6) How to Join

By Jave Harron

If you want to join, I have some required reading and rules.

1) No killing or injuring another player's character without their permission.

2) A large degree of realism is key: Death in the criminal underworld is common, but police (or some other factions...) can catch you if you leave lots of evidence. Likewise, there are no fantasy creatures here.

3) USE CORRECT GRAMMAR AND SPELLING! No "1337" speak. Copy your post into a word processor and use Spell Check before posting, so we are saved confusion later on.

4) Joining late is allowed, though see "Character Concepts."

5) Depending on what clues or missions you follow, different routes will be unlocked. That will also determine who your ultimate foes are.

Many times, roleplayers create new characters that fall into cliches (such as the dreaded "Mary Sue" or "Gary Stu"). So, to help avoid this, I'm presenting an article on: How to Make Good Roleplaying Characters. First, I'll say this: This is written with San Dorado in mind, but the lessons can be applied elsewhere equally well. San Dorado has some nasty crime elements in it, so if this isn't your style, feel free to apply these to another RPG.

First things first: Let's take our standard (and largely generic) template for characters. It was designed to be simple enough so someone who's never roleplayed before can use it, without having to worry about statistics, levels, and dice rolling. The main constraint on characters here is realism. While certain things may stretch the boundaries, the characters are largely meant to be realistic individuals, rather than cooker-cutter stereotypes and cardboard characters.

Name: This part is simple enough. What is your character called? Names should be realistic. If you can't think of anything, use this site: which has a nationality specific random name generator. You MUST have a real name, even if you do have a false identity or nickname.

Age: Normally, ages above 18 are adults and capable of caring for themselves. Below, and they probably had a nasty childhood (like dropped out of school, ran away from home, lived on the streets, and so on). Most college students have a four year program there, and graduate around age 22.

Appearance: What does the character look like? Their height, body type (slim, fat, average, anorexic thin, hyper-obese, etc.), hair, skin tone, favorite outfits, and eye color are these. This also includes ethnic heritage. A person from central Africa will likely have much darker skin than someone from Siberia, for instance. How about any scars, tattoos, or other markings (like say an old tattoo they're covering up)? Likewise, they might have a tan (and eventually skin cancer if they stay outside too long…), or have some elaborate disguise for appearances. What items to they normally have with them, and do they keep any hidden or concealed? (Be sure to cover why they have them, especially items that most people might find scary, like weapons.) And if they do have weapons, they better avoid metal detectors, mobs of people, and security cameras if they don't want to end up in jail.

Nationality: What nation, ethnic group, political state, or combination therefore of do they hail from? Immigrant from elsewhere in the world? Legal? Guest worker? Illegal (perhaps brought in by one of the gangs, and duped into working in a sweatshop, forced labor, or other dangerous tasks)? If so, how or when did they escape, and how do they survive in a land they likely don't know the language?

Skills: This includes what your character knows. Presumably, you graduated elementary school. That includes basic history, arithmetic, and science. You learn that stuff more in-depth (hopefully). If you graduate from here, you might go to a trade school or two-year college for a semi-skilled profession (like technician or a lower level administrative position). Otherwise, you might go on to four year college, join the military, remain unemployed, or enter the workforce.

Obviously, what you learn in these paths will determine your skills. If you're a high-school dropout who works as a construction worker, you'll know how to use power tools more so than a biologist in your job. There's always overlap. Like an engineer who joins ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) in college might get more 'field experience' using tools in action than just theoretical mathematics and design. Essentially, what does your character do that allows them to keep eating and living?

Interests: Your career isn't your passion, the vast majority of the time. What does your character do as a hobby? Hunting (with what sort of weapon and what sort of prey)? Martial arts (if so, what styles and how long)? Sports (again, what sort, and how long, like say a first year basketball player)? Arts (painting, sculpting, digital graphics, or even something more exotic, like growing algae to create pictures)? Writing (if so, what)? Recreational shooting with firearms (if so, what kind of weapon, like shotgun, pistol, or rifle)? Paintballing (if so, speedballing or woodsballing, and how long have they done it)? Model railroading? Rafting? Historical re-enactor (this might be interesting…)? Collecting (if so, what)? Philosophy (what philosophers they like or at least find interesting)? Reading (what sort of writers)? Drugs (likely not very legal ones, unless they smoke or drink a lot)? Or something else? How often do they do these hobbies, and how much time and money they invest into them? For instance, someone who buys expensive paintballing gear and constantly travels for pro-paintballing probably doesn't have time for much else.

Affiliation: What sort of people does the character hang around, or prefer the company of (if they don't like their present company)? How long have they known them, and how did they meet? If the character went out for recreation, who would they take with them? Who would be with them in tough times? Who is their best friend, and why?

Personal History: Where were they born, how long did they live there, and who was important in their lives while growing up? Did they live in the USA, or originate somewhere else? If so, what was it like growing up where they did? Do they yearn to return 'home'? If so, why did they come to San Dorado? Likewise, what sort of education (or lack therefore of) did they get? Did they grow up in the suburbs somewhere? The middle of the ghetto? A hick town in the middle of nowhere? Did they fit in, didn't care, or were outsiders (either of their own choice or disliked by peers)?

How about their religion (or lack therefore of)? Are they Christian (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Coptic, or other)? Jewish (Reform, Orthodox, or other)? Muslim (Sunni, Shiite, or Sufi even)? Hindu? Buddhist? Agnostic (unsure of God or not)? Deist (rationalist secular religion)? Pantheist (believe everything is a part of God)? Wicca (or some sort of neo-pagan)? Atheist (or nonreligious or apathetic)? How do they follow their religion's teachings? All the time, sometimes but sorry they can't more often? Zealous (much to the indifference of others)? Not at all? Or don't care? What role did religion play growing up? And please, avoid the cliches of Christian and Muslim fanatics. There will be plenty of radicals in San Dorado, not to worry…

How about politics? Are they political? Do they love one party? If so, why? Belief or conviction? Hatred for the rival parties? Simply seeing one group as the lesser of two evils? Are they (in)sensitive to others' thoughts? How political was their upbringing? Did parents or their environment shape them to a large degree here? If into American politics, are the Democrats, Republicans, or Independents (if so, are they Greens, Libertarians, or other)? Or do they not vote out of apathy or even personal reasons? What about politics back in home country? They might be too young to remember, such things, of course, though parents might have stories as to persecution they faced.

Regardless of education, job, family, religion, and politics, how about individual ethics? What notable incidents happened in their life to make them this way? What traits did they stop, and which ones did they start? Remember, knowing every day of your character's life is not important, but it's important you know them fairly well. Ideally, you'd know your characters better than yourself.

One thing you do need is a reason for your character to come to San Dorado. They must be outsiders, since that makes things easier when it comes to explaining the city (and causing the new-comers to stick together more). Or you can be born in San Dorado and too young to remember anything, yet now you move back because of job opportunities (legal or illegal).

Quirks: What are some odd personal habits or mannerisms? Did they pick these up from any particular time period or incident (like they might try to change a television with finger rather than remote since they never had a set with working remote)? Perhaps they obsessively wash hands because of obsessive compulsive disorder (or maybe something stranger, like making strange noises with mouth or odd hand gestures)? Do they have a routine? Do they stick to it religiously, perhaps getting annoyed when it gets disrupted? Or do they live each day spontaneously?

Do they have particular items they take with them due to personal or religious significance (perhaps a picture of family in their wallet, or even pepper spray out of desire of protection)? What is their vocal tone like (flat, high pitched, etc.)? A few quirks is good to have, to make the character seem more realistic. Perhaps they are more than just odd habits. Maybe they have more significance to a person. Like they might have obsessive-compulsive disorder or some form of high functioning autism, like Asperger's syndrome (good memory, good at science, history, and math, but absolutely no social skills and inability to relate)? There's all sorts of things here.

Now that's out of the way, let's take an example of a horrible character (made up by me, though I have seen ones worse than this):

Character Version One: Generic Mary Sue

Name: Xandra Nightreaver

Age: 18

Appearance: Pale skin, tall and thin, black hair, and wears black.

Nationality: American

Skills: Black belt in martial arts, master marksman, skill with knives, computer hacking.

Interests: Hunting

Personal History: Born and raised in the cold streets, Xandra had a past of woe and betrayal and heartbreak that rendered her emotionally cold. The Russian Mafia killed her family, and now she comes to San Dorado to hunt them down.

Quirks: Cold and exterior, though sensitive underneath.

This character sucks, to put it mildly. Now, let's start off with a step-by-step reason why it sucks.

Character Version One and a Half: Killing the Mary Sue

Name: Xandra Nightreaver

-This name sounds like a drunken Goth (or heck, World of Warcraft character) more than a real name. Let's change it to something similar, though realistic: Sandra (short for "Cassandra") Nicholson. We want a fairly "cool" sounding nickname and last name that starts with "N" for whatever reason, so we stick with these.

Age: 18

-Name's awfully young. A lot of Mary Sues come young. So, let's make her older, say 29 or even 30. Yes, that's not old by many standards.

Appearance: Pale skin, tall and thin, black hair, and wears black.

-If the appearance normally has tan skin or pale skin, and looks like an anorexic emo kid, it's a Sue. But if we REALLY like being thin (and have no self-esteem), we'll have her being a bit lighter than normal.

Nationality: American

-Perhaps we can flesh out her nationality more if foreign, though she's got a "normal" name.

Skills: Black belt in martial arts, master marksman with any firearm, skill with knives, computer hacking.

-She's got too many skills, a surefire sign of being a Sue. This includes being a master gunman with all weapons, martial arts (never mind each takes years to gain proficiency with), and hacking (a very diverse type of computer sabotage, as there are many means of doing it, for different reasons and different objectives).

Interests: Hunting, training martial arts and practicing with guns and knives, and martial arts.

-Okay, if she's bent on vengeance, why hunt animals? Or does she take her frustration out on animals, as it seems she doesn't care much for the sport of it or need to find food? Or was Sue looking for a way to combine tracking, wilderness survival, and shooting into another super-skill? Seems more like it. So, let's dump this. Same with the martial arts, though we can salvage a bit of these. Perhaps some event in her life caused her to be extra-paranoid?

Personal History: Born and raised in the cold streets, Xandra had a past of woe and betrayal and heartbreak that rendered her emotionally cold. The Russian Mafia killed her family, and now she comes to San Dorado to hunt them down.

-This seems like a generic Sue "Tragic Past" back-story. So, let's dump it and redo our character's biography. We want to have a reason for her paranoia and perhaps near obsession with personal protection, so we'll have to think of something more realistic.

Quirks: Cold and exterior, though sensitive underneath.

-THIS is a surefire Mary Sue sign. Let's make our character have some relevant quirks with regards to their new back-story.

So, after some brainstorming, we come up with our improved character idea:

Character Version Two: Better Character

Name: Sandra Nicholson

Age: 30

Appearance: Caucasian, brown hair, average build towards slimmer side, constantly looking around.

Nationality: American

Skills: Business, housekeeping, self-defense martial arts classes (a small bit of aikido, judo, and some Brazilian jiu-jitsu)

Interests: Martial arts, self-defense

Personal History: Sandra Nicholson lived an average suburban life in the suburbs of Chicago. Her mother and father both raised her well, and she never got into any combat with the law or school officials. Because of her best friend in high school, Sandra became involved in aikido at a local dojo, and gained an interest in martial arts. She was a consistent honors student, though not the best student. Moving to California for college, she majored in Business with the intention of working for a bank when she graduated. Her boyfriend from college proposed to her shortly after they graduated, and the two moved to the suburbs of Los Angeles.

The couple had a daughter and another child on the way when disaster struck. A drunk driver killed her daughter and husband as they drove home from a family gathering. Sandra could not make it to the family reunion on account of illness, and soon became overcome with guilt. She felt she should've been in the car with them, and was unable to avert the tragedy. She even stopped going to martial arts (much to the surprise of her sensei, as she had always went and even brought her husband at times). Several members of her dojo (and close friends) had convinced her to go into therapy. After a hard year, she soon came out of it, but was obsessed with not letting herself make that "same mistake again," and ended up becoming more paranoid.

She not only continued with martial arts with renewed vigor, but also picked up Brazilian jiu-jitsu (a means of defense if a rapist took her to the ground), and also learned to handle a pistol (though she never purchased one herself, for fear it could be used against her). She also carries around a can of pepper spray on her key chain, which she keeps ready to use at all times. While becoming obsessed with survival, she avoids a number of things she associates with death in the nation: cars, greasy foods, alcohol, and smoking. Sandra eventually finds a new job, though this time to the north of LA in San Dorado. She instructs self-defense classes for women at a gym in SD. She also occasionally stops in on mixed martial arts classes.

Quirks:

Most of Sandra's quirks are the result of her heightened survival instinct. Because of the car accident that killed her family and reading the number of people killed in traffic accidents, she tries to avoid taking a car wherever possible, and prefers mass transit and having other people driving for her. She avoids fast food joints whenever possible (even ordering "healthy" foods from them, like salads). She also hates alcohol, because of the role it had in taking her family, as well as the fact it can cause liver problems. She also becomes paranoid with her pepper spray at times: Sandra once almost sprayed a man for returning her lost pocket book because she mistook him for a purse snatcher at first glance.

See? Isn't that lame Mary Sue now a more realistic and interesting character? She's not a thug, though probably unwary to involve jobs or storylines with risk of mortal damage. Or at least, Sandra would prefer a group of people to act as bodyguards, as even she knows about strength in numbers. We've also given her reason to come to San Dorado and become involved with some of the other characters because of mixed martial arts: Because the player read the other PC profiles, she knows the common interests of some others, and can jump in. The other martial arts PCs might not know much about her beyond she teaches women's self defense classes, but they can learn once she starts interacting with them more.

And that's just one example. The only constraint is your imagination, after all. And reality.

Also, a few general tips:

-Many RPGs have combat as a frequent happening. San Dorado has combat relating to the path the main characters had chosen. The most logical choice if your PC has no or little combat experience is to run like hell and take cover. Or look for objects to use as improvised weapons if you must fight. A book or even bowl of cereal thrown can provide a distraction to run away. Car keys held between the knuckles work as improvised stabbing weapons while punching. In San Dorado, it is often in your characters' best interests to avoid combat. Combat is fast, lethal, and nasty, like real life. When it does happen, it is often better to be safe than sorry.

-When creating a character and looking for skills or interests, it's often a good choice to select skills or interests you may share. This makes the character more realistic, as well as showing what you know and the fact you can relate to your character better. Even if you don't personally do it, and you have a friend or family member that does, be sure to ask them for info to make your character more realistic. Like if you want a character to play violin, and you don't, but a friend does, so have them as a source of information.

-The political themes of the RPG are mainly subtle, but often tend to be techno-libertarian and has transhumanist themes due to an international group of hackers the PCs have dealt with recently. SD is not meant to provide much of a political forum because it gets in the way of story. This does not prevent plots involving political corruption, however. SD will have nasty politicians from both sides of the spectrum, so be warned.

-When a book, writer, philosopher, or technology is mentioned or alluded to, looking up information about it may provide a hint at things to come.

-To join, you must get character approved first. Then, your character will likely be introduced in writing soon. THAT is when you may step in.

Once you are done, you post your character in the "Character Concepts" thread in the San Dorado forum. Wait for approval or denial (if denied, what needs to be fixed will be mentioned). Please, NO MARY SUES! The last Mary Sue in San Dorado died horribly and violently.