronged him and his friends/family. Personality: Brave but careful, protective. Cynical toward authority. History: An unhappy childhood filled with violence and neglect.

Motivation: Kill necromancers and save lives. Personality: Reckless, brave and loyal. History: A 2,500-word background story of necromancy and his training to become a hunter of magic users. Blames all magic users for the Night of Fire, which expands his hatred of necromancers to all casters of spells.

The brief synopses of MPH in the examples above can lead to long, involved character backgrounds, or not. That's up to the GM and the players. Even short explanations of a character's MPH, if played and refereed well, can add depth and dimension to any role-playing game.

Desolation Greymalkin Designs