Characters often grow and change over the course of a campaign, gaining new abilities and class features as well as learning something from their adventures and bettering themselves as a person. So what is it that defines them as a person?
When we create a character, we often have a concept in mind- a core something that defines how we think about that character and how they interact with the world. Perhaps we envision a hot-blooded ranger who hunts prey relentlessly, or a detached wizard that sees adventuring and its pitfalls as a series of risks to be weighed. We may expand and alter this concept as the game goes on, but by having something central and immutable to the character, we set an anchor around which other decisions can be made.
These core ideas to a character should be some of the first things you think of when you envision them, as should the rest of your group (hopefully.) We can do the same when we think about characters from works of fiction- Han Solo, Severus Snape, James Bond, etc, are all characters that have been explored in fiction and developed from a simple archetype out to a more realized and fleshed-out portrait of a person, but we always maintain the core premise of those characters.
You can do the same with your own characters- figure out what defines them. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want- for example, Conan the Barbarian is defined more by his manner and methods than anything else, but even these superficial qualities can be defining when we etch them in stone for the character. Conan is a man defined by strength and violence, whether he is a slave or a king, and these traits give us something that we know we can fall back on in any situation, providing the key to understanding his behavior.
Other characters might be defined by other traits. Jack Sparrow is most notable for his extremely particular appearance and speech, making him easily distinguishable from any other pirate in films. The Elric brothers are memorable for their unique quest to restore their bodies, giving their entire show a defined goal and character arc. Other characters might be defined by a particular weapon they are a master of, a backstory that binds them, or a notable personality trait that colors their interactions with the world- there are no wrong choices for any of these things, so long as you make the choice interesting and unique.
You can look to these kinds of influences (and others) when making characters of your own. What sets them apart from other members of their class or profession? Why is your pyromancer or sellsword different from all of the other pyromancers and sellswords in the world? Think about what it is that attracted you to the character, what most grabs your imagination about them, because the thing that inspires you to make them is very often the thing that is the most central and important part of the character. If your core vision was “affable halfling chef-knight,” double down on that and make sure it’s integrated into the way you portray them in game as well as their rules. Complexity in a character is certainly a good thing to develop, but there’s also a lot to be said for reinforcing your core premise- and you have plenty of time to develop both over the course of a campaign.
As always, remember that you can get your roleplaying supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to pick up a new supplement to enhance your character or a set of minis for your next encounter.