The ultimate character. The pinnacle of what a character can be. The sort of character that comes along maybe once or twice in a generation. Gamers aspire to roll up this magnificent creation, but what if I told you that there is a formula for creating the ultimate character every time you play?
Come, my friends, into the laboratory of the bewildering bard, where we shall cobble together such a piece of work that the very Gods would nod approvingly, and then smite us down for treading on their turf. And they called me mad! MAD!!!
"They could be right."
The first thing we need to define is what the ultimate character really means. The most boiled down definition of this term is that the character is the best achievable or imaginable creation of its kind. The thing about the "best" is that everyone's definition of what is best differs from person to person.
"This guy gets it!"
In the frame of what we're trying to achieve today, "best" really encompasses getting the most out of your character, and the experience of playing them. To do this we will examine all the things that really make a character come alive, and how to take that 2-dimensional character sheet and transform it into a 3-dimensional paragon.
Let the experiment begin!
"It's a brand new day."
Deciding What Character You Want To Play
This is perhaps the hardest part of the process. Take note, deciding what character you want to play does not mean "I am playing a dwarf cleric". Your race and your class are not your characters. They are secondary elements that are only a part of the kind of character your want to be.
Your character is who the person is. Are they a lover or a fighter? Are they stalwart and brave or a yellow coward? Do they possess mercy or are they a ruthless cutthroat? Do the wear who they are on their sleeve, or do they keep their true-self hidden from others, only letting it out in brief glimpses? This is your character. The flesh and bones, the mind and emotions, the attitude and the spirit that you want to imbue this character with.
Picking a Race
Your race is more important than stat allocation and special abilities. This is your heritage, your belief system, your core values. Every race is different and offers a different portion of the pie that is your character. Dwarves are typically very stringent, stubborn and lawful. Elves are usually often aloof and free spirited.
This is what the culture of your character hails from, but your character does not necessarily need to adhere to its own society's norms. After all, Drizzt Do'urden isn't the only one that can rebel against his people's beleif system, and your race need not be inherently evil for you to do so. Maybe your want to be a dwarf whose life isn't a constant schedule of mining, crafting, drinking, and goblin crushing. Maybe you want to start a farm, grow some crops, drink tea, and leave the goblins to their own devices. Maybe your an elf that requires a little more discipline and regiment in their life, and you take off from the lush greenery of the forests to dwell inside the stone walls of large cities.
Whatever you choose, make sure it is what your character would do. Make a comfort zone for yourself. After all, you are the one that is going to be playing this character. If you get more enjoyment embracing your race or shunning it is up to you.
Picking A Class
You know who you are, now its time to decide what you do. Contrary to popular belief this is not the core of your character. This is your job, or in another light the way you present yourself to the world. It should reflect some aspect of who your character is, and what they are capable of. Some classes require more commitment than others, but they don't necessarily have to if you were a natural born prodigy. When choosing your class, ask yourself these questions.
- Why? At some point you decided you wanted to become proficient in this particular type of class. If you chose to be a rogue, how did you find yourself doing so? Did you do it for survival, stealing what you needed? Where you a scout for some organization? Are you just a very gifted locksmith? Or was your reasoning darker?
Maybe you didn't choose the class as much as it was thrust upon you. You could have been a simple farmer until the king's army came knocking at your door telling your it was time to serve in a war in a country you had never heard of. The why is incredibly important, not just for your own justification, but for the development of who your character is.
- When? You came into your class at some point. When that happened can tell you a lot about your character's life. If you entered the training for said class at a young age, then that has been the majority of your life. Most of what they know revolves around the class, and it has shaped you-for better or worse-into the person you are today. In many cases this sort of involvement in your class has stripped you of a normal childhood. How has that effected you? Did it harden you, forcing you to grow up fast, or are you making up for lost time?
Perhaps you entered your class late in life. It is entirely possible that you are new to it, especially if you are playing in a low-level game. You could just be unbelievably talented in your particular field. Never forget that you are a head above those around you.
- Who? Did someone get you interested in your class. Did someone force you into your class. In a lot of character backstories, there is an individual or group of individuals that influence the future of the character, i.e. you. Was it a mentor, a master, a family member, a villain or a friend that set you down the path of your particular class?
It is entirely possible that there was a lack of someone that lead you to you decision. Someone might have run out on you at a young age, or even a formidable age. Maybe a close friend or family member died, causing your to enter your class either out of revenge, a way to honor them, or even a means of escape.
Who's are important for fun backstories, and excellent tools to give the Game Master for character development later down the line. Trust me, it is super fun to be confronted by those ghosts from the past, especially when you least expect it.
What You Should Take From Your Stats
Your stats are a measure of your ability and proficiency. But they are so much more. They can tell you how you react, how you think, how you interact with people, how often you get sick. They are also the benchmark that shows you just how far above the average person you really are. And that right there is the thing you should take a look at.
Your average commoner has straight 10's or 12's for all their stats, depending on the system you are using. Now, just to be clear, commoners make up the majority of people in the campaign world. They are the farmers, the workers, the beggars, the fishermen, and even the low level militia folk. Think about that when you roll a 13 and think it is a low roll. Your low roll is 1 better than the majority of the world. While the ability modifier might not change, it does show you are very close to pushing into "renowned" status.. Someone with an 18 in a stat is the pinnacle of what a normal, non-supernatural creature can achieve. For further comparison, check this out.
- Strength: A 13 makes you "the workhorse" which farmers for miles around desperately seek to help in tilling their fields.
An 18 effectively makes you Guts from the anime Berserk. You are capable of acts of strength that leave people speechless. You could cut a horse in half with little effort. You can enter those "Worlds Strongest Man" competitions, where the guys that look they are made of giant slabs of steak pull school buses with their teeth.
"That's what she said."
- Dexterity: A 13 turns you into the person that has pretty good reflexes. You can probably catch most things before they fall to the ground, and you are very good with delicate work that involves your hands. You could be a clock-maker.
With an 18 you are an Olympic gymnast, a freestyle runner doing insane parkour, and David Bow from that scene in Labyrinth.
"The power of voodoo. Who do? You do. Do what? Remind me of the babe!"
- Constitution: A 13 means you are pretty hardy. You get sick every once and a while, but you are also pretty good at staving off just as many illnesses or infections. You can take a beating, hold your breath, and hold your ale with the best of them. You might even be able to drink a few farmers under the table.
With an 18... well, have you ever seen The Relevant? The story of a guy mauled by a bear, buried alive, left for dead, who crawled his way through the frozen wilderness while being hunted by a nomadic tribe of scalp-happy Native Americans who don't take kindly to the folk that raped and pillaged their land, only to get revenge on the guy who killed his son and left him for dead in the first place. That, and you can drink a butt-ton of liquor, which, after all, that, you'd probably want to.
"Guess which one is Yogi, and which one is the picnic basket"
- Intelligence: With a 13 you are clever. You can see things some can't, anticipate actions and reactions and plan better than most of your friends. That's why in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder an Intelligence of 13 was required for the Combat Expertise feat, which opened up some of the craftier feat options later on.
An 18 has turned you into Stephen Hawking or Sherlock Holmes. Your mind becomes a palace of knowledge. You can think like a super computer, crunch numbers on the fly, create Machiavellian plans, and decipher languages without knowing the root language it descends from. In fact, you are probably multi-lingual.
"Sure, one of those languages could be Klingon..."
- Wisdom: With a 13 you are blessed with an abundance of common sense. You're streetwise. You know how people think, you are good at reading them, and you can see the signs in the weather, whether this season's crops will yield a nice haul or not. You can navigate by stars, find your way the woods, and have a good head on your shoulders for finding the truth in problems.
With an 18 you are a mix of Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. You have a keen insight into the human soul. Your rule as a king would bring joy to your subjects and a bounty to your coffers. You have thee eyes of a sniper, the survival instincts of Rambo, and streetwise of a mafia don. You can flatten people with philosophical truths that change their perception of reality in such a way, they may have an existential crisis and wonder if they do in fact exist, or if they just some daydream you cooked up because you were bored.
"That... that got a little deep. I apologize."
- Charisma: At 13 you are pretty likable. You have a personality some may find fun. You are probably the most attractive person in your village, town, or neighborhood. You know how to talk to folks, and are pretty handy at getting a good deal. You have the capacity to weave some pretty good lies, or smooth things over between quarreling neighbors. You might even be a politician, sitting on some kind of town council.
With an 18 your are equal parts career politician and cult leader. People are inexplicably drawn to you. Anything that comes out of your mouth is widely regarded as the truth, no matter how outlandish. You are Tony Stark, Hugh Hefner and James Bond, only better at the whole spy thing (seriously, how secret an agent can you be if every knows your friggin' name?). You're more or less a celebrity, and rarely have to pay anything you don't want to. You could rule a kingdom, or start your own religion, depending how ambitious you are.
The stats that you have above 12 set you apart from everyone. They are major features in who your character is, and you should know why they are that high. If you are prodigiously strong, did you strive for that or was it a result of toil and good genetics? If you are charismatic, did it arise out of a need, or was it part of your upbringing?
And what about the stats below 12? The ones that dip down into negative modifiers. These are nothing to be ashamed of, and in fact the should be celebrated. These give your character some dimension. They make you interesting. A high intelligence and low wisdom just mean you are so clever that sometimes you don't notice what is going on around you. A high strength and a low constitution just means that while you are powerful, you are also physically frail, be it illness or otherwise, and you may wear heavy armors to keep yourself safe... though only for brief periods of time.
Play into your low stats as much as you play into your high ones. You will find that you are a better and more interesting character because of it.
Be The Best At What You Do
This one is pretty self explanatory. If you are going to play a character that hits hard, be the best, hardest hitter you can. If you are playing someone that can talk themselves out of anything, really strive to exercise that silver tongue, and giver yourself ever advantage to do so. I can't tell you how many times I have see the player at the table that rolls up one thing, and ends up playing another. Sure, a pacifist fighter could be fun, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. You could be an ex-fighter turned cleric, but remembered that this is an adventure game, and you are an adventurer. Don't play something that can't contribute to your party in some significant way.
If you are a rogue that can't be stealthy, possesses no guile, and can't pick a lock, what are you bringing to the table? If you can't even do one of these things, than perhaps rogue wasn't the best fit for a class. Ever person at the table has a thing they can do well, be it cast spells, heal, hit things really hard, or pick a lock. But one person can't (and shouldn't) do everything, which brings me to my next point...
Acknowledge And Embrace What You Can't Do
Games like D&D and Pathfinder are cooperative games. They're meant to be played in a group, each member contributing something. The reason for this is is because while one person is powerful, a together they are mighty. Also, a good thing to note, no one person can do anything. Now I know there are a ton of power builder who scoff at such a remark and consider it a personal challenge. They set out to make a spellcasting warrior with plate armor, a rogue's knack for picking locks and a barbarian's hit die
This is really a good idea if you are playing a game by yourself. But when you are playing in a group, do you know what that makes you? A dick. Not just any dick either. The amount of effort and sacrifice you need in order to make that all-rounder has made you so utterly useless to the rest of the party at this level your are a flaccid dick. Don't be a dick.
Every being has limitations, even the Gods. Don't morn yours, celebrate them. Enjoy them. So what if you can't warp reality to your will? You are still a badass fighter that can make most wizards soil their robes in that precious moment before your bury a greatsword into their skull. And if you can't fight, don't sweat it. You can inspire your comrades to be better than they thought they could ever be. Take solace in the fact that there are two to five other people at the table making up for what you can't do, and you are doing something they can't do. Together you are a force of nature, and that is what the game is about.
If you lived happily on a farm (holy hell, what is it with me and farms?!), and every day was peaceful, and nothing bad ever happened, and then one day you decided you wanted to become a wizard, do you know what that makes you?
Boring as shit.
If you open a book and read about the delightful non-adventures of Happy Jack, the sailor that never sailed on stormy waters, how likely are you to pick up the next seven books in the series? If you headed out to the movie theater this weekend and took an a showing of Captain America: Civil War and Captain America, Tony Stark, and the UN agreed on everything, how quickly would you be asking for your money back?
You are playing a character, and if you want it to be a fun character, you are going to need a little conflict in your . Conflict is the driving force behind just about every major hero and villain that we know of. It shapes characters, molds them into multi-layered, 3-dimensional beings. Harry Potter without Voldemort would just be some kid struggling with finals week. His conflict turned him into one of the most beloved fictional characters in history.
When crafting your character, make sure you apply a healthy dose of conflict. It doesn't need to be overwhelming. Your parents could have died, and maybe you decided to avenge them nightly while dressed up like a rodent, throwing sharp objects at the mentally ill.
"I only work with black. And sometimes, very dark gray."
But your village didn't need to burn down because of a case of dragon, you don't need to be the sole survivor of a massacre, you don't have to avenge the death of the person you loved, and your parents don't need to be dead. It's depressing to think of all these orphans running around looking for adventure. Use subtle touches, like being ousted by your town, being convicted of a crime your didn't commit, or just plain war. There are a million ways to brew up conflict. The more interesting the scenario, the more interesting your character is because of it.
Nobody is perfect, least of all those who heed the call to adventure. The life of an adventurer is brutal and short. If you were perfect, you would have decided to be a merchant, and retire somewhere warm with a pool boy named Phillipe. But you aren't perfect. You're flawed. And that, my friend, makes you fascinating.
Flaws are things that are detrimental to your character. They hold you back, keep you somewhat grounded. Even the most perfect character is probably actively hiding a deep character flaw. If I might make a suggestion, don't hide it. Flaunt it!
A drinking problem, cowardice, a gigantic ego, or just an uncontrollable belief that your are always right, despite overwhelming proof to the contrary. Flaws make for some fun role-playing opportunities that could either get your group in hot water, or get you out of a jam. Game Masters love character flaws, because they can work them into their stories, and the more the GM can work in, the happier they are. A happy Game Master makes for a more enjoyable game. The more enjoyable the game, the more fun you can have with your character. Aside from that, there is no creature you can slay in the Bestiary or Monster Manual that can compare to finally overcoming a character flaw. There are no rules for it, no checks, no rolls. It comes from you, and when you do it (and it should not happen often) it is a magical, memorable experience.
Back That Backstory Up
Everything you've done until now is a backstory.Your race, your class, your conflicts and stats and flaws. Once all of that been determined, your backstory is formed. It starts to take shape before your very eyes. You don't need to be an author to craft an excellent backstory, you need only look at your character sheet and think about the "why's".
After the shape has formed, do yourself a favor; add some characters to it. People other than you. Make a mentor or a childhood tormentor. A rival, a friend, a big o'le family. Populate your backstory with interesting folk. Most importantly, try not to kill all of them off. Loose ends are a Game Master's best friend. If you leave them a few threads dangling, a good GM will conjure a way to work them into the story. That means they are working you personally into the story, which allows your character to grow and develop in ways that aren't recorded on your character sheet.
Follow the formula and you may just have yourself a character to remember and cherish. One that lives and breathes... until your Game Master kills it in a poorly placed TPK at the hands of a killer whale.
What It could happen.
"Because you know what a Killer Whale was missing? Fists!"
Roll well, my friend,
+Ed The Bard
Looking for more options for your characters beyond what you see in the Player's Handbook? Check out the plethora of supplements over at the Open Gaming Store. Tons of affordable resources for Pathfinder and D&D 5th Edition from all of your favorite publishers. Just tell the find folks at the OGS that Ed The Bard sent you.
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