Over the years I have seen a number of good characters, ones that have stood out among the hundreds. What made them stand out was that they were memorable, but what made them memorable? I’d say there are three key factors to making a great character: a strong personality, a strong focus and character development.
Strong Personality: There should be some strong personality traits that come through in the depiction of the character. Although it seems outlandish, the over-the-top personalities really show through. It’s like being on the stage, and you have to ham it up to get attention from the audience. That might mean comedic actions, it might mean extreme behaviour, but it’s something that stands out and defines your character.
Strong Focus: Game systems have embedded the concept of focus into their design since Dungeons and Dragons in having classes, but really the focus comes down to, what is your character really good at, what do they shine in doing? A really good character goes beyond just being a fighter and is an amazing fencer, blade at the ready. They’re a con artist, always working on the next set up, the next job. A strong focus means that everyone knows just what your character is about and how they can help the group. If someone asks what your character is good at, you haven’t made your focus shine through.
Character Development: A strong character will change over the course of the campaign, reflecting the hardships and trials they have faced. They will show the scars and develop connections with the people in their universe. This is something that only comes through in long campaigns, but a great character will tie themselves into the world and go through a metamorphosis that transcends simple character improvement, but will integrate everything they experienced into making their character grow as a person and thus become more than a simple creation on paper.
Together, these three elements combine to make those truly memorable characters that you are proud to remember and proud to have played.