Are game manuals and rule books a good tool for creating book characters?

twistedmic

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Forgive me if this is the wrong forum for this question, but I feel this is the best place to ask.

Are tabletop gaming manuals and rule books a good tool for creating characters for an original book or story? Would they be a good tool for world building and creating magic systems? I have a few half formed, bare-bones ideas for a few characters and a potential world and I would like to find something that might help me flesh out my characters.
If those books would be a good tool, which set/game would be best?
 

SckizoBoy

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They can be a good tool, but just bear in mind that they're for narrative driven games within a pre-defined setting with aspects that suit the game's mechanics, and obviously, where the character dynamics will be very different from a non-RNG driven story. They can give you ideas, but it is ultimately up to you how to apply everything, the main thing (to me at least) being finding your characters' place within the world and how they interact with it in the most natural way (or unnatural, if its plot relevant).

Regarding which system/game world is best to use, depends what you want to use it for: inspiration for the setting (e.g. technology, racial dynamics etc.); building characters (e.g. traits, archetypes etc.); population dynamic (e.g. behavioural conventions and how the world's societies function etc.). Because of the sheer variety of creative output that's possible, I don't think there is one particular system or game (even whole franchise) that can cater to it all.

Using your mention of magic as an example: you'd need a system that matches what you want to be representative of magic in your world. Is it a common thing for magic to be used? How quantifiable is said magic? What is the source of the magic? How is it improved in the individual? Is there a logical extreme to its power? Can it be exhausted and consequently replenished with ease, or is it dependently solely on the user's ability and/or willpower/focus? And so on and so forth. Some systems will separate magic into categories that require full turns to cast down to being done instantaneously. Others will provide the character with a replenishing resource to use on casting (quite how it replenishes depends on the game). Others yet still will require a physical item of some sort to aid in casting. These are all literary archetypes once you strip away the numbers, so if you can adapt them to your needs or come up with something new, go for it.
 

SupahEwok

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The hard thing about writing is actually getting yourself to write. If using a game helps lower that barrier for you, then go for it. Just don't shackle yourself to the limits of the game, if you get an idea that doesn't fit in the game mechanics don't just throw it out.
 

JoJo

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Personally, I often use play-by-post role-playing games as a testing ground for characters or concepts, who can then be adapted for solo writing if they work well. The mechanics of the game aren't important, though, as they're not likely to be carried over into the story (provided this isn't a 'trapped in a video game' type tale).
 

Saint of M

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When it comes to alignment, remember that most people are not completely black and white about it and may have some wiggle room.

A lawful good character might go easy on someone. Any character that starts with lawful, chaotic, or evil, then followed by stupid is the sign of a bad character, and a boring one at that.

Much like building a charecter, think about what makes them that way.

Using Beast Wars as an Excample:

Dinobot would probably be Lawful Evil and Ratrap Chaotic Good. While the two will be at each other's throats, literaly, they will work together and even agree on some things.
 

Buyetyen

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It's not a bad approach, with a few caveats. The most important being, "How does the character feel about this?" You don't even necessarily have to answer why immediately. The important thing is that you build the character's emotional contours to get a better sense of how they are and who they react to life. Spider-Man isn't interesting because his uncle is dead, but because of how he feels about that death and what it motivates him to do.

Also, don't think of the character in terms of good builds. The majority of people are just making it up as they go along and a realistic character sheet would reflect that. They'd have a particular skill set, probably the one they make a living with but not always, and a smattering of other stuff. It's the other stuff that gets interesting. That's your opportunity to get really creative with it. Why does a wizard have skill points in pottery? Why does a soldier have points in gardening? Where did a hard-boiled detective learn to play the mandolin? Do they not like to talk about how they learned a few dance steps during a year working as an exotic dancer? Is your barbarian stingy with his home-brewed hooch, or does he share freely with his friends? The more unexpected these little facets are, it makes the whole more interesting.
 

Kae

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I wouldn't know as I'm not a writer, the only things I've ever written are the tabletop characters I play and the adventures I create, but if there is a game that encourages you to write an excessively detailed and fleshed out character, I'd say it's probably The Burning Wheel, basically the whole appeal of the system is that it's about the Player Character's their beliefs and Philosophies and the character creator very much focuses on that, on fleshing out the character and determining what their story is, so I'd recommend looking into it.

That being said I've never actually played it since none of my friends really want to put that amount of effort (Creating a character in Burning Wheel takes a long time), but I've used it when I'm playing a character for D&D or Pathfinder, to help me decide a little bit better the ideologies and attitudes of my characters.

You can buy it here if you're interested.
 

Agema

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Forgive me if this is the wrong forum for this question, but I feel this is the best place to ask.

Are tabletop gaming manuals and rule books a good tool for creating characters for an original book or story?
My gut instinct is to say no.

That's because I imagine that the art of creation is to have an idea what you want the setting, plot and characters to be when you start, which renders the point of a system useless, because you'd just have to make the game turn out the way you want the story and characters to be.

The way it might work is if you have a setting, but no characters and plot in mind. Then you just let your virtual RPG flow, and whatever happens ends up getting written up: character X dies because the angry newt he was fighting rolled a critical hit. Well, c'est la vie. Let's hope X wasn't the putative hero, eh.

Quite a few fantasy authors do seem to have written books based on RPGs they played, although how that works out I can't say. Was it merely the setting they made, and the actual story has no particular relevance to how the story of their RPG party panned out? Are they fairly faithfully writing up what the GM and players did (and if so, isn't that kind of problematic in terms of ownership, if you're making money from a characters and events invented / part-invented by another person?). At any rate, I don't think the actual system and rules would have been the key factor, but the storytelling.
 

Saint of M

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My gut instinct is to say no.

That's because I imagine that the art of creation is to have an idea what you want the setting, plot and characters to be when you start, which renders the point of a system useless, because you'd just have to make the game turn out the way you want the story and characters to be.

The way it might work is if you have a setting, but no characters and plot in mind. Then you just let your virtual RPG flow, and whatever happens ends up getting written up: character X dies because the angry newt he was fighting rolled a critical hit. Well, c'est la vie. Let's hope X wasn't the putative hero, eh.

Quite a few fantasy authors do seem to have written books based on RPGs they played, although how that works out I can't say. Was it merely the setting they made, and the actual story has no particular relevance to how the story of their RPG party panned out? Are they fairly faithfully writing up what the GM and players did (and if so, isn't that kind of problematic in terms of ownership, if you're making money from a characters and events invented / part-invented by another person?). At any rate, I don't think the actual system and rules would have been the key factor, but the storytelling.
Agreed. When it comes down to it, if you want to not have a boring cliche, have a look at people or look up people. Bram Stoker was inspired to do dracula after finding some information on its namesake. Ed Gene was the Inspiration for Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs) The Sawyer Clan (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and Norman Baits (Psycho). Film 1917 was based on the filmmaker's grandfather who was a messenger in the trenches of WWI

You've probably had a teacher you thought was the patron saint of knowledge and one that made you thankful for documentaries on your favorite educational chanel or streaming service.

You probably knew people who were true leaders and those that the longer you hear them the more your braincells one by one commit suicide.
 

Satinavian

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Forgive me if this is the wrong forum for this question, but I feel this is the best place to ask.

Are tabletop gaming manuals and rule books a good tool for creating characters for an original book or story? Would they be a good tool for world building and creating magic systems? I have a few half formed, bare-bones ideas for a few characters and a potential world and I would like to find something that might help me flesh out my characters.
If those books would be a good tool, which set/game would be best?
No.

Those are good for turning an inspiration you have into something that works in the rulesystem and setting. By their very nature they are limiting potential characters not expanding the pool. And if the system/setting does not match the setting of your original story none of the characters would fit.

It is better for magic systems. Because tabletop RPGs have to provide rules for magic and take into account players that want to use magic in unexpected ways, they most of the time have fairly robust magic systems in comparison to typical novel fare. Lifting a magic system of a tabletop game is not the worst idea (but imho : don't try to use D&D).

If you want other inspirations, i would not recommend tabletop RPG rulebooks but tabletop RPG setting supplements. There is where you find the cultures and the descriptions/characterisations of all the important named characters.
 

Asita

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Eh...yes and no? It depends in large part on how you make your tabletop characters.

For instance, my first tabletop character was a barbarian for D&D. He was awful, because he was just a set of mechanics for me and I more or less resented the limitations. Barbarians had to be chaotic alignment, but in what little roleplaying we did, mine was probably the most lawful character in the party. I spent a lot of my points evening out my character's dump stats. I spent points to make my barbarian literate, and I didn't give a direrat's tail about the narrative implications of his traits...He's probably the worst character I ever made, even more so than a much later freeform character of mine that we snidely referred to as "Captain Killjoy" because he was such a persistently unfun grump. The basic problem in both cases was that I was unwilling to do more than check off boxes for backstory and character, trusting that I could simply wing it in the game.

Where things changed for me is that I started making characters for giggles, and that in turn meant that rushing the character out without fleshing out its story...well, kinda defeated the purpose. Because most of these characters have never seen the light of day, all the fun I have with them is in developing them as characters and expanding on their backstories.

I've gone into several of these in the character backstories thread, but let's use a more recent WIP character. This one was another Pathfinder character, and to make a long story short, I saw the Sky Druid archetype and instantly envisioned the guy flitting around the sails of a ship. To keep things interesting, I left some things to fate, and a dice roll later 'discovered' that my character had noble blood. And with that as a basis to springboard, the fun began and I got to be creative.

"Vijun", as I dubbed him, was a Slyph born to a minor noble human family in a port city. The family had been slowly declining for some years now, but Vijun's parents were convinced that the markings on their newborn were a sign of divine favor, and a sign that things would soon improve. ....Sadly, one of the pirate ships that regularly made berth there had an idiot who thought kidnapping the count's son was easy money, and Vijun was soon abducted. The captain was livid when he found out , and the idiot deckhand keelhauled, but at that point the damage was done and even trying to return to that port would likely earn the whole crew an all expenses paid trip to the gallows. Cutting their losses, they kept Vijun, with the young Slyph never really knowing any other family.

Over the years he filled every role from cabin boy to lookout, eventually settling into the role of Sailing Master due to his skills with wind magic (quite the advantage on a sailing ship). As often happens on a pirate ship, however, the crew's luck ran out eventually, and they were scuttled by another pirate ship. Vijun and the captain were the only two survivors and captured. The captain, perhaps feeling responsible for the abduction all those years ago, insisted to their captors that killing Vijun would be a waste, revealing both the youth's invaluable sailing abilities and Vijun's heritage (the first the Slyph had heard of it). Vijun, ever the loyal crewman, insisted that his captain be spared as well if they wanted his cooperation. And so the two were press ganged into the crew of the ship that scuttled them.

This was a fragile arrangement, however, and only lasted as long as the captain survived. When the old seadog passed (killed in battle), Vijun jumped ship at the earliest opportunity, and with nothing else going for him, has been slowly making his way 'home' by land ever since...with the crew he abandoned still sending out feelers in the hopes of getting him back dead or alive

As I said, the backstory is still a bit of a work in progress, but you'll note that it basically just used the Pathfinder background options as story prompts, taking the basic idea and improvising an expansion. Really, the only thing that overtly ties it to the setting at all is the fact that Vijun is a slyph. Take that away and it could just as easily be the story of an airbender in the world of Avatar, a wizard with an affinity for wind magic in the Dresden Files, a Wind Adept in Golden Sun, or a character with weather abilities in a custom setting. I didn't make Vijun the Pathfinder Adventurer. I made Vijun the kidnapped young lord and ex-pirate.

And that, I think, is where using Tabletops to provide character structure shines. You have to think of it as prompts for Roleplay, not constrictions for Roll-Play. If you go into it thinking, "ok, this guy's a level 12 druid, what abilities does Pathfinder say he has?" then you'll create a cruddy character that will fail spectacularly any time you take it outside of an actual RP. If instead, however, you look at outside of the mechanics and instead use the traits and feats to create ideas to expand the character's story (A kidnapped count? Ok, let's run with that. Do I want him to be promptly recovered, grow up never knowing his family, or...?) then it's, at minimum, a good way to practice the art of character creation or to kickstart a character when you get in a rut.
 

twistedmic

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And that, I think, is where using Tabletops to provide character structure shines. You have to think of it as prompts for Roleplay, not constrictions for Roll-Play. If you go into it thinking, "ok, this guy's a level 12 druid, what abilities does Pathfinder say he has?" then you'll create a cruddy character that will fail spectacularly any time you take it outside of an actual RP. If instead, however, you look at outside of the mechanics and instead use the traits and feats to create ideas to expand the character's story (A kidnapped count? Ok, let's run with that. Do I want him to be promptly recovered, grow up never knowing his family, or...?) then it's, at minimum, a good way to practice the art of character creation or to kickstart a character when you get in a rut.
One of the fantasy ideas I have will feature a crew of human mercenaries/warriors operating in a magical world of various types of forest. The humans will be mostly immune or resistant to magic and unable to use magic themselves- I have the idea that the iron in human blood counteracts magic. Since they can't use magic they use chemistry/alchemy to make weapons and gear to mimic or replace magic.

I have a few basic ideas of what skills I want my humans and (not)elves to have. I know the humans will not be using swords, they will mainly be armed with tomahawk-type axes, knives and daggers. Bows might show up, but I have no current plans to add them.

Out of the two, Pathfinder and GURPS, which would you suggest to help flesh out my characters?
 

twistedmic

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It is better for magic systems. Because tabletop RPGs have to provide rules for magic and take into account players that want to use magic in unexpected ways, they most of the time have fairly robust magic systems in comparison to typical novel fare. Lifting a magic system of a tabletop game is not the worst idea (but imho : don't try to use D&D).
Is there a particular magic system that you would suggest?
 

Satinavian

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Is there a particular magic system that you would suggest?
Ars Magica has a nice one. It allows a lot of effects, promotes specialisation, has enough theory behind it, has hard limits and provides tradeoffs and costs for the more powerful stuff.
 

Asita

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One of the fantasy ideas I have will feature a crew of human mercenaries/warriors operating in a magical world of various types of forest. The humans will be mostly immune or resistant to magic and unable to use magic themselves- I have the idea that the iron in human blood counteracts magic. Since they can't use magic they use chemistry/alchemy to make weapons and gear to mimic or replace magic.

I have a few basic ideas of what skills I want my humans and (not)elves to have. I know the humans will not be using swords, they will mainly be armed with tomahawk-type axes, knives and daggers. Bows might show up, but I have no current plans to add them.

Out of the two, Pathfinder and GURPS, which would you suggest to help flesh out my characters?
Let me rephrase:

If you're approaching this in a way that the mechanics of magic are relevant, you're approaching this from the wrong angle, and may only succeed in creating a fanfic character for that setting. The utility of these sources as inspiration are to help you ask the right questions about your character's history. What were the character's formative moments? Important events in their life? What is their relationship with their family? What prejudices do they have? Their quirks? General proficiencies? The character creation for most systems are wonderful at provoking such questions.

Take Shadowrun as a case in point. Character creation has two subsections for qualities. Positive qualities give you a bonus but cost points. Negative qualities are detrimental but give you more points to spend. The former ranges from things as simple as being bilingual or born rich to being mentored by a powerful Matrix entity or in actuality being an escaped clone. The latter ranges from having a mild addiction or being prejudiced against a given group to being mentally handicapped or having a bomb implanted in their head. And that's great, because it gives you ideas that help make your character an actual character, and the understanding that your character should start with at most 25 points worth of positive and negative qualities helps keep the creation focused with a limited number of boons and banes.

For instance, I gave my character a lost loved one, made him suffer flashbacks with a relatively uncommon trigger, made him a wanted man with a bounty on his head, a tendency to leave behind a calling card, and a mild addiction to alcohol. And this all traces to the same thing: being framed for the disappearance and presumed murder of that loved one. I would not have considered that if I didn't stumble upon several of those qualities while building my character, and those are the backbone of Logan/Zaccone. Similarly, I wouldn't have entertained the idea that Enadar was raised by sorcerous shapeshifting spiders if I hadn't seen the "magical knack" history trait and looked into what qualified as "Magical Beasts". I would not have thought to create a character that even the church of Sarenrae (goddess of compassion and redemption) would largely consider irredeemable by nature if I hadn't read up on Qlippoth-Spawn in Blood of Fiends.

I think that tabletop character creation can provide some wonderful inspiration to springboard off of, but only to the extent that they have such a long list of narrative beats that might not have occurred to you otherwise. If that is not your goal and you're instead looking for structure, rules for your world and characters abilities, I'd suggest a different source. Since magic seems to be what you're looking at right now, I'd suggest starting with a few videos by Hello Future Me/Timothy Hickson.