In our first post for the How to Create Your Player Character series, I discuss choosing your character’s class and basing their personality on an aspect of your own.
This post builds from that foundation and discusses how to uncover your character’s primary motivation. I walk through some sources of inspiration, both to further develop your character’s personality and to figure out where they came from and where they want to go.
You can also check out our ideas on best practices for being the player in a one-on-one game. It really comes down to two things: be active, and know your character.
A quick note on terminology: we use “primary character” to further differentiate the player’s player character [PC] from other characters in your Central Party. In a one-on-one game, you have the opportunity to fashion the narrative around one character’s story rather than balancing many players and their individual characters.
Likely, the player will develop Secondary PCs and the DM’s DMPCs will also receive a lot of center-stage time, but the two of you, as you collaboratively tell your game’s story, will center it around the Primary Character while keeping both of your game-play preferences in mind.
While this post is directed toward your two-person campaign’s primary character, the questions and activities I propose are also fitting for DMPCs, Secondary PCs, Allies, or any character whose central motivation you’re trying to suss out.
Sources of Inspiration
When first getting to know a character, understanding their personality, appearance, bearing, combat demeanor, etc., I create a Pinterest board of character art that allows me to experiment with these different aspects.
Normally, I’ll narrow these down as the character develops, choosing one or two images to really embody them. However, as I’m actually in the process of creating a new character for a group game, I’ll link to that board here and leave the wide range of pictures from the beginning up so you can get an idea of the variety you might start with.
I find fantasy artists across the web mind-boggingly talented and am constantly amazed by their creations. Browsing through the pictures is not only fun, but it also starts to give you an idea of how this character might conduct themselves during combat or how they might try to persuade a person in a powerful position.
Once I’ve taken into account my character in different aspects of game play: class, background, combat, social encounters, party interactions, I start developing who that person is, where they came from, and where they want to go.
Stories and Fiction
I find resonances of characters from pop culture and literature in the characters I create and embody for our game. For example, Starbuck, from Battlestar Galactica, is a personal hero of mine, and she shapes several of my Secondary PCs.
However, you’re not limited to fantasy and sci-fi for inspiration. Though she’s more reserved that the title character, I find many similarities between Jane Austen’s Emma and my own protagonist, Iellieth, as another example.
Fiction and film are great spaces for thinking about who your character was before a catalyzing event, whether that was the start of their life as an adventurer, the discovery of their powers, or something else.
Before misteleporting out of Io Keep, which we’ve adapted for you in First Blush on DMsGuild,* Iellieth had a lot in common with Harry Potter‘s Hermione in terms of her favorite activities and finding sanctuary in books. Her reasoning for this and her daily routine were quite different, of course, but that’s still one source of character inspiration.
Not all of these resemblances have to be deliberate; many, in fact, you may discover looking back on your character’s personality and decisions.
Developing the Backstory Over Time
I want to clarify one point before we continue: you do not need a fully fleshed out backstory in order to begin your game.
Point two: your character’s backstory will likely change and develop as you go—that’s good! Again, it doesn’t need to be set in stone or perfect when you start or even after you’ve been playing for a while.
Instead, let your character’s backstory develop as you move their narrative forward.
When they’re faced with a challenging moral dilemma, for example, or they’re being asked to face one of their greatest internal fears, you can tease out their reasoning in the present and develop why, from their past, they might feel that way.
What You Need to Know
Knowing what each character wants is a great way to streamline combat, for example.
But it’s especially important for the PC whose motivations, dreams, ideals, desires, and goals determine the narrative arc of your one-on-one campaign. It can also help you add depth, creating a complex character for your story-driven game.
You may not know when you’re first starting out exactly what your character is hoping to get out of their new life as an adventurer. And that’s totally fine!
However, you do need to know what the driving force behind their life is, their primary ideal.
Is your character driven by freedom, for example? Or a sense of duty? Are they seeking revenge for an injustice or trying to help their people?
The answer to this question will help you determine your character’s class and subclass and will be the driving force behind their interactions with others across all levels of society. It’s the ideal around which they’ve structured their life, that operates at the core of their being.
I want to quickly backtrack for a moment and say that you don’t have to have this completely figured out before beginning your 5e duet game. A lot of these processes: developing their personality, determining their motivation, understanding their backstory, etc., will happen concurrently.
But knowing what they believe in and how that shapes who they are is going to play a central role in the narrative you and your duet partner create and who your story’s central protagonist is.
Coming Up Next
This post originally started as one about developing your character’s backstory, but I found that we needed a general sense of them and a narrowed sense of their core principle first before delving into where they’re coming from and why they are the way that they are.
Additional Resources for Your Primary Character
How to give your PC an extra boost that will make scaling your game easier without going overboard.
How to create special magical items for your PC and Central Party based on their class and work those items into their narrative.
How to uniquely adapt and incorporate your character’s worship practices in a way that’s personal to them and works with your in-game RP.
Tell us about your duet
What motivates your primary character? What are they after? Why do they pursue a life of danger, intrigue, justice, excitement?
Image by Pezibear from Pixabay
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