This question applies to any storytelling endeavor, I suppose… What makes a good character? For me, there’s a few elements:

1. A good hook or schtick. Sometimes it’s unique, sometimes it’s archetypical (or stereotypical) — the gung-ho pilot, the tomb raider, the cool professional… The schtick should be appropriate to the genre — so the alcoholic spy who is trying to keep it together while undercover is a good one for an espionage game; the fearless archeologist or pilot adventurer is good for a pulp game, the plucky fighter pilot almost always works in space opera.

A good hook is that cool thing your character does. Maybe they’re the bad ass fighter, the nigh invincible fighter jock, the smooth-talking face, the dogged detective…this is the thing that you want to be, or people want to see.

2. The schtick is made better when the character has a weakness that helps drive the story. Walter White had his cancer, but more telling was his arrogance and pride — the real motivation for creating Heisenberg. James Bond is a sucker for a dame and booze. Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes, but he also has daddy issues. Captain America is an honest, good man, but also doesn’t know when to quit and is inflexible in his code of morality and honor. Jessica Jones is a drunk, impulsive, guilt-ridden, and has lost faith in herself thanks to the mental machinations of Killgrave, and they cause her to second guess herself and make truly awful decisions.

Weaknesses, ultimately, are more likely to make the character interesting and memorable, rather than the “cool stuff” they can do. Sure, Superman can do all these incredible things, but it’s his small town morality, his hope and belief in the goodness of people, that is both his strength and weakness. (You can count me firmly in the screw Zack Snyder camp…)

Have a good hook. Have a good weakness or two.

3. Lastly, a good performance. Sure, you can third person it and still have a good character: “…my guy is a sucker for a dame, so even though I know she’s playing him, he wouldn’t…or wouldn’t acknowledge it.” You don’t have to put on your amateur theater hat every night at the table. Putting your thought processes or knowledge aside to do what the character would with what they know or think is key.

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