Examining Big Hero 6:
Character Origins for your games
By: Jesse C Cohoon
Big Hero 6 is a recent movie released from Walt Disney Animation Studios which tells the story of a young robotics prodigy named Hiro Hamada who forms a superhero team to combat a masked villain. Looking at the movie’s array of characters, it’s easy to glean some processes by which to make characters origins for your games by examining their interests, training, goals, connections, equipment, and secrets.
First, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to delve deeply into their interests. In the movie Hiro’s had an interest in robotics – an interest that was shared by his brother. Hiro’s interests were in fighting robotics, whereas his brother’s was in medical robotics. In your games you might want to ask “Why is this character into this?” It could be a natural affinity, family connection, mentor, or a hobby. Or it could be something like a debt, medical expense, or rivalry. Whatever the reason the character needs to have a reason for pursuing this area of expertise – sometimes at the expense of other areas. A fighter might be strong, but they might not be so smart. A bard might be entertaining and inspiring but they can’t match either a rogue’s or fighter’s skills.
Secondly, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine a character’s training. In Big Hero 6, Hiro’s fighting robots were something that he developed on his own. Sometimes a character’s training has nothing to do with their loves. For instance, if a character’s background is that they are a slave, having to learn how to fight because it was how they survived. Another character’s fighting ability might be due to the fact that they were constantly bullied growing up, and learning how to fight was the only way they could defend themselves. Or a character’s magical training might be due to the fact that if they couldn’t learn how to control it, they might have become a danger to themselves or others – even when the character themselves might not have had any interest in learning it.
Thirdly, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine a character’s goals. In Big Hero 6, after Hiro discovered that someone not only stole his microbot invention, but was mass-producing them, he wants to bring the culprit to justice, upgrading Baymax, the medical robot his brother invented, with armor and a battle chip containing various karate moves. After the movie the viewers had a sense that they continued their adventures. Some goals might be:
- Become the best fighter/ spell caster/ thief out there
- Get wealthy
- Get out of debt
- Clear my family name
- Entertain crowds/ become famous
- Spread the faith
- Protect the environment
- Invent nifty new things
- Clear out the evil from the land
- Find my family
- Get back my memory
- Get back the throne which is rightfully mine
- Earn my freedom from X organization / become a member of X organization.
Keep in mind that goals may not be simple to reach- or in some cases, even be reachable at all. There
r ultimate goal. Additionally, there may be roadblocks from the society itself. Case in point: a person could need to leave town to get training for magic if the town has outlawed its use. Furthermore, the character may not get the help that she needs to be able to complete their goal. At each stage along the way, the character will be forced to ask themselves whether the goal is worth the problems that they are facing. Do they give up, or do they continue on despite the adversity? Each choice that the character makes helps to define their character.
Fourth, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine character’s connections. In the movie when Hiro’s brother Tadashi takes him to the college, he’s introduced to the future members of his superhero team: GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. Characters in games should have connections to other people, be they family, friends, lovers or merely associates. If done deftly, these can be the basis of an adventuring party. Some suggestions might be caravan guards, members of a guild or school, or people who all knew someone who passed away, all showing up for a funeral/ wake. Some ideas for a modern game might be people who all work at a company or in a high-rise office building, people who always take the same public transportation together (bus or train), or people who regularly attend a favorite restaurant or bar.
Fifth, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine a character’s equipment. In Big Hero 6, Hiro “inherited” Baymax from his brother. Likewise the various “powers” that the superheroes came up with started off as inventions that they were presently working on. In fantasy games that sword could be a family heirloom or stolen from a nearby noble family. That armor could have been the result of a shady deal or a fringe benefit of being on the town’s guard. Those daggers could have been crafted especially for you by your mentor, or worked off by manning the bellows at the local blacksmith. In a modern game, that rifle could be a part of a survivalist sect, from family members that like to hunt, or law enforcement. Many games are set up that a character starts with X amount of money (whatever the local currency is) to be able to buy their starting equipment… but maybe a system of connections where the majority of the character’s belongings are able to be gotten through such connections might be a better way of getting starting equipment.
Finally, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine character and NPC secrets. In Big Hero 6, the heroes discovers a former lab of Krei Tech that was experimenting with teleportation where Callaghan’s daughter Abagail disappeared inside an unstable portal. At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that Fred’s father is a superhero. Character and NPC secrets can be something that’s reasonably harmless – like your characters has dragon blood ancestry and that’s why they’re such a powerful sorcerer, that they have more skills than they want to admit to which can turn the tide of a fight with a more powerful enemy, or that they have an old rivalry. Secrets can also be harmful – like the fact that they are being blackmailed to do X harmful thing against the PCs, are wanted for the murder of an important person, or they are being sought out for a massive debt. When examining why something is a secret the following questions might be appropriate:
- Why is this secret supposed to remain a secret? What’s the big deal?
- What would happen if it were exposed? Loss of reputation? Exile? Prison time?
- Who would benefit from it being revealed? Who would it harm?
- How would this character go about revealing it? What would need to change in order for them to do so?