Three physical traits my player characters (almost) never had

“Sokka, the real Fire Lord” by kyrio

Tabletop role-playing games are praised for teaching people creative skills and having them think in abstract ways. Trying to visualise ever-changing pictures in front of your mind’s eye certainly trains your fantasy, and it is exciting to pretend your someone else for a while. Of course, if you’re gonna slip into another skin for a while, that skin should obviously beautiful. It should be a muscular, intimidating orc who brings fear to his enemies without even lifting a finger, or a gracious elf, with beauty that is the stuff of legends. In a way, you want to compensate for the lack of perfection your own mortal coil holds. Such a being has no room for ugly warts, some nasty affliction or a strange hair colour, for that would ruin the Adonis your mind has chiseled from the stone of dreams. Why play something ugly, when for once, you can be the most attractive dude in the tavern?

While I understand that role-playing games offer a form of escapism that enables you to be more than you are in real life, it often saddens me when players describe their characters and they are just the most awesome example of their race. It seems like many players don’t want to take risks, and prefer to play the physical perfect character. Sadly, that means that many characters I have seen in my life (or that I have played, for I am guilty of this as well), can be summed up with the same clichés: beautiful hair, enchanting eyes, broad shoulders yadda yadda. Such descriptions make me long for things I rarely see under the header “physical description” on a character sheet, and in this article I sum up the three physical traits player characters of my players (or myself) almost never possessed!

Beards
In fantasy games, if you’re not a dwarf or a wizard, your male character almost never has a beard that is longer than a few millimeters. While a three o’ clock shade across your jawline makes you look like an action hero, a long beard with braids and rings in it is deemed silly when you’re not some offspring of Gimli, so I never had a player at my table who played a bearded fellow. As a fan of beards, it saddens me that such a nifty detail is often overlooked, and I hereby plead for more epic beards in gaming!

Different skin colours
Maybe my players are just too afraid of using racist stereotypes, but in all my years of gaming, I have seen one player character with a non-Caucasian skin colour. That character was Khadjak, and he was the broad-shoulder, gigantic Dawn Solar in a really cool Exalted chronicle. His skin was extremely dark, but he had those bright eyes and that big bad sword he used to solve every problem. Next to him, I never saw a character with another skin tone. It’s something I’ve noticed very often, and it just surprises me. Having another skin colour doesn’t make your character any less attractive or interesting to play, but it does add a nice extra characteristic for describing him. So the next time you roll up a wizard for your friend’s Pathfinder game, why don’t you give him an Asian or Moroccan touch?

Really ugly traits
Alright, I’m cheating a little bit here. I told you I would pick just three traits, but this last one is a whole category full of things that make your character one ugly dude. Not a single PC that was part of my campaigns was by any definition of the word truly ugly. In all my Vampire games, no one ever played a Nosferatu, and even the Dwarf Shaman in a short-lived D&D4 game was pretty good-looking for a walking, bearded stump. I think this is the best example of how we like to use RPG’s as a way to escape reality, because not only do our player characters often look like models, major NPC’s we GM’s create also tend to be attractive, unless their repulsive looks are necessary for their part. At least, most of my antagonists are charming, good-looking guys and girls, and only the “lower ranked” short-time villains are lepers or abominations.

I’m not trying to say that playing good-looking (or at least average) characters is bad. The point I’m making here is that, if you want to be original again, why don’t you make your character stand out in a visual way? Sure, we don’t actually see our characters when rolling the dice, but a prominent physical feature can give the character just that extra bit of coolness he needs to be remembered by your group for your while.

Have you ever played a visually “special” character, or do you want to add to the list? Hit me up in the comments!

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6 comments

  1. Normally, I don’t think about how “beautiful” my character is, and I don’t see this problem a lot. Nosferatu seems to be incredibly popular in Denmark, and why not? They are sneaky bastards who has something on everyone! 🙂

    When making characters, I do however make a point out of making them incredibly “mundane”, especially when I play World of Darkness.

    By this I mean that I think more about how their “human life” works out, and then fill out the blanks with their more monstrous nature. At least it’s more original than playing the “incredibly rich guy who has absolutely no background to support his wealth”, along with a few other obnoxious stereotypes…

    1. Oh, and another thing; almost all my fantasy fighter type characters have beards. Half long, coarse beards, along with uncut and filtered hair. Preferably with a dead eye, turned all white, with a mean-looking scar that runs from brow to chin. They’re not at all beautiful, but they are indeed scary looking, and when they fashion their axes or swords, I want people to tremble.

      And then they’re all really compassionate and loving, laughing heartily while jesting. Would’t hurt a soul unless they had to, and often solve problems in a tavern by buying ale for everyone, even though they know they could be everyone up on there without breaking a sweat.

      1. You make some valid points, Undreren 🙂 I think it’s more important to have a believable character background-wise, than to come up with the looks. The latter should support the former in a way.

        And hey, I like your fighter description. A rough outside, with a warm inside. Nice! 😀

      2. Actually, it’s quite the cliché, but not in the typical role-playing group. I think it’s strange.

        Kind characters are often more fun to play IMHO. Most fighter-esque types are total so badass they must let everyone know, so they just turn in to douchebags…

      3. Indeed, the amount of douches in a typical RP group is usually pretty high. I guess it has something to do with the fact that we are expected to be nice and kind in real life, and use the mental canvas of role-playing as a means to channel our inner scumbag. It’s a shame, because often, nice guys DON’T finish last 🙂

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