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    Building Characters [1st Edition] $7.00
    Average Rating:3.8 / 5
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    Building Characters [1st Edition]
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    Building Characters [1st Edition]
    Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
    by John H. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 02/21/2021 23:24:52

    My rating might seem critical of this product, and it has to do with the editing. The book has a rough draft feel with lots of low-hanging fruit for correction. I purchased my copy through Bundle of Holding's revived Toolkit 4 bundle at the $9.95 tier, which means that I picked up my copy at $1.65, if I divide the tier price among the items that I received at that tier. This is a much better deal than what it is selling for here on DTRPG: $7, which is more than the second edition of the same book ($4.99).

    I ended up buying the second edition anyway because I do find the information useful from the first book, and what made me buy the second edition is how bad the editing is on the first. I was hoping that it might have improved for the second edition, and it has, so that product will get a better rating from me by one more star. DTRPG, however, will not allow me to give another low star review for the same publisher for 24 hours. The editing on the second book has not improved much (it still has mistakes that suggest that it was not proofread or not enough).

    So let us get into why the editing is a problem. If one is going to use this book as a regular go-to reference, those typos are going to pop up every time one looks at the book. Here are some examples:

    "What the leader dislikes are the disorganized, [...] things in like" (p. 10; see Full Size Preview, p. 14; "like" should be "life"). "The lover doesn't care what people, and won't allow gossip alter their pursuit of happiness" (p. 11; see Full Size Preview, p. 15; missing words are "want" after "people" and "to" before "alter").

    Here is an erroneous ranking for "Below Baseline Religion": "The character is more devout than the typical character within the story. They have deeper faith and engagement with dogma" (p. 43; see Full Size Preview, p. 47).

    Every time that one looks at these entries, one is going to falter at these typos. When one wants to understand the material fully, so one can focus on building a character, this is an unnecessary hindrance that breaks focus and train of thought. When one considers that the publisher has not made any effort to update this material for those who have purchased it at a $7 price tag, it seems lazy.

    Did their editing improve for the second edition? Some: two of the typos mentioned above are fixed. Still others are introduced or obsolete text remains from the first edition:

    "Looking back over the questions you answered for your character in the stages of lie section," (p. 67 in the second edition; "lie" was correctly "life" in the First Edition, p. 52 or p. 56 in the Full Size Preview, and there were actually questions that one answers, which are not present in the second edition).

    What this book did allow me to do was to generate a new page of data for my protagonist Character Eight in the game The Iron Realm Dark Fantasy RPG. The data consisted of rankings in categories like Aptitudes as follows: Below Baseline, Baseline, Above Baseline. While more needs to be done to translate this data into interesting character story, it at least establishes a starting point for different "character elements" (or what I'll term aspects of a character).

    The full title of my version of this book is Building Characters for Writers and Roleplayers. While there is some useful material for writers, a book like The Art of Character by David Corbett (not available on DTRPG since it is not related to roleplaying) is a more professional and challenging book (and one would be hard-pressed to find typos in the latter book's pages). The material for writers is of value in the first edition of Building Characters, and it is missed in the second edition. How is one, for example, going to answer those aforementioned "questions you answered for your character in the stages of life" section if you only have the second edition? And there were a lot of defining questions for each stage of life: twenty for childhood, twenty for adolescence, sixteen for separation from parents, and so on.

    Some statements made by the first edition may be difficult to reconcile, like how aptitude ratings "are a zero-sum game: for every +1 in an aptitude, the character must have a -1 in something else" (p. 58; see Full Size Preview, p. 62). For a book that wants to "develop a more literary character" (p. 89; see Full Size Preview, p. 93) this seems counterintuitive. The book lists ten aptitudes, only eight of which I felt applied to my Character Eight in The Iron Realm Dark Fantasy RPG setting, who is a Cleric. Four of these aptitudes for this class I ranked as "Above Baseline": Empathy, Morality, Reflection; Spiritual. While there could be unlisted aptitudes that I could try to come up with that are "Below Baseline," the other four that I kept from the book's list of ten total and ranked as "Baseline" were Body, Language, Reason, and Visualization. I really did not see why the Cleric would have to struggle with Language, as example of why I left it as Baseline. This zero-sum consideration is dropped in the second edition.

    Some parts of the first edition are approached differently than in the second edition. The section on Wonders has the reader consider Duration of a wondrous effect, for example, while in the second edition, this section advises more than questions. I am not sure which approach is better: I like both.

    As with the questions about the stages of life, another section missed in the second edition is about considerations in creating a character sheet using the elements mentioned in the book, along with creating a character journal and why one of those is useful. Overall, I felt that both of these sections are of value so that one might want both editions of the book for reference, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

    Will there be a third edition? If so, let us hope that the editing improves! Since the first edition was never updated to fix the typos, I do not have faith that we will see an update for future editions either.

    While I did find this book to be of use, I am not inspired by Dancing Lights Press in their quality of editing their books after seeing this one, so I dread what I am going to find in their other books that I already own, and I will have to think twice about picking up more (unless it is like the case of this one, where I am actively seeking the publisher's improvement as well as my own after reading an earlier edition).



    Rating:
    [1 of 5 Stars!]
    Building Characters [1st Edition]
    Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
    by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 12/11/2018 20:13:23

    Although the subtitle is "for Writers and Roleplayers," I'm reviewing it from the RPG perspective. This is DriveThruRPG, after all.

    Take to heart the message from the "How to Use This Book" section: "There are many elements that go into the creation of a great character. All are optional." The book would be WAY overkill if you applied every element to even a few characters. As the old quote goes, "Perfection is achieved not when there's nothing left to add, but when there's nothing left to take away" (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in case you're wondering).

    I'll sum up first, and then get to some details. To sum up: The descriptions of 24 different character roles is the best part. A lot of the other sections make up potentially handy checklists, but there's a lot of unnecessary, redundant, or excessive description. Those sections could have been much shorter without a loss of information.

    Things to like about the book:

    • It's system-neutral and setting-neutral.
    • The descriptions of 8 protagonist types and 8 antagonist types are very good. For each type, you get a useful one-paragraph overview, examples of the type from popular media, a description of the type's values, and how others perceive the type. Another interesting element is that you get a "supporting cast" for each type - the interactions a given type is likely to have with other types. This is all great material for making an interesting character. This is mainly for a player creating a PC or a GM creating a major NPC.
    • The 8 supporting types are also helpful. For each of these, you get a discussion of how the type interacts with a main character, examples from popular media, and a description of why you might want such a character in the story. This is mostly about secondary NPCs.
    • The good part of the Dimensions chapter is that it's a checklist of things to consider when describing your character's "physiology, sociology, and psychology." It's also a 14-page temptation into overkill. Only include the elements that will help you run the character in an interesting way.

    Things I liked less about the book:

    • The subtitle, "for Writers and Roleplayers," sounds like scope creep. There are things that would matter to a fiction writer that generally don't matter in an RPG. For example, a writer might spend many a paragraph throughout a story just on a character's thoughts and feelings, and how they evolve. In an RPG, you spend no time watching a character ponder. Fiction writing and RPG characters aren't the same thing. If there's too much irrelevant stuff to wade through, the whole work becomes harder to use, and therefore less useful.
    • I found the the section on "Stages of Life" to be overkill. Do we really need explanations of how a child is different from a young adult, who's different from a much older person? At 8 pages, it's both too much and too little - too much if you're thinking "Yes, I know the difference between a child and an elderly person," or too little if you want to pursue all the nuances and complexities of a given age level.
    • The "Motivations" chapter also felt like overkill. Now, you may well want to understand a character's motivations. However, if that character fits one of the 24 types described earlier, you've already got a decent idea of the character's motivations. Also, the motivations get excessive description. Take the Stakes element, for example, which is under Goals, which comes under Motivations. If your character has Stakes at the Low Stakes level: "Neither the reward nor the consequence will have much impact on anyone." Maybe that's there for some desire for completeness, but if the stakes are that inconsequential, don't include them! The whole motivation section could have been a lot shorter not by describing all five levels of every motivation, but by listing only the useful descriptions, the ones that show that one motivation or another is compelling, not useless.
    • The "Aptitudes" chapter also felt like overkill. It discusses 10 different aptitudes - body, empathy, language, etc. - but I found most of it unnecessary for RPG purposes. Besides, if a character has "Below Baseline Nature Aptitude," I already get that he doesn't know much about nature. I don't need extra description to explain that.
    • The "Experiences" chapter offers a list of skill categories: Academic, Athletic, Creative, etc. Getting that down to specific skills for your character and your setting is up to you (as it should be, because this work is setting-neutral). Maybe a checklist of skill areas would be helpful to you, but chances are, you already have skill lists in place if you need them, so you wouldn't need this chapter. By the way, this is another chapter that could have been a checklist, but instead it goes into excessive, repetitive description.
    • "Resources," like the other chapters, is over-described. Maybe it's a good checklist of the types of resources a character might have or lack, but each item was overdescribed. Besides, once you've developed a basic concept of the character, most of these resource items are going to be fairly obvious.
    • "Wonders" felt too generic. It brushes by the topic of adding magic, psychic powers, or superpowers to a character, but with no actionable content.

    All in all, the book is worthwhile for the character types at least, but it could have been a lot shorter and more tightly written.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Building Characters [1st Edition]
    Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
    by Dario T. N. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 04/03/2018 12:16:40

    Although the misspelled words are annoying, the advices and almost hand-guiding instructions on character design are useful. Other works' advices usually feel too vague when trying to put them in practice, and that is where these ones will come handy. I wrote a longer review here.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    Building Characters [1st Edition]
    Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
    by Esteban M. V. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 11/04/2017 03:38:44

    First of all, I see how this book can help some people. It's certainly not useless. However, this book, like Story Setting by the same publisher, has many typos, feels a bit laundrylisty, and tries to fill in more pages when things could be described in a more concise way (eg. the Low/Below Baseline/Baseline/Above Baseline/High descriptions is used way too much and takes way too much space, and in most cases it doesn't feel useful to me). My personal highlight is the Types and Roles chapter. It's very good and it's a good reference and inspiration source to write characters. The chapters Aptitudes, Experiences, and Resources feel like fillers and I think they could have been a couple of pages each, instead of ~10 pages each.



    Rating:
    [2 of 5 Stars!]
    Building Characters [1st Edition]
    Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
    by Bill D. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 08/08/2016 15:10:30

    It is the perfect product if you wish to create concise motivations for characters. Well laid out and easy to use.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Building Characters [1st Edition]
    Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
    by Phill W. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 06/18/2016 05:16:52

    As a person who has a lot of general ideas but struggles with details, this is a big help. Really walks you through the generation of charecter background and allows for as much depth as one could want. Highly reccomended. Does contain some edditing issues but nothing that makes it unreadable.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Building Characters [1st Edition]
    Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
    by Brian A. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 06/16/2016 13:20:57

    Again, not to make two reviews sound the same, but I've read a number of books on building characters, not just for rpgs, but also for general stories. Most have different takes on the various archtypes, but this book combines alot of that information into a very easy to read synopsis. It also gives a ton of great ideas for character interactions and setting up the NPCs in a campaign for getting the most out of interactions, as well as between the characters. I highly recomend this book.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
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