With the rising popularity of Bioware and Bethesda RPGs, more and more games on the market are adopting the Bioware gameplay mechanic of choice and consequence. Just recently, the downloadable Faerie: Legends of Avalon opted to borrow the very familiar "conversation wheel" feature from the Mass Effect series, and there have been rumours that Bunjie's latest IP might be entering a similar realm of video game interactivity. It's of little surprise to us gamers who already favour this type of interactive storytelling in our games, as the possibility to craft an in-game personality is hugely alluring. Even more-so when coupled with the possibility of fleshing out that character using a series of encounters where you have a choice in the decisions you make, the conversation avenues you pursue, and the friendships you nurture (or destroy). So there is certainly a good demand for this approach to RPG making.
But as these games of choice, consequence, and interactivity continue to grow in complexity, many of us are left with a choice. Do we play our game character as ourselves, or do we play them as a true role play character; a role of our own creation? Many will never deviate from the typical desire to project their own avatar into such worlds, possibly from their need to fulfil their own fantasies as if they were the protagonist. Others merely opt for a single play-through as a generic good character, and then another play-through as a generic evil character. The rest of us (though our number may be few), find ourselves spending hours planning and building fictitious personalities ready for fleshing out within the games themselves. Often, these imagined roles for us to play will become so complicated that we might find ourselves really slipping into character as we attempt to see through the eyes of our created persona, or getting frustrated when a game doesn't give us a fitting option for our character.
With the increasing frequency of similar games -- and with the looming releases of Deus Ex 3, Dragon age 2, and Mass Effect 3 this year -- we might be finding ourselves coming up short with new character ideas. So I've created a little list of RPG personality concepts, most of which I've played in the past and enjoyed a great deal. Maybe you will have already played as all of these personality types, or maybe you've never really considered playing through Fallout as anything other than a pure "evil" or a pure "good" character. You might not find this list helpful at all, but either way, it's fun to consider. The list goes from moral blacks to whites, with a bunch of greys in between.
1] The Sadist
The sadist is definitely the most base of "evil" personalities, but at the same time, quite a realistic one, if played well. Your character enjoys inflicting harm on other people, insulting people, or doing messed up things to their rag-doll physics corpses (yes, Bethesda, I'm talking to you), or perhaps all of the above. Your character might not always pick the most vile options, because sadistic doesn't always mean unintelligent, and it doesn't always mean that they want to hurt everyone, just that they are disturbed in some very deep ways.
Your character might be like this because they were abused a kid, or witnessed some horrifying murder as a baby (Dexter), or perhaps they were just born without any empathy at all. It's easy to put the sadistic characters down to just being pure "evil", but give it more thought than that. Why are they "evil"? What makes them so angry, or so cold?
While it might be fun to play the pure sadist without any redeeming qualities or restraint, it can be equally fun to play them as being crafty and sly; only baring their fangs when they know they can get away with it. Alternatively, try playing them as a vicious homicidal maniac who exercises deep restraint, and somehow finds redemption at the end of your story.
Oblivion's sadist assassin, who lives, breathes, worships, and eats death.
2] The Power monger
I love playing the power monger. It's simultaneously lots of fun and comes with the convenience of eventually having a comparatively stronger character. Your character will seek out power in all its forms above all else -- sometimes at the expense of all others around them. They will make deals with devils, steal from the poor to give to their own pockets, and cut nearly any throat (if they think they can get away with it) on their road to absolute power.
History has been full of these characters, and although not all of them were "evil" in the typical definition of the word, they were almost all very selfish, which is the key emotion behind this type. Often they received -- or were born into -- a small taste of power or status when they were younger, and this awoke a deep desire for more. The alluring power your character seeks could come in the form of riches, status, fame, respect, or simply raw and massive magical strength.
However, some power mongers do not seek power for purely selfish reasons. As in the case of Anakin Skywalker, your character's ambitions may have started with a desire simply to protect what they love. But the road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.
Also, many typical power monger characters come with the obligatory Darwinian philosophy that the weak do not deserve to live unless they can gain power on their own volition. Such philosophy can be found frequently when playing games such as Dragon Age (Morrigan), KOTOR2 (Kreia), and most noticeably, the way of the closed fist from Jade Empire. This type of character might not even consider themselves evil at all, quite the reverse, in fact. Did Hitler consider himself evil? It's hard to say for sure.
Jade Empire, where you can almost literally become a god.
3] The Bitter Cynic
A character type I recently settled on using for a re-run of Knights of the Old Republic 2. The bitter cynic, is, as the name describes, bitter and cynical. Your character is pissed off. He mad! He very mad indeed. This character is basically so disillusioned with life and the universe that they either justify every evil action, or they hate everything. As an example, you could consider Nico Bellic from GTA4 a great example of a bitter cynic character.
Something happened in your character's past that make them bitter towards most things, and unable to see the good in anything. Perhaps they just have extreme depression, or maybe they were just born with the ability to dismiss all idealism and place everything and everyone in the "don't trust them" pile.
Perhaps they aren't anywhere nearly as "evil" as the first 2 personality types, and maybe they have good intentions. For example, I'm currently playing as a character who despises injustice, which was the main thing to turn him bitter and cynical, but in the end, he's still just an old angry man with no desire to get involved in wrongs that surround him, because he learned the hard way that there is never a "good" and "evil" side; just an evil one. You could also offset this very pessimistic personality with a wicked sense of sarcasm, making your conversations with party members both (initially) mistrustful and hilarious.
Knights of the Old Republic 2 gave us the perfect place to start as a bitter old cynic war veteran.
4] The Pragmatist
Often portrayed as the darker of two paths to be taken, particularly in the Mass Effect games. The pragmatist character believes in the needs of the many, and not the needs of the few. They aren't inherently evil, they often just believe that two wrongs sometimes do make a right. Your character probably believes in torturing terrorists and allowing civilians to die if it means winning the war. They might even at times go as far to do these things themselves to get what they believe is ultimately right. To them, the ends always justify the means.
More often than not, this type of character is born out of a sense of duty, usually to their government or military arm. As such, they might consider themselves a tool rather than a "good" or "evil" person, which could even lead to feelings of guilt later down the line, leaving room for interesting character development or even complete change.
Deus Ex, where expendable is merely a matter of opinion
5] The Mercenary
The mercenary could be seen as the most simple of all the possible roles, but its also a ton of fun, and also quite realistic. Money, as they say, is the great motivator, and your character has it foremost in their minds.
Your characters greed doesn't always mean that they have to be evil, just that their selfishness sometimes gets in the way of them doing the right thing. Their love of money indicates a love of pleasure, so they could also be combined with type 6 in this list.
My favourite example of a good mercenary character is Han Solo from Star Wars. And with that example, you start to see how fun this role can be. Rebuffing NPC attempts at getting you to do the right thing with constant selfish indifference and incessant whining about not getting paid can make for some hugely fun dialogue. On the other hand, you could opt to play the type of mercenary who also quite enjoys killing, and has absolutely no loyalties, making them able to switch sides at the drop of a hat.
Never is greed more tempting than in Fallout 3
6] The Playboy
In many ways similar to the mercenary in that selfish desires drive them, but with a certain slant they can become an entirely different character. Your character, in taking this role, enjoys nothing more than laughing, joking, drinking, stealing, gambling, and sleeping around as much as humanly possible.
It's not just the gain that motivates them, but the chase, which often makes them less of a selfish character than the merc, if you so desire.
Playing this very common type at least once in every major choice/consequence game can lead to some very entertaining conversation lines, particularly with jilted or jealous lovers. Though it's difficult to know which direction to go when things get more serious, in this way the character feels more real somehow, as you begin to see events through their eyes. In progressing with this type of pleasure seeking playboy, many players find that their character very naturally evolves into something slightly more serious and thoughtful as the story itself progresses in a similar direction.
BG2 allows for romance options with many characters.
7] The Judge
Your character sees themselves of something of a judge, jury, and executioner all roled (if you'll forgive the pun) into one. He or she sees injustice, and flips out a little bit, and in this way they couldn't be considered fully "good" in any typical sense, because of their tendency to kill whoever they think deserves it. Some examples of this type of character include Jack Bauer (who is also partly a pragmatist) and The Punisher.
Their motivation could be a mixture of a life of constant injustice, and an innate and powerful anger at seeing this injustice. Perhaps a great injustice was dealt to them early in their life, or perhaps they have their own desires for vengeance locked away, which they project onto any injustices they witness in their travels. For example, they might be seeking revenge for the slavery inflicted upon their people or family, and as such, they fly off the handle whenever they see somebody being used in a slave-like manner.
The degree to which your character adheres to their sense of honour and justice is yours to decide, but could range from a knight-like princely hero who only gets violent with the most deserving of villains, and a mouth-frothing nut-job with barely-controlled feelings of rage towards people who litter or cross the road without looking both ways. But whatever noble slants you want to put on the judge, at their core they are still being judgemental, and often pushing their views of right and wrong on others.
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is an often overlooked game of expansive choice
8] The Idealist
The idealist has an idea of how life should be in their heads, and there are lots of colourful roses in that picture. When they see something that doesn't quite fit that idea of how the world should be, they try to fix it, no matter how unrealistic it might initially seem. They are, in many ways (though not all) opposite to the pragmatist type described earlier, and believe in the needs of the one without always looking at the bigger picture. Or perhaps they do look at the bigger picture, but they think the bigger picture sucks.
The source of your character's idealism could spring simply from a sweet naivety, or it could be something more complicated such as a sense of right and wrong instilled in them by a religion, or a parental figure with very definite ideas of how to fix the world. Usually -- but not always -- the idealist will make reckless decisions such as putting a vital mission at risk for the sake of one life and the ideology that "no one gets left behind". However, their often excessive emotional attachment to allies and friends can sometimes lead to their making stupid mistakes, or jumping in the deep end of situations that neither concern them, nor are as simple as they might have initially seemed. Their emotional flaws and strengths married with their attractive belief in an ideal universe gives them a certain interesting and entertaining flavour.
Fable 3 forces the player to choose between idealism and saving lives
9] The Monk
Rather than simply going for a typical paladin figure who slays evil at every turn but is quick with mercy and kind words, I've always opted to play a more complicated figure. Just as nobody is truly fully "evil", nobody is fully "good" either.
The Monk, in many ways, is similar to a Jedi type of character. He or she strives for goodness, justice, honour, peace and all of those other things, but believes those things are only attainable through one's own peace, and as such, attempts to distance themselves from emotion and the turmoil of relationships with others. They often avoid violence at all costs, and only use it as a last resort, favouring persuasion and live capture to violence or execution.
The ideology of your monk-like character could go even more extreme, though. For example, your character might believe that violence is only acceptable in defence of those in immediate physical danger, and that getting involved in things that might be technically legal, such as slavery or corporate greed, just wouldn't be right. They could avoid physical and emotional attachment to their allies at all costs, which might end up forcing your character down a seldom-trodden 'loner' path, increasing the challenge of the game itself. Or perhaps your character has a deep dark side, bubbling away somewhere inside, and maybe that side could flare up at some point in the story?
Despite the challenges though, the stoic and/or saintly monk like character can be rewarding and interesting, just in a completely different way.
It is in fact possible to complete Alpha Protocol without killing a single person, if you want
Other Concept Ideas
The Obsessive Madman
The Proud Noble
The Spoiled Brat
The Hero Complex
What about your ideas? What characters have you played before in such games of choice and consequence? What were your favourite games to play as such characters?