Free for All: Making the perfectly flawed character

Vanguard screenshot
Whenever I play a new MMO, the first thing I want to know is who I am supposed to be inside this particular game world. I would like to have as much control over the conception of my character as possible, but let's be honest: Great customization is not as common as many of us would like. This might explain my attraction to games that offer the ability to craft a true, unique character, even if only in looks. I love a good cash shop and the ability to make my character essentially me -- if I were the me inside that other world.

I don't play MMOs to be the hero, at least not most of the time. I don't want to kill the largest boss or get the best armor. I'll leave that to gamers who like that sort of thing. I play an MMO to sort of lose myself inside the world of a character of my own making. Over the years I've noticed a pattern in how I establish a great character, one that I want to continue playing. Originally, I wanted to refine this process into a list in case other players wanted to compare, but the list keeps evolving, so instead, I'll give some examples of how I have been creating unique and wonderfully flawed main characters in some of my favorite MMOs.

Mabinogi screenshot
I've been obsessed with MUDs lately, especially Gemstone IV. It's hard to explain, but there is a forced pace that a text-based MMO places on me that allows me to feel good about growing at the speed of a glacier. In many MMOs I normally feel a bit like I am wasting my time. There are so many linear titles with forced, channeled content that my slower pace of leveling makes me feel as though I am simply playing the game incorrectly. I hate that feeling, especially in a virtual "world."

Gemstone IV is filled with some wonderful mechanics, but nothing that would be too surprising to someone who has played pen-and-paper RPGs or has hung out in a local game shop on game night before. MUDs are the online equivalent of "You see a room with a bunch of monsters in it, what do you do?" Good MUDs like Gemstone IV allow me to kill the monsters, sneak past them, leave the room, explore somewhere else, become a very dead or very scarred little hafling, and many other choices. The fact that I have to read about these interactions makes my head fill in all of the wonderful details. So anyone who is interested in building a character should try at least a few MUDs.

My particular hafling is sneaky and fast but not very strong. He carries and uses a single, silvery blade. I tried archery, but it became too complicated. I am sinking most of my training points into a defensive character who can get out of a situation if he needs to, quickly. But I am also training him in the use of his blade so that the one weapon he does use can cause plenty of damage.

Free for All Making the perfectly imperfect character PRWhen you limit your character, you actually cause yourself to think of more ways that he or she can survive. If you allow your character to be outfitted with the most powerful weapons and armor, he or she has no weaknesses. Weaknesses, in character design, do not necessarily mean weak; they just mean that the character has to use her brain more than her brawn. Because I like to think of my characters as other-world versions of myself, I'd like to use a real-life example. I walk my dogs twice a day, and every few weeks some neighbor's dog gets loose and comes right for us. Luckily my dogs are generally friendly with loose mutts, but occasionally there is tension, and in the case of one particularly snippy little chihuahua, a nip or two. Every day that I walk, I have to consider what might happen if some of the larger and less-friendly dogs in my neighborhood approach us. It's happened before, but I know to remain calm and have studied enough about canine body language to sense real danger.

I finally decided to get some dog deterrent in the form of a spray. I asked my local shelter, whose proprietors recommended a brand that would not harm the dog like typical pepper spray might but will stop most dogs. Now I walk around the block with my one weapon.

The fact is that I do not know what can happen every day on my walks. Almost anything is possible. It's fun to see my dog walks almost as my character would see one of his adventures: generally fun and filled with exploration but occasionally tinged with some danger. My character, just as I do, has to think about how he might survive in different situations. But he can only do so much. He is limited in his ability.

RuneScape is a great game for creating a custom character as well. With so many abilities, quests, areas to explore, and roleplaying opportunities, a player can really build a concept of who and why his character is. It's more than common for players of RuneScape to obsess over gaining max level in every skill, but I cannot fathom such an obsession. To me, what my character does not know is more important. His lack of skill makes him vulnerable, and that vulnerability makes his adventures more daring. It's much more exciting to barely make it out alive than to make it out easily. That's what adventure means!

"To me, building a character is the number one reason I play MMOs. It's probably the sole reason I stick with many titles that I would otherwise have given up on."

I have also learned to avoid planning out my character's future in any way. Sure, I have a good concept of what his or her backstory might be, but I stay loose with the details and let more details accrue over time. I know so many roleplayers who seem to already have their characters' lives planned out. They know they are destined for greatness and have written a backstory that oozes with hints of epic qualities. In Vanguard: Saga of Heroes I knew my character had a missing brother, came from a middle-class fishing family, and was now a sort of traveling detective. He used his trading routes to find his cases. It was a fun way to explore the game world while roleplaying something unique.

Another player wrote me in game and told me he was my missing brother. Normally I would be a little put off that someone was trying to write my character's story for him, but this player had written the story so well that I allowed it to happen. It was only a short relationship, and I never found out who this player was, but it was actually thrilling to have another roleplayer fill in some of my missing details. After all, even in real life, we never know all of the details of our family's past. I wish more roleplayers would collectively write stories like this, but it's a delicate procedure.

To me, building a character is the number one reason I play MMOs. It's probably the sole reason I stick with many titles that I would otherwise have given up on. Sure, the combat and fancy armor is great, and I can understand how many players love to play a heroic character, but my characters have limitations, scars, wounds, fears, and many flaws. This makes what they do even more exciting, even if it's not the most heroic.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!
This article was originally published on Massively.