Have you ever written up a mid- to high-level character to join a game in progress, or even just to have adventures that are geared for more experienced characters? Of course you have. At some point, everybody does. But how much attention do you pay to the details that support that character’s more seasoned nature? Do you work out some of the experiences that make up his or her background? I imagine most of us give it at least a passing thought, but I posit that there is a great deal to be gained by delving into it head-first. Allow me to elucidate.
I had my first taste of roleplay in the Warhammer 40K universe this week, with an arbitrator for the Inquisition using the Dark Heresy rules. As if playing in the 40K setting wasn’t enough culture shock, the GM decided to add a layer of additional frosting by mixing characters from Dark Heresy with Deathwatch space marines. While the systems are effectively identical at the core, the power level represented in these two dynamics is far from it. In fact, to make my character a viable companion for a space marine, I had to advance him eight ranks to the highest level described in the core rulebook. That’s right… my wife’s lowly neophyte space marine is now paired up with my veteran justicar. I wasn’t just a representative of the Inquisition, I had a distinguished career behind me that had led to my elevation in the ranks.
This led me to consider my character’s life. I needed to be able to portray him, not as a 19-year-old acolyte, but as a 48-year-old judiciary agent who wasn’t to be trifled with. He leans a little to his left due to an old injury, but he’s a lean and mean pistoleer when the situation calls for it. He has a hard gaze and an even temper, with a tongue just sarcastic enough to have gotten him nearly killed a time or two and a wit just quick enough to make sure it didn’t happen. He carries a lock of his wife’s hair, dead now these 23 years. His daughter (my daughter’s PC) is a trained assassin who serves him with honor. He’s a little world-weary, just a bit jaded about lip-service to the God-Emperor after dealing with so many heretics over the years, and has a strong love of stinky cheeses. He has grown patient with age, and he knows how to keep his own counsel. He is Lord Justicar Cyphus Austerius, and he even despises his first name because he feels that it is weak.
Part of the fun of making a high-level character is trying to determine how they acquired their skills and powers. Feel free to get creative about it… Cyphus is haunted by his inability to track down the serial killer who slew his closest friend when they were new to the office and didn’t know what they were up against. It doesn’t matter if the GM isn’t prone to work in formative elements of your past… they’re formative for a reason. People change as they move through life, and characters should as well. What was your PC like when he or she first started out? How are they different now? What event(s) shaped them in significant ways? Build flaws into the character. People often have things in their past that they regret, decisions they should have made, people they should have helped…
Sign off in the comments below. Let me know about your high-level PCs and what you’ve done to add depth to their meager existence. How has it affected your game, and what have you learned from it? It’s always fun to build a character from the ground up, but sometime it can be just a fun to spend a little time with someone who has already written a great deal of their own story. Invariably, however, they’re going to need a little help.
Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.