Character building as a player is the most overwhelming experience of TTRPGs. It can be incredibly fun, especially if you have ideas for classes and races to combine and use, but sometimes players have the roleplaying part of their characters struggle because they’re so focused on stats. On some occasions, both are difficult. You might want to play in a game but find the ol’ bank of ideas plumb out of stock. In that case, or even if you’re struggling with what your class/race/stats or backstory are going to be, ask yourself this one simple question:
Why is my character an adventurer?
It’s simple enough but it opens innumerable doors to nuance and creativity. A variation of this question is: why is my character not at home looking for love and getting into the family business? You might notice that this is a purely roleplay-style question, and be asking how this matters when you need help choosing a class or race. The answer to that question may be directly affected by the class you choose, or the backstory you develop with the answer will explain why your character is the way they are. Let’s take a look at an example.
Jake is getting ready for a game and doesn’t have any ideas so he asks himself: why is my character an adventurer? A brutal but straightforward reason may be that Jake’s character suffered tragedy and lost his family when he was young. This is a classic backstory, and there are many things Jake can do with this once he’s started. Did the character cast off violence after seeing it’s harmful effects, becoming a cleric vowing to only heal? If so he suddenly has a Life Cleric, and he’s more than halfway done. Maybe his character wants revenge on whoever caused the tragedy, focusing on bladework and stealth until becoming a rogue.
Now you might notice this example shows the first step but that first step can often lead down many paths, which is true. If the answer to WIMCAA doesn’t inspire you, simply follow the timeline. In Jake’s case he might ask where his character went after the tragedy, if they went to the city they are perhaps more likely to get swept up in the criminal underbelly to survive. If they end up at a monastery and are adopted by the religious peoples there they’re more likely to go the cleric route. By simply picking what happens next you’ll open a door. The beauty of creating your own characters is that if you don’t like what you end up with, it at least tells you what you don’t want and allows you to adjust as needed.
This question also helps with where to put stats. By filling in the reasons behind your character’s overall motivation and timeline, you can begin to see what they would focus on in their training or life. If you’re min/maxing a character, this does not apply as much since once you’ve picked a class you’ll be maximizing the stats for that particular class, which is fine. But if you want to take a more roleplay-style approach to filling in your stat block then the backstory can inform that. Let’s take a look at another example.
Gina is building a character and has asked herself WIMCAA, answering it as follows. Her character was drafted into the army and went through basic training. During a routine patrol they got separated from their squadron and had to fight and survive in the dense jungle surroundings. After getting back to base they realized they had too much talent to be a simple foot-soldier and struck out on their own. Now regardless of what class Gina is going to choose for this character, she can already tell they’re going to value a high Wisdom score (to be able to survive in the wild and see threats coming early), and probably a high Dexterity score (move quickly, get out of harm’s way). With those stats in mind she can choose a class, or incorporate those stats into any class, adding flavor to her character beyond their class and race.
This simple question is obviously not a be-all-end-all when it comes to character building or creation. It is used for new players or for when you’re stuck trying to come up with ideas to flesh out a character. It’s still an important question, and one that should be asked before any character is created, but it’s okay if the answer is simple or stereotypical. What makes a DnD character great is how you play them.