While you don’t want to build your whole character at once, you should give the wheel a quick, cursory revolution before you start play. The reason to do this is in a cursory fashion is that none of the details should be set in stone. While the order of the wheel is designed so that early categories readily influence later ones, during the first pass the whole character in malleable. New ideas you come up with later in the wheel can contradict earlier choices, which you can change to match.
Every good author knows not to bombard a reader with large amounts of superfluous description. It puts the reader to sleep and detracts from the story. Instead, it is best to present only the significant details, and leave everything else out.
The same holds true for your character. Comming up with pages of information that will never have an effect on the game is a fruitless effort. It is better, particularly on your first pass, to concentrate on creating one or two details for each category that you want to effect the story. These will be your go-to details. You’ll use them to describe your character to other players, to directly influence the character’s actions, and to provide the game master with plot hooks for adventure building.
Example of Significant Details:
Concept: Korinthus Talwin is an adventuring noble who has sought a life in the wilds and dungeons of the world to escape his oppressive family who has members in every major city.
Description: Fair appearance and soft skin. Looks like he’s spent his whole life coddled.
Motivation: Afraid to go into any trade city for fear that he’ll run into family.
Motivation: Gambling Addiction
Background: Member of the noble Talwin family.
Background: Lost his ancestral home in a gambling binge.
Attitude: Sneers at the poor and destitute.
Attitude: Loves opulence. Only buys the highest quality gear.
Relationship: Geron Talwin, Father. Korinthus is hiding from his father, who would make an example of him to the rest of the family.
Relationship: Mak, Friend. The gnome who snuck him out of town in the first place. He said he was going to join Korinthus, but never appeared.
As you can see, these details are just small pieces of information, but they tell a lot about the character, and provide a number of hooks for the game master to use. And better yet, the whole process only took me a few minutes.
A Note on Secrets
It’s often tempting to make a character more interesting to yourself by giving him a secret, but many players then spend the entire game trying to keep the secret from the other players and feel violated if the game master exposes them.
This behavior is anathema to the entire nature of tabletop roleplaying and characterization. If a character is going to have a secret,is must affect the game in a positive way. In essence, your character’s secret is a significant detail that provides the game master an adventure hook, and is useless if it isn’t exposed at some point. You should work with your game master as to how you would like the secret to effect the story.
Write Down Your Details
In addition to filling out any relevant sections of your character sheet, make a list of significant details collected from all categories and give it to your game master so he can use them. If your sheet doesn’t provide space for these details, make sure you write them down for yourself as well.
Your character, like the campaign, is not complete until you stop playing. Keep moving around the wheel a little at a time. Character advancement is a great time to do a little more work. You’re already having to make mechanical choices, so you may as well take a spin around the wheel, adding to the character and considering how the character may have chanced.
Make sure you go over your significant details occasionally. If any of them have been used as hooks, and probably won’t be again, then it’s time to come up with new ones. You never want your character to run out of interesting ways of landing in trouble.