Okay, first of all, if you are a mechanic person who slaps a name, physical description (if that) and back story onto your character right before the session, turn your eyes away! The following post will horrify you!
Because I am a writer first, and damn it, I am going to pick my classes that way.
So what does that mean for me when I approach the table as a player? Well, I find what I want to emphasize. Whether that’s an interesting class, a racial variant, or if I have a personality type that I want to build, I have a “core part” that is my beginning. I’m going to use my newest character (who has yet to start her campaign) as an example. While I was browsing the races out of boredom, I stumbled upon the Vishkanya race for Pathfinder. They seemed pretty interesting, and then I saw they had a rogue archetype called a Deadly Courtesan. This class stayed in the back of my mind, and after Ginny went on a plunge into Indian mythology, I had to apply all of her babble that seeped into my brain somewhere, so I picked the Vishkanya Deadly Courtesan as my core beginning.
That being said, sometimes I’ll start with a concept I want to recreate. Hekate was actually me wanting to play a (sane) version of Diva from Blood + …she then spiraled off into her own thing, but that’s what I started with, and then she turned into this darkness specialist and I am now helplessly amused by her. Sometimes I have a personality or appearance first. I sketched out this emo-esque medieval character with some interesting jewelry, and eventually that person morphed into Jadzia as she was developed.
Alright, I have my core. Now I need to do a little fleshing out. If I don’t already have a class, this is where I figure out what class fits my core, what race, what variants do I want to apply? (This is where Hekate’s darkness specialty started.) I’m not building the character so much, because I’m not rolling stats or figuring out feats or buying items, but I’m getting a broad overview of my character. This will help me make the decisions later about skills and feats and everything else, so it’s a really important part of the character building process.
With my new rogue, I started by picking out where she was from, so I’d know what culture to do. Of the options at the time (which since shifted but my background survived), the one that made the most sense for what the heck I was doing so far from where my people would normally be, especially considering the core of a Deadly Courtesan, was for her to be a slave in a large empire. I started pulling every bit of culture I could find on the web for both the country and for her people, trying to get an idea of what her life would be like. And then I went digging for names that fit that culture. Danika. No last name.
With a name and her concept now firmly filled out in my head, I start with the mechanics. I start rolling stats, deciding what the key stats were going to be, and throwing in skill points to the skills that I think make the most sense. For a bit of random, I rolled some dice to establish her height and her weight, which ended up giving me a big clue as to her story. I mentioned to my DM that I wanted her to be literate only in her people’s language, though she can speak Common. I also decided she wasn’t just a slave, but a very recently escaped slave, based off of how underfed she was (her height and her weight were not in proportion at all), and as a result I gave her a bare minimum of supplies. I took a few Traits, just to make things interesting, and a racial variant. Since Deadly Courtesan is a bit odd, sort of a rogue/bard hybrid, I had to pick some performances. Thanks to mine and Ginny’s Lindsey Stirling obsession, those picks seemed obvious.
And then it was time for feats. Ya’ll, I suck with feats. Thankfully, because I was running Hekate around this time, I knew a bit about what I wanted to do to at least start with. I have no intention of making Danika a duplicate of a rogue I’m already running, but there are just some basics that it can’t hurt to take. I hate cross bows, so no point to the archery side of things. So Weapon Finesse and Two-Weapon Fighting it was. Planning the rest is going to have to wait until I see where the story took us, and which parts of her character I need to emphasize. (My fellow player is thinking we should take all the Teamwork Feats we can.)
So that’s the icky mechanic side done. Now I needed to decide how much fleshing out I wanted to do. Sometimes, I give my DMs a small book. Sometimes, I give them a few sentences. Danika ended up being pretty simple. She’s an escaped slave from Cheliax, very recent. I gave her parents information as well as some of her siblings (I rolled a dice for the number and sex of each, then found names). And that, I decided, was enough. In my head, her personality started to develop. She is very bitter and angry over her people being enslaved, and worse about the position she was pushed and trained into when she was a teenager. Now she’s determined to use those skills to earn her freedom, long enough for her to get her vengeance on all of Cheliax. So while she will dance and play for crowds to earn her dinner, any one stupid enough to grab her without her consent will find themselves stabbed with one of her poison kunai.
The last touch for me is a doll maker that lets me come up with a picture. Danika ended up with three, because I purchased two different head veils and a reversible cloak to help her hide from those who would turn her in as a runaway slave.
Is this the only way to build a character? Not hardly. Is Vishkanya or Deadly Courtesan some favorite races and classes? Oh heck no. But for me, that’s not how I build my characters for a story, so why would I build them that way for the interactive, storytelling experience of DnD? Instead, I pick something that interests me, that I will enjoy playing.