by Jennifer Bisson
Creating a character is a fundamental part of roleplaying, whether you are a player or a game-master (who has to come up with a whole cast of characters). And while creating a character might come easy to some, for others it is more of a struggle. Or, you may feel like you tend to create a certain type of character and want to change things up.
This is where dice can be a great boon to roleplayers (and not just once the game starts)! There are lots of ways to use dice to help you come up with great characters, from the broadest categories to the smallest details. As there are many systems out there, and not all of them use the same details for characters, some of these may apply to your character creation process, while others won’t. Use the ones that work for you, and don’t worry about the rest.
The class and race combo is often a solid place to start your character. This forms the core of who the character will be. As Dungeons and Dragons is still a huge influence in the roleplaying world, they often have more options than other systems. There are dice for several editions of D&D that you can roll, and it will suggest a class and race for your character.
A few thoughts on this, before we go on. If you roll a combination that just doesn’t work well for you (like perhaps a tiefling paladin), or if you roll something that isn’t a good fit for the campaign, reroll! Perhaps you want to roll a few times and see which result you like best. This is your character, so you want something that you are excited to play!
As a GM, sometimes you want to roll up a couple of interesting NPCs, either for a town you are working on or as potential inserts for the players to interact with. Again, if the rolls indicate something that wouldn’t fit your world, reroll. Don’t feel like you are locked into a combination just because you rolled it! It’s not like rolling stats where you’re ‘gaming the system’ by rolling until you get the perfect combination, you are just brainstorming and getting ideas.
Now, if you aren’t playing D&D or you maybe don’t have the specialty dice, don’t fret. You can still use dice to help you create randomized characters by just making a list of the classes and races available and rolling a regular die and using the chart to determine what you rolled. This works well even with odd numbers of choices. For example, if your game has 7 different playable races, you make a list, and if you roll an 8 you can either pick or reroll, your choice.
Once you get beyond race and class, a whole world of details opens up. Characters really come to life when they are more than the numbers on a sheet; they need personality! But building a history, figuring out what your character might like or hobbies they might have can often leave people stumped. This is a great time to turn back to your dice.
Randice is one of my favorite sets of random generator dice, and includes dice for all kinds of wonderful character details, from economic status to eye color to life’s purpose.
This set was intended to really shape all aspects of a character, so it has dice for many basic parts of character creation like your strongest and weakest attribute, their gender, size, age, eye color….pretty much everything you need to have a solid starting point.
As a GM, you could easily roll up this set of dice, and have a perfectly usable NPC, great for when your players insist on talking to that random person they passed on the street (instead of the finely crafted storekeeper who not only had a lovely backstory, but also the next quest hook).
What I find really useful about dice like this is they are essentially prompts. They are a baseline that you can build on. Rolling that my character grew up filthy rich could be where I stop, or it could spark an idea and now I’m coming up with details about their background, that are grounded in them alway having an excess of money growing up.
A great way to take this one step further is to connect that background detail with the start of the campaign. Your GM might have shared some details about how the characters are being drawn into the story, or you might have a more generic start, but something has caused your character to go from their previous life and off on this new adventure. Looking at these random details you rolled up can help you come up with motivations that will help give you inspiration throughout the chronicle.
Take my example of rolling up a character who came from money, lots of money. What would cause them to go adventuring? Keep in mind, the average starting character doesn’t have access to the kind of money they were used to, so what happened to cut them off from the family’s money? Answering these questions can give you long term goals for your character. Perhaps they need to prove their worth to be welcomed back into their family, or maybe their family had hit misfortune and lost their wealth and now the character is out to build a fortune to restore their family to its previous position.
Now, so far we’ve looked at dice that were specifically made for roleplaying games, but there are a wide variety of creative dice out there that you can use to help come up with an interesting backstory. One that is very popular for free-form story creation (and what is a background but a story about your character), is Rory’s Story Cubes.
Originally a tool for helping children develop their imagination, these dice come in themed sets, which makes them great for when you are playing a game that isn’t in a traditional fantasy setting (though they have a few fantasy sets as well, so you are still good there).
These dice can be taken literally, so the clock might be a watch that was given to a character by a beloved relative, or they could be symbolic, like a character who is always late or obsessed with being early. What really works for me is to play around with the first idea that pops into my head when I look at a die, so the cactus might be someone who is all puffed up, looking for a fight, but also trying to keep everyone away.
I also like thinking about a specific aspect of the character, before I roll the dice, then grabbing a couple and seeing what comes up. So, I might want to get some details about how my character looks physically, and I roll the globe, bee and elephant. Maybe I decide my character has a big round belly (like the globe), large ears (like the elephant), and yellow and black striped hair (like the bee). If you are really stumped by one of your results, you can just reroll it until you get something that sparks an idea.
Sometimes, you want to answer very specific questions, like what type of familiar your wizard has, or maybe you want them to have a food allergy. This set of story dice has the benefit of having each die follow a theme. There is a weather die, an animal die, a vehicle die, a food die and more! So you can pick and choose what kinds of qualities you are rolling up for your character.
And not all dice that can help in character creation are picture based. DiceMakers has a wonderful set they call Writing Dice, which have some really great options for both character building and world building. They come in a pack of fifteen dice, color coded in sets of three, that help you answer the basic questions of who, what, when, where and why. The red dice focus on who, so are quite helpful for creating characters. You can take these words as literal (this might be some kind of male vampire), or as descriptive (perhaps your character has some kind of monstrous personality trait and one of those faces that you can never quite tell how old they are)
The black dice are the why dice, and look into motivations. These are great for players, but also really cool to play with as a GM. You can come up with backstory for your NPC’s, as what drives them is often a big part of who they are and how they interact with your players.
The other dice in this set can help fill in other details for your characters. Need to figure out where your character grew up, roll the where dice. Want some kind of important item, roll the what dice. The when dice are a bit trickier, but they can make for really interesting twists, as maybe your character has an unhealthy obsession with their past, or maybe they keep having these weird dreams about being able to travel through the stars (if you rolled the space age result on a when die in a fantasy chronicle).
As you can see, there are a ton of options out there, for dice that will help you not only roll up a character, but flesh it out into a complex and interesting person. As a player, you can use these tools to help you come up with a character that maybe is a bit outside of your norm, which can be both challenging and a ton of fun! As a GM, a good set of random character creation dice can help you avoid burnout when building your game world, or save you when your players want to know everything about the character you mentioned in passing and didn’t have anything planned for.