I have been working on a table-top RP. And by “working on” I mean “completely overhauling an existing RP system because I hate its rules but love its setting.” (7th Sea, for those of you wondering). Now that I’ve finally more-or-less finished the essential overhaul, I’m trying to build an adventure for it. I’ve always made huge, sprawling adventures that take an entire day to get through in an exhaustive session. But with Cory working on weekends, there’s just not room for that. I’m going to have to think smaller, tighter, and more contained.
I’ve been watching Matthew Colville‘s series on how to GM, and I’m gleaning a lot of great tips on how to build shorter, self-contained games that still have the character and world depth that I love. I’m also building characters.
One thing I’ve gotten player critique on in the past is I TELL too much about the character, rather than SHOWING the character. So I’ve been doing an exercise where I try to focus on purely physical description as a means of implying character personality. I don’t always succeed in keeping everything strictly show-don’t-tell, but it’s been a fun exercise and I’ve been dying to share them with SOMEONE because I won’t be able to share them with players for at least two more months (scheduling and holidays don’t mix). So here’s three:
Eva is a short, weathered, hardy woman with deep-set wrinkles and salt-and-pepper black hair. Her arms are muscled and scarred. They’re also heavily tattooed. On the right arm, the north star is ringed by alternatively comical, ugly, pitiful, and realistic depictions of chickens and pigs. It looks as if many of them were done by different artists of varying skill, and this odd menagerie of farm animals is slowly creeping down her arm and up her shoulder. On the left arm, skeletons intertwined with snakes are ringed by blackthorn plants in various stages of growth, showing the bare branches, flowers, and sloe berries. She wears protective leather layers, sometimes in the form of vests and chaps and other times as a long work jacket, over simple shirts and trousers. The leather is scorched and pock-marked in places. She often absentmindedly leaves dark glass goggles on her head. She is never seen without a wilted chrysanthemum pinned to her lapel. Eva is in her early 40s.
The Magnificent Madam Miranda
Miranda loves to wear bright, gaudy colors and lots of cheap jewelry made of glass beads, painted wood, bone, and bronze. Her gowns tend to be too low in the neckline for good taste. Her sleeves always go to the wrist, and her hands are neatly covered in gloves at all times. Over her face she wears veils of cheap lace that are even more obnoxiously colored than her dresses, usually accented with feathers, beads, and baubles. Her make-up is always a tad over-done. She is pleasantly plump with a plentiful bosom, wide hips, and lush lips more likely to smile than frown. Beneath her colorful skirts she wears sensible leather boots with a modest half-inch heels that lace up just past her ankles. Miranda is rarely seen without her long wooden pipe, which she smokes almost round the clock, or her flask, which is always available for a mid-afternoon (or mid-morning) tipple. Miranda is just shy of thirty. Unless you ask, in which case she’s 19.
Aidan has a crooked nose and several missing teeth. His hair is an uneven mess. He cuts it himself, when he feels like it, and it shows. For how little care he gives his hair, he makes a point to shave every morning, although a 5-o-clock shadow usually sprouts by about noon anyway. He has long, graceful fingers, calloused from many years of practice with a bow. He keeps his nails trimmed and his hands scrubbed. His clothing is simple, plain, and worn. Years ago it was no doubt of fair quality, to have lasted this long, and it is patched in many places. Stitched into most of the lapels are images of bows, arrows, trees, and forest beasts, typically embroidered in fraying and faded strands of green and red. Often he forgets to take off the apron he puts on for cooking, which is dusted with flour and stained with oil. He’s lanky and a little too tall to fit into his kitchen comfortably, and has developed a perpetual hunch. Aidan is nineteen years old.
It’s my hope that I’m painting interesting visual and personal pictures of these characters for my players to engage with. Whenever I ever get around to using them, that is.
How would you describe your characters and hint at their backstories, when using strictly physical descriptions as your tool?