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KISMET'S CHARACTER PALETTE

 

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Download the Character Palette in Google Sheets

 

portrait"portrait" by sandara (resized) used with permission

 

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.

How to Use the Palette

Character Name:

 

Setting:

 

Categories

fill out as many entries as you feel comfortable with; try to fill in at least 4 categories

Description

in this column, describe parts of the character's life in physical terms

Opinions

below, explain what the character thinks about each aspect, publicly and privately

Motivations

in this column, explain what drives the character, consciously or subconsciously

Past

below, note what the character has endured in each area of life

Physical

coloring, bearing, disabilities, style, clothing

describe the character physically

explain your character's opinions about their physical state

explain what really motivates the character to look the way they do

describe anything physical about the character that stood out about them in the past, and whether it has changed or not

Possesions

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

describe the character's key possessions

explain your character's opinions about their key possessions

explain why the character values or doesn't value their possessions, or what they want to get in the future

describe long-time possessions or things that the character used to have that were lost, stolen, etc.

Encountering

locations, conditions, and reactions to other characters

describe what the character is like when encountered and where they can often be found

explain your character's opinions about their common haunts and reactions to others

explain what drives the characters to live where they do, go where they go, or what's driving them away

list a few significant encounters the character had in the past

Residence

living arrangements, common locations

describe where the character lives

explain your character's opinions about their living conditions

explain the deeper reasons why your character lives where they do

note where the character has lived before, if they have moved a lot, and so on

Skills & Function

profession, craft, specialties, powers

describe the character's professional specialties

explain your character's opinions about their professional skills

explain what drives your character in their profession or why they want to learn something new

note when the character started to learn certain skills, when they lost or changed jobs, etc.

Hobbies & Interests

outside of work, apart from earning a living

list the character's hobbies

explain your character's opinions about their hobbies

explain how often your character tries to indulge in their hobbies

list what the character used to be interested in, whether that interest has dried up or not

Plans & Plots

goals, hopes, dreams, schemes

list some of the character's key plots and schemes

explain your character's opinions about their plans

explain the deeper motivations behind their key schemes

list some of the character's previous major plans and briefly explain whether or not they worked out

Secrets & Mysteries

things hidden by or from the character

list a secret or a mystery the character hasn't figured out yet

explain your character's opinions about the secrets they haven't cracked yet

list a few secrets the character keeps from others and why

list some secrets that the character encountered in the past or that have hung around them from earlier years

Obstacles

enemies, deadlines, conflicts, impairments

list some of the character's key/recurring obstacles

explain your character's opinions about their key obstacles

explain what truly motivates the character to face or flee from their obstacles

explore some obstacles the character used to face, whether they have resolved them or not

Reputation

type, reach, impact

describe their reputation in areas they frequent

explain your character's opinions about their reputation

explain what motivates the character to improve, ignore, or destroy their reputation

explain what the character's reputation used to be like in earlier life stages or in other places

Politics

party, activities, standing, office

list any of the character's titles or roles in groups, political or otherwise

explain your character's opinions about politics and/or groups they're involved in

explain what drives the character politically

explain what the character's political alliances used to be like

Culture

original, current, apparel, symbols, accent, folkways

describe the character's cultural influences on their appearance

explain your character's opinions about their cultural affiliations

explain what makes the character maintain, abandon, or interact with their cultures

explore cultures the character has belonged to previously

Temperament

natural inclinations (fight, flee, freeze, appease), personality traits

describe the character's temperament and/or how it is likely to appear to others

explain your character's opinions about their temperament

explain what is really behind the character's basic temperament

explain what the character used to be like in their basic temperament and how much has changed

Morality

beliefs, virtues, vices, religious affiliation

describe the character's beliefs and/or what their beliefs seem to be to others

explain your character's opinions about their morality

explain what the character's morality really is and why

explain any big moral breakthroughs or shifts

Irrationality

superstitions, obsessions, phobias, prejudices

describe the irrational side of the character and/or what they show to others

explain your character's opinions about how irrational they are or appear to be

explain what drives the character to give in, fight, or deny their irrational tendencies

explain any old phobias, obsessions, etc., and whether or not the character still has them

Relationships

family, friends, academic, romantic, business

list the character's major associates

explain your character's opinions about their key relationships

explain what really drives the character in their major relationships with others

explain a few of the major relationships the character used to maintain and whether or not they have changed

 

 

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