- Leave space to introduce new elements into your character’s history. Leave space for new character ties, plot connections and opinions. Oftentimes you’re better off with a series of dot points, especially on the history documents you send to your Game Masters. While you can still send your backstory as a short story, attaching dot points to that will help the GMs pick out the elements that are most important to you, and can be really helpful when they need to find a name. Also be aware that not every Game Master has the time or inclination to read fiction, or lengthy backstories, but some will.
- See your initial creation as a draft character. Your character might need to change and develop over the course of the first few sessions, possibly retrospectively if it’s not disruptive, in order to better fit the game. If it’s not core to your character, if the change wouldn’t defeat the purpose of the character, consider making it. Maybe you really love the idea of the science puzzles or you had no idea that combat would be such a big part of the game, maybe see if you can swap a skill around or change your character’s opinion on fighting. If they were a pacifist beforehand, and you’ve pretty heavily established that, consider talking to other players or the Game Masters on ways to convince your character to go against that so you can get engaged in the parts of the game that you find the most fun.
- Character Ties Matter. Seriously, a game can be made twice as fun by having a single strong character tie as it gives you ready-made plot (what happens to that character matters to you) and someone who shares an interest in your character’s history. Complex relationships (not necessarily romantic ones) can pull you into different plotlines and give you plenty to do in lull periods. Always aim for at least one, but three is deal.
- Character Generators are an option. So long as you modify it to suit the game, remove anything that’s too silly and flesh it out, you can get some interesting combinations of traits and inspiration from a generator. Sometimes random rolls can inspire more complex characters or new ways of doing things. While occasionally you have to put the Hard No on the “Cheese Lover” tag, sometimes it’s the perfect thing to add flavour to your orc barbarian.
- Core concepts and several tag lines can help you define your character. Sometimes it can help you roleplay another personality, or think about things to do, if you have a summary concept and a few tag words attached to them. Things like “overly trusting, collector, wants gems rather than gold,” can all give you some inspiration on how to act and what to do in a game.
- Where did you get them skills? Regardless of whether the game has skill mechanics, or just relies on player skill, your character would have some skills, knowledge and training of their own. A private investigator, police officer, journalist and worried mother would all approach a missing person’s case differently, after all, and it can help you brainstorm ways to use your character’s skills and ways to manage a situation by thinking of what YOUR character would do. Plus it’s a good way of generating anecdotes. Maybe your mother was a locksmith or maybe you keep forgetting your keys so you had to learn how to pick your own lock. Both options are interesting.
- Ask for advice. Not every Game Master is great at providing character generation advice, but if they’re able and willing, listen to them. Odds are if they keep angling you to have a connection to a particular town, or have a particular skill-set, there’s a need for it somewhere in the game. Other players can also be a wellspring of advice, especially in established games where they may have more experience in knowing what works and what doesn’t.
- Character ties. Having ties to other people, or places if you can swing it, helps make your character feel a part of the world, encourages others to involve you on a deeper level, and can inspire events and activities in and of themselves. There’s something to be said for being able to roleplay an engagement or a best friendship or a rival from Session One. The trick is that folks are often shy about suggesting, or accepting, a character tie and there needs to be some negotiation to figure out exactly how it would work. If you have a really tight character tie, you also need to think about whether the character would be playable if the other person left, and make your peace with that. However, when it does work out it brings a depth and richness to the experience that can’t be understated. And when it doesn’t work out, it more often just falls flat rather than causing real problems.
So there you have it. A bunch of ways to build a character and get involved, or stay involved, in the plot with a character you create yourself. Have fun and happy creating!