Anyone who’s joined me for a round of tabletop gaming can attest that I take a nearly inconcievable amount of time on character generation (or chargen, as the hep cats say). My tendency to overthink why certain pieces fit together a certain way has been known to hold up both my writing and my gaming (which I suppose is a form of co-operative writing). For example yesterday I sat down to write a quick chapter in which a fellow needs to get into a building, have a scrap, and then get thrown out a window. Seemed simple enough. But then I started to wonder at the whys.
He should probably have a kevlar vest. And a helmet. What kind of helmet? Motorcycle? Nah, then he can’t see up. But a hockey helmet would seem unprofessional. So motorcycle helmet it is. He should probably have some gear too. Handcuffs, pepper spray, that sort of thing. Should he have a gun? He’d probably decide he either doesn’t need it or doesn’t want the temptation to use it. But is that a decision he’s come to before the story or a development to be seen on-camera? Maybe it’s in a flashback. And hey wait. Where does one find a building that gangs can meet and conduct illegal activities in that also has a fourth floor window for the forthcoming defenestration?
Show, don’t tell, as they say. As refrenced in the title (a question I ask my players whenever I have them gather ’round for chargen), I find you can tell a lot about someone by what they carry with them and what they prepare for. One might pack an old-fashioned revolver because she can repair them easily and weapon jams are rare. Another might choose one with the largest ammo capacity, not particularly interested in gunning folks down so much as providing plenty of suppressing fire to discourage folks from shooting at his allies. Yet another might not know skidoo about firearms, simply picking the biggest shiniest handgun he can find in hopes of intimidating his way out of having to get into a firefight at all.
The rest of my character’s gear might range from a few recreational items for a socialite to some multipurpose gadgets for a tech guy to a vast shopping list of wilderness survival gear for a ranger (a byproduct of my time in the Scouts). Plenty of characters have a family heirloom or seemingly insignificant trinket that turns out to be critical to saving the day at some point. But what I find most interesting are the things people keep that have no value beyond the sentimental.
I forget what it was that I was reading (or maybe watching even) but there was this scene where someone figured out that this other guy was a spy because his wallet only had money in it. No movie ticket stubs, no business cards, no pictures, etc. Just a façade without personality. Everyone’s got stuff they carry around just because. In most of the MMOGs I’ve played I usually have at least one bag full of random nicknacks and keepsakes from friends. Sometimes items of great monetary or strategic value that will never be used as such because I don’t wish to part with them.
Your character’s keepsakes can say volumes without having to say much as well as being a handy spark for plot arcs. An old knife that’s been worn down and resharpened so many times that it barely has any toughness or edge left to it. The doorknob from an old house that burned down a long time ago. A key to a safe deposit box whose contents are unkown but that you are set to inherit in ten years. A bit of wood you’ve been whittling off and on for a week, though you haven’t decided into what yet. The white king piece of a chess set custom-made for the Czar. The wrapper from a brand of candy bar they don’t make anymore.
I could probably keep on with that forever but you get the idea. You can give your chargen a hearty injection of character development by asking the right questions.