So what does this party do at the end of the day? When the traps are tripped, the dragon is dead, the horde has been divvied up, and all the threats are passed... what do they do with themselves?
|I cast magic missile... or something...|
You Are Not Your Job
When you were a kid did you ever run into your teacher at the grocery store or at McDonald's, and your mind just tweaked because this person was in an environment you didn't associate them with? That's sort of like what happens with our characters. Our mental images are so jam-packed with brutal sword slashes, exploding words of power, and skulking thievery that we forget these characters have a lot of other moments in their lives.
I'll give you an example. Many years ago I was asked to join a 3.5 Shackled City campaign. The game took place in a city built inside a caldera, and every character began the game with a single trait. The one I took for my character, a half-orc who due to an accident of birth passed for human, was nightmares. He suffered from terrible night terrors, and the result was that he was immune to the fatigued condition.
So of course I was going to make a fighter/barbarian, and then slide him into frenzied berserker.
Because of Arius's terrible nightmares, and the fits of screaming that accompanied them when he was a child, he was given up to the Temple of Kord. They taught him to fight, but more than that the temple taught him how to push his body past normal limits. Despite his youth, Arius's size, strength, and ability to train when other people were sleeping made him more than a great fighter. They made him an unparalleled athlete.
I didn't plan that to be part of the character, but it showed up in an early, mostly roleplay arc where the party attends a huge festival in the city. There are swimming competitions, wrestling, performances, drinking, etc. Arius, it was soon established, had won the long jump for several years. He was unafraid to dive into any physical challenge, and he reveled in the competition. But when the drinking event came up he took water and watched. Because, as he painstakingly explained, his body was a well-oiled machine; pour that poison into it and it would take months to work all the effects out.
|This was the look on the party's faces when the guy with the +7 fort save at level 1 bowed out.|
The more I played the character, the more I realized Arius had a life outside of dungeon delving and adventure-seeking. He liked to exchange riddles and solve puzzles (he wasn't good at it, but he liked doing it), he paid some attention to local fashion (not much, but some), and he was a great believer in spectacle. It's why when the party was told they were going to be participating in a big ceremony, which would require dance lessons, Arius was there with bells on.
What Do You Do, And What Does It Say About You?
By examining your characters' lives beyond the scope of their heroic exploits you'll end up with rounder, more interesting PCs. For example, when he isn't off valiantly fighting the forces of evil, does your paladin volunteer at an orphanage? Why? Is it to remind him of the family he lost long ago? Is it because his devotion to duty means he'll never have children of his own? Is it because he wants to help shape the next generation by showing them someone cares about them? Does he just need something to lift his spirits after gazing so long into the abyss?
Who knows? All of them are valid interpretations depending on the character.
There are all sorts of things you can do. For example, does your orc write poetry? If so, what kind? Does he read publicly, or does he keep it shut up in a journal where no one will see? Does your sorceress like the theater? If so, does she go for the acting or for the effects? Was she ever a theatrical person herself, or is it just something she likes? Is your cleric a fan of chariot races? Does the bard love gladiatorial bouts, even though he's well aware they're at least partly fake? Does your wizard like to garden?
I could keep asking you these questions all day long, but here's an easy way to think about it. If you were going to create a dating profile for your character, what would you fill in for all those miscellaneous sections? Would you talk about your experiences as a bounty hunter, and about how strong or fast you are, or would you instead focus on the more personal aspects? Do you want kids (or have them), do you have a religion, do you smoke, do you drink, and what are those six things you simply could not do without?
|All right... what are the other three?|
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