Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts

Welcome to Upping Your Game – the series where I help you make your favorite games tell a better story.

For my first article, I’m going to break down an old strategy I have for making engaging NPCs and player characters for tabletop RPGs. It’s pretty simple and seems like random generation, but let me explain my design method and I think you’ll see how this can lead to some great characters.

One more disclaimer: we aren’t aiming for “strong characters” in a game-play sense. If you’re a GM, you might want to give your players a re-do if they roll up a particularly difficult character. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re looking for a more challenging experience or play at a table that is more interested in role-play than combat, then this may be perfect for you.

The basic method is just to roll random ability scores. That’s it. But the really important part is that you have to keep them in the order they are rolled. That mean that for D&D or Pathfinder you will want to roll 6 sets of 3 D6 dice and place them in Strength, Dexterity, Consitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma in the order they are rolled. By contrast you would usually roll the numbers then place them in the most appropriate places. For games with races I would also suggest picking one at random. Then you pick your class or profession (game specific) based on what you have rolled.

If you are unfamiliar with D&D, check out a basic character sheet.

But why do this? Why do you choose the class, and how does it make interesting characters? Let me explain – good stats don’t make good characters. Bad ones do. Or, to put it differently, interesting characters are defined by their flaws not their strengths. A person is more defined by the challenges they face than the skills that come to them naturally.

Every fighter has a high strength stat. How could you ever make that interesting? But try to explain why they have a 7 in wisdom, and you’ll see what I mean. This can also apply to higher than average stats in strange places. Why does your wizard have a higher strength stat than wisdom, or an equal constitution to their intelligence? Are they natural factors, or did something in their life mold them? You can use these numbers, that would usually just be “dump stats” (the numbers you throw into your least important stats) to build your character’s background and explain why they chose the path they did.

In the next article, we’ll roll up a character as an example. Hopefully, we get a good one. The last time I did this, I created a giant-slaying gnome fighter. I’m hoping for a magic user this time. Fingers crossed!

Part 2 can now be found here: Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 2

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