Adam Cerling created a LARP roleplaying system called Ends and Means. And while the idea of Live Action Roleplay can earn a few snickers from even the most avid MMO roleplayer, the Ends and Means system has some valuable character lessons for all of us. The character creation really just boils down to two questions. What are your characters Ends? What are your characters Means? When you can answer these two questions, your character manifests more personality than even what might be provided by a well-written background.
The Ends are simply thus: what is your character trying to accomplish? What are your character's goals, dreams, and aspirations -- yanno, the ends he or she is trying to reach. You don't have to be fancy or complicated. The Ends could even be defined by dynamics already available inside the game engine. (For example, it's possible your character wants to "win" the Arena.) Your character's Ends will help define what motivates your character in the course of a story. They provide a kind of guidepost -- something objective that will help you rationalize and make decisions based on defined criteria. And while not every group demands a well-reasoned flowchart detailing why your character zigged when they were expecting a zag...it never hurts to raise your level of art.
The Means are what your character has going for him or her. Some racial benefits could definitely count here, but I'd try and keep it a little broader. Is your character fabulously wealthy? Possessed of a keen and withering deductive mind? (Perhaps your character has a family history of immunity to disease -- there's some of that coming, you know.) The Means are advantages and methods by which your character will achieve his or her goals -- yanno, the means to reach those ends. These are the tools resting in your character's belt, the first things he or she reaches for when encountering a problem. Think of them as your favorite six gun.
So, let's have a small example. Let's say my character is a dwarf, who's basically a beat cop from Ironforge. He's a salt-of-the-earth type, and practically a unique snowflake in that he's never had any overwhelmingly tragic event happen to him. (I'm boring like that.) I'm going to call him Kermit -- he's got to be called something, and I like the name.
What are Kermit's Ends?
- As what amounts to an officer of the peace, Kermit would like to see some order and stability -- helps keep the beer flowing, if you know what I mean
- He's a dwarf, so he likes family -- he'd like to meet that someone special and win her heart
- He'd like to pay off the debt on the materials to make his Stormherald
- Keep his alcoholism a secret from his adventuring party
- He'd like to uncover the secrets of Uldum
Hopefully, you'll be able to see some pretty instant story opportunities here. By working with other players, you can use the Ends to start weaving some storylines involving Kermit's goals, alcoholism, maybe a romantic subplot if you're so inclined. The Means should perform similarly.
What are Kermit's Means
- Even for a dwarf, Kermit's able to knock back the drink -- he's a drinker's drinker, and never seems to be a shade pinker for his alcholism
- He's incredibly empathic and caring, and people respond to Kermit's down-home manners and kindness
- Even before becoming an Ironforge beat-cop, he was a peace-minded blacksmith; while he's not really a rough-hewn fighter, Kermit's definitely got a thicker arm than average
Especially if you happen to be working with a Narrator or Gamemaster, who helps you arbitrate your storylines, operating within the bounds of these Means help you define what your character is able to do. If presented with a technical challenge about magic ("The blue wire causes which Crystal to explode?"), Kermit's not going to pull it off -- nothing in my Means talks about that kind of knowledge. But if a Rogue happens to poison our dwarven hero, his legendary tolerance will probably help him out.
I tend to prefer this kind of "fleshing" of characters over the more pithy and common "10 Questions about your PC." While I appreciate any good attempt to bring RP characters to life -- what kind of teddy bear my Vengeful Gladiator cuddled as an orcling isn't terribly informative. But knowing his secret goal is to find his lost puppy (who ran away during a human incursion) -- I'll get some miles out of that kind of knowledge. Hopefully you will, also.