Ars Arcana Blog: Bringing Your Character to Life with SPARK
Travis J. Rodgers
For the grizzled vet of RPGs, creating a character is often a struggle of too many options rather than not knowing where to start. The character concept comes easily to mind, either because there is a character the vet has been wanting to play or because vets often have served as GM as well as player for so long, character concepts seem to spring from an endless font. The challenge becomes determining which of the system options is the best way to make use of your character concept. Let’s call this the “How? Question” of character design. On the other hand, for the relative novice to Roleplaying, the challenge is two-fold. In addition, to the struggles of navigating a system’s options, the novice may not have, and may struggle to create, the character concept. Let’s call this new question the “What? Question” of character design.
In an episode of the Dungeon Chatter Podcast called “O for Origins,” we discussed a character spark or seed – a core aspect of what the character is that you’re creating. We then developed that concept into an acronym to help walk through the process of creating a character idea, answering the What? Question.
S is for Source
Where are you from? You could answer this question by citing a place (Rohan, Corellia, New York), a time (the 20th century, some distant future), a people (the Last of the Mohicans, a Furyan), or perhaps a space (the roving carnival, the Darkweb). This should provide a kernel for what your character was, and so what your character might be.
P is for Projection
What do you show to others? This could be your appearance, or it could be your confidence, your quietness, your warrior’s determination, or your social status. Think also of how you project this (clothing, a weapon, a vehicle, a tattoo) and whether it’s an intentional projection, a deception, or just how you are. This should help you begin to see what others see when they look at your character.
A is for Aspiration
What is it that you hope to become or do? Are you simply trying to pile up credits or gold? Are you striving for wisdom? Do you seek your lost family or loved one? Are you trying to build a reputation of being feared or beloved? Do you seek a vacant throne? Or are you simply seeking inner peace? This should help you begin to shape your character’s goals and motivations.
R is for Ritual
What are some of the key rites (ceremonies) or rituals (strategic habits) you engage in? Are you married? Have you become an adult in your society? Do you absent-mindedly clean your weapon when nervous? Do you drink with your back to a wall rather than a door? This should help you understand key moments in your character’s life and possibly begin to establish some key relationships.
K is for Kin
Who are “your people”? This could be biological family or it could be the kind of person you identify with. Do you have parents, siblings, or offspring? Have you or are you adopted? Have you joined any groups (military, church, a corporation)? Or do you identify with some groups even if you haven’t explicitly joined them (like a political movement)? This should help you flesh out your appearance, your motivations, and your adventuring touchstones – the things that will remain as relatively constant points in your developing story.
Putting It All Together
With a character SPARK in mind, move onto the other character creation steps. In Blood of Heroes, we do three stages: Abilities, Events, and Motivations. The character SPARK should help you flesh out these ideas at every step of the way. A character who has selected military enlistment as a ritual should have some military abilities, could have participated in a battle, and may be motivated to stamp out fascism in the universe. A character who is the last of her kind might have developed skills at subterfuge, have joined a group of Black Marketers, and hope to find whether more of her kind survive.