Last night, I finally got to be a player in a campaign again as one of my friends began his. (Fear not, I'm still DMing my campaign and its still in full swing epic tier.) I got to refresh myself on what it was like to build a character and fully bring him to life. Brandis, the human swordmage was born. A skilled blademaster and seeker of knowledge, Brandis met his party and they began their journey.
Character development is a campaign-long event. Characters are constantly evolving (they should be) and changing into the being they were destined to be. I write this post from the vantage point of character creation. These tips and tricks, however, can be applied at any time and any level to add more depth and create a more developed character.
Ask and ANSWER Questions
Most roleplaying issues that I see occur in not having a well-developed character. Players aren't aware how their characters would act under certain circumstances. "My character doesn't talk much and he's fighting for good" is not an example of a developed character. To develop a great character, make sure you have a background that details his/her life (backgrounds post coming soon). What major events have occurred? What was his/her greatest moment? What was his/her worst moment? Ask these questions and then ANSWER them! I always say to write it down rather than just in your head. It will stick better and means that event happened and its not just a thought.
The Player's Handbook is a GREAT resource for this. In chapter 2 (pages 18-25 specifically) it walks you through roleplaying and creating a great character that will be remembered. Your alignment and deity should hover above all else. You may not fully go along with them at all times if your character is not very religious, yet your morals will influence your actions somewhat so keep that in mind. Next up, personality. The PHB asks GREAT questions to help you develop! Use them! Answer them! I put the adjectives that I chose for Brandis on his character sheet as a constant reminder! These questions will help you to know what you would do in certain situations (Like a roleplaying cheat sheet!).
Appearance is self-explanatory and I won't spend much time on it. Just go into detail. Eye color, hair color, clothing, etc. Know what your character looks like! It can help you dive into the character. Finally, mannerisms are an AMAZING tool to use. They really do bring your character to life at the table. After Brandis surprises someone or tricks them, he likes to wink at them. He just does it based on his attitude. Another, more powerful example, is that being a blademaster and accomplished swordsman, Brandis loves to criticize monsters or enemies during fights. "Your footing is off," he'll say as he side-steps an attack. "You grip the blade too tightly!" he shouts as he deflects another attack. He even used luring strike to place himself between two enemies that were having trouble hitting him. "You must flank to gain an advantage over your foe! Like this!" It may get annoying but its his personality! It brings him to life at the table and makes him so much more fun to play.
Dive into the Player's Handbook and walk yourself through character development in Chapter 2. It doesn't matter what level you are at, you can always add more depth to a character. Bring them to life and watch your game truly come to life.
Keep it fun and game on!