Contemplating Character Creation

Posted by Labyrinthian in , , ,

I was reading a great article the other day on the Big Ball of No Fun that discussed the idea of GMs making Characters for his players and it really got me contemplating character creation in general.  

The idea of the GM creating characters for his players isn't a new idea.  Pre-Generated characters have been around for quite a while, and are the norm for one shots and convention games.  Still, the idea of a GM making a player's character for an ongoing campaign is something of a taboo one and I'd say the vast majority of players would be fervently against it.  My question is, should they be?

Given how busy people are these days and how little time many of Gamers have to play, should they turn up their nose at the opportunity to have a character tailored made for the campaign and the ability to dive right in and play?  
I can you tell you that had you asked me last year I would have told you that only under very specific circumstances should a GM furnish a play with a pre-made character.  The list of those circumstances would have been very short, likely limited to convention game, one shot, trial players, etc.  That was until my group's last camping trip when we played an Aces & Eights game with some really amazing pre-gens that the Professor, who was running the game, who supplied us with.  Everyone enjoyed their characters so much that it really shifted the way we all viewed pre-gens in general. 

Now these weren't blind pre-gens, each gave the GM an indication of what type of character we wanted to play.  We all wrote a little blurb, no more than a sentence or two, and emailed it to the professor giving a rough outline of characters we were interested in.  As an example, here is what I sent:
  1. A bounty hunter with mercenary sensibilities who looks to get the job done  by any means necessary.
  2. A hot headed, duel pistol slinging, up and coming, young gunfighter who is looking to carve himself out a place is western lore.
  3. A naive law man with a black and white world view, a low tolerances for lawlessness and bullshit, and an itchy trigger finger.

Using these the GM created two pre-generated characters and I was given the option to play either (and to play the other one should the worst happen).  I opted for the first one, a Bounty Hunter named Augustus Bachman.  He had everything I had imagined right down to his double barrel shotgun.  More importantly he had a definite place in the campaign world and the story that was to unfold. 

This added ability on the part of the GM to create a more compact game is a serious mark in the pros column of this issue.  With a firm knowledge of who each of the PCs is, what they can do, where they have come from, and where they want to go, the GM need not worry so much about flexibility and  having  the ability to react to a group of adventurers with widely different motivations.  Still the cons column can't be ignored, and under there you'll find things like stifled player creativity and a lack of player investment in the game.  

So I think the conclusion is that pre-gens can be a great way to go, but they aren't always a great way to go.  Making the right decision on this issue, like so many others when GMing, comes down to knowing one thing... knowing your players.  Maybe some of them would welcome the opportunity to play a tailor made character while others would like the chance to roll and make their own character.  Don't be afraid to offer and you might be surprised, first when your player accepts, and then when they fall in love with the character and everything works out great.  

My plan in the future is to offer three options for PC creation.  My group has a diverse set of preferences so I've found that offering multiple options works fairly well. 

The first option will be to create a character as normal.  They will roll the stats as is normal for the system, make purchases for skills, feats, etc, and finally create a back story for their character.  Creating a written backstory for some players, no matter how short, is a task that makes them moan and shake their fists.  For that reason I'm going to offer two options that don't require one. 

The second option is a tailor made pre-generated character.  I do all the work  (with a sentence or two of guidance from the player as above), roll all the dice, purchase all skills, feats, talents, etc that I feel fit the character.  Finally I supply the player with a backstory and description of their character.  Those who have little to no time prior to the game are the one's likely to take the option and to be grateful for it. 

The final option is a Hybrid option.  I create about 75% of the character, all the base stats, the majority of the skills and other things, but leave some wiggle room for the player to customize the character.  As far as a backstory he will be given more of an outline and allowed to make additions, subtractions, and alterations to it before the start of play.  This method allows for some ownership and creativity form the player while taking a very small amount of time and allowing him to dive right in with a character built for the campaign that are about to enter. 

I think pre-gens are not something to be avoided even by the most experience of groups.  Rather they are a great tool that can allow someone with a limited amount of time an ideal character to plug into a game right away and get to playing and having fun.  Pre-made character can be just to fun to play as those made by a player's own hand.  It just takes a little work from the GM and a little communication from the player.

I'd be eager to hear from anyone out there who has had a memorable experience, either positive or negative, with GM made PCs.  What did you enjoy about it or what would you like to have seen done differently? 

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at Tuesday, March 29, 2011 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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