There are a lot of things to consider when you are building a new character. What is their personality going to be like? What background do you imagine for them? What role will they fill in the group? Which mechanics (skills, stunts, etc.) are they going to be high or low at? What unique powers do I want to pay for? How will the other players view this character?
Character design can be a lot of fun, and most systems spend a lot of time and money dedicated to this stage of roleplaying. Most people have an opinion or two on this subject, so I thought I would share my 2 bits on the subject.
Choosing a Concept
I like to start with a character concept, something that would be fun to play, and then see about making it fit, though I do not begrudge anyone that starts with one of the next 2 sections below.
The 2 main things to consider with concept are the setting and your own personal goals. The setting of a game is typically designed for a certain type of character: adventurers in D&D, samurai in L5R, semi-normal people in Cthulu. A large man with a crossbow is going to feel different in each of these 3 settings, and thus a setting will affect what sort of concept you want to build.
Personal goals are also important in choosing a concept. If you want to challenge yourself to play something new, choose a concept that you never play. If you just want to have reliable fun, choose a concept that you enjoy playing. Your creativity is only going to be limited by the next step.
Making it Fit
If you like to begin with a role and then building a personality around it, this is where you are going to start making your character. This is the stage that sets the limits of your character, what makes them fit into the world. It is usually where creativity and reason-ability come into conflict.
When you are trying to make your character fit, you have 2 opinions to consider: your fellow players and your GM. The GM typically wants you to follow the rules and thus build a character that works with them. After all, if the players ignore the rules than what’s the point of the GM running a game? More specifically, the GM will probably have an idea of the type of campaign they want to run, and you need to make a character that will fit into that game, preferably without too much effort.
Also, unless you are playing a solo adventure you need to keep in mind that your character should fit in to the group as a whole. Even in hidden agenda games where you are only pretending to work with the other characters, you have to be useful. If the other characters are constantly having to cover for you, or if you are trying to do the same things as another player, then the game is going to lose a lot of steam fast.
This step is a balancing act, as you try to make a character that really is fun to play for everyone involved. If your character concept cannot fit into the game or group, try to tweak it so that it fits. If it does not fit, then put it on hold for a game that does. This is sad, I know, but overall it will be better to put a character concept on the back burner than to try and play them in a game that they will not be fun to play.
Adding a Unique Spin
Sometimes you are struck with one of those “It would be so fun to play a character that does ____” feelings, and so the next time you sign up for a game you bring the determination to play a character with that trait. Other times this is where you end, taking a character you already have and then coming up with your own unique addition to them.
When coming up with your own unique spin on a character, the two things you want to consider are the 2 sections addressed above: concept and fit. This is why this part usually comes last, although to be fair most players bounce back and forth a lot before they come up with a character ready to play.
Find a unique twist that works well with your concept, either by aiding their main ability or offering a strong contrast to their stereotype and thus giving them a deeper personality. Then make sure it works within the system, the game, and the other players. Got a berserker whose body is made of rubber? Give him a straw hat and make sure he knows how much he needs other people, for example.
Too Much Compromise
Whenever I am wanting to play a character or overseeing character building in a FATE game, one of the biggest struggles I see players wrestle with is the unfairness of compromise. Playing a wizard that cannot cast spells is just a dead character concept. On the other hand, playing a wizard just because everyone else insists that the party needs one but no one else is willing to play one is a forced character concept.
Playing the character you want to play will almost always involve compromise, and usually that includes your own. This is not a bad thing in and of its self. Just like real life, compromise gives you an excuse to rise to a challenge with creative thinking.
Just make sure that no one is compromising too much when it comes to character creation. You are probably going to have your character for a very long time, and that means you should probably like playing them!
Whomever said “It doesn’t hurt to ask for help” is a liar, so be sure to make it as painless as possible. Offer help before it is asked for, but don’t force it on someone. Just like your character is a part of the group and needs to get along, so do you need to get along with the other players and the GM. A pizza may help earn forgiveness for an incident but not a continuous attitude.
Just about every RPG book that is published now includes the golden rule of gaming: To Have Fun! Make sure the character concept you create is fun for everyone, especially you!