Character building

I always like to have a back up character in the works, and I thought I’d ask here: how do you build your characters? Do you start with nation, resource, skills, personality, lineage, or something else?

With my current character I started with nation and lineage, and seeing how they would intersect with the group background, and started to get a feel of her personality. From that I added my skills, and my resource was added last.

Just curious to see how others do it, no right or wrong answer. :slight_smile:

Oooh, I forgot about kit. The tiny bells Renata wears on her wrist really shaped the way she moves; kit can have an effect on the character too.

I hook off a core concept - Orc doctrinal scholar, Disney-princess Dawnish Weaver, Changeling Wayfarer, or Dawnish pirate are all ones I’ve played - and go from there to personality and beliefs. Then it’s into the exciting feedback loop of personality and body language informing one another; I’ll usually hang exactly what skills the character has off that.

Personal resource comes in quite late, unless it’s Congregation, which is an implicit part of about half of my concepts because of how much I love the Synod game. :wink:

Lineage and nation are both core parts of the way I build personality, so they usually need to lock in quite early. I do want to try playing a Merrow by building a character personality without thinking of them as Merrow-like and sticking gills on sometime, though - all my characters come out with enough curiosity, focus, and interest in abstract philosophy because of how I like to play, so even my Naga come across as kind of Merrow around the edges. May as well take advantage of that sometime. :wink:

This whole thing can build up over a couple of months - developing the personality, mindset, and philosophical attitudes of my as-yet-unplayed characters is one of my major ways to stave off boredom. That probably has a lot to do with why I have far more Empire concepts than I’ll ever get around to playing…


First, I find something I want to do. That might be a set of skills I want to play with, an Archetype that appeals, a group I would like to be in, or a character goal. This makes sure the PC provides me fun. Equally, I don’t take skills unless I reckon I’m going to use them. There’s an easy trap of “oh I need to have XYZ to play this character” when if you don’t use them you don’t need them. Priests don’t need Dedication unless Ceremonies are your fun, for example.

Example goals:

  • Pete Keeper: I would like to be a battlefield healer and do the farm rituals like the Landskeeper brief says.
  • Carlos i Erigo: I would like to be a Hakima and the worst Militiaman ever.
  • Martin Orchard: I would like to be able to solo cast curse analysis and at least one curse, and back up my friend who is playing a Thresher. Also, RELIGIOUS OPINIONS.

Given my objective, what is the rough shape of the PC?

  • If I started out with “these skills or rituals look fun”, where and why did he learn them? Your Numbers are a set of prompts.
  • This is my usual approach for combat characters, solo ritualists, or anything else where I’ll be doing one thing a lot.
  • If I’m playing an archetype, what sort of person chooses that career? What led them there? What game skills are useful in doing that Traditional Role?
  • If I’m joining a group, what do they have in common? What do they lack that I might enjoy playing, so I can add something new?
  • If I have an OC goal, what sort of character would best achieve it?
  • Goals can be IC negative, for example, you cannot achieve “Get executed for horrendous Abuse of Powers” without either Dedicate or a Congregation.

It’s at this point that I think about personality and Lineage usually. Martin was set as a naga so I’d have a reason to set the hell down and chill out, and then play the other end of the brief by chasing after trouble in a blur of emotion. Keeper was a smutty landskeeper because I went “I COULD PLAY GENDERFLIPPED NANNY OGG”. I then tend to expand the personality in play by saying “yes” to any idea I think works. It’s easier for me to start with a simple, broad-brush character and refine them by how I choose to have them react to stuff.

Once I’ve got that down, I work out how they talk. All of my characters have a slightly different voice because it’s a nice bit of feedback for the characterisation, especially if you play lots of larps. I talk quite loud and fast, whereas people often ask my PC to speak up due to his whispering, conspiratorial tone. Last I work out how they move. Getting the walk and mannerisms right helps, especially once I start layering them on. My first marcher was no-nonsense walking briskly about getting things done. Martin floops on stuff like a cat or zips around like he’s chasing something.


I’ll talk about my back up characters rather than my current one, because she came about in a different way due to me not knowing the system.

For me, the most important part of the character is the visual aspect. When an idea for a character comes to mind, it’s always of how they look and how they act. I’m trained in costume design (for lack of a better explanation), so that’s the best way for me to start. From appearance, mannerisms and how they hold themselves, I can work out a chunk of personality. Do they have a lot of money? Do they do physical work? Do they see other people as equals? Are they self-obsessed? Have they been through a hardship? At the same time, the backstory happens. Why are they like that? Why did that happen? Why those clothes?

An example: One of my back up characters appeared as a Freeborn in tattered, worn, dirty clothing. She was a bit skittish, jumpy, but soft.
This turned into her being nervous, fearful, but grateful and kind.
Why? Why would she act like that? Why would she be dressed like that? A freeborn wouldn’t walk around in rags.
Turns out that it was because she had been a slave and had very recently managed to escape.
How did that happen?
She is from Kahraman, but fled when the Jotun attacked. Through a series of misfortunes, she ended up being taken by Druj slavers.

From that, the backstory expanded. I’m happy to share this one because it might not work due to things that happened at E1, but please, please do not steal her - I am very emotionally attached!

For me, skills and resource come last. Skills are defined by the character, rather than defining the character. If I try to think up, let’s say, a Winter ritualist with an Ambergelt forest, I’m going to have a difficult time.

The problem with my characters forming organically, starting with me just picturing them, is that I have far too many back ups. I have at least three Freeborn characters, an Orc, a Varushkan… They get sparked off so easily. One of them started with me seeing a hat that I liked. A hat. Looking at things is incredibly dangerous.


Oh noes! The perils of hats!


It’s a really good hat.


My first character I wanted to spring off the concept of the sinister witch in the woods - I do not pull this off in play whatsoever, but hey ho, Night Magic is cool.

After having a number of complicated concepts with big backstories that just hit the field/game and didn’t fit or work for me (numerous systems, both tabletop and larp), I think the one thing to really figure out is how your character is motivated and approaches things, rather than how they fit in the world, or their past. The latter is important, but if you’re new to the game, it really takes being in the field to see how the setting works in play.

However if you know you are the “Ambitious Opportunist who wants to gain influence” you know what you chase when to find it and how you will respond to things. Oh, Archmage gets to talk to Eternals, what does that do, can I get them on my side? What does being a Senator mean? Maybe I can mosey up to one and see what that’s about. Oh, this very important person just mistook me for someone else, maybe I’ll just let them talk and tell me all this important information. I wonder what this info is worth to someone else.

If you are the “Pious citizen who wants to help the helpless” you can find that in the game in a number of roles. Ah, working at the hospital is a noble cause. Oh gosh there’s a lot of people and not much room, maybe I can help with a Triage of sorts. What’s a Stormcrow? Listening to people’s problems, I can do that. Oh my, you need my help with something. I can absolutely help spread the word of that cause to my people! Oh, when you put it like that, it’s not sounding very virtuous, are you sure about this?

Etc, etc.

I definitely think skills need to come secondary to that core concept. I think Empire is great in having the Apprentice option, even though I don’t know how many people make use of it. You can try skills out with a teacher before you buy them.

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Working down my list of possible backup characters, this is how they came into existence:

  • Friend enthusing about a backup group, and so making a character to fit that
  • Porting a character I enjoyed playing in an old system into this one
  • Wanting to play with a specific mechanic / area of the game
  • Friend enthusing about a backup group, and so making a character to fit that
  • Reading a single line on the wiki and thinking it was cool so making a character to riff on it
  • Taking an archetype and doing it To The Max
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I start with ‘what do I want to do’ - what area of the game have I not been too heavily invested in with my current character that also looks like fun? This also includes ‘what lineage’ - I feel like I should change my appearance significantly between characters to make sure that they aren’t mistaken for each other, and lineage is the easiest way to do that, especially when I’ve already played a nation-hopping character so the national kit briefs are no reassurance.

That swiftly turns into, for Empire, ‘what kind of group do I want to join’ and ‘which groups will have me’ - while it’s possible to play solo, I much prefer to know I’m going in with some ready-made connections / backup / people already invested in goals that I can leech purpose off ;).

The process of finding a group messes with the other details - I might decide I want to do something entirely different due to what the group’s up to, or at least tweak what I’m looking at to fit in.

At this point I try out a few skill point builds and start to think about background - once I’ve got a clear idea of what I want to do at events I then try to build my character’s life story up to that point, so they have reasons to be hitting the points I want to hit. Naturally this often doesn’t survive contact with play, but gives them a basis to fall back on. This is also when I start building a character playlist.

Resource pick is a late decision - Congregation is the only one that’s really central to concepts for me, although Military Unit could be in some cases. Picking a resource does then inform characterisation, but I feel like I can leave it quite late.

The last thing I do is desperately attempt to assemble some kit :). Often I will have some kit in mind at the start out of my massive pile of kit, but I don’t want to buy anything until the character is reasonably settled unless I really have to, as I regularly change my mind!


My next character decision tree:

Need to be Brass coast so i can be with my new child. = Brass Coast
Got some amazing changeling horns = Changeling
Brass coast wanting some connection to wife’s group = Fleet resource
Background sorted now so wife can talk about him and get a bit of game for herself.
Name decided so wife can talk about him.

Just need to decide build and costume.

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There’s generally a concept I like from a nation brief that I want to expand on, or I come up with an idea and think about the best way I can play it. It’s nearly always a visual look for the character that comes up first, and I think about what I would expect that character to do. I will also often look at the territories and decide where they lived and how it affected them growing up. Each nation - aside from the orcs - has a character or two where I’ve gone ‘ooh, this bit is interesting, I wonder what I can build off that?’

Examples that have gotten off the ground a little more so are candidates for ‘next character’:

  • League Tortured Artist: Less ‘tortured’ now, but the whole concept and look revolved around him being that sort of stereotype. Through research into the wiki, I’ve made his ‘thing’ iridescent butterflies and based his colour scheme and look off that. I also wanted to play a male league character, which didn’t affect his character build too much.
  • ‘How can I basically play a mermaid in the system’: Urizeni Merrow who lives by the coast and is obsessed with the sea. This was (and still is) a design based concept that is as Urizeni as possibly but had very much a flowing sea/mermaid theme to it (without actually being straight up mermaid). This one had the biggest pinterest board for the longest time. Character has been slowly built around this.
  • Dawninsh Draughir Noble: Another design based one, as I wanted to see if I could come up with a concept for ‘dark Dawn’ but still make it look Dawnish and not Highguard. This character weirdly has had most of the character built around the territory and location within it I’m planning to put her in… the flavour texts give so much scope for how your character was raised.
  • Freeborn Briar who has only ever lived in The Brass Coast: As I already have quite foot in the ‘I’m a briar’ game, this concept is the one least likely to come out… but I just wanted to play with the idea of a briar who has rarely (if ever) been challenged over their lineage, and the game it would generate in Anvil. I also did a lot of fun design based on the ‘look like a flame’ element of the BC brief.

Other ideas include: Varushkan priest (because dat kit brief yeeessss), Marcher Merrow (could only be temp character, could not keep that up for long), Navarri Changeling (because let’s be honest, wood elf design), Varushkan Company of the White Stag member (came up with the idea whilst listening to the bambi soundtrack… oddly), Wintermark Kallavesi (kitttt <3 ), Dawnish character who is basically Disney’s Rapunzel… The ideas go on xD

But I will very quickly afterwards collect references based on the brief, decide a colour scheme (and work off that further), and decide what territory they grew up in where. Then, the character sorta builds on their own.