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 Pag on Games » Blog Archive » Unforgettable
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Unforgettable


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I’ve played pen & paper role-playing games quite a bit in the past. Being a game master is great training for game design: you have to create an exciting and entertaining experience for your friends on a regular basis.

One thing a game master must do is create a lot of non-player characters. The challenge is to create memorable characters on a regular basis. After creating what must be a few hundred characters, I figured a few simple tricks. These tricks are useful whenever you’re creating new characters, whether they’re for a pen & paper RPG, a video game or even a novel.

The key to a memorable character is distinctiveness. The character must stand out from others — nobody remembers the average Joe. If your character is distinctive in multiple ways, that’s even better. I try to create characters that are distinctive in 3 different aspects:

  • Appearance: The character should be obviously different by simply looking at her. This is particularly important for characters that are not actually seen, only described — like in a novel. A character with a peculiar haircut might be good enough for a movie or a comic book, but it would probably be hard to describe memorably in a novel.
  • Actions: The character should act in ways that are different from the norm. This can take the form of special abilities (like a superpower or a peculiar weapon the character always uses) or the way the character acts (a weird way of speaking or is she’s paranoid, for example).
  • Background: The character’s past should be interesting, to somehow hook into whatever you’re creating. A character could be an orphan, or have trained with a secretive order of ninjas for example (or both, like Bruce Wayne).

Let’s take Captain Jack Sparrow as an example of a memorable character. He has a distinctive appearance, what with the thick black eye-liner, the dreadlocks and the bandanna, he most definitely acts in a memorable way, thanks to Johnny Depp’s wonderful acting, and he has a distinctive past, having been the captain of a mutinous pirate crew turned undead.

Another good example is Darth Vader. Vader’s apperance is definitely unique, with his black outfit that doesn’t show a single inch of skin. His mastery of the force gives him unique abilities that make his actions distinctive. As for his past, it’s interesting enough that it spawned a whole trilogy of hit movies.

Of course these guidelines aren’t the most subtle thing in the world, so they’re probably not ideal for stories with very realistic characters. The broad strokes these guidelines create are very good at creating memorable larger than life characters however, and that’s a type of character that’s useful in a lot of games.

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