Four years ago, a group of mutual friends decided we'd get together every few weeks to play tabletop games. More specifically, we decided to play Dungeons & Dragons (4th edition) and it stuck. Over the years we've acted out, stumbled through, and laughed our way from levels 1-14. One of our friends dropped in "just to watch" during the last few game nights and has since showed a continued interest in joining our game. Last Sunday I decided to help build a character for my friend Anna.
It helps that I have the Wizards.com subscription and I lean on the online Character Builder tool quite heavily to create the final character sheet. However, we always start with a fun, "Get To Know You" brainstorming session before deciding on any races/classes. My approach is fairly simple: I start with the premise that each person in our group must love their character. Since there's so much improvisational dialogue in D&D, I think it's important for each person to view their character as the protagonist in their own narrative. I compare it to the process when actors are "getting into their character". I've personally suffered from making a player character that I can't identify with or care about-- it's awful. Because of that, I wanted Anna to love her character and (ideally) have a great tabletop gaming experience with our D&D group.
In my opinion, the worst mistake new players can make to create an exceptionally deep & self-involved character with an overly complicated backstory. The best thing to do? Keep it simple. It's somewhat counter-intuitive, but creating a one-dimensional character that has one or two personal focuses means the character will be easier to play. Three things that she'll need to know:
 What does this character value? (Money? Material goods? Fame? Political Prestige? Power? Social Status? Friendship? Religion? Knowledge? Travel? Adventure?)
 What is his/her personal motivation?
 How do these things (along with past experiences) affect their personality & everyday interactions with people?
Such broad questions can be intimidating for a new player, and many feel pressured to over-think their character, so I kept it casual and fun. While this approach won't work for all people, we basically played the "20 Questions" game. I presented her with situational questions and, from Anna's responses, I was able to narrow it down to certain class/races that I felt would be a great fit. I asked her questions like:
"Imagine your character is at a party. On the other side of a large ballroom, she sees someone she knows there, what does she do?"
"Your character has just earned some money. Later that day, you see a person dressed in rags begging for money across the street. What do you do?"
"Would your character rather sleep at an inn or out under the stars?"
"Would you rather argue with a person who disagrees with you or try and persuade them? How would you go about arguing with/persuading them?"
"How does your character feel about dogmatic religion?"
"You notice a person being bullied in a crowded tavern. What's your first reaction?"
We started with several options that I thought would be a fit. We dug into the D&D books, looked up information online, and read descriptions until she exclaimed, "Yeah, that one!". We joked that character creation is like a blind tasting (and since Anna's a ninja, her identity is kept a secret):
Anna wanted her character to be unique in both physical appearance and origin. She identified her character as a protector who valued close friendships above all else. She's proud, impulsive, curious, and extremely naive due to her character's current situation. Very recently, she was summoned to this plane during a spell-gone-wrong, with no memory of who she was before the event. She'll be actively discovering the fascinating world she's found herself in once she's introduced into our ongoing storyline. We'd found the perfect fit: a (wind/storm) Genasi Warden. Here's a bit more about the race & class:
After we decided on race, class & personality, we reviewed many feats & abilities and chose those we felt were true to her character (and some that were just downright cool). I took it a step further and added some specific defenses that would make her very hard to defeat when combined with the rest of the groups' character abilities. In the end, here's the final character sheet we created:
Check back on Thursday for my step-by-step process in my Speed Painting Challenge where I went from initial inspiration to painted miniature in less than 3 hours.