Dimensions of characters

edited December 2017 in Game Design Help
I need to modelize human characters by traits in a broad, loose, accumulative way. These characterization tools will later be used as prompts for each step of the character life path. Mid session, the traits will be used to win challenges.
I use Keys (TSoY) for strong (story-active) psychological or dramatical motives and goals.

This is the salad so far : Looks (General looks, Distinctive features, Height, Weight, Frame, Pigmentation, Hairiness, Clothes), Speech (Accent, Collocations), Individual relations (Love, Hate, Despise, Trust, Fear), Group relations (Conformity, Paramount, Affiliation, Ethnicity, Gender, Anti-model, Rejection, Distinction), Beliefs about the World (Religion, Conservatism, Open mindedness), Self image (Personal goals, Code), Irrational behaviours (Fits, Pleasures, Vices, Habits, Instincts), Possessions (Turf, Equipment big and small), Status (Reputation, Boons, Debts, Fame, Accreditation, Privileges), Abilities (Powers, Charms, Strengths, Skills, Languages, Knowledge, Cantrips).

I call to your game knowledge : what else have you seen used for characterization ?
On a side note : What would hold / translate for other species ? non-sentient creatures ?


  • Two of my favourite "tricks" (they are very similar, in a way) to develop characterization in a shorthand:

    * The character has a strong trait - like Courage, Charity, Callousness, etc. - which defines how the character acts. However! The character *also* displays the *opposite* Trait. For example, someone could be Brave and Cowardly. Or someone could be Kind and Selfish.

    It's an easy way to give a character depth very quickly, without knowing much about them, and exploring which "side" is being showcased at any given time gives you a sense of *who the character is* pretty fast.

    * The character has a strong defining feature or trait, but it's only true *most* of the time. This is expressed in the form:

    "S/he is _______________, except when ________________."

    For instance, "He is a total coward, except when his family is under threat; then he will stop at nothing."

    "Like this, except when..." is a great format for a short way to give a character depth, as well.

    Similar is an approach to a dominant culture or a stereotype:

    Pick an obvious stereotype for the sort of person a character should be, and then ask whether the character embodies it, exaggerates it, or subverts it.

    For instance, a stereotypical enforcer thug in a noir film should be physical large and slow/stupid. When you create one, ask yourself if this thug is just like that (fitting expectations), is ridiculously so (surpassing expectations), or defies expectations (perhaps a small, skinny but very smart enforcer).

    When playing a game or using a setting where cultural identity is a big deal, positioning a character relative to their "home culture" or social subgroup makes a strong statement about them - as well as, possibly, how they are seen by that group.

    He is a nerd, a gamer, but he is also a fitness fanatic and loves pop culture. She is a Dwarven warrior, but she is a watecolour artist and never drinks alcohol. The "thief with a heard of gold" who takes both aspects of their personality to an extreme - to a fault. And so forth, depending on the level of complexity or nuance desired.
  • Exactly what I was overlooking : my first lessons are so far away.
    I will edit the list to add : Conformity
  • That "except" trick is great, Paul!

    To the thread topic, how about "the person you don't want to be". Often people will identify themselves by what kind of a person they look down on, or don't want to be mistaken for. The artist whose work is deeply sincere, not like those bourgeois posers. The poor father who would never except a handout, not like those lazy bums. The Christian woman who would never wear such a thing, not like those sleazy libertines. I'm not sure how to phrase that as a single word -- maybe "outgroup."

    Another simpler idea is a character's virtues and vices.

    For simple-minded dungeon crawl monsters, I've done profiles as "loves," "hates," and "worships." E.g., these goblins love gold, hate dogs, and worship fire.
  • Source(s) of Strength. This is tangential to all other categories, creating relationships between character traits.

    Example: character is a police detective. They do their work well (Skill, I guess? or Habit?) because they're motivated by a firm belief in justice (Source of motivation is a Belief). They manage to retain their sanity, despite the horrors they're exposed to daily, by finding comfort in their spouse (Source of stability is a Relation).
  • edited December 2017
    General looks, Distinctive features, Quotes, Relations, Conformity, Distinction, Beliefs, Temper, Habits, Except when, Turf, Equipment, Privileges, Powers, Skills & Knowledges.
    I like this list a lot! Sounds like completing these would get you really ready to inhabit and express the character.

    I've used a similar system in which I found it important to specify Habits as Non-Practical, so players didn't fill them in with useful adventuring traits like "always on my guard". The list I used for Delve is First Thing People Notice About You, Non-Practical Habits, Pleased When, Displeased When, and then some physical details like height, hair, eyes, etc. Then there's Life Goal, Path, Background, Grounded vs Open-Minded, and three physical attributes (Str, Dex, Con, basically).
  • Identity features: Name(s), Gender (identity = doesn't equal gender presentation, which falls under General Looks, I guess), Ethnicity (possible overlap with Privileges), First language (some overlap with Skills & Privileges)...
  • edited December 2017
    One I've always wanted to try out is about beliefs:
    What do you believe about the world?
    What do you want to believe about yourself?
    The world belief informs how the character interacts with the world. The desired self-belief indicates that they don't believe they are that thing, but what they strive to become. These beliefs can be true or untrue, and can even conflict with one another.

    So you could have something like: The elves are less than human. I want to be a hero to all.
  • edited December 2017
    Thanks for the input. I tried to be more synthetic to integrate identity traits, at the expense of colour. To balance that, I can add that a trait can be a line from a literary piece, an anecdote from the past, a word, etc. Of course, you should colour it according to your setting and play style. Like : "useful adventuring skills" sounds like a cool trait for an adventurous setting. Regarding play style, I usually don't need to develop physical traits because we draw our characters during play.
    I made a few blind tests with famous complex characters. (Individual Relations define Harry Potter, Lucky Luke has very few Beliefs, etc.)
  • I like that, Tom!

    I spent some time on a system where a character's story or milieu was based on their "outlook" (for instance, "it's a dog eat dog world, and everyone is out to get me"), although I never completed it.
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