At some point, you’ve probably seen the cliched “brooding loner” character: hooded, sitting by themselves, maybe toying with a weapon. They’re a strong independent adventurer with a dark past and a tortured psyche. When you look at them, you get a sullen glare in response.
This character ends up not working, even when you try to play them with a bit more sociability. (Regretfully, I have learned this the hard way, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience for anyone involved). That’s because, as much fun as you might have in creating this lone wolf antihero, you forgot the main rule of building a character in a role-playing game:
You’re not just creating an individual adventurer. You’re creating a member of a group.
Let’s dig into what that means and how we can do it.
Play nicely with others
That is, your character needs to interact with other people in the world, especially the other adventurers in your party. You all need a reason to work together, facing the challenges thrown at you. Ask yourself:
- Why does my character go along with the others?
- Why do the others want my character along?
- How can my character help the others have their own moments to shine?
Note that I specifically didn’t include how your own character can stand out. That’s because the entire rest of the character creation process already does that. When you choose abilities and traits and features, you spend a lot of time thinking about what makes this character cool and useful and powerful (and, yes, potentially flawed).
In D&D 5e, “bonds represent a character’s connections to people, places, and events in the world.” Normally, we create one bond to something from our background, like “I have an ancient text that holds terrible secrets that must not fall into the wrong hands” or “I protect those who cannot protect themselves.” But why not add another lightweight bond or two to other party members? If everybody in the group does this, then you end up with a web of bonds that tie everyone together.
In Dungeon World, these play a much bigger role. Bonds are tied to your class, affect how well you can aid another character, and can provide XP. They’re built into the process of character creation and session review. Unlike in D&D, they have no connection to the wider world – they specifically exist to tie the party together.
Try to get your group to have a session zero before the campaign starts. If possible, create your characters together during this session! It should cover a lot of different things, but make sure to include deciding how your characters know each other and why they stick together.
Of course, this varies tremendously by game system. But in most D&D-like systems (where my focus lies), no one character can do everything. And even if they can come close, like Clerics or Druids sometimes can, they will still need support from friends so as not to allow the enemies to overwhelm them. Most groups already think in terms of combat roles – do we have a healer? Do we have a tank? (I’ll leave aside here my general annoyance at bringing the MMORPG trinity into D&D, as that’s a different topic.)
So think about how your character can enable somebody else to do something awesome. Maybe you set up a cool joint move, like shooting a keg full of blast powder, or maybe you just agree on how to divvy up some responsibility such as healing or taking watch. These things can draw characters together and create a team mentality.
Whatever you do, however you do it – your group will have more fun if you think of your characters as an adventuring party, not just a random collection of adventurers!