Too Much Character
Last Updated: October 22, 2002
Of all the pitfalls in adventure writing, one of the easiest to fall into is overuse of word "character." The characters do this, the characters see that, the characters do this. Constant re-use of any word is boring. In this case, the word "characters" is also a constant reminder to the reader that this isn't real. So we look for a synonym - preferably one that makes the adventure's "story" more evocative. Just turning every other "character" to a "PC" or "party member" doesn't do much good. Here'a a synonym list that we've developed to help with this. Note that some of these terms are not always appropriate. Some are better used in plural form, some as a singular designation. And often, the sentence can be written with the subject implicit, so you don't need a synonym at all!
Sometimes a "generic" word is all you need: anybody, anyone, group, individual, person, personnel, somebody, someone. Many of these words get a lot more interesting with an appropriate adjective: nearest, panic-stricken, unfortunate, unlucky, and so on.
Names For The Group
Of course, these can apply either to the PCs' party, or to a group of NPCs. Anything is better than saying "The NPCs" all the time . . . army, band, cohort, company, corps, couple, everyone, force, gang, mercenaries, mob, squad, team, tribe, troop, retinue.
These can fit individuals, but you can also use the plural forms when the description fits everyone in the party - at least at the moment: adventurer, citizen, cop, crewman or crew, diplomat, expert, explorer, fighter, employee, henchman, hero, human, martial artist, mutant, psi, shipmate, soldier, survivor, super, thief, troubleshooter.
You can also use races or species where appropriate: human, bunny, Frenchman, Martian . . .
We're Investigating . . .
Since so many adventures involve a quest or mystery of some kind, synonyms for "investigator" are especially useful . . . agent, hunter, infiltrator, interloper, intruder, invader, investigator, observer, pursuer, quester, searcher, seeker, snoop, spy.
What Are They Doing Right Now?
If you're talking about some specific action or situation, you can brighten up the narrative and save words. Instead of "The character wearing the ring," for instance, you can say "The wearer of the ring." Or, depending on circumstances, "the unlucky wearer of the ring."
This is the longest list of all. Start with words like activist, applicant, bearer, buddy, bystander, captive, castaway, challenger, combatant, companion, compatriots, comrade, driver, dupe, escapee, escort, examiner, exile, expatriate, freelancer, friend, fugitive, gambler, guest, hacker, haggler, informant, informer, leader, loser, meddler, member, merchant, navigator, netrunner, newcomer, occupant, officer, outcast, outsider, participant, passenger, patient, patriot, possessed, possessor, prisoner, purchaser, recipient, researcher, retainer, rival, runner, sleeper, speaker, staff, student, subject, supplicant, tracker, traveler, trespasser, user, usurper, victim, victor, visitor, voyager, warrior, wayfarer, wearer, winner, witness, worker.
This works for both NPCs and characters, depending on what they're doing at the moment: assassin, bodyguard, exorcist, ninja, mechanic, porter, and so on.
The Bad Guys
You need terms for the NPCs, too: adversary, alien, antagonist, attacker, bogey, crook, enemy, foe, henchman, hostile, opponent, prey, stooge, stranger, target, unknown.
In a military setting, ranks can always be used, as can specialties: private, general, radioman, tank commander. When you're describing a combat situation, certain terms are both descriptive and interesting: ally, ambusher, attacker, infiltrator, fugitive, guard, main body, point, rearguard, rescuer, teammate, sacrifice, scout, sentry, straggler.
He's Dead, Jim
Just because someone has shuffled off this mortal coil doesn't mean he has to be "the dead NPC" forever. He can be a body, cadaver, casualty, corpse, lifeless, loser, remains, skeleton or victim. Or one of the fallen, or one whose luck ran out!
When It's Appropriate To Use "Character"
Within reason, it's fine to use the world "character" when discussing game mechanics, especially the game mechanics of character creation itself. That, after all, is the part of the game in which you have to remember that you are not dealing with a real person, but exercising creative options to design . . . a character!