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Making Character Creation Fun

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#1 Daniel

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Posted 05 September 2013 - 08:04 AM

At the beginning of any great tale it is essential to set the scene and who am I to buck tradition?  So imagine this: the players have gathered for their GM's latest masterpiece, a roleplaying game of epic proportions one that promises to blow their socks to kingdom come and give their loins reason to spontaneously combust.  A game, with a story so amazing Steve Jackson will be fighting Zombie Stanley Kubrick for the honour of directing it's straight-to-DVD movie adaptation.  A system so... you get the picture.  Needless to say you are stoked, fueled by Mountain Dew™ you are jiggling in your seat like a puppy, dice-bag wiggling in every direction.
 
Then it happens...
 
With a table-splintering THUNK the GM drops a pile of tatty broken rulebooks before you.  They descend through their air mimicking, quite accurately, both the effects of gravity on a large book-shaped concrete brick and your own sinking dreams.
 
"Time for character creation!" the GM says, the air of general malevolence and malnourishment that all GMs seem to possess, dripping from every tone.

 

As a player I hate character creation, as a GM I still hate character creation.  I find nothing more stressful and more boring that trying to herd 4+ players through translating their dreams into paper-numerical form.  Every gamer I've spoken to has agreed: character creation is naff.  "The worst part of the entire hobby", one even proclaimed, although I'm certain that dubious honour still rests firmly with 'standing on a d4'.

 
So I pose a question to you veterans, newbies and Old Farts Who Haven't Games In Ears But Occasionally Open Their Dice Bag As A Single Tear Rolls Down Flabby Cheeks ('Bitter Vets', for short): How do we make character creation fun?  Have you accomplished this - and if so how?  Do you enjoy character creation - and if so, are you human?
 
And, of course, what are your biggest Character Creation Horror Stories.  I'm sure Traveller has created a fair few of those. :P
 
Daniel


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#2 Telemergion

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Posted 05 September 2013 - 12:59 PM

Okay, I have to start off by stating that while I completely get why some folks don't like character creation, myself and several of the folks I play with do not share this affliction. Quite the opposite. One of my buddies and I just roll characters as a hobby. I often try to recreate various heroes of film and comics in systems not designed for them - like the time I made the Avengers and the JLA in 4th ed DnD. In the current game I'm playing in my character has gone through 3 iterations trying to get the right feel for how I wanted him to play from both a roleplaying and mechanical standpoint. (With GM's approval, of course, and we're only 1 session in so it's not a big reroll in the middle of the campaign)

 

But while for me it's fun to take a concept and look through the tomes of rules to try and find the right class combinations and feats to put something together that's cool and interesting I can absolutely see why some people would find it daunting, tedious, or not fun at all.

 

Now, the situation you've proposed with the GM plopping books down and doing a group chargen is both the most difficult, I find, and yet sometimes the most rewarding. It's hard because you're asking the group to spend at least an hour or more, which will significantly cut into playtime that evening if not absorb it completely, doing something that your group seems to not like. That's just not a good starting point. The audience is already set against you. However, unlike doing solo chargen I think the tools to make it more palatable are more readily at your disposal in this situation because you have people together who want to have a good time.

 

My most successful group chargens are always the ones where we get engaged in the characters themselves and their interactions with the other characters. The mechanics inform some decisions we make but for the most part we bullshit and make cockeyed plans for the things we want to do. Not every roleplayer I've ever met likes to make characters, most but not all like to talk about who their character is, but every single one I've run into loves to talk about the things their character does so come at it from that angel. Don't start them off as lvl 1 chumps who haven't done anything worth mentioning and are just numbers on a paper, give them an epic tale of how they got to that tavern and forged relationships with their comrades or that busty bar wench and/or how they live in fear of that busty bar wench's father. Maybe get really into it and do little mini-adventures with each, like a vingnette that shows who they are or why they do what they do.

 

Of course, this requires you have some numbers down on your paper to add to your dice rolls. For my suggestion of coming at it from the story angle I recommend point buy systems for most games. I say this simply because it helps prevent a randomly shit character and the holy-god-damn awesome character who outshines everyone else. It's an even playing field and it'll let you just build they character you want with no muss or fuss. Some systems, however, should always be done randomly. Cthulhu is a prime example of this because it doesn't matter if your guy is amazing or utter crap because he's just going to go insane and die anyways. The dice are less tied to your success and more to fleshing out this soon to be soul-sucked husk. 

 

Once you've got your basic stats there's no easy way to get through what usually comes after: Skill lists, math, feats, and all that. That's the main slog. But try and focus on the character and story, keep the group engaged in telling the tale to each other and recording it on their sheet. Saying "I guess I'll put 4 points in acrobatics because I want to be able to tumble" is less exciting than "so in high school my guy was picked on because he was so small and was on the gymnastics team, but he got really good at squeezing himself into lockers where he recorded embarrassing conversations and used it to blackmail the quarterback."

 

There are two alternatives based on this same approach as well. The first is you find a weirdo like me who loves to do chargen. You sit everyone down and have the fun talk about who they are, what they do, and such. Get everybody to write notes. Then give those notes to the weirdo and tell him to have it all done in a week. Sometimes I wish my groups would let me do this. We need either a cleric or an arcane caster to fill out our current party and I have several ideas for really cool builds that I'd want the 4th player to try. Hell, if your group is ever really bummed about it send me a line and if I'm not busy and know the system I'd be happy to help out.

 

The second is to just leave chargen at that fun story telling stage by using a system like HeroQuest or... I'm blanking on the name of it but it's another super simple, narrative driven system where you quite literally just write down on a paper stuff your character does, assign some very simple numbers to it, and you're done. Even with my love of chargen I adore HeroQuest because it quite simply is all about the story and it works so smoothly.

 

So those are my thoughts. I think they might help but they're purely supposition because of inexperience with the problem so if they make things worse I do apologize.


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#3 Twyst

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Posted 05 September 2013 - 02:15 PM

I fully agree with Telemergion. Character creation is so much fun for me, especially with my imaginative group-mates in OOTAK. We've played a few systems that embrace this creativity and make the stat generation so much more organic. I will have to look up which systems those were (I think RISUS was the first one we used. I never even saw a rulebook for that one but I knew exactly what my character would and could do in most situations, probably thanks to the skills of our GM.)

 

But what I want to talk most about is what I think our group most enjoys at the beginning of a new campaign. We use it a lot and it's fun, gets our creative juices flowing, and gives wildly random but thoroughly engaging backgrounds while suggesting stats that can be worked into filling out the actual character sheets. Thing is, even though we use it a lot, I always seem to get the name wrong. Hang on while I look it up...

 

Central Casting. http://rpggeek.com/r...central-casting

 

Look through the OOTAK APs and I bet a number of first sessions are of us going through this randomized table-fest, creating some of the most unusual backgrounds you've heard. We all work together to help stitch the random results into something logical. Also, it's up to you if you want to drop whatever doesn't work. Much of what comes out of it is simply there to help you know your character better, but there are things that a GM can take note of for later and there are system-non-specific skills that are acquired along the way that can be adjusted and added to your stats after you're done.

As far as I know, the Central Casting books are out of print and you will be lucky to find them. Hope it helps you change your mind about character generation.

 

Ultimately though, I think your enjoyment of character generation, as with all other aspects of play, is dependent upon the entire group. If just one of a gaming group knows the rules of the system well and is able to communicate effectively with the rest, any aspect of that game can be made to be engaging and enjoyable. If no one knows the system very well and everyone just tries to slog on through, especially if it's not a well-written rulebook to begin with, well, let's just say I'm still playing Savage Worlds but I wouldn't say I like it yet.


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#4 Chewzter

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Posted 05 September 2013 - 02:32 PM

I really like to take time creating my character, thus it stresses me out if I can't create it before the session. I really don't mind digging through rules, I actually like that a bit, it's just that I have to have the time to consider all options.

Not going for total min/maxing here, but if there is some crazy combination that could be fun, I want to find it.

 

So for me, chargen is really fun, given I am not temproally limited. This of course means bucking the trend of enjoying it more with others around.


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#5 Aethyr

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Posted 05 September 2013 - 09:08 PM

So I pose a question to you veterans, newbies and Old Farts Who Haven't Games In Ears But Occasionally Open Their Dice Bag As A Single Tear Rolls Down Flabby Cheeks ('Bitter Vets', for short): How do we make character creation fun?  Have you accomplished this - and if so how?  Do you enjoy character creation - and if so, are you human?

 

 

I do enjoy character creation and I sometimes qualify as human. I however would hate the situation described in this post. I need time to go through the book(s) and get some ideas. Look how this feat could go with that skill or that flaw to make an interesting character. If I had no time to go through the book on my own, to get somewhat of a feel for the world, I'd end up with the worst character generation experience I had.

 

One of the first few games I played. I had the books plopped down in front of me and told I had to spend a plethora of points in skills, all in different skills which was quite a few (GURPS). I spent an hour or so while the GM read in the background since it was his books I was using to make a character. So not only was I going through unfamiliar books but I had a bored person waiting for me to figure things out and make a character. And to top it off, I never played in the game because I ended up leaving that area before it started. Oh well. Edit: Oh yes, and the GM liked keeping his campaign somewhat secret so it was also a case of make a <blank> character. I don't recall what the <blank> was, but in a previous game it was make a modern military character. So not a whole lot to work with for my taste.

 

But give me some time to go through the material beforehand and I'll have quite a few ideas popping into my head which is why I usually ask what a party needs since I'll likely have a concept I could roll up to fill it. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Definitely mostly human some of the time. Yep.


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#6 Slartibartfast

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Posted 06 September 2013 - 10:26 AM

From my experience it depends on what my gaming group want.  There are games that allow you to skip though character generation pretty quickly and there are those in which it is more laboured.  I think the answer is to match the system to your group's collective tastes.

Traveller and Mutant Chronicles  are examples that make it a mini-game - and not always a horrific one. It can be fun playing someone with concussion....

Rolemaster has a bit of a rep for taking a while to create characters and I have heard horror stories of epic sessions where poor unfortunates struggle through umpteen hours of numbers and tables... 

A number of the more indy games make character gen the beginning of the narrative involving plenty of interaction between players and so are simply your roleplay session in a slightly different gear.

Simpler games can give more freedom to just play an out of the box iconic character thus skipping much of the problem for you. Another way to skip it would be to roll up some pre generated characters and offer those to your players (you would have to inflict it upon yourself many times though...)

 


 
And, of course, what are your biggest Character Creation Horror Stories.  I'm sure Traveller has created a fair few of those. :P
 
Daniel


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#7 LightPagoda

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Posted 08 September 2013 - 07:49 PM

One of the guys in my Sat group is an alt-aholic.  He enjoys making characters almost as much as playing.  As to making it fun, make it a game in and of itself.  Like Todd said up above our group has enjoyed using the Central Casting books to much group amusement.  We got a vampire group with an illiterate irish thug wielding a cursed sword, Eddie Murphie's character from Coming to America but with a Call of Cthulu childhood, and Whitebread.  A character with a fairly normal childhood with a few lost opportunities who still ended up derailing the plot somehow with his backstory.  Lots of charts and tables, but the absurdity of it all is part of the fun.  I would also strongly suggest game systems that make character creation a process instead of just giving you a blank sheet and some rules.  I know there are other systems that have life path systems like Traveler where you follow the character through life rather than pick numbers and abilities at random.  On the other side of that I have enjoyed Dresden Files character creation even though you are pretty much starting from not just blank character sheets but a blank city.  The whole point is for the group to work together and create not just your own character but a place for that character and a history that connects with the others in the group.  It can lead to some frustration (Patriiiick!) but I found the act of group creation to be enjoyable.


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#8 Daniel

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Posted 09 September 2013 - 01:25 AM

Funny you should mention Life Paths systems.  Its something I've started toying with the idea of since starting my BattleTech/Savage Worlds conversion, last month.  They seem a really fun, quick, way of making characters in a way that enhances variety, encourages balance (good bye flange builds!) and gives players a full image of their character's backstory.


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#9 Akira1121

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Posted 09 September 2013 - 07:26 PM

What makes character creation fun for me is that I do the whole thing ass backwards. I look at where I want my character to be in the end game. Do I want to end up being a God or just the best in a specific weapon class or just be able to survive to retire and farm my life away. Then I look at the stats that I roll and see how my character developes as a persona. When I created my dwarf in 3.5 he was looking to become the greatest mage in the land but with a 4 int that wasn't happening so he became the fighter that thought he was the greatest mage and sometimes people believed him but he was to dumb to realize that the chalk was not magical after all. then blending the character into the group and see how they react and fun with him as much as I was having fun with him. If that makes sense. If not then once you get to know me and listen to our old sessions from the long tall texans you will understand better.


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#10 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 01 June 2015 - 06:13 AM

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