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Identifying the Framework for Your Role Playing Game Character

More than just describing what you can and can't do, your character defines what you will and won't do while playing him. If you decide that your character is curious and impulsive, then you, as your character, need to go ahead and push the strange button — even when, as a player, you suspect the GM has a bomb attached to it. And if you decide that your character is all strength and no brains, then you have to bite your tongue even when you know the answer to a puzzle.

The framework for character construction

In human development, the mechanics of how you became the person you are today is a combination of your genetics and the experiences to which you were exposed. In GURPS character development, the process is a bit simpler. You have a set of points (determined by your Game Master, or GM) that you can spend to buy attributes (brains, dexterity, health, strength), advantages and perks (fearlessness, or the ability to communicate with the natural or unnatural worlds), and skills (religious ritual, swimming, understanding of geography, stealth), and you can get more points by taking disadvantages and quirks for your character (social stigma, slow healing, or having an unknown past). The entire universe is available to you (well, except as limited by the number of points you have and any restrictions imposed by the GM), so you must have a focus — a framework around which you intend to build your character.

Defining the game world

The first step in crafting your character is making sure you understand the limits of the campaign you will be playing in. And the very first thing you need to know is what types of abilities are permitted there. Can your character be from a more advanced technological society or perhaps from the future? What about being a magic user? Are the types of available advantages limited? The GM must answer all of these questions for you. From there, you can then decide which, if any, of those special abilities or roles appeal to you.

Considering the available points

The next thing to consider is how many points the GM has made available to you. Although the same general framework can be used to create both a 250-point character and a 100-point character, the two need to be approached very differently. A 100-point character should be conceived as an action hero — just a little bit larger than life. A character built on 250 points likely has abilities that most people can't hope to obtain.

One thing to know right now — no matter how many points you get, you never have enough. And it's not the number of points that makes a character interesting and fun but how you spend them; a campaign might start with 50-point characters and you'll have such a great time taking on the local street gangs as your enemies that you can work up to bigger and badder foes.

Determining the party purpose

Each type of adventure can require a different set of characters. Exploring an abandoned dungeon is likely to require mostly combat and thief skills, whereas solving a mystery in Victorian England requires social skills as well as problem solving. The GM should give you enough information about what to expect so that you know the type of characters needed but never so much direction that you feel that your creativity is being limited. A key aspect of this information is the campaign setting — the party that's appropriate for medieval fantasy probably won't do so well in a space adventure (though don't be surprised if a good GM switches the environment on you during the campaign).

A good starting point for the process of selecting party members is determining what, if any, specialists are required. For instance, in many futuristic campaigns, you may need a character devoted to computer operations or piloting. In some cultural settings, you might need someone of a higher social class to "front" for the party in order to gain entrance to reputable society. And in a campaign in which religions play an important role, having a priest or two may be critical. It's also a good idea to pay attention to healing and to consider whether you need any characters devoted to support roles, focusing on things such as languages, the Merchant skill, and knowledge about the regions where you expect the action to occur (Area Knowledge).

From that point, you can then decide how many in the party need to be combat-focused and how many need to be focused on exploration or puzzle solving. When it comes to choosing combat-focused team members, try to balance your party as much as possible. Keep in mind which of your team members specialize in offensive versus defensive modes of combat and which types of attack they employ.

The framework for role playing

The other component to consider as you begin outlining your character is how you like to run (role play) your characters and how much of your own personality needs to fit into the characters. You could have a rule that every character played by Jim has to have the ability to come up with convincing stories on the spur of the moment — because that's just too much a part of Jim's personality for him to set aside.

In most campaigns, it's usually more fun to take skills and advantages that you actually understand. For example, if you're playing in a futuristic campaign, leave the computer hacking to someone who knows how computers work. Of course, this is not an absolute rule. After all, what you can achieve is actually determined by dice rolls — you don't actually have to know how to go out and hack into the Pentagon computer network just because your character is going to. But knowing something about the skill helps you know what's possible and hence what to even attempt.

You also need to know a little bit about your own personality. Part of the fun is challenging yourself with the role that you take on. Many gamers try playing characters of the opposite gender or with personalities dramatically different from their own. But as you play, you'll find that certain traits don't work well for you.

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