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Johnny’s Five – Five Things You Can Do To Make Characters & NPCs Stand Out
Posted By John Arcadian On April 7, 2009 @ 2:49 am In GMing Advice,Johnny's Five | 10 Comments
Let’s face it, be they an NPC or a player’s character, some characters just stand out from the rest. Sometimes it is because the player puts lots of detail and crafting into the character’s backstory and description, sometimes the GM has a special attachment or desire to see an NPC live up to its full potential and sometimes it all just comes together that way without any prep work.
There are a lot of different factors that can make an NPC or Character stand out and get remembered, for good or ill. Here are 5 things to thing about when trying to make your character stand out.
1. Everyone gets a different image in their head, just make sure they get an image. Pick a few details and stick to them.
When a character is remembered, it isn’t with all of the elaborate details that are described. Each person at the table processes the description in a different way and picks up on something different. One person might take the stance of the NPC or Character into their mind while another person picks up on the elaborate thick golden patterns stitched onto the green tunic. Whatever you want to stand out about the character, focus in on that with laser intensity. Just mentioning the handlebar mustache, red cape and pristine dress military uniform of a character will put a vivid image into a person’s head without making them too inundated with details. If they want more, they’ll probably ask.
2. Use the voice, luke!
Nothing makes a character stand out like using a different voice. Speaking in only short sharp phrases or doing a country yokel’s voice will vastly differentiate 2 different soldiers. People will begin to add details based off of what they pick up from the way you manipulate your voice. The short sharp phrases will cause people to think of a more clean cut and by the book type of person, while the country yokel voice will fill people’s heads with images of an unkempt and untidy beetle bailey style of soldier. Voices are hard to do though, so find something simple that can be repeated and won’t strain your throat.
3. Reference, Reference, Reference
My Malkavian looks kind of like Ron Perlman. My thief looks kind of like Altair from Assassin’s creed. I’m dressed like Christian bale in equilibrium. I’ve got a sword that looks like it came out of final fantasy 12. I’ve got a sword that looks like it came out of fallout 3, complete with gas tank on my back to ignite it.
It may seem unoriginal, but, when you come down to it, everything’s been done before. If something in the character is inspired by another source, reference it. If people know the source they’ll get a clearer picture in their head. You can use that to build off into other unique areas of the character. If they don’t recognize it, you can probably find pictures of it or use the reference as a base to describe from.
4. Go Unique
A paladin in plate mail armor won’t make a big impact on a person. A paladin in plate mail armor which has gauntlets that resemble eagle heads, a feathery pattern beaten into the plates, a helmet with wings coming off the side and only the keen eyes of the holy warrior peeking through . . . will make an impression. Sure it’s over the top, but that gets attention. Just look at these here examples. Which one didn’t stand out?
5. Physical Representations Are Great
I use minis even for social encounters. If I have a good mini to use, I set it out on the table in front of me. Even if it doesn’t completely represent the character, it gives people something to focus on. I’ll even use mini’s that are wildly off genre. Super hero miniatures get a lot closer to my character descriptions than fantasy ones do sometimes. Even if they don’t, people are going to associate the BBEG with the superman mini and make a connection that the BBEG is more than a guy in armor, a wizard in robes or a guy in a black suit.
So the moral of this story is that there is nothing wrong with going wildly unique and using any method to draw people into the description. Don’t overwhelm with detail, but make the details stick out and give people something to associate with the NPC or character.
So how do you make your characters and NPCs stand out? Let’s try this. You get 100 points* for commenting and making a character unique in under 140 text characters (a standard text messages). 50 points* if you do it under 300 characters and a boot to the head if you get this reference.
*Points don’t count for anything but internet bragging rights, and that’s what’s really important isn’t it?
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