This post was ritten by Lt. Alleran Tan, Helm Officer of the USS Independence-A in the UFOP: StarBase 118
Central to any roleplaying experience is designing a character to play. Essentially, in play-by-email groups there are two main types of roleplaying: roleplaying with games mechanics, or roleplaying without game mechanics (known as ‘freeform’ style). But irrespective of if you have to build your character to rules, or simply so that she fits in the world, it’s important to know a bit about making a character that’s fun for you and everyone who plays with you.
No matter the roleplaying system, the character you play should be interesting. This means that the character should have something that distinguishes them from the ordinary, and this reflects the theme of most roleplaying games. You play a Starfleet Officer, or a were-wolf hunter, or a mutant (or vampire or a space ranger or whatever). Your character should be, well, special! They should have something that makes them a little better than most people, even if that’s just a skill, or a talent, or a special gift.
So your character must be special
The above paragraph must be taken with a slight cautious edge. The character should also be flawed. A character with no weaknesses is implausible and isn’t very interesting. It also tends to lead to powergaming and a lack of creativity. Instead, the character should have some kind of flaw to them; ideally, this should be a moral flaw. Perhaps they are a Starfleet Officer, but they have a violent streak that affects their duty. Or maybe the character is a vampire, but also an alcoholic. Maybe your awesome mutant character is a pacifist, but they hate being called short.
So your character must be flawed
A character must have a distinct personality. Here’s a fun exercise: describe your character, but without referring to what they look like, or what they do. If you’re having trouble doing this, it may mean that your character’s personality needs to be defined. Are they “tough, but fair”? Are they a leader, or a follower? Brave or cowardly? How easily do they fall prey to temptation? Are they gay, straight, or something in between? Does the character have a good relationship with their family? Do they eventually want a family of their own?
So your character should be distinct
If your character is special, flawed and distinct, we’re well on our way to being an interesting character, but one final thing: all of the above things must be balanced. That is to say, for example, that your character should be special, but not TOO special. Being a vampire is pretty special, but being a vampire with sparkling wings, who can shoot fire from her fingertips and who can breathe in space is a little too much. You should have a distinct personality, but don’t flesh it out too much or it’ll be come constraining. Instead, you should give your character some basic guidelines and let them grow into their personality.
Characters should grow. Most good characters change after you play them for a little while. That’s normal, embrace it. Get a good feel for how your mutant works, how she feels, what she likes and what she doesn’t like. People change, why shouldn’t your fictional characters?
Characters should suffer. This one’s a controversial one, but I stand by it! When writing good drama you should have your characters suffer. Characters are fuel for the suffering engine, which is the engine that drives the drama vehicle. Do something bad to your characters on a semi-regular basis, and do something horrible to them sparingly. Once again, don’t be afraid to let them grow because of this suffering.
And that’s basically it. The rest is in your hands. Go forth and write great characters, armed with the tools I’ve provided you!
Written by Lt. Alleran Tan, Helm Officer of the USS Independence-A in the UFOP: StarBase 118 Star Trek PBEM RPG, a community of people who love writing, and Star Trek. We offer a long, rich history, plenty of interaction with other players, and a highly trained command staff! For more information, and to join us today, check out our website — THIS IS THE ADVENTURE YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR!