Character Histories and Profiles

Ok, I know that I’m probably not making any friends by saying this, but I HATE character histories. Before you jump up and start raving about how character histories are what give PCs depth and how they’re the coolest element of the game and all that, allow me to explain. You see, not excepting myself at all, any character history is, at best, mediocre fanfic. And fanfic, by definition, is awful. Not only is it usually painful to read, but often times it is nearly impossible to distill specific plot points from them that can easily be incorporated into an event.

Which brings me to the whole point of this post – character profiles. This is the information that plot writers and event directors actually want. No fluff about how the springtime zephyrs blew lazily through the scenic bows of the Quentari forest – just cold, hard facts describing things that can feasibly come on-stage at an event. There are numerous variations on what exactly should go into a profile, but the template below covers most of the bases.

So without further adue, here is my character profile template:

Character Profile

Player Name: Who are you???

Character Name: duh

Birthplace/Home Region: Everybody has to come from somewhere! This field can include your character’s original homeland as well as other places he might’ve lived throughout his pre-adventuring life.

Current Homeland: Where does your character live every Monday-Thursday?

Race: Include any “sub-race” variants or specific cultures in this field.

Age: List your character’s actual age, along with an estimate of the equivalent in “human years”

Mentor: Almost nobody is completely self-taught. Most characters had one or more teachers train them in the ways of swordsmanship, stealth, arcane arts or whatever. Who taught your character, where are they now and what are they doing currently? It’s ok to write in what your mentor(s) are doing even if your character doesn’t actually know. If it’s an established NPC that has already come into game and you really DON’T know, that’s fine too.

Friend: No man is an island. Everyone has someone that would help them out if they were in trouble, or who they would drop everything to aid if called upon to do so.

Rival: Most people grew up with peers in the same field of study as them, who they competed with and may have some animosity towards. These characters aren’t necessarily “out to get you,” but you might cross the street if you saw them walking down the sidewalk in your direction.

Enemy: The classic arch-villain. For whatever reason, this character is actively trying to kill, maim, rob or discredit you. Briefly describe how you first encountered this person, why you’re enemies with him, and how you think they plan to get you.

Allied Groups/Factions: Tyrra is overflowing with interesting groups, guilds, knightly orders, racial subcultures and other factions. Which of these has your character specifically encountered and decided to ally with? Why does your character prefer these groups over others?

Rival Groups/Factions: Same as above, except that these groups work in the same circles as your character and compete with you.

Enemy Groups/Factions: Peoples whats yous hate.

Secret: Every interesting, memorable character has had some experience that they don’t want other people to know about. Even the most shiningly righteous knight must have done something he’s not proud of – it doesn’t make him a bad person by default, and actually drives him towards greater altruism and chivalry to prove to himself that he has risen above this sordid event.

Goal: Why do you risk life and limb once a month by going to these bizarre carnivals of death and mayhem we call “Adventurers’ Gatherings?” What are you working towards? And no, “being a famous adventurer” doesn’t cut it. Think a little deeper than that, please.

Obstacles: Why haven’t you achieved the above-mentioned goal already? What is holding you back? Again, if you have a cool idea for something you want your character to work through but the character himself doesn’t actually know about it ahead of time, that’s perfectly acceptable. Just note that in the entry.

  1. #1 by JJ on June 22, 2009 - 6:53 pm

    See, the problem I have with this template, is that I could not have filled in, oh, about half of this for the first couple of years that I played. I didn’t pick a country to be from until 2 years in, because it just didn’t matter that much (then I picked Myanthea. Oops). There is limited information about most campaigns available online, and I’m ok with that. Finding stuff out IG is fun (most of the time. see Myanthea example above for why it doesn’t always work). But leaving a slot for ‘rival group’ or ‘allied group’ invites one of two things:
    1. every new PC who comes in has ties to the same three groups that are easily identifiable in what writeups you find
    2. every new PC makes up their own group, which is pain-in-the-neckish for plot

    I still can’t fill in large parts of this after playing my character for over 6 years. Rival? I don’t have rivals, that I can think of? Nor allied groups.

    What I want to know, when I see a character history (or outline, or whatever), are a couple of basic facts (family, homeland, etc), and the major events that impacted the character and made them what they are now. This may or may not include the stuff above. Family killed by undead? Ongoing rivalry with an older brother? A fantastic ball your character snuck into that made them want to become a noble?

    Your list isn’t bad, I just think it’s too tied into a specific type of character and doesn’t fit a good number of archetypes.

  2. #2 by omegacow on June 22, 2009 - 10:46 pm

    The profile isn’t meant to be fully filled out before your first event. It’s basically a series of prompts to help develop some kind of narrative concept for a character that defines him as something separate from, “Basically me in real life, but with foam swords.” You can add in things as they occur over the course of playing your character, change things as your characters views and values change, or leave certain things blank.

    Each entry on the list is designed so that an event writer that’s looking at it can design a simple encounter based on the information given. Because in the end, that’s what the document is designed to facilitate. It doesn’t have to hold every detail of your character’s inner mind or ever significant event in his history. All it’s meant to do is provide a means for the writers to design encounters based on some kind of PC-centered, established canon.

    That said, I would never claim that my template is perfect or complete or all-inclusive. It’s just a tool I like to use so that I can incorporate peoples’ individual characters into the overall story in a way that resonates with them and is meaningful.

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