Characters 101, Larp

How to build a unique character that fits the setting

As part of the character creation process, you’ll be deciding how they fit into the world. What society and cultures they belong to. What their race is and what skills and professions they have.

Everyone likes to make unique characters, individuals that stand out from the crowd. The trick is making a character that is both unique and fitting to the theme of the world and its setting.

Many people, myself included, struggle with making a character that is different from others. We all want to be unique, needed and valuable to the game.  It can be challenging to make such a character and still conform to the theme of the world.

The easiest way to be unique after all is to be something that is outside of the theme. But that is not the best way. With a little effort, you can make a character that is unique and setting appropriate.

How you build your character and the background choices you choose will be the anchors that tie your character to the story. A character disconnected from the theme will have a hard time finding traction.

It’s easier to get involved in the story if your character has strong ties to the theme of the world.

The Basics

There are two main approaches to building a character that fits the setting. The first is making a character and then seeing where they fit. The second is picking a culture and theme from within the setting and building the character to fit that.

Both are valid approaches.

In the first, you’ll start by making the foundations of the character. Then select their three words. Next, choose their archetype, lose abilities and basic background.

Once you have the rough understandings of your character, it’s time to look for how they fit into the setting. Choose their race and culture, and then flush out the concept with those thematic choices in mind.

In the second, you’ll begin by looking at the cultures, societies, and races. Choosing ones that appeal to you or that you might enjoy playing. From there you’ll begin developing the archetype and core of the character.

As the character grows, you’ll select their three words. After that flush out their personality and background.

Their Culture

Characters are products of cultures within the setting. They grew up and were raised in the game’s societies. Their values and ideals come from it. Everything they know and experience comes from their society and Culture.

When making a character from a culture, try to make a character that fits it. If you want to stand out, go for interesting instead of contradicting the theme. Most cultures will have things that stand out about them. Pick one of those and make it the focus of your character.

Most games have deep and rich cultures filled with things to explore. This makes for ample material to make a unique character with and still stay in them. You don’t need to contradict to be unique, be interesting instead.

Look for areas of the cultural theme that stand out. Hunt for the little details within the lore and explore those with your character. Embrace the culture and make it the backbone of your character.

Their Race

Many games have special races. These usually have deep thematic reasons for their existence. Often the elements that make up the race will be important and ingrained in the story. Aspects of these races are foundational to the setting.

Playing a special race may need more attention to detail. Their requirements may be stricter and have more limitations. But this leads them to be more interesting and unique.

When making a character of a special race, remember that often they will have strong themes. Some of those might even be immutable. Be ready to be more confined in your choices.

Playing a special race is a big step toward binding your character to the world. Letting you use the unique place that race has within it as a foundation to build on.

Their Skills and Abilities

The skills a character has, the lore they know, and the special abilities they possess can all be sources of uniqueness. Even abilities that other players have are easy to make unique by changing how you use them.

The best way to stand out is how you play your character. It has nothing to do with your skills or background.

There can be many characters of the same type and they can all be different.

A healer character can be a book-learned doctor, a wily rural folk healer, or a gleeful sawbones.

A fighter can be a jaded veteran, an exuberant swashbuckler, or a calculating tactician.

A rogue can be a brooding killer, a concerned mastermind, or a flamboyant burglar.

A mage can be a studied wizard, an elusive shaman, or a mad warlock.

Each of these characters uses the same set of skills and abilities. They can be from the same cultures and races. But all are different.

Think of your character as a person, not a collection of skills and you’ll be well on your way to finding your unique place in the game.

Being Unique

By staying within the theme of the setting, your character will flourish and be enjoyable to play. But you’ll still want to be unique.

It’s tempting to do this by trying to make a character that is outside of the theme. Making them special by the fact that they don’t conform. But you don’t need to do this.

You can make a unique character without having to break the structure of setting and theme of the game. There are usually things about characters that make them remarkable.

It could be their keen abilities, outrageous personality, supernatural talents or something else. These can all make a character unique while staying within the theme.

Look in the lore and embrace the cornerstones of the culture and race you’ve selected.  Build a character that uses the virtues and vices of their culture and species to stand out. Build strong anchors to the world that your character can use to get involved in story

Use personality and mannerisms to stand out. You don’t need one of a kind skills or contradiction to the theme to be unique. You can use the way they speak, their prejudices, codes of conduct and more to make them stand out.

Take a look at the 100+ questions to help uncover these unique traits.

Find underused skills and abilities that have been seldom seen in the game. Use them in interesting, useful and inventive ways. Be creative in finding reasons to your skills to solve problems. By solving problems in ways people don’t expect you can make an ordinary skill feel like a unique one.

The Exceptions

There are always exceptions. Some of the best characters go against the grain of the theme.

Great characters can be made by being “The Exception.” Yet, if they are too special you’ll find it hard to make story anchors.  Without those anchors, it will be difficult to get involved in the story.

Try making a character that is exceptional, but not the exception.

If you need to go against the theme to make your character, try to limit how much you deviate. I use the 2-1 rule. You can either have 2 minor things or 1 major thing that goes against the theme of the setting. The rest should be within the scope of the setting of the game.

Keep in mind that there are things that will never fit within the theme of the world. I refer to these as the impossibles. Things that go against the theme is such a strong way they will never fit and thus should not be included at all.

Minor things include, but are not limited to:

  • Political views:
    • Not conforming to societal expectations.
  • Cultural differences:
    • Parents from two countries that don’t get along.
    • Taking cultural views to extremes
  • Having unlikely careers for the society
  • Special organizations :
    • Try to limit how many you are apart of. More is not better.
  • Unpopular opinions:
    • Being from a non-dominant religion in a country with mixed religions
    • Being prone to violence but from a peaceful community.
    • Opinions that are unlikely but not directly contradictory to culture.
  • Skills and abilities:
  • Trying to have access to magic that does not fit the culture or race.
  • Trying to get skills that belong to another culture without good justification.

Major things include, but are not limited to:

Cultural Traits:

  • A character from a theocracy will need strong reasons not to be religious.
  • A culture with a feudalistic theme, will find ideas like democracy and equality alien and inflammatory.
  • Going directly against the core ideals of the culture.
  • Worshipping forbidden gods of the culture.
  • Building a character to a culture/race with the intention of “fixing it.”
  • Ignoring major cultural tensions or pretending like they don’t matter.
      • Overlooking historical hate between societies.
      • Accepting hardened and hated enemies without protest.
  • Ignoring ingrained prejudices against other cultures and races.

Racial Traits:

  • Making a “good” character from a race that has mostly evil members (Demons, Corrupted, Wraiths, etc)
  • Making a “half” race from races that wouldn’t normally mix.
  • Being raised outside of your race.

The Impossibles, but are not limited to:

  • Races that are not in the world.
    • Trying to be from a culture, while being from a race that does not fit it.
  • Thematic liberties:
    • Making up major historical events for your background.
    • Attempting to tie your character to a major plot figure without plot approval.
    • Adding your character to the family of people within the setting (I am the daughter of….) without plot approval.
    • Asking for a culture to be rewritten to fit your character
    • Cultural traits that don’t exist yet in the setting.
  • Social Positions that did not exist in that culture
    • Princess in a non-feudal society. Senator in a monarchy, etc.
  • Scientific and Supernatural understanding that violate the theme:
    • Using modern scientific terms and discoveries in a game set in a “fantasy” or Dark Age setting.
    • Trying to bring magic into a Sci-fi setting or vice versa.
  • Unrealistic expectations:
    • Making a new character that is an “expert” at everything.
    • Being the best at “X” that ever lived.
    • Making a character from a race or society that characters are not allowed to be from.
  • Technological Advancements:
    • Wanting to use firearms in a game that does not have them.
    • Using scientific terms, methodology, and reasoning that are inappropriate for the setting and time period.
    • Using advanced scientific practices when from a nation where everyone was purposely kept uneducated, without the justification of having studied somewhere else.

Examples of characters who are “the exception.”

Rex is a noble general to a theocratic nation. But he doesn’t let the churches Dogma overrule common sense and logic.

Guar is literally a wolf. But that does not stop him from being a paladin. Proud and devoted, a protector of the people.

Aislynn is a chalice knight. But she is also a celestial. Never before has a non-human been a chalice Knight, but yet she is a paragon example of a White Chalice Knight.

Desderada is a member of a society of guilded merchants and craft folk. Money is the lifeblood of the Cyrinne. But yet Desderada does not understand money. He’s too busy innovating to worry about profit.

Putting it all together

By taking the time to learn about the cultures and lore of the setting you’ll be able to make a strong character within it. The theme of the world is more important than the rules and mechanics behind it.

Focus first on making a character, with a backstory, solid theme ties and personality. After that is complete then look for the skills and mechanics to make them function.

Use personality and background to make your unique place in the game. Chances are you won’t be able to find skills that only you will have.

You don’t need to be unique to feel unique. It all comes down to how you play your character, how you build their background and how you apply their skills.

Each character can stand out on their own. Even if they share their skills, abilities, and cultures with other players.

It’s in how you play the character that makes them unique.

Have a unique character that fits the setting? Tell me about them in the comments.

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