Author Topic: Article: Creating and Playing a Complex Character [work in progress]  (Read 1912 times)


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Creating and Playing a Complex Character, or “Zoltan’s Guide to Drama King/Queen Supremacy”

What’s the point?

I’m going to go ahead and assume that anyone that reads this and is interested in input on this subject actually wants to make a complex character and enjoys that kind of play. I won’t go into why I find these characters desirable to be around and to play, who they could be fun for, or how they affect the game world. I’m just going to lay out some tips I’ve found and continue to find helpful in playing a multifaceted character.

Disclaimer: Everything in this article is purely my opinion. Constructive criticism is both expected and encouraged. The discussion thread for the article can be found here:,36340.0.html


The Dramatic Approach

First off, what kind of story do you want to tell with your character? In Armageddon, chargen is about the only thing you have total creative control over. This includes their background, descriptions, and guild/subguild; but it can include so much more. Manners of speech, pre-formed opinions, desires, fetishes and fears are a part of any person, and so too can bring a lot of life to a character. I know some players like to let these things develop over time, and that’s actually a very good way to go about it. However, I’m writing this article to address making a complex character straight out the gate; “veteran” characters are always going to grow and change in natural ways

So, again, what is the story you want to tell? For me, this is the single most important thing. If I have an OOC story-telling purpose to my character, everything else falls into place. I like to incorporate the literary features of theme and mood.

For illustrative purposes, I’m going to refer to the character that I first really fleshed out this approach with. He was stored some months ago, but I went through this process of writing him in March ’08, if I remember correctly. In the interest of not compromising current IC information, I’m going to limit my references to him to only his background (virtual events) and the techniques I used to try to bring him to life in an interesting way, straight from chargen.


In relation to Arm PCs, this is the “point” of the character. It can be anything at all: an ultimate goal, an internal struggle, a conflict with the setting due to the nature of the character, a RL concept you want to explore through RP; anything. This could very well change as your character lives, or as you change IRL. It’s not something to be set in stone forever, but it’s a very useful guideline of sorts to get your character on track and to flesh them out.

In my case with that character I mentioned, I was trying out my karma options for the first time and wanted to roll up a wind mage. Seeing as that would be my very first magicker, I wanted to kick it off with a deeper-than-my-average-PC character. My very first task was to find that theme to him, the whole point, the part that would make it more interesting to me than just exploring the magick code. As I was pretty much completely ignorant of magickal stuff, I stayed extremely vague. I went with the idea of Undoing Ruin because that happened to be the metal album I was listening to when my last character died.

So, what did I have from there? Well, I had almost all of the basics down: race, guild, etc. and my theme left a lot of room for interpretation. All I was sure on is that 1) this guy had a bad life, or some trauma, or is broken inside and 2) the character will have a desire to make things better. He was already taking on more form than many of my other characters, and this was just in my head getting ready to write the application. As I began writing him up, I began to add texture – a mood I wanted to convey to myself and others as I played him.


This is kind of the “feel” you are going for in your play. Now, Armageddon as a whole is a beautiful game and has a variety of moods in itself: in the room descs and NPCs and the societal constructs. What makes all of these things good is their attention to atmosphere and immersion. Each and every PC can make an impact on the mood similarly in how they are played. Being conscious of mood on an OOC level can make your character complex and engaging on a deeper level than just their IG demeanor and actions.

So what do I mean, exactly? With my Whiran, I decided I wanted to try something else I had never done and make a middle-aged character. With that settled, and with my theme of undoing ruin in mind, I resolved that not only would he be an older, beaten-down man, but that my emotes, says, thinks, feels and descs would all subtly (and in some cases later on, not so subtly) convey that feeling of weariness, regret and uncertainty.

His mdesc came together very quickly after that. His skin was weathered and made rugged from exposure to the elements. He had scars and was missing some fingers. He was tall, but he had begun to take on a slight hunch under the weight of his years and experiences. He may have been quite handsome once, but the events of his life and his way of coping with it had chiseled away at his features; his slate-grey eyes had become cold, and they had that Clint Eastwood squint to them. And in what is probably my greatest indulgence in subjective desc writing, I capped it off with “his thin lips do not look accustomed to smiling.”

I notice this kind of thing all the time IG and I only point it out in this article to call attention to the fact that those words you write for your mdesc and sdesc are likely going to be the very first thing another player experiences in your character. It’s a good opportunity to set the tone for IC interactions. Clearly, this is not the end all be all of complex interaction, but it’s something I definitely keep mindful of in adding shades of meaning to PCs.

Anyway, having my theme and mood established more or less enabled me to make the final addition to my app: the background.

Background/Virtual IC History:

This is a part I thoroughly enjoy, though it can take a lot of creative investment. I know that many players aren’t fond of the idea of putting all kinds of work into a character just to know that they can be killed in a few hours’ playtime. While I wouldn't say that a super-detailed background is absolutely vital for a complex character, it certainly doesn’t hurt. If you know where your character’s been, it’s easier to send them where they’re going. And I find that for myself, I just can’t play convincingly and engagingly if I don’t have direction. And again, for me, I need this direction right out of the gate. Nothing is as guaranteed to do this as an interesting background. It doesn’t mean you have to go over the top, though. Let me bring up that Whiran of mine again.

I knew he was older, and according to my theme, he had a rough life. So, just by filling out some vital details, I had myself the beginnings of a decent story on my hands. How come he was a mage and had never used his powers/got gemmed by the time he was thirty-eight? Well, he found out when he was fifteen and endeavored to suppress it all of his life. How did he do that? He had near-fanatical denial and the aid of drugs such as spice and alcohol. Oh, he must have had some favorites? Yes, some varieties worked better for him: I laid them out. How did he survive? Hmmm, well, he was a grebber, and he was raised as a hunter by his mother, who he loved dearly, in the ‘Nakki village of Menos. He had the basic skills to pay the bills (subguild hunter), and when things got very bad in his twenties, he was pressed into prostitution off and on by his main dealer. Wow, he must have had some issues. Yes, in fact, he was a total momma’s boy before his former bestfriend/brother Malik witnessed his magickness that one day and our young hero was exiled, fleeing the gem and his true nature.

Boom, that took me all of ten minutes or so to figure out and suddenly my character was ready to go. Granted, at that point I had had some knowledge and experience with the game world, so the details were considerably easier than when making my first PC. The point is, I knew what had brought him to that point in his life where I’d start playing, and I knew the very first thing I would try to do and why I would do it: that Whiran found his way of life untenable, so he caved in, decided to face himself, and went to ‘Nak in search of a gem. And there I was, playing, and because of my clarity in theme, mood and virtual history, I felt pretty much no transition at all from my previous character to playing him. Everything happened very fast and very fluidly after that and because I found my character to be fun to play and intriguing to develop, I think others had a good time as well. What could have been a very boring, grindy foray into mage-playing turned into what I feel is still my best character.

But now on to the considerably trickier part: actually trying to play a complex, engaging character.


Consistency, Balance and Vulnerability

So you get in game, and then it’s time to play out and project that story you thought up. There is no “right” way to RP besides what is laid out specifically in the rules of the game. However, there are some techniques I’ve picked up and which I see others use that greatly aid in portraying a character and can seriously enhance your fun and that of others. When playing, I try to keep my character’s attributes in mind at all times, as well as the fact that not only is my character interacting with other characters, but that I am trying to tell an engaging story to other players through that interaction.

Character Attributes:

This is absolutely essential. What I mean by a character attribute is a thing that makes your PC what they are. Attitude, bearing, sense of humor, sexuality, virtual history, thought patterns; the whole shebang. These are the things you have to keep consistent with to make a character approachable from many angles by many players. Everyone will have their own level of detail on those things; the key is adherence to those details you put in. This is who your character is, and though your PC by no means needs to be an open book for anyone to read, they should be pretty much figured out in your mind to facilitate a seamless portrayal of them.

For example, the biggest character attribute for me to hit on and flesh out the soonest is my character’s speech patterns and voice. In my case, everything follows from that. With my Whiran, I knew that he was this old hunter type, so in my head he spoke with a gravelly, Old West drawl. I figured out in short order exactly how I would convey it through text, I latched onto his favorite curse words and sayings, and just how he would articulate certain concepts and subjects. I decided early on that he would be a man of few words to the “normals” and most everyone else (partially from an OOC desire to keep my magick out of others’ mundane fun). However, I knew that if he was ever actively engaged by someone or made some friends, he would be a real rambler. So, right there in just how he talked I had a framework with which to interact with other players through.

A lot can be written on character features and quirks, those gems for other players to dig up in your character. However, that could be a whole article in itself. Instead, I’ll go on to techniques useful for playing an engaging character.


When I say “depth” in relation to a character, I don’t necessarily mean profound philosophies of theirs or shocking revelations. My concept of character depth is the idea that other players should have to dig a little bit into your character to start seeing them for what they are. This is desirable for two reasons: 1) people enjoy figuring stuff out and learning tidbits and secrets, no matter how small and 2) it adds realism to your character. The easiest way I have to think about this is how people in real life have their public, professional faces and then they are different with their friends and loved ones.

Don’t just lay out everything about your character at the drop of a hat. Make other players dig, even just a little. It will make your character feel real. You just have to roll with the fact that not everyone will have the opportunity or desire to do so. You can rest assured that those that do start digging are likely going to enjoy it.

This idea can further be split up into two categories: character-revealed attributes and player-revealed attributes. Those attributes revealed by your character are those that they flat out tell other PCs about, or are otherwise fully conscious of revealing. Player revealed attributes are those character quirks and features that you at the keyboard subtly reveal by the way the character is played. I’ll try to show you what I mean with examples from my Whiran.

Character-revealed attributes: My character would often tell his story (both virtual histories and events played out IG) to those he started getting close to. It was likely clear to them that he had had some serious drug and family issues. His changing views on magick, from distrust and fear at the beginning to total acceptance at the end, were also pretty obvious to most he talked to.

Player-revealed attributes: When I played that guy, there were of course many underlying things in his psyche that he was unable or unwilling to be candid about, but which I as a player tried to subtly reveal through his actions. I had no way of knowing, for example, if others picked up that his harsh spice addiction shifted to magick addiction in the middle of his career, or that he was pretty negligent of his children (leading to one of their deaths), or that there was a definite sexual undercurrent in his relationship to his element. Those were some of the juicy details that kept me extremely entertained, but were only evident to other players if they carefully observed and got to know my character.


All of this character depth is useless to everyone besides yourself and staff if you don’t demonstrate at least a little of it. And really, I believe that’s the point of playing for many of us: interacting with and engaging other players with your character. Sometimes you have to be vulnerable to allow some of your character’s secrets to not be so secret. I’m not suggesting that emotional tell-alls are the solution for all, not even most. What I’m saying is that even your most uptight, stoic character is going to reveal something at some point. The think, feel and hemote commands are very useful for this. However, sometimes you just have to put them out there and have them blurt out what they’re thinking, or something along those lines. The point is, yes, you can play the ultimate locked-down steel vault of a character, but you may have trouble engaging other characters. Sometimes you have to give up a little to get anywhere and to entice other players to dig deeper.

Final Thoughts

Always stay true to your character. They will grow and change and your OOC goals will too, but if play consistently and portray your character honestly, you can’t go wrong.

People aren’t always going to “get it” or click into your character. Just roll with it. Those times when your character and others’ get into it deep are well worth the wait.

Have fun. Fun is contagious. The goal isn’t to play some super deep, awesome character – it’s to have fun because you are playing that character, or playing with others. If it it’s not fun, don’t do it!

When in doubt, play dangerous, awkward or intense situations to the hilt, every time. You’ll always get a story, or make/break IG relationships. That’s what Armageddon is all about.
« Last Edit: September 07, 2009, 02:02:03 PM by Zoltan »
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