Filling out a character sheet can be incredibly easy, only taking at most five to ten minutes. All you’re doing is dropping dots and choosing merits, right? Well, not exactly. Here is some advice for creating a compelling and interesting character without relying on pure coolness factor and instead making something more real, more relatable and a character that can grow as you play:
We’re going to break the process down into a few steps:
- Concept and Research
- Major Events
- Habits, Hobbies and Skills
- Putting It Together
Concept and Research
When you are creating a character, they shouldn’t spring from a generic concept or trope that you want to emulate. But having a very baseline idea of what kind of character you want to play is important. I will always suggest to build them as a person first, rather than a clan or around a wanted discipline or concept. Let’s just run with an example which we will use during this process.
These are the things that I know about the character I want to play.
- I want to play a male character.
- I want to play someone who has been down on their luck but has been able to start their own business recently.
- I want this to be a neonate character.
My first steps here are to start thinking about where they come from, who they are; and then doing any appropriate research.
My research might include what sort of business I want them to run. Let’s say he runs a secondhand thrift store that perhaps was started to get traction because his sire gave him a little bit of money to put more resources into it; this would also be reflected in the dots, spending some of my dots at creation into resources. (Remember that we don’t do retroactive purchases after character creation and unless your character’s sire is a PC, getting money from a Mawla will not happen unless it’s controlled by an ST during a campaign.) From here, I will figure out what sort of secondhand items I want him to have and consider how to set this business up. I will decide that because he doesn’t have much right now, he would only have one dot haven and that haven would be likely the backroom or the downstairs section of his building (which is also reflected in haven dots from my 7 dots given at creation). At this time I could even consider making his ambition be “to get a haven away from his business”.
Other research would include the sort of things my character has in background or backstory. If I’m playing a character of a different race, culture, or ethnicity, I need to do meaningful and active research into these groups in order to make sure I remain respectful. In the case of this example, I do not need worry about this. But if I was making a religious character, or a character with a different sexuality than myself, it’s helpful for me to research harmful and dangerous tropes that exist to ensure I portray this respectfully. Unlike a normal tabletop, SBN is run and moderated in such a way as to promote inclusivity and respect, since we have many people from many walks of life and experiences. We don’t allow harmful stereotypes or other offensive or potentially offensive concepts.
My last bit of research for this example would be to look into what a Neonate would know — such as knowing the traditions, knowing other rules of vampire society, and how to act; plus the locations of kindred-only establishments such as the Elysium or, on SBN, The Withering Rose and Razor’s Edge. These things are important to remember and are why we suggest fledglings to people who are very new the game.
From here we think about major events in his life. Maybe he had a rough childhood or maybe he lost someone close him. Remember that we don’t need every single detail from childbirth to the embrace included on the sheet, only what’s very important to the character. Other things can exist in the background and be brought up during your roleplay of the character, as long as they don’t constitute retcons or major alterations to the character’s background as approved. Withholding major information, such as stating a character was part of a cleaver’s family without it being on the sheet at creation is not allowable; that’s something the STs will want and need to know. But other major events will provide a baseline and personality to the character. If they came from an abusive household, they may not like to see abuse and it might develop into a conviction for them, such as “Never harm my friends.”
The biggest thing to think about when it comes to picking and choosing the Major Events is whether these events are impactful upon characterization and roleplay. In most cases you only need one or two major events or chains of events to provide a core around which to build the character. If, however, your character had a solid life and the worst experience they ever had was getting fired from a job, that is valid and can still be expressed in the same manner described below. It’s also important to remember that the commonly expected human reactions aren’t required. If you lost your job and weren’t upset but were exceptionally happy about it because that job sucked, well, that’s also valid.
Describing a pivotal moment in their life can give meaning to their reactions later. For my example let’s use the loss of a sibling.
-How did it make them feel and what did they do?
How they felt and reacted can change how they feel about things later on even as kindred. In this case he blamed himself for the loss of a sibling and started to close in on himself, feeling as if he failed.
-Why can’t they let it go?
What is it about this that they can’t let go? This idea can warp as they age, not being able to let go not just because of having lost family, but because of that feeling of failure. Meaning that the character, if they lost a coterie member or if they lost a bet and felt like a failure, would have reactions to these events, informed by their past. And this gives them life, gives them meaning, and gives them weaknesses.
Habits, Hobbies and Skills
The interests and traits of a character are not lost after the embrace. Even the most serious elder character might enjoy watching cartoons on the weekends, or drawing stick figures in the condensation on a window. It’s important to remember that in v5, our characters are not just monsters, but are also human. Interests and hobbies are normal and should be a part of the character to give them life. It’s even better to connect these interests to the skills and other advantages on the character sheet. If a character was a habitual liar in life, it would make sense for them to have dots in manipulation and subterfuge; and it would also make sense for them to lie frequently as a vampire, too. When you roll with only 2 or 3 dice, it’s likely something your character doesn’t normally do, or isn’t all that great at. Choosing to let an important roleplay moment rely on such a small dice pool is liable to be a very poor decision!
Putting it Together
So now we have a character. These are the things we know about the character I’ve made:
The character is male. He grew up in an abusive household and doesn’t want to hurt his friends. His ambition is to move into his own place and stop living in the basement of his store. He currently runs a secondhand thrift shop. He has 2 dots worth of resources but they are put into his business; he also has a 2 dot haven housed in his business, living in the basement and running the store upstairs. He also has a 1 dot Mawla. That means he’s so far used at least 5 dots of advantages, using these dots to create a meaningful and supported background. From here I could select an additional two that made the most sense for his character, such as security for his haven/business or a contact that gets him specific things he couldn’t otherwise obtain easily. This character also has non-mechanical flaws, not represented by dots on the sheet: his fear of failure, and his fear of his childhood trauma and experiences. These, again, provide dynamic opportunities for roleplay and a direction in which the character can grow and learn.
When it comes to adding flaw dots to the sheet, I will think about what makes the most sense for the character, taking into account the type of person he is, and perhaps who his sire is and how the embrace went. I will select two that I think interface most meaningfully with his character and background. Perhaps he suffers from a bonding flaw, and it’s why he’s still so close with his sire; or maybe he has an addiction flaw left over from his mortal life.
It’s not required at this point to have a clan chosen. In fact, it’s best to not to think about clan yet at all. Worrying about the clan means you’ll start worrying about making the character fit into a specific archetype or trope. As long as you follow the lore, having a character that doesn’t quite fit into the family doesn’t mean they can’t exist! Clans are not monoliths, and are made up of diverse individuals. You could have a beautiful artist be embraced into the Nosferatu; you could have a strong entrepreneurial character get stolen from a Ventrue embrace and instead end up a Gangrel. What matters in the end is that they are a person, someone who has been put into an awful place and yet must continue to survive.
Beyond just major events that could change or alter their personality and give reason for them to be who they are, there is also the embrace. While we don’t need to know the nitty-gritty details of the embrace itself, it’s crucial to think about the how and the why. The lore of VtM must be taken into account when writing the circumstances of the embrace. For example: a backstory which includes a Ventrue embracing but then abandoning a childe would not be lore-compliant, since, according to lore the Ventrue would actually perform a rigorous multi-year training and educational program with their childer. In my character’s case, I would likely select Ventrue for him; and so he has spent the first five years being trained by his sire and wasn’t fully released until recently. Thus, the reason he is a neonate only just now beginning a successful business. He would, however, still have Mawla dots as part of his 7 at creation; since the Mawla is his sire with whom he is still in communication.
Another important thing to remember is that while writing up a cool character with a very extensive and intricately detailed backstory seems fun, it will cause problems for you in roleplay. If my character was to face something he had never seen before, he could grow and change; but a character who is written to have done it all, seen it all — been there, done that — will have no or few such chances for growth and change. I recommend against this sort of character; as they tend to fall flat or end up with no direction to grow and develop. Leaving gaps in experience allows you to develop them as you play and have a fun time while tackling the different situations that may arise in VTM. Writing an extensive background for a character doesn’t make them good nor bad; but do remember that the most interesting part of their story should be what you’re about to explore, not what happened in the past. It’s also worth noting that a character doesn’t have to be likable; this isn’t World of Darkness’ Best Friend Race. However, actively antisocial characters are harder to play and integrate into the social setting, since they won’t likely mingle or have reason to join up with others. Give them reasons to make those connections. That doesn’t mean they have to be genuinely nice; make that character who is nice outwardly and a shady asshole behind closed doors, make the character who’s just so unlikable everyone wants to strangle them until they learn more about the character’s past.
Ultimately, how you choose to play your character is up to you; but hopefully this helps you figure out where to start and how to find and develop a workable concept!
Based off of this article : Building a Compelling Character
Creating a character sheet can be easy, but creating a character within the World of Darkness and one that is compelling enough to play for months if not years can be incredibly difficult.