Let’s face it, it usually doesn’t require the brains of a genius to write up a character sheet and put on a silly voice.
Is that really a character?
Of course it’s bloody not. A character is a personality, a set of opinions, dreams and drives distinct from those of the player.
Now it’s easy to come up with virtues and noble ideals for characters, they are useful and sometimes (depending on the system) necessary but what about eccentricities, odd quirks and major flaws?
The failings that make a character)
Everyone no matter how disciplined possesses their own set of selfish and destructive urges that they live with every day.
It’s those negative aspects that make characters into people, and in doing so makes them interesting, without that shadow of fallible relatability they tend to fall flat, becoming cliched Mary Sues (I’m looking at a certain alien in a cape in particular, you know the one.)
Is your character forgetful? Maybe they’re insufferably arrogant? Are they an addict? Do they have no restraint with food and drink or do they constantly brag about their sexual conquests?
The best played flaws will sometimes lead you to make a trade-off, normally this comes in the form of suffering a mechanical disadvantage in return for opportunities to discover information, make contacts or be in the right place at the right time. Obviously this can be a handy way for the PM to deliver plot hooks.
Plot hooks you say?
Examples of this would be the opium addict overhearing shady cultists organising a gathering in the hideout under the drug den (would they remember it?) Maybe a drunkard or gambler stumbling upon the BBEGs former mentor in a infamously vile dive bar the other group members wouldn’t stoop to entering.
This kind of roleplay is far more interesting and immersive than random PM infodumps or constantly returning to a MMO style quest giver. Providing valuable information but getting it can cost the player/group in terrible withdrawal/hangovers/debts that need to be dealt with later.
But wait, my character isn’t a total dick
Well no, they probably aren’t (why not? it’s great fun,) but try to remember that unless something has gone seriously wrong in your game’s world your character is probably dealing with things outside of their usual day-to-day.
So their tendency to fall into self-destructive patterns is going to be more pronounced. They could pick up a new flaw as the game progresses or sink deeper into one, this could create a B-plot of the rest of your group trying to help them.
So, it’s okay to be a selfish, deeply flawed bag of dicks?
Pretty much, yeah. Just remember that RPGs are collaborative endeavours and you can always take another character with you.
Seizing too much of the spotlight for yourself is often just taking it from a less assertive member of your group, remember to share the limelight when your drunk wants to go on a binge.
So, be a vile arsehole if you want, but remember your group doesn’t have to put up with you going overboard.
So, what bought all this on?
Having just finished a seven month long campaign playing Cormac “Mac” Michels on Friday Night SPICED! I can honestly say that playing an arrogant, forgetful, lusty, self-centred, cowardly, hard-drinking, incompetent sniper promoted beyond his ability to operate was a real treat.
Every game gave me the opportunity to see Mac faced with opportunities to sink to a new low or struggle to overcome his crippling personal failings. It led to Mac gaining a drinking buddy in Lola, losing a shoe on an alien world and refusing to buy better gear due to it being non-vegan.
Hopefully this has given you some food for thought.
Everybody take a level of Suffering!