In The one sentence character concept maker, Chris Chinn outlines a fascinating approach to coming up with ideas for PCs.
It’s basically a Mad Lib, as Chris points out, but that’s a surprisingly powerful structure for this kind of conceptualization. Take a peek, I think you’ll like it.
Honestly, I think it’s kind of silly. Might as well just draw up a big table with columns for personality trait, profession and goal. Hell, toss name and race and whatever else is relevant in there too.
I think the Dragon Compendium has something similar, the 7-Sentence NPC. Basically it’s a way of fleshing out an NPC by constructing 7 sentences about it, each sentence focusing on a different aspect. I think it’s meant to end up in such a way that you could tell it to your players in game.
The SSNPC article is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve used it in my D&D games for years, and it rocks. Providing a readable description for the players is secondary to giving you, the GM, a solid handle on what they’re like and how they act, though.
It seems a little simple, but as a core theme for a character (expecting lots of digressions and expansion), it’d work pretty well. In fact, for Universalis, that’s about what you’d need to make a good character anyone could play correctly.
That was pretty much my idea. A lot of times I see players get lost in putting together the various pieces of character crunch, and at the end, you don’t have a very memorable or clear idea.
Using the core idea as something to aim for, and making it before you do the math, has helped me, personally, a lot in building fun characters and not losing the idea.
I sometimes build characters by starting out with a simple one-sentence core (although it’s never as structured as Chris’s suggestion), and sometimes end up with one.
My most recent character went the second route (arriving at the core), my next most recent went the first (starting with it). In both cases, once I got my flow going they turned out well — but man oh man is the first approach easier!
When I don’t start with a core/kernel concept, I flail a lot more than when I do. 😉