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Kismet's Character Palette

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Art by yokofakun

Kit: They weren't human. They were monsters.
Sister Jude: All monsters are human. You're a monster.
-- American Horror Story: Asylum

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Roleplaying characters are more than just statistics - they are made up of all the reasons why the points are placed just so, and encompass elements that never quite make it onto a character sheet. They start out with the very basics, like a name, a class, and a function in the story, but with further development, they start to feel like people you could actually meet. When characters take on defined personalities, a sense of history, and internal consistency, they enrich the whole experience. Fantasy worlds seem brighter when the people inside them are more believable. Quests feel vital when the NPCs you're trying to save have personalities worth fighting for.

The character palette is a tool I have developed to aid in detailing characters of all kinds, which means that players and Sts can benefit from using it. The palette can be used at any point in a game, from character creation onward, to inspire and organize your thoughts. It can help with generating a backstory, memorable points, and ties to the world. It can also develop a character layer by layer, in a process that doesn't have to be overwhelming or rushed. You can come back to the palette to put a new twist on an old favorite and to update NPCs so it feels like the world is moving around the player characters.

The palette is a form that you fill in based on your preferences and needs. It is not specific to any system or type (or even to roleplaying, so you could use it for fiction, as well). At the top is space for the character's name and setting. Along the lefthand side are sixteen categories of information that are important to know about a person. Right next to those categories are examples. The 'Physical' category, for instance, pertains to things like the character's coloring, bearing, and clothing.

The first blank column is 'Description,' and this is where you can provide information at the most basic level. You don't have to fill out all or even most of the categories to get a good view of a character. You will decide which categories are most important and which ones can wait for later. I suggest you fill out at least four to make the character distinct, but that's just a rule of thumb.

You will most likely start in the 'Description' column and you might end your inquiry there. If you would like to add depth and facets to a character, you can move over to the next column, which is 'Opinions.' Ask yourself: what is your character's opinion about their political office? If you want to go deeper, ask yourself if your character gives people one impression, while keeping their true opinions to themself. Just thinking about your character's reactions to the different aspects of their life can draw up a lot of information.

If you'd like to go even deeper, head to the 'Motivations' category. Ask yourself what your character thinks their motivation is for something, like pursuing their reputation. The character might think they're keeping up appearances out of genuine pride, and that is their conscious motivation. But subconsciously, the character is desperate to fit in with their new social class and is terrified of losing their standing.

The 'Past' is the last category and furthest to the right, and in a way it can lead to the deepest insights about a character because a person's history can help to explain their current condition, their opinions, and their motivations. History is not destiny but it is powerful; it echoes across our lives in ways we don't even realize. By figuring out what happened to make a character choose their skills, you might uncover their reasons for many other decisions. A perfect example is Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. Instead of becoming a sword maker like his father, Inigo pushed himself to become a swordmaster so that he might one day avenge his father's murder. He is always on the lookout for the six-fingered man and is willing to recklessly risk life and limb to get his hands on the villain.

The Blank Palette

Name:   Setting:  
Categories   Description Opinions Motivations Past
Directions give details about the character in at least 4 categories what the character thinks about the issue, publicly & privately what drives the character, consciously or subconsciously what the character has endured publicly or privately
Physical coloring, bearing, disabilities, style, clothing        
Possesions gear, cash, land, magical and mundane items, vehicles        
Encountering locations, conditions, and reactions to other characters        
Residence living arrangements, common locations        
Skills & Function profession, craft, specialties, powers        
Hobbies & Interests outside of work, apart from earning a living        
Plans & Plots goals, hopes, dreams, schemes        
Secrets & Mysteries things hidden by or from the character        
Obstacles enemies, deadlines, conflicts, impairments        
Reputation type, reach, impact        
Politics party, activities, standing, office        
Culture original, current, apparel, symbols, accent, folkways        
Temperament natural inclinations, basic personality        
Morality beliefs, virtues, vices, religious affiliation        
Irrationality superstitions, obsessions, phobias, prejudices        
Relationships family, friends, academic, romantic, business        

Sample Character Palette

I filled out the palette below using information for a character I played in a Changeling: the Lost game. Even though it's been some years since I last played him, the palette helped me to remember many things. And since I know the character so well, I was able to fill in many of the categories without too much work.

Name: Scott Morgan, Changeling Setting: Long Beach, CA
Categories Description Opinions Motivations Past
Physical slender white male without much to distinguish his looks for good or ill knows he's not a stud and doesn't like it, but clothes only fix so much makes up for the outside by being brilliant knew that being a doctor would earn him respect and attention
Possesions items he's enchanted, part of a hollow, an apartment, a car, and a heavy truck he's only just begun to gather things to study and enjoy wants a place to experiment and to hole up, and he enjoys the Hedge used to live alone, but prefers sharing space with his few trusted friends
Encountering travels to investigate for the Autumn Court wants to be able to deal with others thirsts for knowledge about the WoD and the Keepers used to be much more of a single-minded loner
Residence stays often with his girl-friend at her place, and shares a hollow with her and their friend Matt his apartment is for crashing, but isn't really his home anymore keeping more than one location means he'll have somewhere to go if need be was raised middle-upper class, but lived hard in Arcadia
Skills & Function doctor who works at a clinic and offers services to the freehold likes having yet another use for the freehold wants to keep changelings alive and well likes to heal, but also to study and sometimes to torment
Hobbies & Interests the Hedge, goblins, plants, the supernatural everything is so damned fascinating anything could turn out to be beneficial didn't used to care so much about hobbies
Plans & Plots create a group to share information about the Fae needs to find a way for the freehold to get along wants to take the fight to the Fae some day used to think he was busy, but he had no idea
Secrets & Mysteries is in contact and studies with his fetch, Stan Stan's a bit bloodthirsty, but amazing Stan is a part of Scott, in some ways closer than a brother he never had such a weird relationship with family
Obstacles freehold tensions, Tosk the Jack Ketch, his Keeper Salmissra these fuckers get in the way of the real things he came back to do takes threats very seriously and plans against them all
Reputation useful but sometimes an asshole cares what people think of his trustworthiness and abilities, but little about what people think of his personal life wants to cultivate connections so he can learn more and trade easier makes more of an impact now than he ever did before
Politics prefers the Summer Court faction that is more strategic and careful charging into the Hedge will kill us all maintaining a safe freehold means we can get to other things never gave a shit about politics before
Temperament in his hedge-spun lab coat, he becomes the emotionless doctor and experimenter went out of his way to recreate the experience once he got back the control and distance soothes him he develop-ed the persona in Arcadia
Morality there is stranger shit in Heaven and Earth than he ever dreamed hurt the deserving and the willing, but try not to lose control when you're in the same boat, you might as well paddle together used to be an atheist
Irrationality came back from his Durance a sadist reigns bloody urges in by finding a willing partner needs control, and to hurt females (who stand in for his Keeper) would never have dreamed he would like hurting others
Relationships keeps in light contact with his family they feel normal, sane knows he'll have to give them up for their own safety appreciates them more now
  has a girlfriend in Desiree, which is a very lucky thing likes the vulnerability that she tries to cover up, needs to connect with people to remain balanced knows she will likely move on, and their history won't prevent it used to be very jealous but now just accepts the time he has with her
  has a friend and traveling companion in Matt feels glad to have a big walking carpet at his back knows he needs multiple friends and can't put all his eggs in one basket knows he wouldn't have had a friend like Matt if it weren't for being a changeling
  has a boss in the Autumn Court seneschal, Anthony Breer feels Anthony is also a colleague who understands what they're up against wants to help Breer get the work done and knows that Breer will support him later thinks that he and Breer would have gotten along as regular mortals

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