Discover Online Classes in Character Design

Cartoons, role-play games, animation, and more.

Whether you’re a role-play game player, an illustrator, or a writer, designing characters is essential to building believable, attractive worlds that your audience will connect with. Like plotting a map to a fantasy world, designing a character requires creativity but also adherence to certain genre and medium-specific traits. 

You can either build your character from the ground (er, bones) up or use an online random character generator to kick-start the process. Whether you use a DND random character generator or something else, having a good understanding of character design best principles will help you create strong, rich characters. Here’s what you need to know—plus a sampling of character traits and options to get you thinking. 

Elements of Character Design

Size and Stature

drawing
Student work by Darkenmarr for How to Draw Dynamic Poses for Comics.

In some genres, characteristics like strength, vulnerability, femininity/masculinity/androgyny, or magical powers can be communicated through size and stature. Your character could: 

  • Be exaggeratedly tall or small
  • Have a regular human size or proportions
  • Have realistic human proportions but in miniature or giant-size
  • Be able to change size
  • Be the size or shape of an animal, real or imagined/hybrid (or actually be an animal!)

Prominent Features

chibi people
Random anime character generators are an easy place to start the design process. Student work by Dandi Things for How to Draw Cute Cartoon Chibi Characters: Essential.

A character’s prominent features also communicate much about their personalities. Your character might have:

  • Exaggerated or over-developed muscles 
  • Long or short limbs
  • Long, thick, wild, colored, or otherwise distinctive hair
  • Cute, glamorous, or ragged clothes, or a costume/uniform
  • An enlarged head
  • Exaggerated facial features
  • Animal-like features (fur, a mane, claws, a tail, a snout, etc.).

Backstory

For your audience to connect with your character, it needs a backstory. These must be believable and internally consistent within the world you’re creating. For example, your character might:

  • Be from a different planet than their family hails from
  • Age in reverse, so although they look like a toddler, they’ve actually been around for 80 years
  • Have lost their family in a war, which motivates their desire for revenge
  • Be searching for love, in vain
  • Suffer from amnesia after an accident

Sketch your backstory right from the start, to avoid contradicting yourself later on.

Design Furry or Feathered Characters

Character Design Crash Course: Designing Animal Characters

Specific Character Traits

character generator
You might be surprised by what you can create using a character generator like a DND 5e random character generator or anime character generators.

Different visual, game, and literary genres have particular conventions dictating how characters look, move, and behave. It’s fine to break the rules in the spirit of being creative, but you’ve got to know what the rules are first! 

For Anime

merman
Random anime character generators can boost your own imagination. Student work by Rui Morris for Character Design Crash Course: Dynamic Design in Four Steps.

Some general characteristics of anime characters are:

  • Simple visual design
  • Very large eyes and minimal mouth and nose, except when speaking or laughing, when mouths are enlarged
  • Large heads in proportion to their body
  • Childlike features for all genders
  • Most characters combine positive and negative traits (just like real people!) A character that is wholly good in one episode/comic might show flaws (or even signs of evil) in the next, shifting the audience’s sympathies toward that character. 

Free anime character generators will often provide a Japanese name, too, so this part of character design is easier.

For Dungeons and Dragons

dragon
A D&D character generator or a pathfinder random character generator will give you the building blocks for complex RPG characters.

In Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), characters fall into the following principal classes:

  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Fighter
  • Monk
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

There are also sub-classes, which vary according to the D&D edition. Each class of character has different physical and behavioral traits. Get the design process started with a D&D random character generator. You can even choose a generator specific to your edition by searching for something like “DnD 5e random character generator” or “D&D random character generator 5e”.

Other role-playing games, like Pathfinder, have similar character types, with adventurers, explorers, and scholars being prominent. Pathfinder character generators can help you design a character appropriate to this game. Search for “pathfinder random character generator” and similar terms.

For Fantasy Literature

female with sword
A fantasy warrior character, which could be generated via a random character generator like a Pathfinder character generator, and then embellished.

Like D&D, characters in fantasy literature tend to fall into certain types, even if these aren’t always as clearly delineated as in D&D. Some typical features of fantasy characters include:

  • Exaggerated male and female body parts, such as enlarged and exposed breasts, bare male torsos, and full facial beards
  • Strong costumes and accessories, such as armor, capes, cloaks, crowns, swords and shields
  • Animal-like features on mostly human-like characters, like pointed ears, claws, scales, tails, or hooves
  • Magic powers

For Kids’ Stories

dipper pines
Learn to draw characters for kids with Ed Foychuk’s Skillshare course, How to Draw Characters for Kids.

Characters for kids stories or cartoons are designed to be age-appropriate. Good/evil and right/wrong are more clear-cut than they are in real life. Some features of characters designed for kids include: 

  • A clear division between “good” and “bad” characters is shown through positive/negative expressions and clothing.
  • “Bad” characters may have a monstrous or witch-like appearance but should be stylized and not overly scary. 
  • Cheeky or mischievous characters have an obvious lovable or redeeming feature, like a desire to be good or kindness toward their friends or animals.
  • Parent characters are either absent or feature in supporting roles only—they might appear just as a leg or a shadow!

You’re limited only by your imagination when designing characters and fantastical worlds, so let go and have fun!

Go Beyond D&D Character Generators

Science Fiction & Fantasy: How an Anthropologist Designs a Fictional Society