Deadly Designer Sins: Characters
This guide is a part of our Deadly Designer Sins series.
This guide although centred around designing characters can be applied to other activities, not just computer games. Such as, your D&D session, or when you play on an RPG server, or when writing a story/novel. Let us talk with a number of things, when it comes down to characters. But first of all, and this mainly concerns the main characters, let us talk about “Motives”.
- Why did John Brown become a Dragon Slayer?
- Because his family was killed by a Dragon.
- Why does he feel becoming a Dragon Slayer is the best solution?
- Because he wants the dragons to feel the same fear/grief he himself felt.
- He was so stricken by the event, that he saw no other way, nor was there anyone else, to point him in another direction.
- Why did John Brown become a Knight of the Light?
- Because his friend, a priest, helped him through his grief and anger.
- Why was John in grief/angry?
- He lost his family to a dragon.
- So, why the Knight of Light?
The priest explained to him, that the Dragon was Evil. (in a very simplified sense, this could be much more expanded) He then offered John the possibility of avenging his family, and finding peace through hunting such dragons, and saving others from the same fate.
Certainly, a much more complex motive, calling for a side character to step in, but in both cases you can see the logical sense. Other times somebody could hunt dragons from greed, since there could be legends concerned with treasure. Greed is often a powerful force for a lot of “lower rank” citizens. Consider the Need Hierarchy Theory. On the most basic level we need to fulfil our Physiological needs. Then Health, Security, Shelter, Safety. After that, friendship, relationships. The Sense of Achievement, respect, recognition are mildly low on our priority list, but the lowest of the low (if all the other elements are not fulfilled) is Self Actualization. In other words, perfecting yourself, learning new skills, etc.
It is true, that we are not concerned with learning new skills or wanting to shine if we are exhausted, hungry or in the general meaning of the sense “Miserable”. How you fulfil these needs is an independent matter. Somebody committing crime might be doing so because he cannot find any other job, and he needs the money to obtain any form of shelter or in order to buy medicine for his daughter. On the other hand somebody could be an assassin and kill a king from a psychotic need to achieve something, or self-actualize, perfect himself.
Motives are often very obscured in today’s games. Soldiers especially, and their leaders have often strange or lack motives. Although it is impossible to programme an AI to act in such a complex sense why would a soldier fight a giant demon? Possibility A) He is defending his home, and he is very tied down to it. Possibility B) He was trained to do so, and has no actual connection for the place he is fighting for, he could be a Mercenary. If it is possibility B the motive is different to possibility A. A is much more emotional. People fight for their home where they lived their whole life. B is a “logical” decision. The soldier follows orders or is paid to do his job. But this basic reason will be reflected further along the line. For example a Mercenary does not care if the Town Hall is destroyed and turned into catapult ammunition. Meanwhile a citizen might not be prepared to sacrifice the very same Town Hall as a barricade element.
How to separate emotional motivation from “reason”? Every person is different, so the decision is up to you. Do not be afraid to shuffle between reason and emotion when the situation calls for it. So, during a battle a confident commander could lead his men expertly, but when suddenly all the dead soldiers become undead and attack his army on one hand he could be cold blooded and take the necessary actions to counter this, or panic. You should always write out a “character”, his history, training and, let us call them, psychological traits and when a specific situation arises glance back at it and decide how would the character react then. There is of course, nothing wrong in making a character entirely fearless, but you yourself have to realise that this can be potentially damning for the character, and take into consideration when you place your character in the storyline.
Let us consider a slightly different factor in character design. Culture and Religion have always been somewhat sensitive topics in today’s world. But by looking at our modern day example we have a live case of how people can be vastly different. One example would be trying to compare Feudal Japan with Medieval Europe. To those from Europe, our culture and past is obvious. There were family bonds, kings, lords, holy crusades. In general in order to get a more precise example we have to look at each nation individually since the Feudal systems worked on slightly different principles from kingdom to kingdom. But all these systems compared to what was occurring in Feudal Japan seem alien. The Japanese Samurai did not only follow a code, they had numerous ceremonies and often a single wrongly (or deliberately) performed gesture would mean an insult. But the people of Japan were more than just dedicated to ideals, they were often restrained on their emotions. Today people of Japan are often thought to have ever-present “Poker Faces”. They rarely show emotions. To us, Europeans, when somebody does not react in any way to our jokes or gestures we ourselves might be insulted, or we might think the guest was insulted. In Japan the lack of presentation of emotions is perfectly natural.
So when creating a character from a specific culture, or following a specific religion take into consideration the “quirks” of said culture. This does not mean that every single person from said culture has to be identical, but that there will be a prevalence for certain types of behaviour. Elves from Faerune are often considered “Snob Nosed Know-All Pansies”. Dwarves are “Bearded Midget Hotheaded Drunkards”. Gnomes are “Mad Turnip Eating Inventors”. These are stereotypes, but when examined more closely they are often not baseless, and are often derived from a recurring set of behaviours among a specific “Race”, culture or group. Stereotypes are hard to get rid of, once learned, but consider what sort of stereotypes are associated with your own country, and see how “more or less” accurate they are, and then take note of how each person is different, despite still fitting the “set”.
What role does Religion play?The effect of “Religion” on an individual is dependent on a few things. Their personal Piety, but also the setting. For example, in Medieval times faith played a much bigger role, since a lot of illnesses were un-curable. You often did not have contact with your loved ones for months or years. The church controlled their own land and as such was also a force to be reckoned with. In modern days religion still plays an important role in giving people faith, and helping those in need. Those who are more dedicated to a faith will follow the faith’s dogmas, whatever they might be. Some cultures are more religious than others. For the Aztecs the role of their gods was very clear and of the highest importance to them. But in, let’s say, England, around Henry the VIII the church was squished with little remorse. Although it might not had been a popular move, it shows how Henry viewed the church as more of a “Push Over” than an institution that was important to the state.
If you really wish to go into details, remember, age often plays an important role in who a character is. Younger characters learn quickly, they can usually adapt. Older characters usually have a lot of experience, and although they might have problems with learning new skills, which are entirely unconnected to their previous experience, they will certainly be better suited at what they already know. As such, an old Officer might be better at ordering men around, organisation and awareness, although possibly lacking knowledge of how to properly utilise modern equipment and techniques. Meanwhile a new officer might still fumble with everything but as he gains experience he will be better at utilising modern techniques and equipment than the older officer. We often have this image of older people although being wiser, often lacking knowledge on how to use, let’s say an e-mail. In some cases that might be the case, but we are once again sinking into stereotypes. But when adding a character consider the possibility that an older character is more “set-in” than a younger one. Remember about exceptions, however, such as Wizards, who although might be older in age, will often hold incredible knowledge which will rarely be outdated, and more often than not sought out by younger wizards. The same goes for “warriors” who might pass on knowledge on how to easily defeat a specific monster. Or, as in the case of the Old-Young Officers the Older officer could aid the Younger officer in things that he knows best, while allowing the youngling to handle the “New Stuff”.
That is all for now. Stay tuned for next parts of the series, and in case you want to look for the list of all the related posts click HERE.
Alexander “WriterX” Bielski