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An Exemplary Character
By David Astley
Note – the question’s order is different here than in the list PTGPTB gives you. That’s because we allowed ourselves to downsize and reorder the questions – Eds.
So all those questions may seem unnecessary or exaggerated. Let’s see an actual example.
What is your name?
Benton Algernon Styles
What do you look like?
I’ve been likened more than once to a scarecrow. I have short brown hair that needs to be gelled in place or it goes everywhere. I have high cheekbones, a thin face, dark brown eyes and thin lips. I wear designer suits but they always seem a little too big for me. I have a tendency to sweat, even when it isn’t hot and my hands are often cold and clammy.
How old are you?32 and already I’m very wealthy.
Where were you born?I was born in London.
How were you educated?Private schools and then on to Oxford University.
What have you learnt since then?I taught myself business and finance and have made a fortune in shares.
What were you doing a year ago?I left the partnership I was with, taking most of the clients with me and established my own law firm. The previous one collapsed a few months later.
How do you like to spend your spare time?Spare time? Um, reading business journals, I guess.
What do you enjoy most?Ten baggers. Hearing that another stock I bought is now worth ten times what I paid for it.
What do you like least?Clients. My work would be so much easier if I didn’t have to deal with people.
What makes you angry?Bullies. I resent being pushed around.
What experience has made the strongest mark on you?
I was in my first year of law. Instead of studying I was trying to hang with the popular crowd. There was a party. Some girl’s parents had left the estate for the weekend and everyone was there. I was pretty smashed by the time I stumbled into one of the bedrooms looking for a bathroom. There were half a dozen people sitting round a plate with a needle and a candle and some white stuff I thought at first was candle wax. They told me to sit down and offered me the needle. I didn’t have a clue what to do so this pretty blonde girl with bright wide eyes showed me how to find the vein and gave me my first shot. I loved it. I never felt so good. I felt I was finally part of something. I felt like I truly belonged.
Behind the bliss was something terrible and it reached through and dragged me into the darkness.
Over the next three months I spent a lot of money. A lot of money. And then something went wrong. I couldn’t run and I couldn’t scream. I was so cold. I was completely powerless and at its mercy. It stripped my flesh away and there was nothing underneath except pain and agony.
I woke in an emergency ward being carried past a man screaming because his leg had been torn off. I fainted and woke again in a hospital room with crisp white sheets against my skin and the acrid smell of disinfectant in my nose. I was filled with an empty gnawing feeling that I knew could only be silenced by one thing. But I vowed that would never happen again.
I refused to go to rehab with a bunch of losers and I anonymously set the police on every user and dealer I knew or could find. I used the emptiness to drive me. I used it to drive my recovery and to drive my studies. Despite my lack of work for most of that year I still got my Law Degree, with honours. I was top of my year and got every prize they awarded. No one else even came close to me.
What person has made the strongest mark on you?I have.
Do you have a religion?Anglican.
How strongly do you believe in your religion?I don't.
Why are you out adventuring?I don’t like being threatened. Whatever is after me I’m going to find it and destroy it.
How does fighting make you feel?How crude. That’s the last thing I want to do. I wouldn’t want to get hurt.
How does killing make you feel?I have no intention of getting blood on my hands, but if someone has it in for me they’re going to find themselves meeting with an unfortunate end.
Name something naughty that you did when you were about 12 years old that you got away with?My older brother beat me up, so I stole a hundred pounds from father’s wallet and planted it in my brother’s room. Father gave him such a savage beating he couldn’t walk for 2 days.
Do you have any scars or handicaps?The scars on the inside of my left arm are very faint, but I still prefer long sleeves.
Who is your best friend?Steven Simpson was my best friend and partner but he couldn’t handle me leaving the business.
Do you have any other friends?I don’t need friends. Particularly after what they’ve done for me.
Do you have any enemies?Not that I know of. As a lawyer I’ve upset many people who blame me for their misfortunes, but the law has always been on my side.
What about your parents and family?My parents are Lord Harold and Lady Felicity Styles. I’m the youngest of four children. My siblings are Annette, Harry and Tiffany. There’s about 2 years between each of us.
What are your strongest and weakest character traits?My self discipline is my strength. When I put my mind to it I can do anything. But I’ve never been very strong physically. I think I might have done some damage to my muscles.
How do you see yourself?Serious and responsible. I know what needs to be done and I do it.
How do others see you?I don’t particularly care. Some people complain that I’m ruthless and unfeeling but it’s not like I’m going to them for help.
Do you have a sense of humour?Yes. I like irony. There’s nothing cruel about enjoying Karma.
What is your basic nature?I look out for myself. No one else is going to.
Do you have any ambitions?I want to be the richest man in the world.
What kind of art, music and reading material do you prefer?I prefer the classics. Two lines on a piece of paper is not art, shouting through a cacophony of noise is not music and Mills and Boone is not literature!
What does your home look like?I don’t spend much time in my small penthouse apartment so it’s sparsely decorated with an entertainment system, computer and bookshelves.
“What person has made the strongest mark on you?” was another good question highlighting Benton’s independence and self-reliance.
Benton Styles was a character I created for White Wolf’s Orpheus RPG. Knowing little about the world, I wanted a generic yet versatile character and given the modern day setting, I figured money was the way to go.
The GM required that each character had had a near death experience, so one of the first questions I answered was “What experience has made the strongest mark on you?” Answering this question immediately established Benton as a bitter and driven individual.
From there, answering “What do you look like?” added to his coldness and disdain by going well beyond the fact that he was tall and thin. This made questions about his height and weight redundant, though it was important to make him old enough to have earned his wealth.
His birthplace helped to establish him as part of the British nobility and his education explained much of his arrogance. “What have you learnt since then?” demonstrated Benton’s continued fixation on wealth, as did “What do you enjoy most?”
“What were you doing a year ago?” and “How do you like to spend your spare time?” established Benton’s work as his life making other work related questions redundant. I skipped “What do you like least?” as Benton was obviously spoiled for choice, and likewise “What makes you happy?” and “What makes you laugh?” But “What makes you angry?” showed that Benton would come to the aid of others, making him not completely self absorbed and putting him on the side of the good guys, if only just.
“What have you done that you are most proud of?” and “What have you done that you are most ashamed of?” tied back to “What experience has made the strongest mark on you?” so those questions were skipped in Benton’s case. While Benton’s philosophy wasn’t worth exploring, the religion questions were included as they give a starting point should these beliefs be challenged, which was likely in an Orpheus game.
“Why are you out adventuring?” was a very important question for a character like Benton, who needed a motivation to leave his comfort zone.
We already knew Benton’s thoughts on money and skipped that along with his ideas on knowledge and power. His opinions on fighting and killing however, would no doubt come into play a lot, though they did change over time.
The question “Name something naughty that you did when you were about 12 years old that you got away with?” revealed clues about Benton’s childhood and family and showed how much, or little, Benton had matured.
Benton didn’t have much interest in colours or hobbies, so those questions were skipped over. The question about scars tied back to his past and was kept, however.
Even a loner like Benton had people around him, so the questions on friends, enemies and family were all answered. Even though they had little impact on play as NPCs, they still provided both the player and the game master with useful insights into Benton’s character and how he treated those close to him.
Because Benton was a reactive character, his present problems tied into why he was adventuring, so this question was skipped, as was how things might get worse. How Benton saw himself and how he justified his behaviour was important given his extreme personality and beliefs. Even though Benton was not the laughing type, his sense of humour reinforced his dark personality.
Benton’s ambitions and preferences revealed his single mindedness and his home highlighted his neatness and efficiency.
Finally, there was the question of Benton’s name. Such a rich character, in terms of both money and personality, needed an uncommon name, yet a name that would not stand out as unusual. Books of modern names never go astray, but in Benton’s case his surname was invented first and eventually an appropriate first name came to mind.
Thus was born a hard and unpleasant hero, who used his money, his power and other people to save the world and who ruthlessly dealt with those he imagined stood between him and the greater good. As a lawyer he used the law like a carpenter wielded a hammer, and he maintained a special animosity for those who pushed and distributed drugs. He was afraid of closeness but learned to respect his companions though he rarely showed it. He treated his employees harshly but fairly and always ensured they had the best quality equipment. He looked upon the world as his investment and ultimately he was prepared to sacrifice everything to protect it.
Benton was a great character to play and he provided my friends and me with endless hours of entertainment. While he grew and changed over the course of the campaign, his background and story were central to the concept of who he was and what he was fighting for. He worked well with his companions, but never pleasantly, and everyone who played the game enjoyed the character interactions on both a mechanical and a role-playing level.
I make a habit now of putting all my characters through as many of these questions as possible, usually just before or after the first play session. Ultimately, such a detailed character description adds not just to my enjoyment of the game, but also to the game itself and to everyone’s enjoyment. For a long running game, that adds up to a lot of fun for everyone. And if ever Benton Styles should be needed to save the world once more, I know he’s nearby, just waiting for an opportunity to live again.
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