Welcome to Part II of our post on creating the central party! If you’re here, I’m assuming that you already have a primary character figured out with a baseline backstory and personality. I’m also thinking that you read Part I: Creating a Central Party: Character Class or that you think personality is way more interesting and would rather start here and will return to part one later. In the above cases or any others, welcome!
This post discusses balance among your characters’ dispositions to help ensure a fun playing environment where both the DM and the player are getting to RP and interact in social situations with stakes.
Initial Thoughts and Early Advice
One of the mistakes we made early on was having two relatively introverted characters who were also a bit awkward. They’re super cute now, but it took a few sessions for us to realize that if we made sure they talked to one another, even if it was out of their comfort zone, that their personalities would develop a lot more than with them just walking around, fighting things and solving problems.
Early on in your game, make sure that your characters ask each other questions and try to get to know one another. DM, this is especially important for you, as you may already know quite a bit about the primary character, but those interactions allow the player to take more ownership of their character. These role playing (RP) scenes help you each to get to know your characters better and can help you find the rhythm for your duet.
For me personally, I felt a change in my own emotional investment in our game when our first primary NPC started asking my character questions about herself. It was a nerve-wracking experience a bit too, because there were so many things about her that I didn’t know. If you’re put on the spot during a social scenario, just do your best to create something that feels genuine to your character.
Why it’s better to try to figure things out in the moment than stopping to try to get it exactly right:
- You want conversations to feel as true to life as possible. When speaking, we rarely stop to find the exact perfect thing to say. Instead, we find it along the way. If you give yourself the creative space, you’ll naturally work things out for your character and flesh them out more as well.
- Those quick sparks of inspiration are a great way to let your subconscious tap into the character and do some defining for you. The adrenaline surge that comes from speaking things into the lore of your game is really fun too!
- You can always go back and add more details or continue those conversations later on.
Mostly, the point is not to stress out about getting it exactly perfect. The two characters are working to find their rhythm with one another, just as you and your partner are finding your own flow in your duet. Relax, speak some things into being, and improvise details about your character that you haven’t thought of yet!
All of that is not to say that you shouldn’t put thought into your character in advance—of course you’ll want to do that! This is more for those moments when someone else asks you something about your character that you haven’t thought of yet. When my character mentioned that she liked to read and the NPC responded by asking what her favorite book was, I had to fiddle around for a moment to come up with something, but that spontaneity led to a really cool conversation and further connection between the two characters.
Different Ways of Thinking about Personality
As you are likely aware at this point (though if not, that’s ok), D&D has a classification system for how characters and creatures approach the world. They’re broken across two sets of categories:
- Good, Neutral, Evil, and
- Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic
These two category sets combine to form nine basic classifications:
Lawful Good Neutral Good Chaotic Good
Lawful Neutral True Neutral Chaotic Neutral
Lawful Evil Neutral Evil Chaotic Evil
Let’s talk about the approaches to laws and society first: Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic.
Lawful characters operate by a code, whether one of their own choosing or an already established law or system. The majority of the time, they’re going to follow this code for making their decisions, and they’re going to be reticent to break it.
Chaotic characters operate on instinct. They value freedom and flexibility, and their intuition guides them in unique scenarios. They don’t care so much about what is believed by a particular society, group, or government to be the right or established way of doing something. They’re going to do what they feel like they should (or want to do) in a given situation.
Neutral characters are somewhere between these two, maintaining flexibility in particular instances but fine with following sets of rules as well. They’re going to do whatever advances their agenda at the moment.
Now for the moral alignments.
How you define good, neutral, and evil are going to shift depending on your own conceptions of these ideals and the world in which your characters find themselves. To state the obvious as an example, villains might be more likely to describe themselves as “visionary” rather than evil.
Just like with the first set, these are wide generalizations, but for a starting point:
Good characters strive to help others, do what they think is right, and aim to make the world they inhabit a better place.
Neutral characters are less concerned about others, preferring to stay uninvolved or serving different ideals, such as natural order and balance. They’ll do what needs to be done.
Evil characters, most often, serve themselves, seeking power and influence at whatever cost. Some may seek more extreme manifestations of evil such as destruction, desolation, suffering, and pain.
As you can see, each of these moral traits is based on a set of ideals, but the orientation and emphasis of those ideals shifts depending on the morality and, then again, in regards the view toward society and order.
How the Alignments Can Work in Your Central Party
Since your central party is going to be spending quite a bit of time together and, ideally, working toward shared goals, you’ll probably want their alignments to be relatively close to one another. It’s going to be difficult to find reasons for an evil character to work for a prolonged period of time alongside a good party, for instance.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t have nuance and intrigue within your party, though! But if you have a relatively traditional heroes’ quest where your band of adventurers are trying to save their corner of the world, even a neutral character serving their own ends could seem evil in comparison, whereas the characters might share some goals with a villain who is otherwise evil-aligned.
For your central party, I recommend playing with the scale of relation to society and law—lawful, neutral, and chaotic—more than the moral orientation. As best as you can, keep the moral orientations relatively close to one another. If you want to run an evil duet, awesome! They probably don’t want a goody two-shoes character running around with them unless they’re going to use them as bait or let them take the fall while the rest of the party skips town anyway.
So, if your primary character has a good alignment, the rest of their adventuring party probably should too. There may be a neutral member, but there probably won’t be an evil member.
In Our Campaign
This did not happen on purpose, but reflecting on our main characters one day, Jonathan realized that our three NPCs in the central party each represent one of the goods; we have Lawful Good, Neutral Good, and Chaotic Good. That balance, in and of itself, leads to lots of interesting discussions, conflicts, and nuance between the four members of our central party because their orientation to the world and how it works is so different. They want similar things, but how they want to go about bringing those things about fundamentally differs, which makes for really interesting interactions, decisions, and approaches.
Beyond Alignment: read the next post in this series on character personality for some other ideas on personality types *coming soon*.
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