Continued from here, because it’s long.
Start in Medias Res
The most exciting, most vivid characters I have ever seen were those in the thick of a meaty situation. The ones with an unfulfilled desire, an important quest or motivation, one that they started play with.
This goes back to Building Character Though Play- it’s more exciting to rescue the princess through play than it is to do it in your backstory. But it goes beyond that technique, into one of its own. Cops should have the case they’ve been working on for a decade that is on the verge of a breakthrough. Vampires should have baggage inherited from their Sires. Occult Investigators should have their own personal demons. Anyone can have an enemy, a rival, or family problems.
This isn’t about establishing a long term motivation- it’s about establishing a short term motivation, adventure hooks that you can hand to the gamemaster, and getting yourself in the thick of things. A good gamemaster will take what you give him, run with it, and make it more exciting.
Start out strong. Put yourself in the hotseat.
Give Yourself a Flaw
No one is perfect. More importantly, perfect characters are boring. Flawed characters are much more interesting. A flaw will add another spark of life and uniqueness to your character. It will set him apart from all the other fighters, vampires, or superheroes. It’s what makes him human.
Mechanical flaws can be fun. You want to turn your weakness into a character trait, and think of ways to play around your weakness. In D&D, Wisdom is my favorite dump stat- I enjoy playing characters that are overconfident, eager, and often in over their heads. I find it fun to roleplay, and I don’t mind losing out on Wisdom-based skills or occasionally being mind-controlled. Another classic weakness is the physical disadvantage- missing an arm, leg, or more, or just having low physical stats. Many systems reward you for taking physical disadvantages, mostly to compensate for mechanical effectiveness, but these can also add color to a character. What additional challenges does a veteran soldier with no legs face?
Personality flaws and quirks deserve mention. Lots of systems reward you for these. (For example, in Savage Worlds, you get just as many hindrance points for having one leg as you do for being severely overconfident.) Don’t just stock up on these because they look like free points! Stock up on them because they’re fun! Let them inform your play of the character, and make them more complicated.
Let your character fail in play. Allow them to show weakness, emotion, and humanity. Let them grow as a person.
Talk to the Gamemaster
This is probably the most important thing you can possibly do. Talk to the gamemaster about your expectations- expectations for the game, expectations for your character, whatever.
Have a dialogue. Talk about your background. (For massive background writers, you’ll find when giving an oral summary of your background, you end up distilling it down to the most important points.) Talk about where the character might be going. If it’s an established game, talk about how you’ll fit into the setting and with the other characters. If it’s a new game, talk about how your contributions can affect the setting.
Get feedback from the gamemaster. Listen to his feedback. If he offers mechanical advice, consider it. If he suggests a minor background change, you should probably accept unless you have a compelling reason- he’s probably tying it into other campaign events.
We started with something that excites you, right? Convey that excitement to the gamemaster. Get him excited about your character, for the same reasons you are. He’ll develop situations that excite you.
While going over the rules, especially those that affect your character, if you have a question, ask the gamemaster. Get a ruling. If you see an edge case, don’t make any assumptions. When it comes to rules advice, the gamemaster can be your best friend.
Let the gamemaster help you build character through play. Get him on board with your situation. Gamemasters will love you for coming up with situations, it saves them work and inspiration, and all they have to do is stat it up and figure out how to make things worse. Seriously, we love that stuff.
Talk to the Other Players
Make a character you think will fit in the group, and not exist in an environment where you will have to player-kill or be player-killed. For highly tactical games, you can touch base on what the group needs, but always go back to step one, excitement. Think about social flaws and biases. A character who rabidly hates elves is probably not the best choice for a group containing two elves and a half-elf. Grim loners who never talk to anyone, sorry to say, are not badass, they’re not worthy of attention.
Think of ways to make your character enjoyable not only for you, but for everyone sitting at the table. Ask yourself, if another player brought a character like this to the table, would it irritate me, or would I be impressed? Avoid the former, aim for the latter.
But First and Foremost, Have Fun!