It’s been a trip watching Laurel do sketch commissions at cons. I’ll be standing there with my porkpie hat and cane trying to push the merch, but she’ll be hunched over the table, busily busting out real-time art like she was a pizza place: Thirty minutes or less or it’s on the house! But as impressive as it’s been watching the art flow from her pen, it’s the initial patron interviews that really stick with me.

Laurel: “So what does your character look like? Hair? Eyes? Skin color? Distinguishing marks (scars, tattoos, glasses)? Style of hair? Hair color? General style? Are they fancy? Rugged? Primitive? Do they have some kind of motif? Ravens or roses on their armor? Anything like that?”

Meanwhile I’ll be sitting there like, “My dude has scale mail and an axe.”

We’ve already gone over some of territory in “Portraiture,” so I won’t rehash any further. What I will say is that evil characters have an advantage in these conversations. That’s for the simple reason that Evil is a theme you can work with. Sure there’s a tradition of skulls and black leather, but that’s just the outward manifestation of a greater truth. Evil is famous for its sense of style because it has style with a purpose.

What I’m saying is that, when you’re a bad dude, you’re crafting your look with intention. Maybe you’re intimidating. Maybe you want your dude to be creepy, unsettling, or straight-up gross. But whichever brand of socially unacceptable you’ve settled on, everything about the character design contributes to that impression. In the Evil Party, for example, Succubus is rocking that infernal red skin with the skimpy outfit of a temptress. She’s also got the resting bitch face of a mean girl. Necromancer’s outfit has a Disney-princess-gone-wrong vibe, with the inked-on tears to suggest her tragic romance with Paladin. Witch’s oversize eyes are a nod towards her particular brand of crazy, and the hair is a throwback to the fairy tale terror of Japanese harionago. These are the things you’ve got to think about when you’re making a visual design.

When you’re working with a PC rather than a comic character, however, the temptation is to treat the character’s appearance as a living record of your adventures. You’re a complex, three-dimensional protagonist after all, and you want to convey the rich palette that is your dude. Therefore, rather than working towards a unifying motif, it’s all too easy to transform your character into chronicle: She got this dagger from the first goblin she killed, and there’s a bead from her dwarven foster father tied into her hair, and she has a scar on her throat from that time she got crit by a hag, and she bought these boots of speed last session. Now let me be clear: there’s nothing inherently wrong with this kind of specificity. It can serve to make a character more fully of-the-world, and therefore help to increase your immersion into that world. But by the same token, when it comes time to describe your character in-game, this level of detail can overwhelm. For my money, what’s more important by far is the overall impression. When you dude walks into a room, what’s the first thing you notice? What kind of person are they?

So for today’s discussion, what do you say we try an exercise I learned back in undergrad? Describe your character using only three details. That’s about how many items a reader can fit into their head after a first impression, and the same holds true in the oral landscape of the tabletop. If you choose wisely, we should get a coherent picture of your PC and their personality. I’ll give you the usual race/class/gender stuff for free, so feel free to get specific with the other items. All clear on the ‘three details’ thing? OK then. Go!


ARE YOU AN IMPATIENT GAMER? If so, you should check out the “Henchman” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. For just one buck a month, you can get each and every Handbook of Heroes comic a day earlier than the rest of your party members. That’s bragging rights right there!