Character (personality) creation


This question is not really Empire-specific, I think it could apply to a lot of LARP and fiction writing in general.

How do you go about crafting an interesting character personality? I know it sounds strange, but it’s something I’ve struggled with. In a very strongly story-driven game, that kind of doesn’t matter as much as you’re focussed on the story. But I don’t think Empire is that kind of game.

I do well with structure. I kind of got the usefulness of D&D’s Lawful-Chaotic, Good-Evil spectrum as a starting point for thinking about how your character worked, playing 3rd Edition. Vampire: the Masquerade’s Nature/Demeanour and Morality characteristics were more useful. (I am aware that my points of reference are tabletop games and about ten years out of date)

I’m not saying I want a cookie cutter character generator where I can pick out personality traits as simply as ticking the boxes for Skills. (my character is not his skills) But I would like suggestions for something like a character questionnaire which has some good prompts to get me started?


This is something that Gary at Seaxe and Sorcery gives out to people to help with character creation. I’m not sure if he got it from somewhere else or compiled the list himself, but it’s a really good springboard.

Twenty Questions:

  1. What is your persona name?

  2. What is your personas personality?

  3. What is your personas history?

  4. Physical Description?

  5. What is your personas general appearance?

  6. Where was your character born?

  7. How old is your Character?

  8. Does your character have a family?

  9. Has your persona begun their own family?

  10. How and where was your persona educated?

  11. What jobs has your persona done in the past?

  12. What are your persona’s beliefs and outlooks on life?

  13. What is your characters moral code?

  14. What special qualities does your persona posses?

  15. What are your persona’s goals?

  16. What is it that your persona simply cannot do?

  17. What does your persona love?

  18. What does your persona hate?

  19. Friends, Allies and Enemies!

  20. Why has your persona become a adventurer?

What I do for other games - taken to extreme for clarity here, but it the easiest way to get the essence across.

Think about what you want to do during the game, and what parts of the Game look ,fun - does being a magic user look fun - does a priest look fun or would you rather be a fighter.

Find an angle to the archetype which appeals to you, to give the archetype some sort of colour.

Also and perhaps even first think of things which your character will want to achieve - esp. things that someone else might want to stop you character form achieving - it doesn’t matter whom but this is how you can define and build in some ready made enemies. If you playing some sort of political rather than combat game, any sort of extreme view to try to persuade other to take is always a good place to start.

Things to be careful of:

  1. Dark secret in you background. This is fine but unless you tell someone in Game noone will know. Even if you thing you’ve built in a reason to blab, that reason may not come up. Don’t rely on this trope for game. And absolutely don’t rely on PD putting out plot revealing you secret.
  2. To ambiguous a goal, if your goal is too ambiguous there may be no path to no what to do in character to achieve it. It a good idea to know what you what to achieve at an event, I’ve got a list of about 10 points I want to achieve for the next one already , and I a adding to it as have ideas.
  3. Goals which end up make your character want to do things which you don’t find fun. I’m told this happens more than I’d like to believe.

So the important thing is to have a character who wants to get involved in the parts of the Empire which correspond to the bits of Game you think you will enjoy. And have character who will rub some people up the wrong way. Some people (like myself) find having a character which has some friends and Allies in the game helpful too.

Finally don’t be afraid to admit you’ve got it wrong and you’re character is taking you to not-fun places. Feel free to put that character down and create a new one - taking what you’ve learnt into account.

  • Leave room to grow. While it’s nice to have a 100% of their life written out, it doesn’t leave much room to flex or add depth… to include long lost buddies or that escapade down in Tassato (you remember the one with the three naga girls and the cart full of cabbages?). Write the big stuff in broad strokes and leave room to grow as you bump into things in game.

  • I find that thinking about how a character fights is a good way to consider more about their personality and add more flavour to your RP. Not just the weapons they use, but their attitude to fair play (one of the first “duels” I saw at festivals involved one guys knifing his opponent while they shook hands - underhanded, but legal), how reckless they are (do they want the glory or just think their friends have their back, would they risk their death to kill an enemy VIP to win the mission) and whether they play well with authority telling them what to do (I know what I’m doing vs “yes Sir”). When do you florish your weapon… after every strike or do you stand there grimly, never giving the opponent an incling of an opening.
    Most of these are questions of when/where/why, rather than binary yes/no.
    Even if the answer is that they don’t fight, what would they do if a fight came to them? - draw a weapon and point it because the enemy doesn’t know they can’t use it, keep to the edges in the hope of picking someone up and dragging them away, run away screaming, accept death as the price of pacifism… all sorts of options.

There’s a lot of character to be injected into the fighting side of LARP and how you end up acting on the field of battle can reveal new things about the character you’re playing.

I tend to start with ‘what area of the game am I interested in and how do I want to interact with it’ - so for Empire that would be ‘what nation’ and also to some extent ‘what skillset’ and ‘what imperial institution or other thing-to-do’. Then I work out what kind of archetypal reactions I want to have (I have a few preset templates like ‘cynical’, ‘loud’, ‘earnest’, ‘mysterious / crazy’).

Then I work out how someone with the background implied by the first set of things could come to be like the second set of things. By that time I generally find the character has spawned a family background, a few defining life events, and an initial reason to show up, and often has already started talking to me.

If I need more life events / defining characteristics, I pick up a few bits of appropriate kit and try to give them stories behind where they got them from and what they mean to my character.

Different people do this very differently though (often kind of depending how they tend to do roleplaying in general - I find I have very independent characters with their own voice and identity, whereas some people are very aware that they are acting, some people are trying to make the best story for everyone, some people just want a character-excuse in order to get stuck into fighting / trading / drinking / storytelling / whatever, and all of these approaches are just fine!).

Three words is great. I usually go “right then! I’m going to play am X, Y, Z!”

A “manipulative philosopher cult-leader!”
A “bitter coward with a chip on his shoulder!”
A “gluttonous wizard version of Totoro!”

And take it from there

Thanks for the replies, there’s a lot of interesting suggestions there.

The list of 20 questions is pretty much what I was thinking. It could use some modification for Empire in particular, but thanks for pointing it out.

I have fallen for the Dark and Terrible secret trap before in other games, it didn’t really go anywhere. I think 50% of my group suspected my religous devotions were not what he was claiming publicly, but it turned out no-one actually cared. (we had bigger problems) Doesn’t it depend on the secret? In my head at least, an active *Hope *cultist is more likely to bump into actual things on the field relating to their secret than someone who fled their home town ten years ago to avoid being charged with a crime. Unless perhaps the victim’s family are also PCs.

Fighting style is an interesting one. Empire seems like a game where you can choose how much combat to experience far more than others would. I’m honestly not that interested in fighting at Empire. Obviously all citizens were taught to fight and pacifism is a malign spiritual presence, but I’d still like to stay off the battlefield.

Andy Raff - that is the point where I get stuck! I’ll get an idea like “Higborn briar magister” get half a step further like “wants to add a ritual to Imperial Lore as a legacy because his body won’t be interred in his Chapterhouse on death” and then not know where to go from there.

I think there’s something in the last paragraph of Chessypig’s post which resonates with the second paragraph of my first post. In a strongly story-driven game, I feel fine having a less well defined character who just needs an excuse to get stuck into the fighting/trading/drinking etc opportunities that are presented. It’s easier and still satisfying to tag along as the fourth spearman/healer/mage from the left in that position. With something that more of a “make your own game” ethos I find it harder and less satisfying to think ‘well, what else can I do now’ without a well structured personality.

Developing friends and allies in play is often a good way to solve that “what now?” question. Maybe you’ve achieved your original goals, but there are still people your character wants to help succeed.

There is always time to change or reflect on your character’s personality in play. You might take actions you didn’t plan to, on a whim, or even by mistake, but then decide to incorporate those into your character’s overall personality and aim to do similar things in future.

Specifically for Empire I would look at the Virtues and see if there is anything within them that resonates with a character idea. What does your character think of each Virtue? The Way in general? Is it important to think about or just an excuse to do whatever you want?

Try and find a disagreement or conflict to have an Opinion on. It doesn’t need to be radical! There are plenty of schisms and heresies, and that is where most of the setting’s arguments lie, but there might be a few gems in the individual nation briefs as well. What does your character think about the treaty with the Jotun? Or making deals with Eternals? and so forth…

If you have the high concept and half goal a next step would be to start going into specifics of the goal and how you’d go abouat achieving it then work backwards to find the sort of personality and history that lead to those specifics.

With the Highborn Briar Magister who wants to add a ritual to imperial lore for instance, what sort of ritual interests you? Are you going for the standard Briar choice of Spring or are you more interested in a different realm(s) (and do the personality traits associated with that realm tinge your character)? Do you want your magic have strategic effects or personal ones? That will affect the sort of efforts you have to make to use it and to experiment.

Then there is the politics of getting your ritual codified and on the books. Will you try and become the Dean, lobby the Dean, become otherwise influential in the Conclave so Grandmasters (which) or Archmages (which) lobby on your behalf, seek general fame and popular opinion, try to get the backing of other imperial institutions, how dirty will you play etc. etc?

What do the approaches he’d pick say about your character? What parts of his plans will he be good at? What parts will he be confident about? Where are the mismatches?

The specifics of the plans won’t survive Anvil but you’ll have an idea of the way he does things and why

One approach is to play a personality similar to your own but with one or two traits switched off or turned up to eleven. For example conscience, patience, compassion, fearfulness, inquisitiveness, modesty, guile, trust…

Sometimes a character concept forms around one or two distinctive bits of kit or costume. Putting something on and getting a feel for who would be wearing it.

For me a character’s name has usually come last.

I wholeheartedly agree with this, the Pro Wrestling approach to characterisation.

I’m not sure if its relevant/helpful, but I stopped writing great tragedy/drama/secrets into my backgrounds because the one’s acquired in game were usually way more immediate and relevant.

Don’t forget the role that rules and kit play in character creation. They can be just as important as personality and background. For example, my warden’s background, personal goals and kit aspirations have been massively altered just because I realised that all my artisan items were primarily made from orichalcum.

In terms of rituals, the realms that seem most fun to play either Day or Summer. I don’t think I’d play as a ritualist unless I felt confident I would be part of a coven that could consistently reach rituals with a magnitude of 10 to 25. Escpecially the divination rituals from Day - Eyes of the Sun and Moon, Eye of the High Places and Swim the Leviathan’s Depths or combat enhancements like Raise the Standard of War or multi-target Crimson Ward of the Summer Stars/Splendid Panoply of Knighthood from Summer. As much as the very high magnitude rituals sound impressive, I think there’s probably more mileage in being able to consistently perform a few mid level ones over the course of the event.

Of course for that I’d need a coven… either to bring one with me or form one in play. They both have their challenges! I like being part of a group with a strong focus that everyone works with. (As opposed to those who are loose collectives for a shared camping/cooking spot, but pursue disparate personal agendas during the events themselves. YMMV) So for example, for what I can see of Dawn group archetypes like Weaver Cabals and Questing Knight orders appeal more than the traditional Noble House. (I know my previous example was Highguard, but Chapters read like they could have a tight focus or a broader approach)

How much does costume/kit play a role in your roleplay? Except for identifying symbols (rank/household/nation wtc) and general style to fit the culture, I hadn’t really considered it. I’ve never felt costume was that important in roleplaying. Is Empire a very costume-driven game?

Usually, I write (far too much!) a background from birth to “current day” - covering parentage, childhood, adolescence, growing up, adulthood, work etc. which gives me a good idea as to where my character has come from and what they have seen. I then use that to build my character’s personality.

At Empire, things were a bit different. I never intended to take to the battlefield (as a first time LARPer I had never had any weapons training or experience so didn’t want to risk hurting people with my inexperience) but I wanted to medic mage it. My friends convinced me to go for something a little different and so Lunetta the Priestess of Loyalty was created VERY late on. I had the bare bones of a background and no idea on how the character was going to act, and I entered the field. It was arguably both the most terrifying and the most liberating experience I have had as a roleplayer. I had little self-guidance from my background and was having to bounce off the people around me and construct my personality in field. I actually quite enjoyed it. I wouldn’t recommend it as a “good” idea, but I would say it wasn’t as bad as I had worried it would be.

It’s not important to role-playing per se, but it can help in developing your character. Why does your character wear what they do? Why does your character use a sword and not an axe? Where did they get that necklace? What’s the significance of the design on that tunic? Who gave them that ring?

Equally, thinking about your character can give you ideas for your kit. What kind of paraphernalia do they need to do their job? Do they care about being dirty? Do they plan outfits, or just throw stuff together? Do they make their own clothes and equipment, or buy from someone else?

How much does costume/kit play a role in your roleplay? Except for identifying symbols (rank/household/nation wtc) and general style to fit the culture, I hadn’t really considered it. I’ve never felt costume was that important in roleplaying. Is Empire a very costume-driven game?[/quote]

Possibly a bit of a philosophical point that :slight_smile: However, Empire certainly has kit levels as an aspirational thing as one of its core ideas - might be worth watching the video of a talk Matt P gave on immersion to get a feel.

See that is something I know I’m bad at. Bouncing off people I don’t know. I often run out of things to say - I’m terrible at small talk in real life, let alone in a fantasy world or just can’t get the conversation going, especially if there’s a closed-seeming group. Not sure if there’s anything I can really do about that except keep trying it!

That seems fair. I still think it’s something I’d come to late in the process, fitting the costume to the character rather than the character being inspired by the costume. I rarely find myself looking at a piece online or in my (extensive) wardrobe and thinking “who would wear something like this?”. Having said that, there are a couple of nice pieces in my collection that lend themselves to certain character ideas. I have a two-handed axe that really looks like it should belong to a Courage-dedicated Marcher Friar or Highborn Wayfarer and also a set of robes which - with the right accessories - would be ideal for an Enchanter or Magister.

Aside - I’m very glad of the page, can you tell?

Ah, I’ve seen that before, I think. I remember being irritated at not being able to see the pictures Matt refers to! I can certainly get behind the idea of continuous improvement of costumes. Just so long as we’re not expected to spend hundreds of pounds per event or get our costume vetted by an authenticity officer.

We’re safe on that score :smiley:

I’ve been reading the sections, especially the roleplaying section. This is probably true of a lot of people, but I find my natural personality closer to some of the lineages described than others. In my case, Merrow and Draughir are “easier” for me to envision than Naga and Changeling (with Cambion and Briar being more mixed).

I will freely admit to not being the greatest roleplayer; I have a habit of drawing too heavily on very similar character tropes (who aren’t that different to me). But I’ve been to a fair number of events and am thinking how to play against ‘type’.

What I was wondering is if people have been able to use the lineages as a support for this? On one hand, there is an appeal in having something directly in the setting material reminding you to be gregarious, or passionate, or noble and bold, or wanting to be the center of attention. On the other, there is the fear of not living up to that and being seen as Doing It Wrong.