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Author Topic: 3E Character Creation Session  (Read 5618 times)
Matt Gwinn
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« on: March 03, 2003, 09:49:25 AM »

Once again, I tried to introduce my D&D group to something I picked up here at the Forge...the Character Creation Session.

First off, we had been playing the same D&D campaign for about a year and the character level was just getting too cumbersome.  So, we decided to start over with 1st level characters.  I informed the players that we would use half of the next session to do epiloges for their current characters and the rest of the session to create new characters.  They all agreed.

I explained to everyone that they shouldn't write anything up for their characters yet, but they should try to get a general idea of what they would enjoy playing.  I explained the concept behind a character creation session and that my goals for the session were to create characters that were of  interest to the whole group, avoid problem characters, and tie some of the character's backgrounds together.  Everyone seemed agreeable to the idea and even eager to try it.

Well, two minutes into the actual session the whole thing blew up in my face.  Two players already had characters written up, even though they agreed we would make our characters together.  Two other players refused to reveal their characters' races, or alignments to the rest of the players, demanding to keep it a surprise.

I immediately called a stop to everything and tried to explain the whole concept of a character creation "session" again.  I got blank stares in response.  Aparently what I said the week before translated to, "we're all going to sit together and make characters instead of making them at home."  The group creation aspect of the whole thing was lost somewhere along the line.

I know everyone in the group knows how to separate player knowledge from character knowledge.  Hell, most of us have been gaming for nealy two decades.  But for some reason, everyone wanted to make their characters sheltered away at their corner of the table, so they could spring their big surprises on everone else when they were done; HEY!  Look at the bad ass character I made!!", or after we started playing, "Ha!  You didn't know I was evil!!! Bwaa Haa Haa!!".

I almost gave up on the whole campaign before we even played.  

Has anyone else had this problem?

,Matt G.
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Clay
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« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2003, 11:34:47 AM »

Every time I try to do anything with the d20 system.  In Character Creation my group isn't so bad.  But something about d20 seems to bring out the worst in people.  Our group can play Dust Devils or Sorcerer without a hitch.  But when playing Star Wars d20 this weekend, I felt an overwhelming urge to shoot (in game) all of the other characters.  Two of the people (one the GM) had the sort of pointless fanboy argument that keeps starwars fans from reproducing. At the end of the night, I remembered why I stopped playing with this group while they were doing anything with d20.

So I don't have any real solutions. I found that the only way to win was not to play the game.
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Clay Dowling
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Bankuei
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« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2003, 12:29:44 PM »

Hi Matt,

This is very pertinent to some of the stuff I'm working on.  I think the big issue is that folks assume that "this is the way we play D&D" overrides and funky new ideas you may have.  One of the big issues is that for most players, the character is the only source of control they have as players before being railroaded in play, and therefore, they are highly protective of it.

The most important thing is to explain the why of a character creation session in ways they can understand, so that they'd be inclined to go for it.  I explain that folks need to think of characters as casts for a movie or tv show, and that you need characters who fit together, which means more than classes and alignments, despite what classic D&D "common sense" might say.  You don't just slam together a random set of cast for anything, so you can't just randomly slam together characters that matter and expect a good result.

Second, following the movie analogy, I explain a bit of the basics of the conflict for the game, about as much info as you'd get on the back of a movie box.  Then the players make their characters.  It's important that they openly suggest ideas, and themes to each other.  I highly suggest that the players decide if their characters already know each other or not.

A vital point to explain to the players, especially with those who aren't used to this, and are used to D&D is this:  Most people are coming to the game in order to "fight monsters".  When you have interparty conflict, it turns to "Fight each other".  This is cool if this is what everyone wants, but if one guy wants that, and no one else does, that one guy just stole the conflict control away from the GM, and the rest of the group.  Its sort of like going to see one kind of movie, and getting another...Everyone feels gypped.

Why does this happen?  Well, going back to the standard sort of play, most people are railroaded by alignment.  Choosing a conflicting alignment is one way of being a "Wild card" in the game and justifying all actions to the GM.  If your players are used to being railroaded, they probably lack trust(in GMs, in the group) and will not willingly open up character creation to even suggestions.  

I tell everyone the point of play is to have interesting stuff happen.  That's usually interesting people doing interesting things.  My rule about characters is that they have to get you and at least one other person in the group excited, otherwise, its probably not a good character.  Having to "sell" your idea makes  you a lot more open for suggestions.

Establishing trust with your players is not easy.  You will have to hand-hold them through it all the way, explaining why you're doing anything and everything and what the expected outcome is.  The point of group creation is to create a cast, not a typical motley crew of guys who "are together" for some ultra contrived reason.  This does affect how much you care about your character.  This affects how you play your character.  

Chris
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2003, 01:44:42 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei
One of the big issues is that for most players, the character is the only source of control they have as players before being railroaded in play, and therefore, they are highly protective of it.


I was struggling for a way to respond that didn't sound like pointless D&D bashing but wasn't able to put it into words.  This, Chris, is exactly what I wanted to say but couldn't actually articulate.  I suspect, Matt, that 100% (or at least 90%) of your issue with the game stems from the above.

The solution may be to write off trying this in d20 with your group, or perhaps Raven has some tips, because he seems to have managed to convince his group that they have real story control even without d20 having explicit mechanics for it and his game seems quite successful in that regard.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2003, 02:11:42 PM »

Hi there,

I agree with Chris and many others who've posted, especially about expectations of play as well as alignment-issues, but I also will disagree slightly.

If they don't wanna do it, then they don't wanna do it. It sounds to me as if you explained it pretty well, and that your voice just turned into Peanuts-adults voice to them except for the part that they wanted to hear.*

The thing that really interests me in your post, Matt, is this:

Quote
we had been playing the same D&D campaign for about a year and the character level was just getting too cumbersome.


Picture me with a bland, comforting expression but kind of a sinister glint in my eye. What do you mean by the character level becoming cumbersome? This is the first of several planned questions.

Best,
Ron

* See also The Far Side: "Blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah."
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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2003, 02:37:45 PM »

oops, right, I forgot to preface my previous post with:

Your players may not actually want to change their style of play, or may want to change, but not be willing to let go of their standard mode of play (check the trust issue again).  Remember, the point of group creation is to make it a group thing, and not to club your players upside the head with it.  It's also less likely to work if the trust issue is at hand as well.

Chris
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2003, 03:17:22 PM »

Matt's posts about his 3E group are a never ending source of fascination for me.  Mostly because I know all of these people, both inside and outside of the gaming context.  And while one of them is what I would label a problemed child of the worst sort, a couple of the others have played indie games with me and proven to be a wellspring of inspiration.  One was even involved in the http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=2435&highlight=charnel+gods"> first ever Charnel Gods playtest!.

So I guess I don't have a helluva a lot to add, except to say that individually, several of these folks are more than capable of hanging with new and cutting edge ideas, and have even jumped at opportunities to try new things, like Sorcerer ("the best game I ever played!", exclaimed one), NightWatch, Soap, and Kayfabe.  Maybe it's a form of mass hysteria peculiar to the group dynamic.  

Whatever the case me be, I'm looking forward to seeing how this thread develops.

- Scott
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Matt Gwinn
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« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2003, 03:48:51 PM »

Quote
Picture me with a bland, comforting expression but kind of a sinister glint in my eye. What do you mean by the character level becoming cumbersome? This is the first of several planned questions.


What I mean is that, as characters in D&D advance to epic levels it becomes harder and harder to create challenges for the players without altering the system.  My players are not stupid by any means, and in fact manage to pull some outlandish shit out of their asses when it comes time to be creative.  My personal belief is to keep things challenging which s harder to do as more an more abilities, spells, items etc. become available to the players.

Part of the problem is my own fauilt being generous with treasure and experience, but that doesn't change the fact that the group was at a point were either the villain was too tough or not tough enough to challenge them.  

Another problem is time.  It takes a lot more time to create a villain that can challenge a 25th level party than it is to challenge a 5th level party.  Having only one week between sessions wasn't leaving me enough time.

Hopefully that answers your first question Ron.

,Matt G.
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jdagna
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« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2003, 04:52:26 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei
Second, following the movie analogy, I explain a bit of the basics of the conflict for the game, about as much info as you'd get on the back of a movie box.  Then the players make their characters.  It's important that they openly suggest ideas, and themes to each other.  I highly suggest that the players decide if their characters already know each other or not.


I've found this approach very useful, especially with players who want lots of secrecy in character design.

I think it works because it's like the GM letting the players have a figurative peek behind his screen.  If the GM initiates by doing this, players are much more willing to give the GM a peek behind their screens.

Additionally, you make it clear that your intent for group character design is to come up with a functional and fun group, not to make sure characters have lots of ways to get screwed over (things like relatives, friends, pets and treasured heirlooms that GMs often use when all other railroading techniques have failed).


Ron:
I can also echo the feeling that D&D characters can become cumbersome at high levels.  I gave up on AD&D 2E when I realized that characters were only fun (for me) between levels 3 and 7.  I felt this way for two reasons.  First, the characters started becoming superheroic.  No matter how people try to explain it, I cringe when a see a human warrior with the same number of hit points as a dragon and better AC.  Secondly, in order to challenge players, I had to constantly devalue what they'd already done.  "Oh, look... THIS usurper to the throne is a lot stronger than the LAST one.  He just didn't get involved last time because it was beneath him then."
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Justin Dagna
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Steve Dustin
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« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2003, 10:53:51 PM »

I think one of the problems could be is that you allowed them to interface with the game mechanics too early. Instead, you should have had them detail their characters in English first, then have them translate their English into d20.

I'd suggest enforcing some ground rules before chargen starts. You, as DM, would show up some kind of thematic or narrative context -- "holy warriors trying to retake their home land from infidels," "in the court of the Crimson King during a civil war in Crimson Land," "pirates raping and pillaging across the 7 Seas," etc.

You then force the group to focus on only one character at a time, and make everyone give input into that person's character. The person can give or take the input, but no one's allowed to go the character sheets until everyone had a fully fleshed out character idea, and that character has sufficient drive or motivation associated with the context and the other characters.

I haven't done anything this strictly, but I think I would with d20. I know how frustrating it can be to have the players just "have at it," when that doesn't really allow for the narrow focus you want to create for your campaign.

Steve Dustin

Quick edit as it just occurs to me: It seems to me, with most mainstream (uhh...you know...better selling) RPGs, it requires adding actual rules to give a game "narrative" (for lack of better word) focus. It's literally drifting D&D3e into "my homebrew:" d20 + a strict protocol on chargen, kickers, player author stance, or whatever . Without saying "these are the rules of my game," you aren't making "narrative crunch" as important (or more) then say Saves or what Feats a character can take. The "brainstorming" becomes just twaddle; filler until a player can get to the "important" rules-oriented stuff.
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