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Author Topic: a really great character creation experience  (Read 4901 times)
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 2341

« on: June 21, 2001, 06:54:00 PM »

Hey everyone,

On the "I'm terrified of my sorcerer" thread in the Sorcerer forum, James hit me with this:

On a slightly different note, could you elaborate on the collaborative character creation theme? Perhaps this is a common methodology to others, and while I can sort of imagine what you're talking about, could you tell me more specifically how y'all go about it?

And it's a surprisingly hard question to answer. I have a feeling the amount of fun the group had with character creation should drive my being able to say something substantive. But in some ways I'm thinking the fun of the session might have been from us just happening to be in sync. Although I do think the kind of session where players contribute substantively to each other's character concepts is atypical. I think it's far more typical for say, everyone to have a Player's Handbook and to create characters independently, though perhaps with decisions being informed by knowing what other players are doing.

For the Sorcerer game, Scott got things going by emailing each of us a one-sheet detailing his concept for sorcery and Humanity and telltales, and urging us to start thinking of the kind of character we'd want to play. A few days later I pushed things a little further by emailing the group and suggesting we bounce our ideas off each other, and I included a couple of things I'd come up with that I was trying to choose between. It wasn't intentional at the time, but in retrospect I think the presentation of alternatives might grease the wheels of collaborative character creation better than just, "What do you think of this idea?"

So for the actual session we all had some ideas about our own characters, and although we hadn't hardly discussed anything at all by email, we'd had a chance to form some opinions of what seemed most interesting to us about the concepts the other players were developing.

And then we just went around the room, each of us in turn describing as much as we'd decided about our characters, and evidencing indecision about things we weren't sure about. When one player described his concept for a character who ran Tom Wu-esque real-estate seminars, whose demon was an Object, a microphone with the Desire "to be understood", it prompted me to explain how I'd intentionally tried to create a dramatic conflict for my character from tension between the demon's Desire and Need. My demon's Desire is to become powerful by giving and taking political influence. His Need is for inappropriate sexual involvement with a member of the political client's family. It's a Need that risks jeopardizing the things that are important to it by destroying the politician's reputation if the sex is exposed. I described how I thought an musician could be a cool Cover for a demon who wanted to be understood, if you opposed it with a crippling Need for drugs. And the player liked it, essentially creating Izzy Stradlin before he got booted from Guns n' Roses...the primary creative force for a popular band, his message obscured by him being a non-frontline figure with a drug addiction less under control than that of Slash or Axl.

We went around the room, making decisions about our characters...one loop around the room for Telltale, one for Price, Kicker, etc. My own character's Kicker was the suggestion of one of the other players. I think each of our character concepts benefited from the roundtable format we fell into, with every one of us electing to reconceptualize and incorporate substantial suggestions from others. One player had been toying with the idea of her character being an effective, credible female field journalist who was using sorcery to stave off the career marginalization she'd have otherwise already experienced because she was in her late 40's, no longer as young and pretty as she used to be. I think it was exciting to her when she realized during the roundtable that everyone was really enthusiastic about the idea. It got her more excited about the character.

And there maybe I've hit the source of the awesomeness of the character creation experience. I can't say that I'd ever before been in a situation where it was nakedly obvious to me that the other players were excited about my character; they had understood the ways my character concept was compelling to me, so well that they could contribute to my development of it, and they were excited about the forthcoming narrative that would feature the character. And I think it was like this for the other players as well.


My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets

« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2001, 07:05:00 PM »

At the risk of waving my flag too much....

This is exactly how chargen works in Alyria, with the additional step that the story setup itself is created by the group.  (For a description of one setup that was produced, go to this link:  http://members.gamingoutpost.com/forums/index.cfm?fuseaction=ShowThread&threadID=50813&messageID=50813&forumID=119&CustomSS=0  You will need to register with Gaming Outpost to access it.  Apologies.)

It was truly a wonderful experience, like Paul said.  Moreover, since the character concepts and the story setup were produced at the same time and in conjunction, the common problem of "my character doesn't fit this campaign" just shouldn't come up.  After all, the characters were designed specifically for this custom-built storyline.

Of course, the actual playtesting may yet prove me wrong....


Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
joshua neff

Posts: 949

« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2001, 07:35:00 PM »

in the games i run, the only character creation is group creation. the first session has no play in it--we get together, everybody bringing his character concept to the table, & then we all go around, changing stuff to suit the group, fine-tuning the characters. my group loves it this way, & i wouldn't do it any other way.


"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

Posts: 292

« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2001, 07:36:00 PM »

Very cool methodology. I'm thinking it particularly worked well for Sorceror (I haven't seen Alyria yet ...) because of the sort of things you have to decide for your character. It -wouldn't- work so well if all you had to decide was, for example, your set of skills.

To a certain extent, this is a lot like collaborative decisions about character background ...

I'm sure if I were smarter I'd have something more intelligent to say abou this - I'm going to have to look at what Alyria did. But I'm thinking that some sort of explicit joint character creation mechanic is probably a very, very good idea.

                          - James
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 669

« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2001, 08:21:00 PM »

In regards to last night's chargen session:

I'm trying to remember if I ever had so much fun just sitting around making characters, and nothing is jumping out at me.  Once maybe...and Matt will remember that particular instance.  The problem, of course, is living up to the high expectations that come from such a successful gathering of minds...

I have a plan though.

And I'll leave it at that for now.  In the meantime, I suggest more of you attempt this roundtable type of character creation.  It's so much more than just chargen...it really is storygen.  And if you're the GM, pay attention - the players will tell you everything you need to know to run the game they're interested in (and since you're a player too, you get to insert your ideas as well!).

I'm going to check out Alyria now...my curiousity has been piqued.

Take care,
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2001, 08:59:00 PM »

Credit where it's due - Everway has some extremely formal, extremely powerful group-based character creation steps. My favorite is when each player receives a list of questions, each written by one of the other players, for the character, to be answered in character.

Le Joueur

Posts: 1367

« Reply #6 on: June 22, 2001, 04:44:00 AM »


Just a first time poster at the Forge, so forgive any lapses.

For the game system we are working on (named Scattershot), we felt that this kind of thing was highly important.  To that end we created the 'Sine Qua Non character description system.'  It incorporates much of what the examples describe above as well as niche protection issues.  It is designed to help a group of players compose a of characters rather than a set of individuals who have little reason to spend any time together.

The Sine Qua Non system also goes on to help in character development times and relates a lot of a character's 'place' in the narrative (indirectly like niche protection).  While it superficially seems entrenched in a more colorful-narrative style of gaming, it functions well for people who desire a challenge as well.

I had never considered the around the table approach and am grateful that it has been suggested (we are going to take it up at the next meeting).  I am finding the discussions at the Forge highly thought provoking and I appreciate all it has done so far.

Fang Langford

Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
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