Introducing the Character Wheel

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 Basics

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.

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.

All Character Wheel Posts

  1. Introducing the Character Wheel
  2. Your First Spin of the Character Wheel
  3. Return of the Character Wheel
  4. CW:  Description
  5. CW:  Motivation
  6. CW:  Background
  7. CW:  Attitudes
  8. CW:  Relationships
  • adamweber

    My favorite Character creation system is Cyberpunk 2020. particularly the lifepath system for cobbling together a solid back-story that lets even an unfamiliar player build a character that fits with the world.

  • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

    I've never heard of Cyberpunk 2020. Did the lifepath system just have you roll some dice and select some stuff on the chart? Did it do anything else that you thought was pretty cool/inovative?

  • adamweber

    It had charts you could choose from or roll for rough ideas of dress, hairstyle, Etc.(all setting appropriate) additionally it allowed you to roll for major events for each year of your characters life from age 16 up. you rolled in such categories as “You took a hit.” “friends and enemies”, “romantic involvement”. it is an older game so that was pretty innovative. what was cool about it was they didn't give you too much, just enough of what happened to inspire the player to fill in the gaps. For instance if one year you rolled a female enemy and the next year you rolled romantic involvement you could link the two (in fact there was a separate thing about lover having been a past enemy). From a GM, or as they called them Referee,perspective it gave you oodles of bad guys and NPCs to harass the players without having to do tons of work. My players had as much fun rolling to see what happened in their past as they did playing.

  • http://www.ApathyGames.com Jeff Carlsen

    Sounds similar to elements of The Burning Wheel and Legend of the Five Rings. I know someone built a lifepath system for Savage Worlds, but I haven't looked into it. Have you?.

    As as aside, Cyberpunk 2020 is one of those games I've been wanting to look at, just for my love of all things Cyberpunk, even though I'd probably never play it. That, and they have a sourcebook for When Gravity Fails, which I just finished reading.

  • adamweber

    I haven't seen the Savage Worlds lifepath either. CP 2020 (interloc) is my favorite system hands down. It handles everything with a minimum of fuss but in a satisfying manner. I also have When Gravity Fails in my collection and it is a nicely done alternate setting.

  • http://www.apathygames.com Tyson J. Hayes

    I've never heard of Cyberpunk 2020. Did the lifepath system just have you roll some dice and select some stuff on the chart? Did it do anything else that you thought was pretty cool/inovative?

  • adamweber

    It had charts you could choose from or roll for rough ideas of dress, hairstyle, Etc.(all setting appropriate) additionally it allowed you to roll for major events for each year of your characters life from age 16 up. you rolled in such categories as “You took a hit.” “friends and enemies”, “romantic involvement”. it is an older game so that was pretty innovative. what was cool about it was they didn't give you too much, just enough of what happened to inspire the player to fill in the gaps. For instance if one year you rolled a female enemy and the next year you rolled romantic involvement you could link the two (in fact there was a separate thing about lover having been a past enemy). From a GM, or as they called them Referee,perspective it gave you oodles of bad guys and NPCs to harass the players without having to do tons of work. My players had as much fun rolling to see what happened in their past as they did playing.

  • http://www.ApathyGames.com Jeff Carlsen

    Sounds similar to elements of The Burning Wheel and Legend of the Five Rings. I know someone built a lifepath system for Savage Worlds, but I haven't looked into it. Have you?.

    As as aside, Cyberpunk 2020 is one of those games I've been wanting to look at, just for my love of all things Cyberpunk, even though I'd probably never play it. That, and they have a sourcebook for When Gravity Fails, which I just finished reading.

  • adamweber

    I haven't seen the Savage Worlds lifepath either. CP 2020 (interloc) is my favorite system hands down. It handles everything with a minimum of fuss but in a satisfying manner. I also have When Gravity Fails in my collection and it is a nicely done alternate setting.