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Advice/Help Character Sheets - What are the most essential parts of a character?

kibou

ଘ(੭*ˊᵕˋ)੭* ̀ˋ
Moderator
So I have a minor problem. A dnd group I'm in has a member who struggles with any decisions related to their character- just today we were helping them make their sheet (scores, spells, etc) to guest star in a different campaign and they can't finish because they're asking us to help pick things that should be their own decisions based on their character's background and personality. Their character(s) don't have backstory or personality beyond a few descriptors (second-latest character is "pretty boy mute aasimar with amnesia"). They often ask for help with these kinds of things and we just can't create all of their ocs for them. It gets a little troublesome for the dm and us players when we play together as well.

We've tried explaining the concepts of how to create a backstory and more fleshed out character, but their biggest problem is that they struggle with anxiety among some other stuff and can't do anything without being guided through each step of the process. The second biggest problem is long pieces of text also stress them out and they might be neurodivergent, so they don't read anything that's too long, and character questionnaires I've found that go in-depth tend to be pretty long. Open-ended questions stress them out too- asking how they interacted with a sibling was too vague and they wouldn't answer.

The whole situation is admittedly a little exhausting.

tl;dr - I want to create a short character questionnaire that doesn't have many open-ended questions (choosing between 2+ options would be best) but still ends with a character that has a backstory and a somewhat fleshed-out character.

To that end, what sort of things do you think would be absolutely essential to a character if you had to break them down to their most base pieces? What options would you present?
 
Would having them base their character on a real person help?

I mean normally we steer clear of self inserts but I find it’s an easy template for a lot of newbies to follow.

Basically “Okay imagine your sister has (whatever special abilities come with the roleplay). How would she act in these situations?”
 

kibou

ଘ(੭*ˊᵕˋ)੭* ̀ˋ
Moderator
Unfortunately not. Most of their ocs are self inserts and still manage to not have much depth, and then they end up abandoning them because it makes it harder to separate in-character interactions from reality and they take them personally. I thiiink they're trying at least a little to branch out a tiny bit and I'd like to help. I appreciate the suggestion though. :)
 

John Wellington Wells

Dealer in magic and spells
I've had similar problems when running games like DnD and I've found that it helps a lot to only focus on one aspect of the character in the beginning.

For example, have them pick their character's motivation (if coming up with one is too open ended for them, just have them pick from a list you prepared earlier). And then you can use that part of the character to work backwards from to define their backstory and personality.
 

Crayons

Iconoclast
^ There is a good point.

So... I do/did a lot of character creation workshops with kids and teens. These are some of the questions on my sheets, mildly paraphrased:

Occupation/Job
Hobby (must be different from job)
3 personality traits (you can also provide a list for this)
Where do they live
Important posssession (and optionally why)
Worst fear
What makes them happiest
Pet peeve
Goal ( a bit more focused than general motivation they can use this to work towards in game.

Even if you just do the first three on the list it gives the character a bit more bulk.
 

Idea

The Pun Tyrant The Gif Hydra
D&D backgrounds and I believe either classes or races also come with their own little tables you can roll for suggestions on personality traits etc... maybe those could be helpful?

Also, how about using some personality quizz results as a basis for the different kinds of "scales" there are and let the player pick from that?
 

AnnJam

👁👄👁 *heavy breathing* 👁👄👁
Shit it's D&D that makes it hella easy . . . in D&D just have them roll dice on EVERYTHING from their backstory, items, decisions, so on. Use the background charts from the book (or other sources), there are charts on charts in the book for items, and simply use dice to roll on everything you possibly can.

The joy of D&D is you can let dice make decisions and it helps new, or shy players ease into the game without being overwhelmed by all the DECISSIONS!
 
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Simon_Hawk

Elder Member
^ There is a good point.

So... I do/did a lot of character creation workshops with kids and teens. These are some of the questions on my sheets, mildly paraphrased:

Occupation/Job
Hobby (must be different from job)
3 personality traits (you can also provide a list for this)
Where do they live
Important posssession (and optionally why)
Worst fear
What makes them happiest
Pet peeve
Goal ( a bit more focused than general motivation they can use this to work towards in game.

Even if you just do the first three on the list it gives the character a bit more bulk.
I am going to use this. lol thanks!
 

AnnJam

👁👄👁 *heavy breathing* 👁👄👁
I am going to use this. lol thanks!
These are what I ask my players as a DM before I start planning my games. This isn't to answer the OP because these are very open ended questions . . . but Hawk you may find these useful too.


What is one thing from your character's past that could bite them in the ass in the present?
Who is someone significant from your character's past?
What is one of your characters' fears?
What is something your character strives to obtain?
What is the one thing your character carries on them at all times? (can not be a religious sigil or magic device, must be personal and only of value to them).
 
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Simon_Hawk

Elder Member
So I have a minor problem. A dnd group I'm in has a member who struggles with any decisions related to their character- just today we were helping them make their sheet (scores, spells, etc) to guest star in a different campaign and they can't finish because they're asking us to help pick things that should be their own decisions based on their character's background and personality. Their character(s) don't have backstory or personality beyond a few descriptors (second-latest character is "pretty boy mute aasimar with amnesia"). They often ask for help with these kinds of things and we just can't create all of their ocs for them. It gets a little troublesome for the dm and us players when we play together as well.

We've tried explaining the concepts of how to create a backstory and more fleshed out character, but their biggest problem is that they struggle with anxiety among some other stuff and can't do anything without being guided through each step of the process. The second biggest problem is long pieces of text also stress them out and they might be neurodivergent, so they don't read anything that's too long, and character questionnaires I've found that go in-depth tend to be pretty long. Open-ended questions stress them out too- asking how they interacted with a sibling was too vague and they wouldn't answer.

The whole situation is admittedly a little exhausting.

tl;dr - I want to create a short character questionnaire that doesn't have many open-ended questions (choosing between 2+ options would be best) but still ends with a character that has a backstory and a somewhat fleshed-out character.

To that end, what sort of things do you think would be absolutely essential to a character if you had to break them down to their most base pieces? What options would you present?

If all else fails........Make them play the generic fighter with a long sword who comes from a small hamlet and their parents were killed by a goblin invasion. Also, they like Ale and wenches.
 

Simon_Hawk

Elder Member
These are what I ask my players as a DM before I start planning my games. This isn't to answer the OP because these are very open ended questions . . . but Hawk you may find these useful too.


What is one thing from your character's past that could bite them in the ass in the present?
Who is someone significant from your character's past?
What is one of your characters' fears?
What is something your character strives to obtain?
What is the one thing your character carries on them at all times?
I like lists like this, makes it way easier than pining over everything in my mind. thank you!
 

AnnJam

👁👄👁 *heavy breathing* 👁👄👁
Simon_Hawk Simon_Hawk NP. I like those questions because they give me things from my PCs BGs to use in the world and develop plotlines around them; without demanding much of my PCs in terms of fleshing everything out. Gives them their own ideas to build on without needing to know EVERYTHING about their PC. My players told me it helped them narrow down some small things but made them feel like their characters had a little more depth and importance in the world too.
 
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neptune.

astrologia.
not essential at all but i've found that asking students to choose a song or several that reminds them of their character can leave them feeling more connected, and in turn, more confident in getting creative/navigating that character. if anxiety in decision-making is part of the issue, perhaps something like that could help ✿
 
Most basic? Appearance and personality. I often start with these two categories and flesh it out later. The personality often gives me ideas for a backstory. Or, if there is a role I'm really wanting to play, I might start with that and shape the personality around the role (or throw that on its head and make the personality not match the role whatsoever. Depends on my mood!).
 

kibou

ଘ(੭*ˊᵕˋ)੭* ̀ˋ
Moderator
A lot of good ideas here I can add to the sheet I'm going to try to make and some other options I can present as well.

Part of the issue with basing stuff on ability scores and backgrounds... I'll suggest that but this player was asking us where to put the scores they rolled and what background traits to choose, every single thing that goes on the sheet they wanted to know what they "should" do. They're not new to the system so it wasn't the issue. Maybe because we're super roleplay heavy and most of us have a character in mind before rolling and assign all our stuff based on that, those things just didn't occur to anyone or they wanted to do it our way. Assigning stuff randomly and working from there might help somewhat. I almost worry that the different ways to interpret the stats like intelligence and wisdom will be too much... lol... maybe it woudn't matter since their starting scores are always funnily similar and rather high. I don't own many of the books but I'll check out those links to expand on the few options that come with each background.

Working backwards from motivations/current state of the character to logically create a background is one of the very first things we suggested and tried to explain, but I don't know if that was too open-ended, they implied it didn't make sense. It might also be difficult to logically work backwards when there's not much to a character's current personality and they don't have real motivations yet. Appearance is the only thing they don't struggle with at least.

not essential at all but i've found that asking students to choose a song or several that reminds them of their character can leave them feeling more connected, and in turn, more confident in getting creative/navigating that character. if anxiety in decision-making is part of the issue, perhaps something like that could help ✿
I'll try suggesting this too. I think anxiety and being so afraid of choosing "wrong" things or not making something good enough that it's paralyzing is a big part of it, but I might be wrong. I'm a massive perfectionist so I can relate but still don't know how to help. So hopefully this will.
 
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Crayons

Iconoclast
My usual group has one player who typically likes to just play bashy-bashy characters without much background or thought, whereas some of us like making up a more detailed character, and it's actually fine. It might be OK to just let them bring a bare bones character to the table and just ... have them do their thing.

Giving them an either/or checklist of traits might help. Like are they outgoing or shy? Are they kind or cruel? Especially if these are traits that help them roleplay how the character is now (which imo is more important than tehir history or background).

Anyway good luck with it!
 

kibou

ଘ(੭*ˊᵕˋ)੭* ̀ˋ
Moderator
I think most of us wouldn't care as much if their characters didn't have very much depth- we had a campaign for over a year with them in it already and that's how it was up until they felt too insecure about their own character to keep playing as them and abandoned them. They ask for help with their characters constantly already so I'm not pushing roleplay on them, they want to have unique characters but struggle with the very basics and with doing their own research and I'd like to give them some tools so they don't have to rely on us so much.
 

Andei

New Member
These are a couple of potentially helpful ideas that are definitely a bit on the theoretical side, so do take these suggestions with a handful of salt:

1) Design a character that doesn't think much - sometimes it's easier to play a character who just does things without any premeditation, and has a fairly small (and therefore manageable) stock of canned social reactions. It might be:
  • stereotypical muscle-for-brains barbarian who does whatever ends with the most fighting
  • a paladin with delusions of grandeur who does whatever sounds heroic
  • a daredevil rogue who does whatever is most dangerous
2) Design a character who decides things by coin / dice - play a character who decides what they do by flipping a coin (in the vein of DC's Two-Face). Maybe they follow a deity of fate and chance, which means they always let the dice have a say in what they do (or something like that).

If, like what you said, they're having issues with making 'right' decisions, it might be in their favour to design characters which makes it easier to make choices. But it might not be the case, so do what you think is best :)
 

kibou

ଘ(੭*ˊᵕˋ)੭* ̀ˋ
Moderator
I wouldn't be trying to help this person if they weren't already actively asking for our help with their ocs- including regular ocs for text based roleplay that have nothing to do with dnd, but lately it's been their dnd characters they've been focusing on. And they've been asking for a lot of help but have been unable to use the suggestions we've been giving. There's not always someone who's available to spend time helping them so I'd like to give them tools they can actually use. I stated as much in my last reply.
 

s o u r

depressed bitch hours are 24/7
So I have a minor problem. A dnd group I'm in has a member who struggles with any decisions related to their character- just today we were helping them make their sheet (scores, spells, etc) to guest star in a different campaign and they can't finish because they're asking us to help pick things that should be their own decisions based on their character's background and personality. Their character(s) don't have backstory or personality beyond a few descriptors (second-latest character is "pretty boy mute aasimar with amnesia"). They often ask for help with these kinds of things and we just can't create all of their ocs for them. It gets a little troublesome for the dm and us players when we play together as well.

We've tried explaining the concepts of how to create a backstory and more fleshed out character, but their biggest problem is that they struggle with anxiety among some other stuff and can't do anything without being guided through each step of the process. The second biggest problem is long pieces of text also stress them out and they might be neurodivergent, so they don't read anything that's too long, and character questionnaires I've found that go in-depth tend to be pretty long. Open-ended questions stress them out too- asking how they interacted with a sibling was too vague and they wouldn't answer.

The whole situation is admittedly a little exhausting.

tl;dr - I want to create a short character questionnaire that doesn't have many open-ended questions (choosing between 2+ options would be best) but still ends with a character that has a backstory and a somewhat fleshed-out character.

To that end, what sort of things do you think would be absolutely essential to a character if you had to break them down to their most base pieces? What options would you present?
i like to break down characters into 2 good qualities, 2 bad qualities, and then their motivation for why they’re doing the things they are.

for example, lets say i have a character whose good qualities are that they are loyal and honest. their bad qualities would be that they blindly trust people and they always tell the truth even if it’s detrimental to them. their motivation maybe is that they’re close to another character and they want to keep an eye on them.

something like that. if they struggle with names and that like, behindthenames.com, surnames.behindthenames.com, and fantasynamegenerator.com are great.
 

GojiBean

That One Fear In My Enemy's Eyes
So I have a minor problem. A dnd group I'm in has a member who struggles with any decisions related to their character- just today we were helping them make their sheet (scores, spells, etc) to guest star in a different campaign and they can't finish because they're asking us to help pick things that should be their own decisions based on their character's background and personality. Their character(s) don't have backstory or personality beyond a few descriptors (second-latest character is "pretty boy mute aasimar with amnesia"). They often ask for help with these kinds of things and we just can't create all of their ocs for them. It gets a little troublesome for the dm and us players when we play together as well.

We've tried explaining the concepts of how to create a backstory and more fleshed out character, but their biggest problem is that they struggle with anxiety among some other stuff and can't do anything without being guided through each step of the process. The second biggest problem is long pieces of text also stress them out and they might be neurodivergent, so they don't read anything that's too long, and character questionnaires I've found that go in-depth tend to be pretty long. Open-ended questions stress them out too- asking how they interacted with a sibling was too vague and they wouldn't answer.

The whole situation is admittedly a little exhausting.

tl;dr - I want to create a short character questionnaire that doesn't have many open-ended questions (choosing between 2+ options would be best) but still ends with a character that has a backstory and a somewhat fleshed-out character.

To that end, what sort of things do you think would be absolutely essential to a character if you had to break them down to their most base pieces? What options would you present?
I really, really hate saying this because I always try to be encouraging of people who want to become storytellers and character creators... But Kibou, it's time to stop enabling this individual.

I know you want to be kind and help them out, and you've clearly been giving the extra effort on that front and nobody can or would fault you for trying to be kind. But your kindness is actually hurting them here.

The process of character creation and generating information about their backstory cannot be dumbed down into "yes/no" questions with no room for open interpretation or the ability to ask more questions that need answering later. To try and force it to that level goes against the very nature of storytelling where every detail you see, hear, read is supposed to generate more questions and lead you down the rabbit hole of discovery. Every answer brings a new question. Every detail shown brings another previously hidden detail to light. It's never so simple as "yes/no." Ever.

So as much you probably don't want to hear it, for this individual's own sake it's time to tell them "you're on your own" when it comes to character creation, backstory, etc.

That's not to say that you can never help them again or anything. You can always be there to answer general questions like "hey, for this nation what's the best clothing style for cultural accuracy" or something like that just to make sure they have details right before their character is completed. But the actual character creation/backstory process needs to be theirs to complete, and theirs alone. You cannot continue to do this for them.

It's not fair to you given the stress you and the others are clearly experiencing because, even if it's not their intent, their reluctance to engage in the process of character creation is driving them to take advantage of you and the others' kindness by continuing to ask over and over again for you to do it for them. You should never let someone take advantage of you, no matter what the circumstances are. I don't care if it's a family member whom you love with all your heart. Never let anyone take advantage. Again, they may not intentionally be taking advantage of you or the others. But they absolutely are doing so.

It's also not fair to them because it's robbing them of all the tools and mental practices that will be required to be a storyteller of any capacity. Even for casual roleplaying and DnD, the mental process of character creation is a necessary tool which you are wielding for them right now instead of actually teaching them to use on their own. Every time you give in to them asking you to do something for them, you're taking that tool away and using it behind their back so they can't see how it's done or experience it for themselves. As well , doing the work for them is robbing them not only of the personal satisfaction and pride of creating their own unique characters and backstories, but it's teaching them that the world exists to take the burden of responsibility off their shoulders which is absolutely not true. And for their own sake and personal growth, you need to teach them that this isn't how the world works.

To be a storyteller and a character creator is a personal endeavor, and one that can't properly be experienced if you ask everyone to do everything for you.

So as much as it may sound harsh, or even cruel, I honestly think it's time for you to stop helping this individual like this Kibou. Again, I know you want to be kind. But the greatest kindness you can give them right now is the firm word that they need to take responsibility for their own characters and backstories from this point forward. They're never going to learn anything if you're always doing it for them. And if they are meant to be a storyteller, which I believe everyone is capable of being, they'll find a way to motivate themselves into being able to fulfill this process and create their own characters. If not, they'll find a new hobby to pursue that better fits who they are.

Regardless of which it is, your time "helping" them needs to come to an end for their own good.

Cheers.
 

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