Guides: Building Characters (Their Inner Workings) for Games and Writing

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I did a tutorial on how I make faces, but some people must have a plan before they worry about looks. For those that work this way, this tutorial is for you. If you’d rather make a face first and build from there, just head on over to my Facial Creation Guide and then come on back. We’ll leave a candle burning for you.

I am using Skyrim as a base game in this tutorial. It’s currently the only open world role playing game (RPG) I’m playing and actively working on. These techniques work for all open world RPG games, however, no matter the genre. I also use these for my writing.

Character creation is a tricky subject. There are many ways people like to build their own original characters. Freeform games like Skyrim are helpful because it gives a preset world that one can craft a character to. This guide will give you information and tips that I’ve picked up over my (many) years of gaming on how I create characters. I’ll also post current and past sources that may be helpful.

Basic Resources:

Mods:

Website References:

Utilities:

Real Life Inspirations for the Elder Scrolls’ Races:

Note: These may look similar, but some of the races are contested concerning their real-world inspiration. I believe that while most of the races have a dominate “origin”, some have a lot of minor references from other cultures. These two charts only cover default playable races. They do not cover NPC only races, “mythological” races within the game, nor custom made races by modders.

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Building Characters

Start off with an idea. Ask basic questions to get this rolling:

  • Who do I want to play? (assassin, thief, barbarian, mage?)
  • What skills am I looking to work with? (speechcraft, destruction magic, enchanting?)
  • Is there a certain personality type or alignment I want to explore?
  • What makes this character apart of the world? (their history?)
  • What’s their motive? (revenge, loss, exploration, wealth, fame?)
  • Are there specific quests I am looking to do?
  • What gender and race are they?
  • Do I want a stereotypical character?
  • Do I want to use a character archetype I’ve created for another game?
  • Is there a specific name I want to use?

There are a ton of other questions you can ask, but these are my go-to.

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Character Classes and Skills

I do try and have all my characters use character classes even though vanilla Skyrim no longer has them. To get around this I use class overhaul mods. This allows me to follow a path in skill development as I level. I focus on major skills first, then minor skills as needed. Picking a class can often trigger an idea for a character right away for me. If I want to do a spell casting character I can look at the classes to give me ideas on where I want my magical focus to be.

Rebekah was created in this way. I wanted to have a very determined hunter of Daedra and remake an older character. Skimming over the classes “Witchhunter” fit and allowed me to (re)mold her history and the rest of her personality to better suit a new character.

There is also the option of creating custom classes or editing existing classes in these mods. Some ideas and other classes not found in the Elder Scrolls universe can be found here.

Cynwrig was also created by me focusing on types of magic I wanted to use. I found a mod called Elemental Destruction and decided to create a cryomancer (ice mage) who can use ice, water, and wind destruction spells.

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Personality Alignments and Types

What they do in game and what they’ve done in their past are all based around who they are at a fundamental level. This is their personality. My character Lilith is a good example of this. I made her with a very specific type of personality in mind from the personality alignments commonly found in RPG games. She is considered Chaotic Evil. Now, she doesn’t fit every aspect of that archetype. It’s the general idea that’s important here. Alignments and personality types are good for giving you an outline to start out a character with. Remember, people are rarely one dimensional. Characters become more realistic if they’re more well-rounded as well.

Another way to create a character based on personality is to build them on a personality type. The examples on the webpage provided make them all sound “good,” however, one can manipulate the examples to make them more neutral or evil. The “Commander” personality reminds me of Emperor Palpatine while The Joker is an “Entertainer.”

If you ever get stuck on what a character would do you can refer to their personality alignment or type to see how they would react based on that.

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History

History based characters can be a challenge. A biographic state of mind helps with this one. When I come up with a character in this way I usually use something from the game I’m playing, such as a faction or a supernatural ability like vampirism. For this example, I will use my character, Athena. I wanted to make a character who had already worked with a faction dealing with hunting and destroying all things Daedric. I researched the Vigilants of Stendarr and came up with a backstory that had her deeply involved and molded by the faction.

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Motive

A third way to create a new character is to combine both history and personality by centering on motive. Kiera, my Breton Necrowitch, was created this way. I came up with two words that I wanted her to center around: revenge and power. From revenge I made her history. Power came into play with how she was going to deal with the world.

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Quests

Quests are an extension of ways to create. I think on the questlines I want to complete in a specific series and in specific ways. This allows me to determine what kind of character I want. If I want to do The College of Winterhold quest, Dragonborn, and then other magic-focused quests, I’ll typically make a knowledge seeking mage character who doesn’t mind bending the rules. If I want to do the Thieves Guild questline, then the Bard quests, followed by the Civil War in favor of the Imperials, I’ll make an adventuring thief who wants the lazy empire in charge but doesn’t want much conflict in their life.

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Race and Gender

These two are combined because they have features that affect each other significantly when using creation overhaul mods.

Race and Gender are two great ways to focus on a new character, albeit a little harder if you don’t know if the game has mechanics that affect these traits. Skyrim’s vanilla character creation system negated a lot of these features except for racial bonuses. Mods that add in additional character customization greatly enhance this idea of gender and racial difference seen in older Elder Scrolls games. Case in point: persuasion and intimidation vary depending on your race and gender, endurance and speed are affected by weight and height, and all races have slightly different bonuses and weaknesses.

Gender bias is harder than racial bias to notice in Skyrim, but it seems to be there. For example, The Imperials have more men in their ranks and most of their Holds employ only male guards. The Holds governed by the Stormcloaks and the Stormcloak army itself have a mix of men and women.

Racial prejudices are more apparent. Altmer are hated for being (mostly) a part of the Thalmor. The Dunmer tend to be especially hated by the Nords.

Both race and gender can determine a character’s personality if they are a gender/race that could cause them to get a lot of discrimination. Some samples include* a male Dunmer who follows the Imperials and holds a grudge towards the Nords due to how they treat his kin. A Nord born outside of Skyrim might find conflict with her brethren within Skyrim because of her choice of having a magical occupation.

Because of racial bonuses, different races have a greater advantage over certain classes than other races. Altmer are very good spellcasters with bonuses to all schools of magic and start out with a higher level of magicka than other races. They would make great Mages, Sorcerers, or Spellswords. Orcs are very skilled with all things war and have starting skills in both weapon styles, block, and heavy armor. The Barbarian, Knight, or Warrior class tend to be good for them.

Another thing to consider with race: Why not pick a race and a class that are different? A Nord Mage or a Bosmer Barbarian might have contradictory skills for their class, but that does allow you to have a broader skill set in the game. It also makes for a more universal character. Not all in a race have the same occupation and some could even be born without the ability to use their “bonuses.”

Custom Races:

The games of the Elder Scrolls’ lore have certain races they use in their default vanilla games. Mods are available that allow custom races, or you can make your own race using programs like Creation Kit. A lot of people like to base their character on an already established race in the games’ lore. I haven’t used custom races for my Skyrim, but I have in Morrowind. It can add a lot of depth to your character and truly make them unique.

A big downfall is mods that modify the racial and gender mechanics of the game can’t always pick up on custom races. This means you’re left with only using their class systems unless you know how to reprogram the mod.

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Stereotypes

Sometimes it’s tempting to make a stereotypical character in Skyrim. A Nord who is a Stormcloak, an Imperial who follows the empire, an Altmer who is a mage, and a Khajiit who is a thief are all typical stereotypes found in the Elder Scrolls games. I’m not saying it isn’t okay to have these characters. They can be fun to play and some of us are just dedicated to the empire! Just don’t go lax on creativity. I once had a Breton who sided with the Stormcloaks, but I also have an idea for a Daedric-worshiping Dunmer. One is very stereotypical, one is not. They’re both good choices and with complex backgrounds and personalities can both be rewarding to play.

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Personal Character Archetypes

Once I come up with a character I often write the profile down for my own use and for reference notes. This also comes in handy for creating your own character archetypes. This way of creating characters usually lend to following similar patterns in personality and have similar playthrough styles, but I will explore other quests, have divergent backgrounds, and the like. I have an archetype I’ve named “Sigyn” that is a basis for my character Sigyn as well as my characters Athena, Failim, and Rebekah. This archetype is a demon hunter type who uses fire based magic, stealth skills, and ranged weapons.

Honestly, this type is better suited for using one character across multiple games. I tend to use it if I corrupt a game, if I lose files, or if I want to play quests out slightly different.

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Names

Sometimes I have an idea for a character from a name I want to use. These names usually have defining traits and qualities already attached to them. I check sites like Behind the Name and search for a name who’s meaning suits my character, or a name that fits a real-life culture one of the in-game races are based upon (see the Resources section at the beginning of this article). My follower Isi was named this way. I saw the name Isi, which is “deer” in Native American, and knew it’d be great for a Bosmer follower I was wanting to do.

There are a few places I go to if I want a name that fits into the Elder Scrolls’ lore specifically. Believe it or not, there are some very specific naming practices used by Bethesda in their Elder Scrolls games. This tumblr has a lot of naming information, especially the specifics of how the more exotic races like the mer (elves) and beast (humanoid animals) get named. It can be quite complex and can vary within the same race depending on where the person grew up, so take time in reading the articles. The Dunmer are a good example of this. They have a certain naming system in their more cosmopolitan areas, while their names are much different within the elder tribes.

Additional names and naming systems can be found on the UESP Lore: Names page for all Elder Scrolls’ specific race names. There are also places like the Fantasy Name Generator that has an Elder Scrolls section for generating a name. Their other generators are fun to use as well.

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Addendum

Guides like this to help me sort through any minor issues. I don’t use it all. Honestly, it’s a bit much unless I’m using it for an actual story, but it can help me polish up a character if I’m stuck anywhere.

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Putting it all Together

Now is the time I focus on how my character looks (need ideas?). Sometimes this might mean some changes to what I’ve already set down for them, but that’s okay. Looks can tell a lot about someone and can inspire more ideas on who this character is.

Once I’ve gotten the character made to my liking and have a groundwork to how they’ll be used in Skyrim, I’m off to play!

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