Beyond the Dice: Creating Exceptional 1st Level Fantasy Characters

So, here you are, it’s come down to this. You’ve played every type of character you can think of that you’ve ever wanted to play. You’ve exhausted your creativity in trying to come up with something that is significantly different enough that nobody automatically calls you out for rehashing an old character. Here you are, faced with a new campaign that everyone else seems to be super excited about, and you have absolutely no idea what you want to play!

The decision for what kind of character to play next can be difficult for the seasoned veteran. You’ve been down every road that a character can go down. You’ve played every combination of race and class that even remotely interests you. You’ve patterned characters after games, books, TV shows, and movies! So, what in the world is left that you haven’t already done and isn’t completely boring for you to play in this campaign?

I’ll help you figure that out!

Method 1
I want you to think about every character class that you’ve ever played. Which one is your all-time favorite? Pick only one. Now create that character, just as you normally would, but with a twist. I want you to make the main aspect of that character almost useless! That’s right, I want you to purposely sabotage your character! Why? Because it’s fun!
So, if you are playing a Fighter, make their chosen weapon something that isn’t the usual! Maybe pick from the Simple Weapons list! Have your character focus on that weapon and get all the normal fighter stuff to become a truly awesome fighter with that weapon! If you are playing a spellcaster class, pick the spells that you think are the most useless things your character could focus on! How about no offensive spells? Maybe your character is a pacifist! How can you do that? Alarm, Charm Person, Disguise Self, Expeditious Retreat, Jump, and Sleep would be the spells I would pick! Or maybe you’re playing a Cleric that believes Fate can’t be circumvented and refuses to heal wounds because you’re going to live or die by the grace of God anyway, right?

In last month’s article, I mentioned an Elf Barbarian character with two hand axes. That was one of my old characters. Why would I play a character like that? Because it was fun as hell!! I was able to put so much backstory into them that it was awesome! Uneducated and only able to count to ten was their determination for whether to attack or run! But the reason why they used two hand axes instead of something bigger, or even swords for which the elf race would have given him more advantages? They were an orphan and the barbarians who took them in didn’t think that a fragile elf would ever be strong enough to effectively fight with something heavier! Which was funny because that elf’s strength score was an eighteen! And it was a great role-playing opportunity because they absorbed all the prejudices of the barbarians that raised them. So, elves were therefore fragile, weak, and terrible fighters to this character! Except for them of course, they were trained by barbarians! It was hilarious!!

In a Star Wars campaign, I once played a Bounty Hunter with a computer attached to their head. Let me say that again, I played a Bounty Hunter with a computer attached to their head!!! Our Game Master was running a group composed entirely of Bounty Hunters and our job was to figure out where our targets were at, how to get to them, then capture them and bring them in for the money! Simple right? So, on the VERY first game, we try to capture our target only to miss him as he ran away and locked himself in a panic room! While the meatheads in the group were trying to figure out how to blast the door down or trying to see if anyone had any explosives, a terrible idea considering the security in this place! I hacked the facilities computer and overrode the lock. No, my armor wasn’t the best in the group, my guns weren’t nearly as cool, I couldn’t do half of the awesome stuff as the others in the group. But I damn well wasn’t stopped by a door that could only be opened or closed from the inside of the panic room! (And I ruined the Game Master’s day because I completely circumvented the massive battle he’d planned by not tripping any alarms or blowing anything up!)

The point of this isn’t to maximize the class and be the shining example of the perfection of what that class represents. The point is to make it fun and interesting again! After all, does it really matter if you are throwing fewer points of damage if you can instead play a character with such a rich background and personality? I know my answer to that question!

Method 2
Is there a character class that you haven’t played yet? Okay, I understand. Or maybe there’s a class that you’ve played but just aren’t excited about? Do you prefer being able to get into the thick of combat and therefore you don’t like Wizards? Do you like raining death down on the enemy with devastating spells rather than risk getting killed so you don’t like playing Fighters? It’s all good! But there are ways around that!

You don’t like playing Wizards? Let me ask you some questions. Does a Wizard always have to put their best attribute as Intelligence? The spell Mage Armor states that you touch a willing creature in order to give them the benefits of the spell. Aren’t you a willing creature even if you’re the one casting the spell? The spell False Life bolsters your hit points for an hour, nice to have in a combat environment, isn’t it? Don’t you think the Shield spell is nifty too? And isn’t Witch Bolt as good as a Longsword? Have you read what the Abjuration school of magic gives you when you reach the second level? Have you read the Feats in Chapter 6 of the Player’s Handbook?

You don’t like playing Fighters? Let me ask you some questions. Do Fighters always have to swing heavy chunks of metal around? Do they always have to have Strength as their best attribute? Did you know that there are several races in the Player’s Handbook that begin with the ability to cast a spell regardless of what class you choose to play? Did you know that glass vials cost one gold piece, a flask of oil only costs a silver piece, a vial of acid costs twenty-five gold pieces, and a flask of Alchemist’s Fire costs fifty gold pieces? If a vial containing one of these liquids were to be attached to a ranged weapon of some sort in advance of combat, would the combination significantly reduce the range of the weapon and would the additional damage it causes be worth the effort? Did you know that taking the Guild Artisan background gives you the tools for the trade as well as the skills to be able to become an Alchemist yourself? Should it be morally wrong to use poison on your enemy or is that just as fair as using the cantrip Poison Spray? Have you read the Eldritch Knight feature of the Fighter class?

I once played a Wizard, well they called themselves a Battle Mage! And they were always in the thick of combat, they wouldn’t have had it any other way! So, I scoured the rule books for every advantage, every spell, ANYTHING that could make this character able to be on the front lines of combat for at least a few rounds! I refused to multi-class them, sticking with the Wizard class the entire time. And I came up with a character able to stand next to the big hitters in combat and not only survive, but they also kicked butt! And they weren’t just all about the spells either! They had an iron-shod quarterstaff and a sixteen strength behind each blow!

I used to have a player in one of my game groups a long, long time ago. Before ideas like Eldritch Knight came out. They played a fighter who focused on the bow and they loved to attach vials of oil to their arrows. Eventually, they found other things to attach to their arrows until one day they were putting out the same levels of damage as the guy swinging a sword because they could add fire, cold, acid, poison, or anything else they could think of to give a disadvantage to the enemy! Eventually, they even started firing magical oils and the like with their arrows causing all kinds of havoc! Do you know how crazy it is to have your bad guy hit between the eyes with an oil of blindness?!

I use the Fighter versus Wizard set up for this, but the point of the exercise is to get you to consider playing a character class you don’t like and make it more palatable! Just because a class is geared toward one aspect, it doesn’t mean that it has to always be that way! No, you can’t turn a fighter into a Wizard. And no, you can’t turn a Wizard into a Fighter either. But what can you do with your character that is completely different and would be kind of like an aspect of another character class that you do enjoy playing? Now we’re talking about some interesting character ideas!

Method 3
I want you to think about the VERY first character you ever played in this game, EVER! I know this could take a while for you older folks, please feel free to pause for a few hours and relive those glory days while you remember that first game! That’s it, yes, remember when your hair was still growing from some places and not from others! Remember when you didn’t use phrases like, “Whipper-snappers” or “Get off my lawn!”? Now, remember that first character? No, not the super cool one that you put together a few years after you’d been into it! I mean the VERY first character EVER! Got it? Yes!

Now, I want you to think about all the things about that character that you didn’t like. Wrong character class? You didn’t know what you were doing so you may have been playing a class that you really didn’t like. Background story for the character was cheesy or didn’t seem to blend with the group? What else? Stats all wrong? Equipment or weapons, not the best? I want you to make a list of all the things that you didn’t like about this character. Essentially everything that was wrong with them that you’d wished you could have changed now that you are looking back. Get a piece of paper and write it all down, a numbered list really helps me in this.

Once you have your list, I want you to think about all the things that you thought this character was going to be. What attracted you to the idea of them in the first place? What did you think it was going to be like in that ideal mindset before the situation forced you to change your vision? It’s likely that you’ve already tried to correct the errors of the past by playing a character or even several characters in this same kind of theme. It’s cool! We all do it! But I want you to think about your original idea and what you had hoped your FIRST character was going to be. Got it? Now, make another list that reflects all the qualities you wanted in that original character.

Okay! I want you to try and think of that ideal character that you had envisioned, and I want you to put that character into a different character class! But KEEP your original character idea! So, if your original character was a Fighter, try making them a Thief instead, but you still PLAY them as a Fighter! You still tell everyone in the game group that you are playing a Fighter, and you keep the fact that they’re actually a Thief a secret! Now, I want you to explain why your character is doing this. Think about it, figure it out. Did they steal something that put a price on their head and they’re in hiding? Do they actually want to be a legendary warrior some day but their kleptomania keeps them from focusing on it like they should? Maybe they have a talent for magic but dislike the thought of using bat guano and other disgusting things for spells? Maybe they wanted to be a monk but got kicked out on the first day for stealing? Go with it! Have fun! Make them interesting! But folks, don’t make it so easy as to not be a challenge! If your character’s “secret” class is Fighter, don’t go around saying they are a Paladin, that’s just too easy!

So, that list of all the bad things that you made? I want you to address those concerns with this character, but for the “secret” character class that you have chosen! This is your REAL character class, this is what the math is going to be based on! Make sure that your character has all the areas covered, make them the perfect character for that class! Pretend that you aren’t going to be pulling a fast one on your game group! And make sure that you don’t make those same mistakes from your past, with this character. But keep a mind to what you are going to be telling the rest of the game group that you’re playing. Try to work that in there if you can! Limited to Simple Weapons but you are going to say they are a Fighter? Why not fight with a spear? If anyone says something, just expound on the virtues of the spear, the distance for striking makes it harder for enemies to hit you, you can throw it and if it breaks you can still use it as a staff! It doesn’t have to even be real or make a lot of sense!

Then, I want you to take the list of all the things that you thought your first character was going to be and apply that to this character’s personality. If your first character was going to be a fighter, then this character is going to pretend to be the fighter that you had envisioned with your very first character ever! If you had originally envisioned a Cleric, now you are playing a character who isn’t a Cleric, but is trying to convince everyone that they actually ARE a Cleric! What difficulties are they going to face? What problems could arise? How can your character deal with these things? How can they keep up the ruse if they are put into a sticky situation? How can they explain away something that is obviously not right when they use an ability of their “secret” character class? How can they explain away something that they should be able to do but they are unable to accomplish because they aren’t really what they say they are?

You can have a lot of fun with a character like this! Imagine handing notes to the DM every now and then when you lift a couple of coins from the pouch of someone in your group! They will go mad trying to figure out who could have done that! Or if suddenly during battle some lights burst from their hand to strike the enemy and seem to cause them pain, was that a deep abiding faith or sorcery? Your skills at lying are going to come into play here, so start practicing now! Go ahead and give it a few levels in this class while you figure it out. Then, go ahead and multiclass and get some skills that will help with your deception for the coming levels. If you want to continue the challenge, multiclass into something other than your “secret” class and makeup yet another excuse for why your character can’t be what they say they are! Do they secretly dislike being that character class but understand people perceive them as that class and get certain treatments and privileges? Do they harbor a secret anxiety that they will fail as that class and so, therefore, refuse to commit to it? Mix it up and have fun with it!

Most importantly, DO NOT let the secret out! That’s where all the FUN is in this! Yes, your Game Master must know, but nobody else! See how long it takes them to figure it out! See how long you can keep up the subterfuge! And while you’re doing that, you’ll see how much fun you’re having again!

Make it new again
The saddest thing I’ve ever had happen to me was when I lost my passion for role-playing games. It happened because I had done it all, or so I thought. It took a couple of special players and a special Game Master to show me a different way. From that moment on, I’ve been able to rekindle my love for these tabletop games again and again and again. The challenge facing the veteran gamer isn’t what character class to play, it’s figuring out how to make your new character interesting to you. Because if you’re interested and excited about your character, that’s going to spread to the others in your game group. And if more than one or two of you are interested and excited, that enthusiasm really turns the whole game up a notch. When everyone, including your Game Master, is into the game on that level, now that’s when things become EPIC!

Featured Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast

~ Cindy

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Roger B says:

    Excellent article!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. modoc31 says:

      Thanks for the kind words Roger! I will be sure to pass them on to Cindy.

      ~ Modoc

      Liked by 1 person

    1. modoc31 says:

      Reuster,

      Thanks for the compliment!

      ~ Modoc

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Senshi (Carlos) says:

    I always make my characters to have fun, I’m not a “competitive” person, so I totally agree with this article! But I must try the last one. Sounds really interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. modoc31 says:

      Senshi,

      We’re glad you enjoyed Cindy’s article. Look a new article in January!

      ~ Modoc

      Like

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