the Fairgame Archive

2005-12-29: Creating builds character
by Meguey

So, playtesting. Well, at least character creation. The other night Emily, Vincent and I got together and ran through character creation for our respective games. (Now's the time for the 'I told you so/Now we've got her' cackle I heard foreshadowed in the suck of having an idea.) Wow, were they ever different.

Game 1:

Choose stuff about your character semi-cooperatively, then choose stuff about each other's characters semi-cooperatively. You could apply interesting bits of pressure in this, and it wound up with nicely interwoven and totally playable characters.

Game 2:

Roll various dice and assign various values to stuff for your character. Slightly convoluted, but logical for the game, and fun to do. Much laughter involved. Resulted in great drawings and characters we wanted to play.

Game 3:

Describe your own character, then make some notes basically about how you feel about the other characters. Figure out what your character wants. By the end, the characters felt clear and connected, with direction and pressure, all set to play.

So, rhetorically, what didn't we cover?

The secret character. All three games had full disclosure of who was what. No going off alone to make a character that everyone thought was X, but who actually was Y.

The min-maxed character. No option for that in any game.

The hyper-detailed, roll on the chart-chart character. All three games left lots of room for details to develop in play.

What else? Ideas? Can you write a similarly concise description of Character generation for your game or your favorite game? I'm curious about the similarities that might emerge.

I've played stacks of games, and sometimes the char-gen is the worst part. Unfortunately, I have played games where char-gen was the most fun in the game, too.

Why does some char-gen work and some falls flat?

2005-12-30 14:43:43 Emily

My personal least fave option is the "lists of random traits you chooose from that may or may not end up being useful or interesting to play and certainly don't end up giving you a clear character concept" variety.

My favorite example is the eidetic albino deaf child (well the deafness was a requirement for the scenario) with perfect timing or direction or some such.  I made it up using the GURPS rules & it has become a poster child for poor structure for char development for me.

This playtest session rocked by the way. Can't wait to do more with them all.

2005-12-30 20:08:40 Ninja Monkey J

Here's how it works in Shock: and I'll tell you why I like it:

1: Make a world out of structured ethical questions.

2: Choose the ethical questions you want your protagonist to confront.

3: Write down a couple of things about your character. Don't write down everything.

I like that because you've set yourselves up with something to confront and you have resources to define the character as you go.

Next game I write (or maybe one after that) will have no pregen characters; everything will come up in play. You spend resources to do something now (short run, cheap; long run, expensive), or have a defining characteristic (short term expensive, long term cheap). I think this might be for Absinthe, my game about fin-du-si??cle Paris.

There's a process here, where world creation leads to character creation, leads to character changing, leads to world changing. I want to figure out how to consciously make that work in a system. Because what are characters, if not intimate parts of the world? And what's the world, but an extension of the characters?

2005-12-30 20:31:47 Matt Wilson

I don't necessarily have anything against do-it-alone characters, provided they're all made to address the same situation. Like NMJ says, agree on situation, then make fit characters.

For game in development, it's something like: find a concept that the other players also like, then assign values to things both material and emotional.

And by "a concept that the other players like," really I mean "a concept that provokes a big emotional response." If you say to me, "oh, man, your character sounds like a real prick," then I'm on the right track.

Oh, and I'm hoping that the idea of supporting characters works out. It's me wading slowly into group ownership, which I still have some gamer psychosis about. But if you create a minor character, you can use that character to address stuff about my main character. I think it sounds good on paper.

2005-12-31 06:24:22 Emily

But if you create a minor character, you can use that character to address stuff about my main character. I think it sounds good on paper.

It makes it a dialogue, or rather a conversation, among the players instead of many monologues.


more interesting.

And this, "There's a process here, where world creation leads to character creation, leads to character changing, leads to world changing", is as right as rain. Anybody anywhere close to that? I'm thinking of Polaris right now, because of the way that negotions around character events escalate into world events quickly & easily. (We played the other night & it kicked ass.) But most other (esp. trad) stuff makes character effect on world take place one hack at a time.

2005-12-31 14:52:07 Victor Gijsbers

In Shades, you don't create characters. Or rather, telling the story and creating the characters is the exact same thing (and in the end, the characters simply are the roles they turned out to have in the story). I played last evening, and here are some things I can and cannot tell you about the characters:

Gender: that got established pretty quickly, although the first few turn we carefully addressed the shades as 'the shade'. But after three or four turns, I think both their genders were known.

Names: no idea.

Ages: she was old enough to give birth, but not old enough to arrange her own marriage; he was old enough to impregnate her. Beyond that, no idea.

Occupation: for most of the game, I suspected she was a noble lady, which turned out to be the case. But I also suspected him to be a noble, and only 3/4 through the game did we suddenly find out that he was in fact a gardener.

Skills: she plays the piano well and he knows a lot about roses, but I couldn't say beyond that. (There is no resolution system in Shades, so it's not mechanically important.)

Look at the 'age' part, that is particularly revealing. All we know about the ages of the characters is related to how the ages are important to the story. There is no fluff at all; the characters only exist as far as they are part of the story. They don't even have names (and never had, in any game of Shades ever played, if I remember correctly).

2005-12-31 22:56:56 Joshua BishopRoby

Well, it's not concise, but...

1. Talk with the other players about their expectations for the game and campaign as a whole; talk about the characters that you'd like to play within that context.

2. Pick three words or phrases that encapsulate your character. (Thematic Batteries)

3. Spend points (out of a budget agreed on in #1) on Attributes and Skills.

4. Collaboratively discuss and name the ship you are stationed on; propose and vote on the ship's three thematic batteries.

5. Discuss and name your commanding officer (NPC), propose and vote on the officer's three thematic batteries.  Take turns spending 5 points each on the officer's atts and skills until you run out of points.

...which then segues into the Engineering the Situation procedure, which uses most of the data above to formulate a specific situation that the players will engage in roleplay.  Overall, the structure should be like so:

Player Preferences -> Characters/Setting -> Situation -> Roleplay

Which is still missing steps!  Increasingly I'm getting dissatisfied with games where character creation is an activity unconnected to roleplay.  The story's supposed to be about the characters but is often created before they are, which is ludicrous.  There need to be formal, structural connections between character creation, world creation, and roleplay (which is nothing more than character & world development).  Games where character creation is more fun than roleplay (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is my prime example of this) are the apogee of this sort of design flaw.

2006-01-01 18:20:46 Ben Lehman

I've got several games cooking right now, each of which has it's own generation system, but the one I want to talk about now is Drifter's Escape.  The character creation is this:

Divide your starting Debt between the Man and the Devil.


I've been moving away from character generation systems in general.  In the present crop of games I'm working on (Polaris, Bliss Stage, Drifter's Escape, On The Ecology of the Mud Dragon) all of the central characters are of the same "class," in D&D terms.  There are not strongly differentiated in terms of role.  My lesson from Polaris (and Polaris demoes) is apparently that this doesn't matter at all.  Given identical characters, people will naturally differentiate them, often quite strongly, often to the point of driving characters towards conflict.  We don't need to have character generation handle this for us at all.

I'm not saying that there isn't a place for chargen, but I find it fascinating how much we can do without it.  Guess I'm just revelling in that right now.



2006-01-03 22:16:39 Vincent

I've written up my thoughts at the Forge: Three kinds of character creation.

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