People don’t exist in a vaccuum. No character sprang into life, fully formed, as they are when you started to roleplay them. They had childhoods, families – depending on their age at the time of play, they may have had domestic jobs, romances, spouses, children, wild experimental young adult years…
…now, of course, all that has past, and a lot of these things aren’t going to be able to come into play. Unless you’re very dedicated or have some friends willing to help you out, families and past romances won’t ever appear on-screen, and it’s not like you can relive your childhood on a whim like that.
So, why am I talking about this, if it won’t ever appear? Well, as you’ve probably noticed by now, part of my big cache of roleplaying tips is that every opportunity I get, I really put the hard-sell on one thing: details! Details, details, details. What makes them afraid, what makes them angry, how they grew up… the possibilities are endless.
And as I say in virtually every post, the reason I push this so hard is because I really think that these little details are what make characters more three-dimensional, what makes them seem more real. They make the characters Characters, rather than just basic archetypes dolled up with different hair and unique names.
So, what’s the detail I’m going to push today? The past. Every character has one, and it covers everything from where they were educated to the field in which their parents worked, to the girl next door they had eyes for, but who ended up married to some upstart from the next town over. The key isn’t to be defined only by the past, but to make the character that much more interesting by making reference to the fact that you know that they have a past and that they had a life before Azeroth.
It may sound like that this requires hefty knowledge of lore, to know what they would have lived through, and it’s true that that helps. Knowing that your character was, say, 17 at the time the last war broke out, or that they were 26 years old when they were killed by the Plague and therefore would know of and have experience of X, Y and Z past events can be a big help to adding depth to the character.
But if you don’t know these things, or need to look them up online to double-check your details and where you’re coming from, that’s OK too. There’s a lot of things you can bring up without needing a detailed knowledge of the lore, but that nonetheless show that you have a knowledge of your character’s own history and personal life before now.
It can sometimes be hard to keep track of all these things – some roleplaying addons like MyRoleplay have a function called Background for you to expound upon these things in. Some people prefer not to use it so that other people cannot access it, while others like to use this to keep track of their own character’s past. If you don’t want to do this, a text document or, if you’re good, your own head, can be a real asset.
Just remember to keep it consistent – you don’t want to forget these things and look like a fool (not that many people are likely to notice).
But alright, I’ve gone on for a long time without actually offering any hints or tips, and while getting off-track by a lot. What kind of anecdotes and memories can you bring up in play, and how can you bring it up without going into lecture mode?
Well, to answer the former, it’s as simple as ‘use your imagination’. Some of the things I personally like to keep in mind when I start playing a character are:
- Relationship with parents.
- Relationship of parents with each other.
- Number of siblings, and relationships (if relevant).
- Parents’ jobs, names, basic details. Also siblings and other important players in their life.
- Place they grew up.
- Kind of education they got.
- Important past relationships (friends, romances)
- Any jobs they held.
These are hardly essential details, but they can add character to a character if they get brought up.
So how do you bring them up? Most of the time, there’s certainly no occasion to launch into a lengthy speech about your time at home with all these people, and that would probably bore a lot of audiences if you tried. Not that there can’t be the occasion for that – close friends, ICly, might have the opportunity to ramble on to each other like that.
No, most of the time it’s going to be things like little candid, off-hand references to these events – “I remember when something much like this happened when I served in the War.” “Oh, your name is Joe? My father’s name is Joe.” “You’re a butcher? My sister married a butcher.” Things like this – not all the time, obviously, you don’t want to be the one who has a story or a connection to absolutely everything, but bringing up something like this from time to time adds a hint of depth to your character, and makes other people think you know what you’re talking about.
Unlike me, who has been rambling quite a lot in this post!