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  leaf Fillable Character Palette    

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Art by Sandara

Roleplaying characters are more than just statistics - they are made up of all the reasons why the points are placed just so, and encompass elements that never quite make it onto a character sheet. They start out with the very basics, like a name, a class, and a function in the story, but with further development, they start to feel like people you could actually meet. When characters take on defined personalities, a sense of history, and internal consistency, they enrich the whole experience. Fantasy worlds seem brighter when the people inside them are more believable. Quests feel vital when the NPCs you're trying to save have personalities worth fighting for.

The character palette is a tool I have developed to aid in detailing characters of all kinds, which means that players and DMs can benefit from using it. The palette can be used at any point in a game, from character creation onward, to inspire and organize your thoughts. It can help with generating a backstory, memorable points, and ties to the world. It can also develop a character layer by layer, in a process that doesn't have to be overwhelming or rushed. You can come back to the palette to put a new twist on an old favorite and to update NPCs so it feels like the world is moving around the player characters.

The palette is a form that you fill in based on your preferences and needs. It is not specific to any system or type (or even to roleplaying, so you could use it for fiction, as well). At the top is space for the character's name and setting. Along the lefthand side are sixteen categories of information that are important to know about a person. Right next to those categories are examples. The 'Physical' category, for instance, pertains to things like the character's coloring, bearing, and clothing.

The first blank column is 'Description,' and this is where you can provide information at the most basic level. You don't have to fill out all or even most of the categories to get a good view of a character. You will decide which categories are most important and which ones can wait for later. I suggest you fill out at least four to make the character distinct, but that's just a rule of thumb.

You will most likely start in the 'Description' column and you might end your inquiry there. If you would like to add depth and facets to a character, you can move over to the next column, which is 'Opinions.' Ask yourself: what is your character's opinion about their political office? If you want to go deeper, ask yourself if your character gives people one impression, while keeping their true opinions to themself. Just thinking about your character's reactions to the different aspects of their life can draw up a lot of information.

If you'd like to go even deeper, head to the 'Motivations' category. Ask yourself what your character thinks their motivation is for something, like pursuing their reputation. The character might think they're keeping up appearances out of genuine pride, and that is their conscious motivation. But subconsciously, the character is desperate to fit in with their new social class and is terrified of losing their standing.

The 'Past' is the last category and furthest to the right, and in a way it can lead to the deepest insights about a character because a person's history can help to explain their current condition, their opinions, and their motivations. History is not destiny but it is powerful; it echoes across our lives in ways we don't even realize. By figuring out what happened to make a character choose their skills, you might uncover their reasons for many other decisions. A perfect example is Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. Instead of becoming a sword maker like his father, Inigo pushed himself to become a swordmaster so that he might one day avenge his father's murder. He is always on the lookout for the six-fingered man and is willing to recklessly risk life and limb to get his hands on the villain.














give details about the character in at least 4 categories

what the character thinks about the issue, publicly & privately

what drives the character, consciously or subconsciously

what the character has endured publicly or privately


coloring, bearing, disabilities, style, clothing






gear, cash, land, magical and mundane items, vehicles






locations, conditions, and reactions to other characters






living arrangements, common locations





Skills & Function

profession, craft, specialties, powers





Hobbies & Interests

outside of work, apart from earning a living





Plans & Plots

goals, hopes, dreams, schemes





Secrets & Mysteries

things hidden by or from the character






enemies, deadlines, conflicts, impairments






type, reach, impact






party, activities, standing, office






original, current, apparel, symbols, accent, folkways






natural inclinations, basic personality






beliefs, virtues, vices, religious affiliation






superstitions, obsessions, phobias, prejudices






family, friends, academic, romantic, business





Sample Character Palette

You can review a filled out palette for an NPC in the evil campaign I started in 2009. This particular NPC was already dead by the time our campaign began, but our first session was a prelude that showed key scenes from the PCs' earlier days. When I first sketched out Gulyas I knew many things about him, and I used those elements to make a lasting impression. For the rest of our campaign, the PCs referred to "Uncle Gulyas" and remembered him on their own terms. They also dealt with some of the repercussions of his less savory acts, many years after his death.

Please note that Gulyas is not a good man or a healthy character; he is in fact a moral leper created for a mature campaign. If you are sensitive, you might not want to read about him. If you choose to read the example, take note that not all of the categories are filled out, and a few things, like some of his secrets, I didn't know until I sat down to write this just now.

Click here to read Gulyas Valgon's character palette.

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