Gaming My Way

02 Mar

RPG Character Generation: Group or Solo

As I see it, there are two basic ways to do character creation, though there are a lot of variations on these two methods. You can have everyone come together as a group to build characters, or you can have players build characters on their own, then bring them to the group. Both methods, naturally, have some good points and bad points, though you can mitigate some of the bad points if you know what to look for.

Group character creation is what a lot of people start out with. Many times, everyone is learning the game for the first time, and players and gm alike will be helping everyone pull together the character they want. Everyone will probably take on a different role in order to have a balanced party, and eventually a group of adventurers will be formed. Players may or may not think of ways everyone is connected, but it probably won’t matter. Since it’s the first game, they’ll likely do an easy meet-up, such as meeting in a tavern or everyone will start out in jail or something along these lines. Fun will be had by all.

Of course, what might also end up happening is that one player may get shoehorned into a role he’s unhappy with for the sake of party balance. Typically, this is someone who plays the cleric in a game of D&D, before everyone realizes just how powerful clerics are. Using this example of the cleric, in a good scenario, this player will actually find out clerics are a lot of fun for him to play, or players will realize it’s okay to go without a healer and the player will choose a role he’s happy in playing. In a bad scenario, he’ll stick it out and not have a whole lot of fun with it.

A clever gm might even realize that it’s not necessary for all party roles to be filled for everyone to have fun. In this case, he might take each player aside to build their characters separately, so each player builds what is fun for him to play. In this case, the players don’t worry about party balance, and just play what they want. This has the added benefit that characters randomly meeting up don’t just happen to fit the mold of “standard adventuring party,” which can help preserve verisimilitude for people who care about this.

However, this method has it’s own issues. Some players like a well balanced party, and would fill a less fun role before having a skewed party. Additionally, if players don’t talk about their characters ahead of time, it’s harder to establish relationships between the characters. This can be done in game, but by the time gms are pulling this trick out, players are often used to establishing relationships ahead of time, so it feels clunky to do this in game for some people. Finally, if two or more people are fulfilling the same role, it may lead to one player handling the role much better than the other player, so the weaker player feels overshadowed and like he’s not contributing to the party’s success.

Now, you might have guessed this by now, but I prefer to take elements of both methods and put them to work, though I favor the group method in this blend. So, I ask players to build characters in a group, but also stress it’s absolutely not necessary to fill every role unless that’s the way they strongly prefer to play. I’d rather see them all have characters they enjoy playing themselves. Furthermore, if it looks like one player will overshadow another in a similar role in a cooperative game, I’ll ask them to help the other player bring his character up to snuff if he’d like the help. Some players do have roleplaying ideas in mind that work better when they are a weak link, and they always have the option to go that route, but I’ve found more often than not they’re happy to have some help in optimizing. Finally, I make sure players establish some relationships within the party so they have a reason to stick together. They can worry about any other backstory later, but having some established in-party relationships really makes the starting sessions of a campaign run smoother.

The hardest part of this third blended approach is getting players to buy into the idea that every role doesn’t need to be covered. So, I tend to explain that this party weakness can lead to creative problem solving when they don’t have the typical solution on hand, as well as good roleplaying opportunities when seeking help outside the party. Or, using another example from D&D, perhaps a player might find leadership a good feat to cover these weaknesses via a cohort and some followers, which also leads to good roleplaying opportunities. Similarly, taking the allies or contacts background in World of Darkness might provide similar help in overcoming obstacles not handled directly by the characters, though likely not quite as directly. Once I’ve laid these thoughts out, players usually buy into this idea. If not, or if they still strongly prefer a traditional party structure, they’re certainly welcome to play that way. I just think it’s good to stress it’s not necessary to do so to have a great campaign.

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