If you’ve been following this series from the beginning, then you are now equipped with three new techniques for character development, all of which are useful when for some reason you’re struggling to find an idea.
So how do you choose between them?
I can’t answer that for you. It might be that one of these techniques will work especially well for you, and that it will become your de-facto first choice. What I can do, in this final installment, is try to explain when I would choose each technique, and why.
Choosing The Thumbnail Technique
The more you already know about a character, the more effective this technique is. Despite the example given, I would not normally choose it for generating a character with as many unknowns as the Merchant – though I might input the results from one of the other two techniques to develop the character from a starting point if it needed more depth.
Character depth is the most important attribute of this technique. I once employed it to generate a character in the Pulp campaign that I now referee; 48 thumbnails gave rise to a comprehensive and varied character history, full of betrayals and sinister figures and double-dealing of the vilest kind. I got about halfway through it (I was writing chapter 5) when the decision to co-GM came up and the character retired; the story remains incomplete and the thumbnails have long ago been lost.
There was enough material in that background – rivals, friends, enemies, and loose ends – that they could have populated the entire campaign. The longer a character is likely to stick around, the more likely I am to employ the Thumbnail Technique. And the more I already know about the character, the more likely I am to employ the Thumbnail Technique to reinvent it when the old concepts start feeling tired.
Choosing The Inversion Principle
The less you know about the character, but the more you know about the role that you want them to play within the campaign, the more effective this approach is. If you have absolutely no idea, this is not the approach to employ.
The greatest strength of the technique is that it focusses on generating an individual that’s designed to interact with at least one PC in an intersting way, making for great roleplay. That’s a valuable asset in a recurring character, but sometimes a waste in a one-shot NPC – depending on how critical the role is, of course.
The greatest weakness in the technique is that by inverting a limited range of source ideas, overuse can produce predictable and cliched characters despite the technique having inherant safeguards against this.
It is also much quicker than the thumbnail method, so this is the approach I would employ if seriously pressed for time.
Choosing to “Window Shop”
This is the most time-consuming technique, but is the most valuable when you really have absolutely no ideas. It avoids the habits and cliches that you normally rely on, providing an opportunity to generate more diverse and interesting characters. I have to admit that I will still employ the other two approaches more frequently, but only because I know that this technique is sitting in my back pocket for those occasions when I really need it.
The Choice is Yours
Ultimately, the decision is yours. It’s worth practicing with all three so that you are familiar with them when they are needed. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and is better suited to solving certain characterisation problems more than others. Play with all three of them, and you will find your own choice of technique will be almost automatic – and may even be made without you’re knowing exactly why one of the approaches feels right to you. Go with your instincts! And if that doesn’t work, try something else.