The Bare Minimum to Hold a Conversation

One of the things I’ve found about my characters is that I don’t really understand who they are until I’ve gotten to play them a time or two. The converse to this, unfortunately, is that the first time I play any given character, odds are she isn’t ‘complete’; I don’t have the full sense of her that I want to have to really make things flow together, so she might do something that gets countered by something I realize about her later.

What this means is that I have to think really hard about what the bare minimum of understood traits a character needs in order to show up, talk to the PCs and not make a mess of things is. What sorts of things might I need to know?

Gender is useful, particularly when paired with culture; it allows people to look at how the character interacts with her culture’s roles, with the roles of the cultures she’s hanging out in now, and with the people who have preconceptions that may or may not fit with hers. On the other hand, I don’t consider it necessary, particularly if you don’t plan on revealing a gender anyway; does anyone even know which gender I assigned to the Generic Villain, let alone when I committed on one?

Age, also, has its advantages. An older character is likely to have more experiences to bring to bear and draw analogies from; whether she’s likelier to change moods during the conversation, she’s less likely to show it.

Power is a good one; where does this character stand in relation to the PCs? How does she generally act around people with whom she has that kind of dynamic: is she condescending to those she outranks, prone to emphasize her smallness to those who outrank her, respectful, rude, what? If I can figure out a general pattern, I can give her enough attitude to get her across.

Does she have any biases that might interfere with this particular conversation? This is something that I don’t usually realize until the character starts talking, but sometimes I know ahead of time well enough to get a few ideas. If I don’t have something for the character herself, I sometimes look at her relationships with other characters, and what she’s likely to know about them, and how the PCs have been getting along with said other characters.

Why is she here, where the group is talking to her? In some cases, this is having gotten the kinds of skills or position of authority or what-have-you that it would take to be potentially useful to the group; why did she learn these tricks or seek this position? For others, it’s just why they’re in this location rather than where they came from—or why they never left this location. Still others are being sought out because of their relation to current events, and going from there gets how they’re tied in, why they did or didn’t do whatever they did or didn’t do, you get the idea.

I’m sure I’m missing a few of mine; I imagine I’m missing a number that some of you use. What sorts of traits do you find a character needs in order to be conversation-ready?

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