Roll Initiative #3 Creating a Character

Welcome to the third installment of Roll Initiative! aThis week we’re going to move into the real meat of tabletop roleplaying- creating a character. This isn’t going to be a strategy guide or anything like that- this is a walkthrough of the process, from initial concept to finalizing that character sheet. Along the way, I’ll be reflecting back on my first character, Augra the half-orc monk, as well as Celeste’s first spell-casting character, Liora the tiefling oracle, for some examples as to how the whole thing works.

The first step in creating a character for Pathfinder is coming up with a good concept. Since you’ll be spending a great deal of time acting as this character, it’s best to make sure that your character is going to end up something you’ll feel comfortable with. Try not to overthink things in the early going- start with a simple question, like: “Do I want to fight, or do I want to cast spells?” “Do I want to be honorable and heroic, or sneaky and a bit of a jerk?” From there, flesh things out. Take a look at the available races and classes, and everything starts to gel. I like to have a general sort of personality in mind before making all the hard decisions- just something to get the cogs a-turnin’.

Race (a bit of a misnomer; it should be “species,” really) is one of the most important choices you’ll make about your character. We’re all human in real life (presumably), but in an RPG you can step into the skin of a dwarf, a gnome, an elf, or something even more exotic. The main thing you need to keep in mind if you want to roleplay something other than a human is that they are not human. Elves and dwarves don’t look at the world in the same way a human does, and with that in mind, you might not want to jump straight into roleplaying something like that. A part-human race might be easier, like a half-elf, half-orc, tiefling (a human with fiendish blood), aasimar (like a tiefling, but with angelic blood instead), etc. The transition might be a little easier for a first-timer.

Class is the next step, and it’s even more important, because it will dictate the general play style you’ll be using. There are plenty of choices here, especially now that books like the Advanced Player’s Guide have almost doubled the number of classes available to choose. Want to take on enemies head-to-head in close combat? Fighters, Barbarians, or Paladins might be good paths to take. Want to be a spellcaster, nuking your enemies with fireballs from afar? Wizard or Sorcerer might be a good option. Keep in mind, though, not all Fighters fight the same way, and not all Wizards have to be squishy wimps who run from danger and pelt people with lightning bolts from afar. These classes are highly customizable, and we’ll talk more about that later.

For my first character, I started with something relatively simple. Being a fan of kung fu movies, I knew I wanted to play as a Monk, who specialize in martial arts and esoteric abilities based around ki. I also knew I wanted the character to be burly, cynical, and world-weary, but with a sort of dry sense of humor. While pawing through the Core Rulebook, I stumbled upon the half-orc race. Often born of tragedy, half-orcs are naturally a bit grumpy- most other races automatically assume them to be violent savages. There was something about the artwork of the half-orc that communicated a kind of sad nobility, and I knew that it was the perfect race for my Monk character- a grim and unhappy individual who ended up taking the path of the monk to discipline himself, tame his anger, and give himself a path to greatness.

A good character can develop over time. Liora, Celeste’s tiefling oracle character, wasn’t originally born of any particularly strong concept. She needed a quick character for a one-shot adventure I was running, wanted to try out a spellcaster class, and whipped up a quick personality (a sarcastic gypsy fortune-teller) to start with. For the one-shot game, a well-developed backstory wasn’t really needed, but as that adventure wrapped up, Celeste had come to like the character a lot. When I later started up a full-length campaign set in the same world as that one-shot, she asked to bring Liora back- this time with fleshed-out backstory. Over time, the character has developed into one of the most interesting in all of our campaigns.

So once you’ve put together the idea of your character, picked out a race and a class, and generally know what sort of person you’ll be portraying in the game, it’s time to actually “build” the character. This starts with determining your character’s Attribute Scores. Every character has six of these scores- Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence (book smarts, logic, learning capacity), Wisdom (common sense and instincts), and Charisma. These attributes will determine a great deal about your character’s abilities- obviously, a Fighter would want great Strength, whereas a Wizard might favor Intelligence, and a Bard would do well with high Charisma.

There are a few ways to determine these scores. One of the most popular methods nowadays is called “Point-Buy.” This essentially sets all of your character’s stats at 10 to begin with, then gives you a certain number of points that you can “spend” to increase those stats. This ensures that all player characters are reasonably balanced, since everyone has the same amount of points to play with. The more traditional method, however, is “rolling” your stats- take a certain number of dice, roll, record your results, and then assign the results to the stats of your choosing. There are a number of particular types of rolling methods- we usually use “roll four d6s, drop the lowest result, add the remaining three together.” Generally, this makes your Attribute Scores a lot more random, but it also allows you to, potentially, have a more powerful character than Point-Buy would allow (potentially a weaker one, too, but that’s half the fun).

When I first rolled Augra, I got 16, 13, 15, 11, 15, and 9. That’s a decent spread of scores, and since Augra was a monk, I made Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom his top scores, with Charisma getting the 9. Those stats increase over time; traditionally, every four levels of experience you gain, one of your stats can increase by 1 point, so I bumped one of the 15s to a 16 and the 13 to a 14. Some of the other characters my group has rolled up have gotten stronger or weaker arrays- one of my other players once got four 18s, a 16, and a 12 for his Fighter, making him statistically one of the strongest characters ever. Liora got a particularly good set of rolls, too, allowing her to bump up her Intelligence, a stat the Oracle class normally doesn’t need a great deal of. That’s part of what I like about the rolling method- it allows you to play around with your character’s stats in surprising ways. The dice fall where they may.

So now you’ve got a concept, a race, a class, and ability scores. It’s time to grab yourself a character sheet! There are still a few steps left to go before you’ve got a finished character, but the foundation has been laid. You’ve still got skill points to dole out, Feats to pick, and equipment to “purchase”- using an amount of starting gold determined by your GM- but the hard part’s finished.

There are some golden rules that most players should try to follow- always make sure you have more than one type of weapon, always bring a rope, always put at least one skill point into the Perception skill, etc.- but the great part about Pathfinder is that level of customization that comes next. Take Feats, for instance. Feats are abilities, typically gained at every odd-numbered experience level, that give your character new abilities, ranging from passive bonuses (like Alertness, which gives a permanent bonus to Sense Motive and Perception skill checks) to new combat options (like the infamous Power Attack, where you sacrifice a bit of accuracy for extra damage should your attack land successfully). For Augra, I wanted him to be quick and evasive, and gave him Dodge (which increases the character’s Armor Class by +1) as his first feat. Since Monks, like some other classes, gain an extra feat at first level, he also got Improved Grapple, which gave him better chances of grabbing opponents and slamming them around- which led to some really fun moments in later battles… like that time Augra grabbed and slam-dunked a plant monster into a nearby pit filled with acid. Feats allow you to tweak and customize your character’s abilities as they go up in level and become stronger and more versatile.

There are also Archetypes, a neat add-on to the Pathfinder system that debuted in the Advanced Player’s Guide. Archetypes switch out certain abilities in your chosen class for different ones that fit within a particular theme. For instance, there’s an archetype for Wizard called the Spellslinger- Celeste is playing one of these currently. The Spellslinger behaves more or less like an ordinary Wizard, but it switches out a few of the Wizard’s traditional abilities (such as free low-level spells called Cantrips) for the ability to use a gun, and instead of a familiar or bonded object, the Spellslinger treats their gun as their “focus” item, allowing them to channel certain spells through their firearm. It’s very stylish, and in practice feels really different from the classic style of Wizard. Archetypes are one of my favorite thing about Pathfinder- some of them are really creative, and allow you to step pretty far outside the classic RPG mold.

Once all the data you need has been transferred to the character sheet, you’re pretty much ready to sit down at the table and start your first session. Be prepared- you’ll be stepping into the role of this character you just created very soon. That brand new fictional person’s life is in your hands now. Don’t worry- soon enough they’ll be bashing goblins, raiding dungeons, and- if they’re smart- running like hell the moment a dragon shows up.

And about that- the actual playing of the character- we’ll be covering that next time. Stay tuned!

Art belongs to Pathfinder/Paizo Publishing