Making Characters: The Fine Art of (Not) Fitting In

Taking a break from my kickstarter (and the worrrrrrlllldd) to talk about a character creation trick that’s extremely applicable to Kingdom, but also applies to a whole host of other games.

Say you’re playing a game (like Kingdom) where the characters are supposed to all be part of the same organization or group. Naturally you should make someone who fits that organization. If you’re part of a school of wizards, you should make a wizard, right? If we’re rebels, make someone who has feelings about the rebellion.

Making someone who fits in is easy. But you can make more interesting characters — and shine light on the core themes of your game — by making someone who *does not* fit in perfectly. Try this trick:

  • Think of three traits that reflect an ideal member of the group.
  • Then make a character who totally fits two of those traits, but violates the third.

You might do this all by yourself, or you could talk about it as a group and agree what the core tenets of your organization would be, because they’re probably going to be important themes of your game.

Here’s an example from a Kingdom game we played back at Story Games Seattle: the Royal Empirical Society, a prestigious fraternity of scientists and scholars in late 19th century Britain. The three traits were 1) science! 2) very British, the pride of the nation, and 3) very aristocratic, all about class and position.

So the ideal rank and file member is an upper class British scientist. But instead, you could make characters like:

  • a dilettante aristocrat, who thinks science is just smashing, wot, even though they don’t have much of a head for it (breaking trait 1)
  • a distinguished scientist whose accent constantly reminds us they were born in Austria, not England (breaking trait 2)
  • a talented scientist who has raised themselves up from common birth and found a place in the Society with diligent hardwork (breaking trait 3)

If you do it as a group, you can each pick a different theme for your character, and then have a fourth character that *does* check every box and fits in perfectly, because that’s good contrast. And if you look at that more closely, it doesn’t create three misfits and one who’s perfect. Instead every time your story focuses on one of those key issues, everybody fits except one character. I may not be a scientist, but all three other characters are. You may not be aristocratic, but all three other characters are.

No matter which of the three issues we’re touching upon at the moment, the burning spotlight singles out *someone*. It either questions their membership in the group, or it questions whether that issue is something the group is serious about. And that’s good character-centric story.

    Ben Robbins | October 5th, 2020 | , , , | leave a comment