Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The GM's Corner: RPG Player Character Creation

You can't go wrong with a good Pen and Paper RPG, when done right they provide great stories, excellent atmosphere, and what out transatlantic cousins call sheer bloody beer and pretzel fun. Or they say something like that anyway. And of course there can be great characters, in my humble opinion just as fiction lives and dies by conflict, good RPGs depend on good characters - and good character interaction. That is basically what it is that you're sat around the table doing. That's what the game is.

Obligatory D20 photo
Now some characters are going to be too mismatched to the point that it's really difficult to get any interaction out of them, or you have one character with a trait that makes him/her/it unwilling to do much communicating at first - that's fine in a games with perhaps around 5 players, but with 2 or 3 that can really grind the game to a halt. Or I've sat there wondering why the hell these characters are co-operating at all beyond the necessity.

When I've been in that situation as a GM I end up using my pre-written material more quickly as the players aren't filling the time with their own conversation or ideas. That could be down to bad GMing (and probably is), but it can also be down to newer or more reserved players not quite being ready to jump in. But that's fine and kind of the point.

Good character creation, and a set of characters that go well together mean that all the players will be encouraged to participate as much as they feel comfortable, and the GM shouldn't have to resort to their bag a tricks - a GM should really have to do very little, the players drive the game (shh don't tell them).

Many systems have dice generated or player selected "traits" which can be a great starting point for backgrounds

So what are the 3 key options (as I see it) for character creation, and how can you get the best of the above:-

Option 1: Player freely creates character
The character is completely free to go away and come up with whatever character they like, hopefully (vaguely) relevant to the setting. The risk with this is that the characters might not really work well together, or it's difficult to come up with a plausible reason why any of them would be working together. The more players you have, the easier it can be to get away with this - but with a small handful of players it has the potential to not work too well, particularly if the players are new or have not gamed with the group or GM before and aren't quite sure of what's expected.

Pros: The players have full investment in the character and are are likely to get more involved with the gaming

Cons: Characters can be completely mismatched to each other and the plot/scenario.

+ + +

Option 2: GM creates character
Going in the opposite direction of the above, the GM creates a handful of player character sheets, puts them in the middle of the table (with any secret backstory hidden with post-its or similar) and let's the players pick which one they want - or if you're really mean you just tell them what their character is - although if you know the players well you can probably come up with character's similar to those they might create anyway. Alternatively, you could always dice roll for it, good for mixing things up a bit. This can be ideal for a quick play, weekends gaming.

Pros: Ensures that characters are likely to work well, right levels of conflict but not completely implausible to have them co-operating etc.

Cons: The players may not be as interested in the character, have no investment and may not enjoy the game as much.

+ + +

Option 3: Player creates character based on GM guidelines
A compromise between option 1 and option 2. My approach for most games/campaigns now is to give the players a brief. To use a Western game as an example "You are a member of the Pinkerton's, You are being sent to investigate an incident in Tuscon, Arizona, and will be told more on arrival (but don't worry about how you get there), Write a description of you character and their background in no more than 200 words" 

This is a very lazy way of giving a reason for players to vaguely co-operate, even if they disagree with each other (it's often better if they do), it means they can be working together without having met before and the word limit means they can't get carried away and write too much of their background and negate story elements you had planned.

I might also give them specific elements to include in their background, but it depends.

Rule 3: Don't take it too seriously. An excuse to post some Patton Oswalt/Reno 911

How much freedom do you give the players when creating their characters? Well it depends on what kind of adventure/game that you're running, how many players there are and whether they're new to RPGing. Ultimately it's up to your discretion as GM to work out what lets the players get the most out of the game, but doesn't make unnecessary work from yourself or take away from your enjoyment either - it might sound like a selfish point but I think it's one easily forgotten, the GM is supposed to be having as much fun as the players.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this one.

The next GM's Corner will look at character creation tips from the player's perspective (thanks to Ed of the Palladian Guard blog for the suggestion).

Saturday, 16 May 2015

ACW Campaign Map - 'Burning Tennessee' 1862

All railroads lead to Nashville... A small snippet of the map wot I drew

Blimey, looking at the date of my last post I feel like Lister getting out of stasis after 3 million years on Red Dwarf, "3 millions years?! I've still got that library book". Has it really been that long..?


Hope everyone's been well. I've been rather busy of late with work, roller derby and life in general. The DIY DH.2 blog, which covers my attempt to build a sim cockpit of the WWI scout/fighter, is now up and running too if anyone wants to have a peek. The wargaming hasn't stopped either, I just felt I'd run out of anything interesting to say. Lost a bit of my mojo, so to speak...

One of the big projects that myself, Ed and his brother Ollie have done recently is a 2mm ACW campaign across Middle and parts of Western Tennessee, with Chattanooga as the campaign objective. For more information, Ed has written an incredible post with a great overview of the campaign.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

I Aten't Dead


They say time goes quicker as you get older, so I must be aging at an exponential rate as the 3 months since my last post have flown by. In all fairness I've done very little wargames related so there's been little to report, that's through no lack of motivation but simply lack of time. A (sort of) promotion, house move and other hobbies (the horror) have taken up a bit more of my time than usual.

Could go well with Rogue Trader....
I have, without wanting to go on about it, lost a bit of love for GW. I had quite a while back. Beyond a shadow of a doubt a point has been reached where I can say they definitely don't make miniatures or games for me anymore. And that's fine, change is inevitable and no company owes me the games I'd like to see. I can still use older miniatures and play older games and older versions of current games. I just need a project to get me into it all again. Something that infuses a bit of Jodorowsky's Dune and the Jodoverse into Rogue Trader could be fun...

That said, I do have some Blood Bowl related plans in the pipeline, so watch this space. 

There's also plenty of historical goodness lined up, from an ACW map campaign that I'm planning and umpiring (see Ed's latest post on a superb ACW game on a budget), some French and Indian War stuff in the post and a few other projects lined up that you will see on both mine and Ed's blog shortly. And part 3 of the Fighting Fantasy series (when I can find the damn book). This is a bit of a blank slate fresh start of my wargames blogging, if I can post once a month from now on I shall be happy. Hopefully it shall be more. The sabbatical year comes to an end.

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