4 Ways to Make a RPG Character Stand Out

In your head you see the blood dripping from your half-orc barbarian’s ax. You’ve fantasized about him for weeks. Then you get to the gaming table and you realize two other players are running half-orcs…and they are all talking the same. “Grog smash dumb goblin!”


Regardless of what class and race you are playing, you will want your character to “pop,” to feel different from other characters of the same race and class. But how do you make your orc stand out from a pack of fellow green ax-smashing badasses?

1. Subvert the Trope

Every class/race combination has a certain set of tropes associated with them. One way to make your character stand out is to deliberately put that trope on its head. This can be played for comedy or can provide an interesting inner drama.

A pop culture example of the dramatic route would be Star Trek’s Worf. In the series, Klingons are often savage and warlike, but Worf subverts this. Raised by humans, Worf comes to value the Federation’s ideals and tones down the violent impulses that normally drive Klingon culture. The tension between Worf feels being caught between the two cultures provides many dramatic moments throughout the series.

The comedic route can also be fun at the table. Maybe your half-orc has a curious soft spot for cats and switches with disturbing ease between butchering humanoids ruthlessly on the battlefield and getting weak-kneed for furry fuzzy wuzzy felines.

2. Epic-ize a Real World Situation

Did you go through a quarter-life crisis a few years back? Or experience a tough breakup? Have a career change?

How would those real world scenarios have gone down if you were…a skull crushing badass half-orc barbarian?!?

Transform the experience of moving away to college into a story of your orc leaving their ancestral homelands for new opportunities. Or, if you had sharp learning curve at a new job, imagine how an orc would feel having to blend in among human and elven co-workers -er I mean adventurers.

The point is that when building a medieval character’s backstory you can still “write what you know” even if (hopefully) your real life job is not beheading enemies with a great ax.

3. Build Your Character on a Conflict

Sometimes the greatest battles are within a half-orc’s soul. (Though they’d probably never admit it.)

Perhaps your character hates the confines of city life…but fears that if they return to their tribe they would be viewed as a disappointment. As the adventure progresses your character would get to wrestle with the choice to make peace with their new home, or go back. Each campaign could present either the hope of killing a trophy glorious enough to earn a place back home with the tribe…or the possibility of realizing that their new home is right where they are.

4. Have a Joint Backstory With Another Player

Some RPG parties just assume that the adventures ran into each other at a tavern and decided to work together for fun and profit. But it can be fun to imagine how these very different characters came to work together. What would cause a half-orc barbarian to be best friends with an elven wizard? What did the small halfling rogue due to make a towering orc view them as a valuable ally? Building a backstory on a unique set of relationships can be another way to make your character seem like a full three-dimensional person…not just a generic race / class combo.

No matter what choices you make for your backstory, the important point is to have fun and remember, those dungeons aren’t going to raid themselves.

You can never have too many dice. Image by carufrannco on Pixabay.

3 Strengths of Science Fiction Over Fantasy

Science Fiction.  Fantasy.  Horror.  Superhero.  Every geek proudly defends his chosen genre.  While art is always subjective, it can be interesting to explore how each genre has its narrative strengths…and pitfalls.

I love fantasy.  The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest epics of all time, and, yes, I am a member of a Dungeons and Dragons club.  #WaterdeepDragonHeist #NoShame

But, I do feel that science fiction has some narrative strengths over fantasy, which is why that is genre I am currently dabbling in for my creative writing.  These are general patterns, there will always be outliers.

Strength #1:  Sci Fi Avoids the Messiah Complex (When Done Right)

Fantasy stories frequently have a messianic character.  Frodo.  Harry.  King Arthur.  The Pevensies. These “chosen ones” are a very common fantasy trope. There is a time and place for this type of storytelling.  I am a Christian and I do think that sometimes Providence calls people to certain missions.  These fantasy characters (at least in Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia) can serve a christological function if done right.

However, it can be hard to relate to these characters.  I don’t have a prophesy telling me what my role will be.  History is not micromanaged by prophecies or chosen ones.

Consider Star Trek.  Are the characters gifted?  Yes.  Are they in a unique position given the technological eliteness of the Enterprise?  Yes.  However one can more easily see oneself becoming a psychologist, like Troi, or an engineer, like Shorty, or a captain (albeit not of a Starship) like Picard than one can imagine being marked for greatness like Harry Potter.

Yes, some Sci Fi falls back on fantasy tropes (Star Wars, I’m looking at you). However Science Fiction generally does not need a “chosen one.” That makes the characters more relatable and raises the stakes.  If there is a prophecy, we can trust it will be fulfilled.  If a character is just one member of the crew among many…well they don’t have fate to shield them from danger.

Strength #2: We Can See Science Fiction Coming True

Wizards, as fantasy understands them, are not real and never will be real.  The crocodile is as close as we are ever going to get to a dragon.

On the other hand, the communicators of Star Trek have come true in cell phones.  The book burning world of Fahrenheit 451  is all too real in some countries (and will come to our own if we are not careful).  And while we may not have cyborgs, like in Ghost in the Shell, human beings are becoming more and more attached to technology and that technology is providing a new platform for warfare.  We may not be able to reanimate dead corpses like Victor Frankenstein, but the history of science is filled with less-than-ethical science experiments.

When we read fantasy we have to suspend disbelief.  When we read science fiction the scenarios are often all too real.


Strength #3 Science Fiction’s “What If…”

Fantasy’s “What if” is often well…a fantasy.  People joke all the time about how they are “still waiting for their Hogwarts Letter.”  People wish they could go to Narnia.  People wish they were a wizard.  People wish they could find a genie.

With SciFi…it ain’t so simple.  Do you wish you had an X-gene?  Where your powers may be unstable, may cause you to kill your boyfriend if you kiss him, and will cause you to have to live in hiding from the fearful human population?  It may be cool to be an X-man…but not completely.

We don’t wish to be Katniss from the Hunger Games, or the humans under attack in War of the Worlds.  We don’t wish to be a Loonie from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Science Fiction makes it easier to pick “what if’s” that are blessings…and curses.  This can make it all the more exciting and believable.

Furthermore, fantasy often falls back on recycled Lord of the Rings knockoffs.  Elves, dwarves and dragons again and again and again.  Science Fiction’s need for novel “what if’s” has spurred a great diversity.  Just see the range from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Deep Space Nine, from the optimism of Star Trek to the crushing despair of Frankenstein. There is a massive difference between Xenomorphs and Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still. 

I will go back to Narnia soon.  But for now, I will hear the prophets warning and celebrating an all too close future.


Robot Image by Comfreak on Pixabay

Fantasy Image above by peter_pvw on Pixabay

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