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© 1998-2001 Dru
All rights reserved.
The Joys of Imperfection
Superiority. To be unparalleled. To be sans peur et sans reproche.
To be boring.
When you create a character,
you probably do the same thing everybody else does—start with a
vague character conception, choose race and class, roll dice for statistics,
assign points or proficiencies, and finally settle on a name and sketch
out a history. But how do you differentiate this new character from the
hundreds of others you or your friends have played over the years?
One way is to choose
an interesting personality flaw for the character right from the start.
A good personality flaw
should affect the character, not the whole group. It should sometimes
exasperate the other characters but never anger or alienate them. It should
be good for laughs but also lend itself to tragedy. And, finally, it should
be something that the character must overcome as s/he gains wisdom and
experience as an adventurer.
Although the list of
potential personality flaws is endless, here are a few of the easiest
to start out with. They can be mixed and matched, but the first time you
decide to roleplay a character who is flawed from the start, you may want
to start with just one.
This character always has an eye on the next goal. If the character starts
out as a commoner and finally becomes a noble, s/he will begin to eye
the throne. If this character earns a throne, s/he will begin to eye the
heavens. Be careful not to let your ambitious character succeed at the
expense of other characters—that will quickly lead to hard feelings.
An ambitious character may become very successful in a campaign, but the
character should expect to eventually face the choice between achieving
a prized goal and retaining the love or respect of his or her friends
This character knows s/he is better than the rest—has bluer blood,
comes from purer stock, was trained at a more prestigious school. This
flaw is dangerous because it can easily alienate other characters, so
temper it with good sportsmanship and a sense of noblesse oblige (a belief
in the responsibility of the superior to help the inferior). Your arrogant
character should acknowledge others' strengths in different areas (an
arrogant fighter can still acknowledge a farmer's skill at husbandry or
a mage's skill at spellcasting, and still respect a noble's social rank)
and help those who are less skilled in his or her own area of expertise
("Here, young knight, I'll defend you. Watch carefully—you
may learn something."). The classic roleplaying scenario for this
character is to be put into a situation where s/he must learn humility
This character simply doesn't understand how some adventurers can charge
the monsters without a second thought and prefers to stand back and look
for a good opening. This is a flaw best suited to a mage, cleric, or thief—someone
who doesn't necessarily need to fight in the front rank. Be careful not
to make your cowardly character useless to the party, though. The character
should be able to screw up enough courage to defend endangered companions
or cast spells from the back of the group. The cowardly character who
overcomes his or her reluctance to save a companion or perform a great
deed is a true hero, because there's no mightier opponent than fear.
This character rushes into things without thinking and is quick to accept
a dare or challenge. Because this flaw can easily lead to a character's
early demise, your foolhardy character should be willing to listen to
other's advice before leaping into action. This flaw is best played with
a touch of slapstick humor and cheerful bravado. A typical scenario for
this flaw involves the foolhardy character's rash actions endangering
his or her friends or loved ones, teaching the character to look before
This character always wants more, refusing to believe that there's such
a thing as "too much." Be careful not to make your greedy character
untrustworthy—a little honest avarice is forgivable, but stealing
from other characters is not. The greedy character who finally, reluctantly,
gives money away to support some noble cause or forlorn individual will
have lots of fun roleplaying the act and can enjoy grumbling about it
for many years afterward.
This character seeks to serve others as well as possible—to be the
perfect servant, follower, sidekick, or assistant. This flaw tends to
inspire other characters to try to convince the subservient character
to stop acting like a servant. Your subservient character may continue
to be a sidekick throughout the campaign (in which case mixing subservience
with dry sarcasm or slapstick humor often works well) or may evolve to
become a leader in his or her own right.
This character flaw is similar, but not identical, to subservience. This
character believes s/he is less talented, skilled, handsome, or worthy
than any other character and suffers from uncertainty and self-doubt.
This flaw will often inspire other characters to try to convince the underconfident
character that s/he is just as good as everyone else. Your underconfident
character should hesitate at important moments and worry about whether
s/he is making the right decision. This character may eventually come
to develop a sense of self-worth, perhaps with the encouragement of friends
or loved ones.
This character wouldn't be caught dead in an unstylish outfit, abhors
activities that might muss a new hairstyle or ruin a manicure, and dreads
the thought of another awful mission through the sewers. This flaw is
best tempered with a touch of humor to prevent your character from seeming
too petty or condescending. The vain character is doomed to lose outfit
after outfit to the perils of adventuring and will bemoan every broken
plume, ripped doublet, tattered dress, or broken nail as s/he travels.
There are a lot of ways
to tweak a character from the start—giving the character a personality
flaw is just one trick. Other tricks include assigning the character quirks,
phobias, habits, shticks, and prejudices. But I like playing a flawed
hero, so most of my characters get at least one personality flaw, no matter
what other traits I may assign them as I play.
Not everybody wants
to play a flawed character. Roleplaying is a form of escapism, and sometimes
we all just want to escape into a world where we are perfect. But if you
get tired of playing the same old generic Xena or Hercules clone game
after game, try playing someone a little less perfect. After all, the
real heroes aren't the ones who have everything going for them. They're
the ones who succeed despite falling short of the ideal.
originally written August 16, 1998
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