There’s a lot of prep work that goes into creating a new D&D character, but when it comes time to actually playing as the character, you may still find yourself struggling a bit to understand who your character is, and how they should respond to certain things. Sure, you have their overall nature documented (and it should always be maximum chaotic for funsies — just kidding), but there are some smaller nuances that you need to consider to truly understand your character.
Find Your Character’s Motivation
The best way to describe my methods is to give an example of the last time I played, using a character called Varia Montrapp, a singing bard. (Any similarity to a character of a similar name from The Sound of Music is purely coincidental 😉.) When I was setting her up, I thought about her as a real person. I considered the cadence of her speech, what she likes, what she dislikes, and what motivates her. And by motivation I’m not talking about the quest objective, I’m talking about what gets her from one day to another. For Varia, the answer to that… was the drive to overcome a huge insecurity.
Give Your Characters a Flaw (or Two)
No one likes a Mary Sue (or Gary Sue). That's why I wanted Varia to have an insecurity in her marriage that made her want to see the good in everything outside... and that’s why she sang. Her singing was a form of escape from the confines of matrimony. So, every time I took her into battle and used her singing skills, the goal wasn’t only to survive, but also to prove herself as a capable bard.
Let Them Try Something New
If you don’t know how your character would react to something, make it a new experience for them as well. When Varia first went into a tavern, I was torn about how she’d initially react. If she’s a bard, should she be a natural performer? Or has she only performed for herself in the privacy of the mountains near her home? I chose to eschew the confidence and have her encounter the situation as if she was a shut-in. Performing in that tavern helped her resolve some of her insecurity (and gave me an idea for another character quirk — wearing a cabaret costume under her traveling clothes).
Don’t Be Afraid to Roleplay
And, when in doubt, roleplay it out. Talk to other characters. Go with what your DM gives you and play off it. Just don’t be too obnoxious and have fun. D&D is as much about exploring your character as it is exploring a fantastic new scenario. That’s why it’s fun.
What do you do to understand your D&D character?