Character creation is an ongoing process that, like any art, resists too much structure. Nevertheless, it benefits from a guidelines and process. What follows is a development tool that will help you grow a character alongside your campaign. It’s called the Character Wheel.
The Character Wheel is a simple metaphor. The wheel’s hub are both your character’s core concept and the image you hold of them in your head. All other aspects of the character are spokes that revolve around, and are informed by, the hub.
The wheel itself never stops turning, because character development never ends, but also to provide a convenient order of operations when considering aspects of your character. As you play the game, you just keep moving around the wheel, adding to your character.
Finally, the wheel is a reference. Every has aspects of their character that they develop more easily than the others, but this can make the character’s wheel unbalanced. This isn’t terrible, by any means, but it points out weaker aspects that deserve attention.
As the Wheel Turns
Alright, Mr. Carlsen. You’ve beaten me over the head with a metaphor, but how does it actually work?
Fair enough. As this is an introduction, I won’t dive deep into the details yet; the individual parts of the wheel will each get more dedicated development, but what follows is an overview.
First, you must establish goals. You need to consider what you wish to accomplish with the character prior to anything else. Establishing goals and guidelines prevents you from creating a character that doesn’t fit the campaign, or that doesn’t work with the party.
Second, come up with a character concept. Your concept is a short description of the character. Your elevator pitch, no longer than a few sentences.
Third, develop an image of the character in your mind. This includes tone, atmosphere, emotions, actions, sounds, smells, and anything that adds to that intangible feeling you have of a character. Everything that follows is an attempt to capture and define that image.
Finally, once you have a concept and image, you can start working your way around the wheel. You start with one category, develop some ideas within it, then move on to the next. The spokes, or categories, are arranged in an order so that what you develop in one will most readily influence what follows. But this order is what works best for me, so rearrange it at will.
- Description: This category includes physical description, interesting marks, accents, behaviors, and mannerisms. Essentially, all the things that someone might notice about the character.
- Motivations: Goals, fears, dreams. That which drives a character to act.
- Background: The events and places that have influenced the character, including history, education, and hometown.
- Attitudes: Characters have opinions on everything. Record them for posterity.
- Relationships: These are the people who have influence on the character.
- Mechanics: The game rules. These come last because they feel more natural if they are influenced by the other categories.
That’s it for the basic outline, and is probably enough that you’re already considering how to use it.
Check out Part 2: Your First Spin of the Character Wheel for more information. In the meantime, I’m interested in what character creation systems you have most enjoyed. Let me know in the comments.