For once, I had a thought and couldn’t figure out how to get it down on paper. Odd, isn’t it? Me, the one who can get just about anything into words stuck on how to get a concept to go into words. But, I finally realized part of the problem. I was too close to the process, and didn’t want to back away from it to give hypothetical examples. So, I will show you how I took Nameless from a White Wolf Changeling into the main character of my series. Hopefully, this will help others who have a character from a role play game that they feel should have an actual story written about them.
There are a few things you will need to make this happen. For starters, you will need your character sheet. Yes, that paper or page with all of your stats, abilities, skills, etc. on it. Second, you will need a solid, working imagination. And the last thing you will need is a willingness to put in the hard work. Since my character sheet is on paper, I won’t post a picture of it, but I can say some character sheets are easier to work from than others. Nameless exists as both a White Wolf character sheet and a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet. Mostly because I have trouble interpreting the White Wolf style sheets, just don’t have enough exposure to playing in that system.
Now, I admit, I may have a large advantage over many others who are attempting to make this transition because I have experience in several different role play environments, and I have had to learn how to think outside the box from running several role play campaigns from level one characters clear up into the epic levels (by common agreement, our characters had to retire when they hit level 100. They were just too powerful. Don’t tick off the gods!) But, even folks who have participated in crafting a campaign through the contributions of their characters are perfectly capable of making leap from raw numbers and rolled dice (if applicable) to a narrative page in a story.
So, now you have your character sheet and are ready to start the process. Wonderful! Do you have your setting? Where is your character located? A town? The woods? The desert? In space? Build up that setting so that you know what is around them. Then, “get in your character’s head”. SEE the setting through your character’s eyes. Does he like that dresser? Is the bed comfortable? Can he see all the displays on the control panel?
Are there any other characters that he needs to know about? If so, how does he/she feel about them? Does she like them? Hate them? Ignore them? Even know they exist?
Notice something here? When have we described the physical build of your character? If you have by now, you have missed many, many important steps. If you want the character to feel “real” to the reader, I advise building from the inside out. This is because the way I write my stories, I let the characters drive the story, not the environment.
Now, with the little things your character is noticing and feeling, it is time to think about the way they interact with their environment. Do they have a particular “tic” or movement they use when they are happy, angry, scared, thinking, bored, or anything else that isn’t particularly physically taxing? When they walk, do they limp? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, now think about “why”. Why does your character have these things? It could be because of some event in the past, or just a habit they picked up recently.
Now, NOW you can write your physical description. Use your character sheet for this part. If your strength, charisma, and dexterity scores are above or below normal, describe what makes them so. Perhaps your character has battle scars – his charisma is an “8”. He is heavily muscled from working a farm all of his life – his strength is a “18”. He has wiry muscles, no extra fat, and looks extremely hot – his dexterity is a 15, charisma is a 16. You get the idea. Be detailed here. And, remember, every detail you give adds more to the growing story you are writing.
Now, you have what your character looks like, how they think, and a few supporting characters all contained in a setting. Move on to your skills. These are NOT going to be expressed in the narration as “Nameless used his lockpicking skill to pick the lock and succeeded.” Oh, you COULD, but that is not an optimal way of stating that skill. Get him in a situation where he is locked up for some reason. “Nameless was arrested for drunken brawling because he had just been fired from the merchant train. The guards may have searched his clothing, and taken his pouches, but they did not think to check his boot heel. He glanced around to make sure he was unobserved, and fished out his tools. Quickly, he had inserted the picks into the lock, feeling for the tumblers. With a quiet ‘snick’ he heard the lock disengage. He was sliding the picks back into their special hiding spot when the guards came in to check on the prisoners.”
Can you see the difference? Yeah, I know. The example was much longer, and many people tell you to keep it short and sweet. My writing style is a bit involved. Maybe yours is, maybe it isn’t. That would be up to you to decide. But, you can see where Nameless demonstrated his skill, along with a couple of others without your having to come right out and state which skill he was using. In taking a character from the character sheet to a story, this is important.
You do the same type of thing for their beliefs and abilities. Nameless being a pukah has a few extra challenges. He has some innate abilities that I have yet to highlight. In part, this is because he has not yet discovered he has them, and in part because he has not needed them yet. Skills, like abilities aren’t always used all the time. After all, have you ever encountered a campaign where you used ALL of your skills and ALL of your abilities every time your group met and played? If you have, I want to hear about it! That would probably be one heck of a fun tale to read.
Now, you have written the first part of your story, and now comes the hard part. Just like finishing a game day, it is time to help your character grow. With the wrap up in a game, you are assigned your experience points that translate into skill points or ability points. Or even extra stat points. It also happens when you are writing, but it isn’t quite so drastic. Today your character spend the day helping out at the local pub tending the bar and acting as a barback because your adventurers needed to raise some quick funds. And, he does so tomorrow, and for the next several days. In the game setting, he wouldn’t get any bonus points for this, unless your DM/GM was extremely nice (I never was. I made my players suffer.) But, this is where you can make it feel more real – let him build up a little muscle. He can now lift that cask of wine a little easier, or the keg of beer from the floor onto the keg stand in one try instead of having to wrestle with it. Or, he’s been studying a new language. Now he can speak a few phrases in that language, though the likelihood of his grammar being correct is low, he may be able to at least make himself understood.
Keep making these little changes throughout the course of your story. In this way your character will grow, and continue to feel “real” to the reader. From time to time, go back and think about what they have actually encountered. Use that to judge what type of “in game” experience points that would have earned. Take the points earned, and apply them to your character sheet, so you have a record of how your character leveled up. In this way, you can ensure any new skills gained are ones you can account for. After all, a ranger who suddenly starts working magic is not all that common. Or a fighter who has no education in a different weapon isn’t suddenly proficient in it. What about that halfling who had no experience with riding before your “campaign” story started? How is it she can now charge her foe and expect to land a devastating hit? Following the skill and attribute trees on the character sheet will help you account for most, if not all, of your character’s growth. Just be careful you do not “jump” your character’s abilities without a plausible explanation behind it.
Even with Nameless, when I introduce his innate abilities, it will be through both an unconscious use of them, and then a trial and error period while he learns how to conciously control them. Ought to be fun. And, the abilites he gets for being a cleric of a goddess that is already unreliable? Oh, boy! I relish that challenge!
Now that we have covered the basics, it is time for you to go forth and create! Feel free to modify any of this information to suit your own needs. If you are not familiar with a table top role play system, you can still accomplish the same thing. You just have to be a little more creative with how you build up your character’s “skeleton” of skills, abilities, and statistics. The story is the muscles that help move and strengthen the skeleton, and the trials and torments you rain down upon your poor unsuspecting character are the weights for your muscles to work against and get stronger.
Happy creating, and I look forward to one day seeing your fully fleshed story!