Roleplay is the art of filling your glass. Keep this analogy close to your heart when creating the identity you will be acting out over a long period of time. The glass is the character, the water is what makes up the sum of experiences. If you fill your glass up all the way at the beginning, there is no room for more water. What this means is if you start your character off with nothing to learn, nothing to achieve, nothing to improve, nothing to change -- you will have nothing to do.
Where to Begin?
For those new to roleplay, it is best to start simply. A simple character does not possess too many oddities, too many abilities, a wild and unusual past, a strange or unfamiliar body, or special powers.
For those more experienced with roleplay it can be fun to experiment with new and unusual characters. What holds true for new and experienced players alike is that the best starting point for your character is choosing your race and your class.
Your race is not just your skin color it’s your species too -- it’s something that isn’t easily changeable and so it’s best to decide the most permanent aspects of your character first. Mystara has over 100 playable races to choose from, which we recommend for players new to character creation. Recommended races to start with are Humans, Elves, and Dwarves. They have very easily understandable and clearly defined personality archetypes which is important when becoming an "actor" - a term we use interchangeably with "roleplayer". Everyone wants to be that special snowflake, totally unique and nothing like anyone else, but if your character is so far out from the norm, it is a challenge to roleplay true to your character and still be able to casually interact - which is why we recommend easy-to-learn personality archetypes.
For example - say you want to be something like a "Medusa" character -- wild snake hair and the ability to turn anything you see to stone. It’s nearly impossible to engage in "day to day" commonplace interaction when acting out such a bombastic, over-the-top character. Would a Medusa character sit around the tavern sipping ale or washing up in the bath house? It would look utterly ridiculous. The outrageous powers of turning everything you see to stone would anger and frustrate your fellow roleplayers to the point of not wanting to be around your character. These are things you should consider carefully when choosing your race. Races like a Kraken, a Medusa, Gigantic Troll etc. are best reserved for NPCs at sim events. They are not "everyday" characters.
Now that you’ve chosen your race, it’s time to choose your character class. In role-playing games, a common method of arbitrating the capabilities of different characters is to assign each one to a character class. A character class aggregates several abilities and aptitudes, and may also sometimes detail aspects of background and social standing or impose behaviour restrictions. Classes may be considered to represent archetypes, or specific careers. Common classes for Mystara are: Village Craftsman, Warrior / Guard, Bard / Entertainer, healer / cleric, spellcaster / mage, ranger / hunter, and many more. We strongly urge not choosing spellcaster or mage class for those new to roleplay. If you are interested in playing one, we highly recommend reading This and before starting, and attending one of our weekly magic classes before getting started. For those more experienced with roleplay -- choosing a secondary class is often done, however a character may never be as skilled or powerful in a secondary class as they are in their primary class. This hedges into unrealistic and power-gaming territory.
For example, one may choose their primary character’s class as a Bard, where they are an expert musician and entertainer, and the secondary class as a village craftsman, where the character may hold a part time job in the smithy, but his skills are limited to making horse shoes and crude metal objects -- and by no means will ever be a master swordsmith -- because his life’s work is put into bardic training.
Of course, in your roleplay experiences, you will come upon players whose characters are brilliantly talented in a variety of professions -- we call them "Mary Sues". More on them later.
Choose Your Compulsion
The next most important starting point for your character, once you have selected a race and a class, is not what you might think. It’s not choosing the appearance, picking a cool name, or making up their back story. It’s finding your character’s compulsion. Their unfettering drive, the top of the totem pole, the pie in the sky, the ultimate goal. Give your character a large problem or a dramatic need. If you base your character on his name or his appearance, it comes with subconscious associations, presumptions, baggage and leaves very little substance with which to build a history and a future. What does the character want most in life? Love, respect, a family, revenge, a cure for his curse, to find her long lost child? Your character wants something. If he's like most people, he wants several somethings, and about the time you allow yourself to start discovering them, you'll begin to find out where your story is going, and what it will be about. Good examples of compulsions are Pinnochio's need to be a "real boy", or Frodo's need to destroy his burden, the ring. For more great tips on creating your character, click Here.
The Character Fluff
This is the stuff that is not as important as your race, your class, and your compulsion. It’s the fluff that generally makes up the rest of the character’s identity. This is developing the character’s appearance, personality, back story, mannerisms and traits, handicaps, religion, pet peeves, daily habits. Feel free to be creative and original as you like, but beware of common mistakes which are explained more in detail later. If you are feeling stuck, a character sheet is best used as a tool for you to help further flesh out your character’s identity and to keep you from deviating from that when you are roleplaying, a common folly of new roleplayers. The character sheet contains useful basic questions to ask yourself about the character you are creating, feel free to copy this into a notecard and save it for future reference. Click here to create your basic character sheet.
Common Character Creation Mistakes
Characters from Canon
What does this mean? This means lifting a character, or a closely modeled character archetype, directly from canon, e.g. literature, games, history, film, etc. It is considered poor form (and expressly against Mystara’s rules) to roleplay a character that already exists -- such as Gandalf of Lord of the Rings, Ezio of Assassin’s Creed, Jezebel of the Bible, Dante the famous writer, Sylvanas from World of Warcraft -- or roleplaying a character almost exactly like a character from canon but with a few details tweaked (name, eye color, etc.). Meaning you can’t be "Gundalf" the Grey or "Selvannis" the Night Elf queen. You get the idea. Just don’t do it.
Mary Sue and Gary Stu Characters
This is the biggest offense to character creation -- and we recommend thinking long and hard about whether your character is a Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is is a bombastic, cliche, over-the-top character who possesses an unrealistic amount of talents and skills, with no real drawbacks or weaknesses. A Mary Sue has the solution to every problem, the trump card skill to fix everything that goes wrong, the beauty, the brains, the talent, the charisma, but nothing to learn, nothing to work on or improve, and nothing to change for the better. Mary Sue is gorgeous and fluent in five languages, is a mishmash of all the best parts of 5 different races, is a master swordswoman, gets every man she ever goes after, is a powerful mage, comes from a tragic background, is secretly of royal blood or a long lost princess, is the center of attention, never loses a battle or takes any wounds, is utterly charismatic and possesses the ability to dance, entertain, seduce, fight, weild magic, and has the most outrageously beautiful clothing, hair, and accessories. Mary Sue is sadly, often the embodiment of the roleplayer’s personal ideals and wishes, often taking certain features from their real life identity and imparting them on the character -- such as a similar name -- and granting the character all the amazing outlandish traits that the roleplayer wish they had in their wildest dreams. Mary Sues and Gary Stus, once you learn about them, are blindly obvious in Second Life and all too common. The best way to avoid being a Mary Sue is to not invest your personal attributes or dreams into the character you are creating, and to assign your character a realistic variety of flaws, foibles and weaknesses, and to conservatively assign abilities. You can read more about Mary Sues Here. Are you yourself a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu? Take this remarkably accurate Test to find out. If you come out red-handed, it's time to make some changes to your character.
What’s this I hear? You’re a long lost princess of noble birth, now estranged and living as a pauper, just waiting to be discovered? Your entire village was slaughtered by an enemy force and now you are seeking revenge? Your parents are dead and you are an orphan searching for a new place to call home? You are the bastard son of a warrior and a whore? You are a super rare species and are the last of your kind, searching the world for that slim chance there is another just like you? You have amnesia and you woke up here and cannot remember anything of your past or where you came from? You are a great warrior and the sole slayer of an entire group of people? You are the brooding pretty boy with exceptional looks and gifts but life is just so terrible you stew in your antisocial perfection? You are the damsel in distress, not a hair out of place in every calamity, the epitome of grace and beauty with no substance? You are the crazy byproduct of an insane and powerful mage that tinkered with magic and strange animals to create you? You are the masked mystery man with the untraceable identity? You are the creation of gods or deities? You are an evil, dark race like a demon or drow -- but no, you’re the black sheep and you rebelled against your dark society and now you are the rare unexpected good guy? No, you aren’t. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be a Cliche.
The Full Glass Characters
Remember the paragraph at the very beginning of this article? It explains that if your character is the glass, and the sum of his experiences fills that glass, you will have nothing to roleplay out. One of the common and biggest mistakes is creating a character that has done everything, been everywhere, mastered every skill, achieved every goal, and has blossomed his or her personality to completion. What is left to do, achieve, or struggle for? The beauty of roleplay is following that character’s journey, leading them toward their goals to succeed or even fail, growing changing and evolving the character’s personality, expanding the character’s skills, family and knowledge. If you have created a character with nothing to learn, change, or achieve you might as well retire him now and start over.
In closing we hope that this article helps you to make a truly unique character, one that is fun to roleplay and develop, one that doesn’t peg you as an attention-seeking Mary Sue or as a tired-old-shoe of a cliche, but a character that is well-loved and respected by your roleplaying peers.