You’ve finally managed to find some friends to play the tabletop game you’ve been dreaming of.
You show up for the first session with a hastily scribbled character sheet in hand, a dwarf named Borin Brokenshield.
When your Dungeon Master asks you to introduce yourself you nervously say, “Hi, I’m a fighter and a dwarf, and uh, I’m very excited for adventure,” and you don’t even believe it. Breathe.
That was my experience, but it doesn’t have to be yours.
With a little bit of prep work, you can have a character that you really believe in, a character that your friends will remember for years to come, and most importantly, a character that is made just for you.
1. Learn About Your Character’s Life – Backstory
We can start off by thinking about your character’s life up to this point.
One of the most common problems new players run into is a cliché or nonexistent backstory.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the game, let’s look at a few things first.
Start by talking to your Dungeon Master.
They will likely have some information on the world you’ll be inhabiting, and maybe even some history that will help you to flesh out your character.
Think of this as an ice sculpture; your character is in there, it’s your job to find it.
You should understand where your adventure starts.
A level one character is going to have a quite different backstory than a character you start playing at level ten.
Don’t fall into the trap of building a backstory of some amazing adventurer who’s slain dragons and toppled empires, and then start playing with a level one character who barely knows how to wield a sword.
Unless your character has very severe amnesia you have some sort of experience under your belt, even if they’re not a living god.
There are plenty of random tables you can find to start rolling your shiny new dice and get some inspiration.
Starting to get to know where your character has been and what they’ve done in life so far is vital to having an immersive experience.
If someone were to walk up and ask about your parents, or where you went to school and you didn’t know the answer that would be weird, and it’s the same with roleplaying.
You don’t have to know everything about your character, but you should know who they are.
Accomplishing this simple process will make every obstacle you overcome feel more natural, and less like you’ve just been asked to solve world hunger.
2. Talk The Walk – Voices
I think one of the biggest draws for me as a player and as a DM has been having the opportunity to try on new voices for each character I play.
That is not everyone’s experience, and that’s okay.
I want you to know that it is one hundred percent okay to use your lamest Scottish brogue for a dwarf, or your broodiest batman voice for your rogue.
No one is going to judge you if you’re not an accomplished voice actor.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun though. Showing up to the table and knowing how you’re going to sound will inspire others to really be part of the process.
If you don’t know what voice you want to go with, try watching some tv, or your favorite movie, maybe even listen to a D&D podcast or two.
Popular Accents to Try and Videos to Help You Learn Them:
This episode of The Glass Cannon podcast is also a great example of using accents to develop a character.
When you hear something that you really like, and feel like you can emulate, start to practice.
Again, this isn’t a test, you don’t have to be perfect. Practicing your voice is more about getting to know your character, allowing them to become a part of you.
Even if you just use the voice to read your backstory a few times, or when you’re talking to yourself in the car, you’ll find your character really starting to take shape.
Now you have a character that is so much more than just a sheet of paper, you’ve created an identity that you can feel comfortable assuming while you and your friends slay some damsels and save some goblins in distress.
3. No Such Thing As Originality – Inspirations
Now that you really have your character put together, the next step is to start to flesh it out.
In a lot of ways roleplaying as a character can be like improvisational acting. While that can be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be.
You can ease that fear by using the people that your character reminds you of, or vice versa, to influence them.
Instead of being paralyzed by the fear that you must have the most original character at the table, focus on having the character that’s the most fun for you to be.
I’ve played a character that was a living tree with a speech impediment, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had because I was able to take a character that I love and really make it my own.
By the end of a few sessions, they grew into something more; a combination of Treebeard, Groot, and a slew of other characters from the things I love.
Not to mention the cool possum that my DM let me ride around with on my shoulder that attacked people for me.
Letting go of my expectation that I had to pull my character out of a vacuum freed me from a lot of fear and anxiety.
Honestly, it loosened my friends up as well; having a preexisting understanding of the character led to more attachment and just fun all around.
4. Only Human, Sort Of – Flaws and Vices
I’m going to tell you something that is especially important.
Are you ready?
Your character is not perfect.
Cool, I’m glad we got that out of the way.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played with someone who built their character out to be this angelic being perfect in every way.
Now while playing an angel is invited, Aasimar make great paladins or warlocks, the concept of perfection has to be left at the door.
There will be choices your DM puts in front of you that are difficult, times where you need to choose between right and good for you, times where you won’t know what the best choice to make is.
That should reflect in your character.
There are a lot of ways to do this.
You can use a random table and come up with some interesting combinations for your character.
Example Character Flaws to Consider
- I judge others harshly, and myself even more severely.
- When faced with a choice between money and my friends, I usually choose the money.
- I’m quick to assume that someone is trying to cheat me.
- Violence is my answer to almost any challenge.
- I made a terrible mistake in battle that cost many lives – and I would do anything to keep
that mistake secret.
- I obey the law, even if the law causes misery.
Example Vices to Consider
- Overly Skeptic
- Angry at the world
- Afraid of snakes
Alternatively, you can use what you have so far to learn what those flaws might be.
A dangerous cliché is the “my family was murdered by Orcs, so now I hate Orcs” and while I would suggest steering away from blatant racism, the idea behind this is surprisingly well-founded.
You want to be able to look at some part of your character’s life and find something that could’ve caused trauma.
Forgive me if I get deep for a second, but one of the amazing things about roleplaying games is the platform it gives a lot of us to explore our own shortcomings.
Knowing that at the core of your character, whether they are a stone giant or a rock gnome, is a human, that’s what lets us connect on a deeper level.
5. What Would Your Character Do – Mindset
Before we go any further, look back at what you’ve managed to do so far.
You have a character that exists in more than just six attribute bubbles.
When you sit down at that table, you’re bringing a character that can not only answer questions about themselves but can laugh and tell stories around a hearth with fellow adventurers.
You get to roleplay as someone who can make choices based on previous experiences. That last part is essential because that’s what the game is.
This isn’t just Colossal Cave Adventure; your decision-making will be dynamic and constantly influenced by new factors.
It’s a good idea to start thinking about how this person you’ve created might act.
You don’t need to know everything that they’re going to do, but you should have an idea of what they might do in some common scenarios.
Something as simple as does my character drink is good to know, and still holds a lot of room to flesh out who your character is becoming.
- Is your character respectful when meeting royalty, or will they call out the violence inherent in the system?
- Would they choose to save one family member or five strangers?
- If a member of your party steals something from a merchant, how will you react; or will you be the one stealing something?
Thinking about these is not only a great way to bring your character to life but also a great way to be prepared for when these things happen.
If you’ve made it this far in the article you want to go the extra mile and I commend that.
Try finding a D&D podcast on your favorite streaming service and asking yourself “What would my character do?” whenever the players get into a situation that is exciting.
Here are a few popular D&D podcasts to check out:
- Dragon Talk
- Critical Role
- Greetings Adventurers
- D&D is For Nerds
- The Glass Cannon
Your friends will be gasping in awe as your character seamlessly navigates difficult situations.
6. Take It Easy – Develop As You Go
You do not need to be perfect. I know I’ve said this already, but it’s worth mentioning again because it’s important.
Even with all this work you’re putting in you will inevitably hit a point where you’re not sure what to say next, or where you slip back into your normal voice.
That’s not just okay, it’s expected.
Hopefully, you’re doing this not just to escape from reality for a bit, but also to spend some time with people you care about.
Even if you’ve just met them, trust me, you’ll care about them by the end of the campaign.
Roleplaying games are made to have fun, they’re not a job, although if I could get paid to play sign me up.
You don’t have to be one hundred percent in character all the time. You shouldn’t be.
There are going to come obstacles that require real-life people sitting around the table to discuss the options.
Maybe Greg’s character has much higher charisma than John’s and should be the one to persuade the guards into letting your party into the city.
Whatever scenarios come up, it’s okay to spend some time being you.
Your character will still be as epic as all the effort you’ve put into them.
If you don’t believe me, I get it, I am a perfectionist too. Go listen to some professionals play DnD and you will soon realize why you’ve never heard someone say professionals when referencing DnD.
7. Find Your Special Something – Recurring Comments & Catch Phrases
Now, this is the icing on the cake.
Think of a character and tell me the first thing about them that comes to mind.
I can’t hear you, because I haven’t figured out Horcrux spells and there’s no piece of my soul trapped in the confines of these words.
However, I’m assuming it was either how cool they look or something they’ve said.
Hulk smash, on your left, oh bother, bub, and what about second breakfast?
You probably know most of each of those characters I just referenced, and I know the Hulk one was a dead giveaway.
Catch phrases are the things that we call back on and each time they’re said they carry new emotions.
“He said the thing!” happens in my brain all the time with the most childlike glee. Sometimes we even get to see their catch phrase uttered in their final moments with tears streaming down our eyes.
You don’t need to know exactly what that’s going to be for your character yet. It is worth thinking about though.
You might be able to think of something really cool for when you defeat an enemy, or nail down your classic greeting that brings a chuckle every time.
Most importantly you should keep an eye out for this once you start playing.
There will be a moment where you hear a fantastic one-liner slip your mouth and you’ll know that you’ve found your thing.
Roleplaying is such an amazing experience, and I’m grateful for the people who have taught me how to loosen up and enjoy it more.
Bringing a character to life is a continual process, and if you’re lucky you’ll end up with a lifelong friend.
So, get out there and spend some time getting to know them. When you show up at the table you won’t have to be nervous about how well you’ve done.
You get to be excited to share with others just how amazing your character is.
Happy hunting adventurer.