Customising your character

Fairly new to interactive fiction here, so I would appreciate some help on how people like to customise characters. Some of it seems rather pointless to me and I don’t know whether this is because I’m new to it or whether I should just be reading a different genre.

An example:
You often get asked something like “what is your hair colour?”
My immediate reaction is, who the hell cares?

It’s different where the hair colour is clearly relevant to the story. e.g.

What is your hair colour?

  • Blonde: you will find advantages in the way people treat you but will have to deal an increased level of sexual harassment.
  • Black: you are more likely to get a positive reaction from the Randomanian community but may become pigeon-holed by others
  • Red: you are eligible to join the red-headed league

Yet, most stories seem to have character customisations that have no apparent relevance.

Am I just not ‘getting it’?

Help appreciated.


Most of the time it’s to allow people to self insert into the MC or build their own character the way they want them to look and will be cosmetic variables only. If you are a player that doesn’t tend to self insert, those settings will seem less relevant, but a lot of players like to have them. If you really don’t want to have a long character creation section interrupt the game flow but still provide it as an option for readers, you can make an optional character creation point which you can go through or not if the settings are only cosmetic (there are games that have this although it’s not very common.)

Tread with large amounts of caution if you want to make cosmetic characteristics (like hair colour) give you advantages or disadvantages (such as the example of the blonde hair above) and be aware of stereotyping.

You could do world building where someone picks a race/country of origin etc where people do tend to have similar characteristics that may give you benefits of belonging to that country, fitting in to that region/not fitting into countries your area doesn’t have good relations to, common skill sets, languages etc, but IMO if you don’t want to run into a whole lot of problems you’re going to want to make sure you do that world building well.


Would you recommend having a button right at the beginning that says ‘Customise my Character’ independent of the narrative, without trying to weave it into the story (except where relevant)? That way, non-inserters like myself could just skip that whole experience?

I feel more connected to a character I’m playing if I’m able to play some version of myself. Making the character look like me helps with that. I’m also a sucker for flavor text


My own WIP has a culture, and hair/etc will change around a few scenes, but generally the reason is more for flavour than anything.

Most people don’t want to open massive cans of worms by introducing cultural bias or the like into a story, but in my own if your character has white hair they will be associated with the Molidan Isles, because those series of isles are where the only white haired people the Zhixue people know are from.

The problem is that for while some people, that is great, for others…? For others, the integration of hair colour into more pulls them out of the story because they might not want to think on any of the implications their hair might have or whatever. It is a double edged sword where most people go the route of avoiding appearance making any real impact, both due to worries of isolating some readers and it is more work for something that can do that.

Response to @will :

I would never do this – character customisation is for flavour and flavour alone. Hair colour is one thing but once you start getting into skin colour … hoo boy. That’s a can of worms that will remain marinating in the cupboard, thank you very much

I think that if you associated skin colour with just a region or something, and didn’t turn it into… something weird… there could be ways to do it that are not bad. For example, if a guard comments asking if the MC came straight from Kumei (a southern city located in a desert that can be pretty isolated) if the MC has naturally darker skin. I think that it can be tasteful so long as you aren’t turning playing characters of different skin Tones into difficulty modes like South Park Stick of Truth.

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It depends on what you mean by recommend. One game I’m writing at the moment (Raishall) has a full character creation option in the stats menu. I did it that way because the game launches into a scene fast, and I just couldn’t find a way to put it into the main game without majorly throwing the pacing out and probably pulling everyone out the atmosphere I’m trying to create. The appearence variables in this case are cosmetic, they appear on the stats page and with occasional references in the text, but I’ve tried to make it so you can get away with default values without having incorrect specific text references if you don’t want to set your character.

The possible downside of this is I’m not certain if people will feel that the character creation is unncecessary and therefore dislike this approach to providing the ability to set physical characteristics. (I know as you’ve pointed out it is often cosmetic in a lot of games, but I think some people do seem to find it helps them with the story visualisation. I guess I’ll find out when it is published.) This does seem to be a difference in how people perceive what they’re reading and is therefore very important to some, and not very important to others by perception. (I’m often not a self inserter and just imagine as I go, so having to answer 20 questions at the start of a game for cosmetic values (ones that are important or set frequently used variables like gender are fine, but setting clothing, hair styles, eye colour etc often has me biting at the bit to just start the game and feel like a skip would be and optional nice option.)

An example of a game that does have an optional extras skip (particularly for things that are not ever mentioned in the text again apart from the stat menu) is imprisoned.

Anyway, it is definitely something you CAN do, how popular/unpopular an option it will be I don’t know.

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For me, personally, character customization is necessary. Especially cosmetically, because I always think it helps separate them from myself. I would struggle to play a game where I had no say in the appearance of the MC. Perhaps it is part of why I myself want to emphasize it and make it mean something.

I think having ‘preset’ character options for players who don’t want to think about any of that is nice, though for someone like me who has written out entire scenes to integrate the customization it’s going to be annoying to set up preset characterization later. Probably would make a custom set of flags for checking, then skipping the questions themselves to go to descriptions with a sentence or two written out to help with flow. The more flow there is in the customization, the more difficult it would be to do something like that I think. If I had done a mirror scene establishing the important bits then doing an alternative summary would probably be easier.


This may veer mildly off topic, but how are you pulling this off practically? I assume you’re using some implementation of *redirect_scene right?

Back on topic:

I would never do this – character customisation is for flavour and flavour alone. Hair colour is one thing but once you start getting into skin colour … hoo boy. That’s a can of worms that will remain marinating in the cupboard, thank you very much.


Given most games are cosmetic only (and a lot of appearence settings are never mentioned again after they’ve been set), but I do totally understand why some people like to have that ability to go through and visualise each part of their character, how do you personally feel about my option of the stats screen version where you set everything you want and have it all listed, but you can do it before you start the story so it doesn’t interupt the game play?

Good question! At the moment it’s an option available via the stats screen at any time (so just standard choice and goto’s.) It runs you through a short character creation storyline. (It’s not like pick and eye colour, and pick what length your hair is as dot points.) Another option would be to create it as a separate scene as you’re describing. To be honest in this game unless I list it as an option right at the very beginning with the path selection, I can’t find a way to incorporate it into the storyline via the enchanter path (spirit path is done in a round about way via the storyline as it’s intergrated in a natural way.) With the enchanter path you’re kind of in the middle of nowhere in a hurry with spirits pressing in all around you, why would you stop to pull out a mirror and check your eyes, hair etc. To me I just couldn’t work it out, but if it was particularly problematic for a lot of people I could insert an optional scene there if necessary.

I’m kind of interested to see what people’s thoughts generally are.

Edit: Where you find the character creation in Raishall as a possible alternative method.
Main stat screen options:

Character creation ongoing from here…

Final result

Good point. I can see where people might get upset.

It’s an interesting problem though. I’m working on something set in a small New England town in the 1920’s. If someone of obviously African ancestry turned up there, it would likely cause a sensation. It would be a completely different story. As you say, maybe leave it out. I’m not that fond of marinated worms.

This is a two-part response:

First: As an author, my goal is to form as much immersion and connection with the reader as possible.

Second: As a reader, the more representative the protagonist is of “people like me” the more connection to the story and the more immersive the story is to me.

As an author, I know there are two types of main-line audience I am addressing. First is the role player, the person who creates unique protagonists based on characteristics they choose. For this type of player, a particular customization may, or may not, become important. It depends on the role that their particular protagonist is filling.

The second type of audience I am trying to reach with my writing is those that “self-insert” into an interactive fiction story. The more options I offer to this person, the more connection I form with that reader. Often it does not impact the story itself, but what it does do is strengthen my story’s impact on the reader as a person.

Representation and inclusion is an enormous part of interactive fiction. From the very beginning of the niche genre, it was about empowerment as well as agency.

As a reader, it is important I see romance options that are the same orientation as I am. One of my favorite stories here has no real option to romance a person of my orientation. As much as I love everything else about the story, this one fact is a heartbreaker. What this tells me as a reader, is that me, as a person, is not as valid as another in this story.

As an author, it is vital that my story speaks to, and resonates with, as many of my audience as I can. It is also important to me, personally, to try to improve beyond what was done before.

Things as simple as hair texture, describing skin tone, clothes that are worn, and even tattoos change how well a reader may see the story as being inclusive.

Does this have the same impact in the story as perhaps choosing a profession or background? Depends on the story.

This type of customization can break or even avoid stereotypes and tropes that often are seen in stories across all media. When a person says the protagonist is an elf, a certain “type” is often brought up in a reader’s mind. By allowing different customization options, you can often avoid this “stereotypical” elf from taking hold in a person’s mind.

I’ll give a simple example. Many people, after being told they are playing an elf, will assume the character they are playing will have a bow. If you offer the chance to use a mace, or a pole-arm, it changes the nature of the elf.

You can say, but a different weapon impacts the story… but does it? Most stories in this genre do not go into the details enough that it does.


I said it earlier, but I do think there are tasteful ways to incorporate it without turning it into something… racist, frankly.

I think pointing it out, like comments that are neutral or curious, would probably be fine. But people generally don’t want to have to play different difficulties based off of the character’s appearance. In part because it can reinforce some bad ideals, and in part because it just makes it less fun for people who casually want to play.

Maybe I have a different perspective from most, though. I am basing my story in a fantasy world based off a bright golden age of Chinese history, where they were open and even encouraging of foreign influences through countries like Persia, so thinking about that side of things can be different.

Response to @Jacic:
I liked the customization, but I played through it a while ago so take this with a grain of salt. I’m of the general opinion that I would prefer to decide them while experiencing the story rather than turning it into another thing. It’s one of my few gripes with the Sherlock Holmes WIP (the extensive customization occurring all at the start). For me, I just like building up the character as I am seating myself in their mind, it helps me make a congruous image between the two. If the customization is completely divorced it can cleave the sensation of immersion for me and I struggle to put two and two together then.

Response to @Eiwynn :
Hah! I have my suspicions… I am sorry that you cannot romance the medicine lady, I forget her name. If I am wrong, then oops, lol.

As a reader, it is important I see romance options that are the same orientation as I am. One of my favorite stories here has no real option to romance a person of my orientation. As much as I love everything else about the story, this one fact is a heartbreaker. What this tells me as a reader, is that me, as a person, is not as valid as another in this story.

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I’d consider this example here to be flavour – but if that skin colour starts affecting the story in a way that reflects real-life racism, or even simply impacts the character’s stats or personality, you’re veering off a cliff there. It can be done (and personally I think the Stick of Truth example is funny even if it’s in poor taste) but I’m not the one who gets to decide where that line is. I’m not touching it in my writing and I’m not commenting on it if it comes up in others’ work. I’ll let other people argue about it. For me, it’s flavour and nothing more.

Have you tested this? Any changes made in the stats screen are erased as soon as you return to the game, to my knowledge, unless you use *redirect_scene.

For Gray Painter, the customisation happens fully two chapters in. Nothing stopping you from opening in medias res and then when the MC has a chance to breathe, finally work it into the choices. You can also do a sort of action scene and incorporate physical traits there –

Pursued by ninjas, you duck into a market street and ...

  # Duck under a low table due to my short stature.
  # Look above everyone's heads. I'm tall enough to see where to go next.
  # Blend in with the crowd. I'm unremarkably average.
  # Et cetera
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Yes, I agree, but I also think there aren’t enough stories with those flavour bits. I am someone who likes to sit and smell the roses, I’ll spend all day there though so sometimes I need to be reeled back in. But I think that those acknowledgements make huge differences for how much a player feels like their character’s appearance or behaviour matters.

I remember several IF’s I have read where after customizing certain features not a singular time were they referenced. That is so… unfortunate, to me. That seems like almost an oversight, to have it never brought up again makes one question the point of the choice at all, at least that is how it feels for me.

Also, I think a lot of the problem with the skin tone elements comes from the fact that usually they are enabling real world oppressive elements by reflecting ‘historical’ oppression only by European or light skinned people onto POC.

That is also my preferred technique. I find it very difficult to get into games that start with a very long list of cosmetic variables I need to set (especially when most of them are never seen again) before I can get into the main part of the game. If they’re set as you go along more naturally, that’s a great way to do it when possible. Sometimes though, due to the nature of the game it can interfere with the pacing. I guess that’s where I was wondering if an optional way to set or not set appearence might come into play and allow players to choose what they feel is more important to their play through, especially if it’s repeated playthroughs.

EEk, really? Argh! I think you’re actually right. Well that shoots that good idea in the foot. I thought it was such a nice way to let people set their character whenever they liked as well. Alright, I’m going to have to go for an alternative. Maybe an option at the very start. I don’t think you can link away from the stats menu without risking breaking the game as it can create loops.


No, this is not true.

You can check out my WIP now if you do not believe me, the thing is though that you must make progress in the Main Game in order for the changes to be reflected in the Stats Screen after closing it upon making changes. I literally just spent like 8 hours fiddling with that garbage.

*redirect_scene can only be used one time to swap to somewhere else because it flips the flag and makes the game believe it is no longer in the ‘stats screen’ after that. Following that, if you try to use it again then the game will flag an error because even if you use *goto_scene choicescript_stats the game still believes it isn’t in the stats screen.

Response to @Eiwynn :

Response to @Jacic :
I have a second scene; the only real quirk is that sometimes the player opens the menu and it’s still in the submenu because the player didn’t leave it before. But saviing the menu the player was on is almost a boon honestly. lol


I’ve played around with this, and *gosub_scene works just fine (create a file called options.txt or whatever). So long as your options are recorded via variables created in startup.txt there isn’t a problem.

Should we separate the talk on mechanics?

It seems like there are now two distinct discussions going on here now…

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Yeah, just realised that. No idea why I haven’t picked up on this before. Probably because when I’ve been testing stuff I don’t normally set the character to save on time past making sure all the options work ok when selected.

I do remember for a past project I was messing about with moving scenes in the stats menu and gave it up as a bad idea. It might be possible but I found it was really easy to create endless loops where the game breaks because I think as you’re saying the game thinks the stats screen has become a normal scene (or that’s what it seemed like anyway), especially if you can’t guarantee players won’t use the buttons at the top of the page part way through the side option.

I’m good, I’ve just worked out how my game is broken. If anyone wants to continue the discussion can split it though. It was meant to be a “how is good to keep everyone happy with customisation discussion”, but thank you to everyone that picked up my coding is crappy :stuck_out_tongue: (No seriously thank you!)

Edit: @Phenrex : Ok thanks for that. I’m feeling less bad now. I was like how on earth did I miss the character getting wiped!!! If you move ahead in the story and then recheck, it does seem to save. I probably need to either move my character creation or put in some instructions like your game has to prevent people skipping out and then straight back into the menu causing it to delete everything.

@Phenrex and @will you guys rock, thanks for letting me know about the problem.