Download and Print this first. Roger’s Character Sheet
Step One: The Metanarrative
“All children, except one, grow up.” — Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
There is a concept in storytelling called the “metanarrative.”
The metanarrative is the “overarching, all encompassing and unrealized master idea for everything.” It suggests that all stories are really part of one master story. When you develop your character, he/she/they will have a collection of stories as well, telling one overarching story of a “life.” What is that story? This is the metanarrative.
Try this exercise:
1. Read the first sentence of your favorite book(s). What does it tell you about the story as you know it?
2. Write one sentence describing the entirety of your character’s existence. Edit the sentence until it makes you smile.
3. Write your sentence in the topmost area of your character sheet.
She is an orphaned dreamer who suddenly realizes she can use magic, but she doesn’t know what to do with that power.
He is a simple farmer who fell asleep, was visited by an angel, was instructed to save the king (whoever that is) and woke up to do…strange things.
A town guardsman, Tim is carrying a letter from a recently-deceased local wizard to someone named “Faust,” though Tim has no idea who Faust is or where that person might live.
Step Two: From where do you come?
Choosing a race is the next step in RPG character creation. In storytelling, once we establish the metanarrative, we imagine the environment and history of the main characters. Our style of choosing a race sidesteps the obvious stereotypes and bias of fantasy racism. At our events and games, you are the hero of the story, so consider the following exercise when choosing a race.
Imagine your character’s home: before any journey begins, before any excitement ensues. What are people like in your character’s home? What is life generally like? Which category best suits the picture in your mind?
(Using D&D 5e race descriptions)
Proud, strong, stoic: Dragonborn or Half-Orc
Tough, Hard working, rowdy: Dwarf
Luxurious, posh, high-class: Elf
Witty, humorous, industrious: Gnome
Independent, artistic, humble: Half-Elf
Down-to-earth, simple, rustic: Halfing
Ordinary, versatile, ambitious: Human
Exotic, dangerous, sensual: Tiefling
Step Three: How do you get there?
Your class determines your character’s vocation within our stories. After establishing the metanarrative of your character, the starting point of the character’s history and the environment, the next step is to establish the means by which the character will reach self-actualization (the fulfillment of his/her purpose). The flowchart below will help you, click to enlarge it.
Either way, set your stats for a story benefit, not a mechanical one. You can damage the Big Bad Evil Guy just as much by calculating the trajectory of the boulder you rolled off a hill as you can cleaving him with your greatsword.
Step FOUR: History
Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition has a game mechanic called backgrounds. When reviewing the backgrounds, make sure to choose one that reflects an actual moment of the character’s backstory. If you don’t have the character’s backstory in mind, consider the following exercise:
1. Go back an reread your metanarrative.
2. Imagine your character’s racial home environment. What was the childhood like? Write one sentence about it.
3. What was the character’s single most painful moment up to this point? Write a paragraph about it. Condense it down to 1-2 sentences. Rewrite that next to your childhood sentence.
4. What or who helped the character survive that painful memory? Was it something/someone to do with the background mechanic? Write a paragraph about it and edit down to 1-2 sentences.
5. What from the character’s history gives this creature strength? Skill? Hope? Vision? In Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition, a mechanic of Ideals, Bonds and Flaws captures the essence of this. For the sake of your story, write 1-3 sentences that describe the character’s personality and why he/she is who she/she is.
6. Review and edit so your backstory is only 4-8 sentences long. This will help you remember it easily and keep it simple.
Step Five: Stats
Rolling stats is one of the classic moments of tabletop RPG’s. To make the most of your story, commit to trusting either luck or math.
1. If Luck, do the usual “roll 7 dice, drop the lowest.” But you must stick to those dice rolls, and only those dice rolls.
2. If you choose Math, take a standard array available in most systems. This ensures that your character is statistically balanced, allowing you more flexibility in roleplay. Use these numbers to fill in stats: 15,14,13,12,10,8
Placing statistics. Min-Maxing is a term for players who create characters that have taken a minimum stat in something they deem not important in order to maximize a primary statistic. (minimizing Charisma to maximize Strength, for example) In our games, we want you to have a true experience–one that generally follows the strengths and weaknesses of your own life. Again, there are two approaches to where and how to place statistics if your character’s story is most important:
1. Place them similarly to your strengths and weaknesses. If your Spirit is your main attribute, reflect that in your character. This way you can roleplay the character honestly and with depth.
2. Place stats toward an optimum version of yourself. Again, this reflection on your real life allows you to play to your strengths, even if the character directs your play to what you wish life was like.
Step six: Details
1. Do the math: add up and write all modifiers and bonuses to skills and attacks/damage/saving throws.
2. Write down all starting equipment and weapons.
3. Review Spells lists if applicable and choose spells that fit into the narrative of your character’s race, history and background. This may be limiting, but it fits really well into a story (Why would a youth who runs from authority have an arsenal of damage-dealing spells instead of illusions and charms?)
4. Review the whole character and ask yourself: Is this a whole character? If yes, write down a name. If not, review and edit until you have a story on paper that makes you smile or somehow moves you.