Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lessons Learned: The Character Creation Session...

Good Evening:

Today, I'd like to talk about having a Character Creation session to start off a new campaign. Week before last week, I began my new Madlands Campaign under the Savage Worlds rules system. In the hopes that the players would work together to better develop a cohesive and complimentary team of characters, I made our first session a character creation session. However, things did not necessarily go as planned. More than half the players showed up with characters already created. They talked a bit about their concepts, but no one made any changes to their characters, nor did they make any real effort to design a team. I was hoping that the team would evolve over the course of the first adventure or two, but alas, they engaged a large group of goblins, and half the party died in the aftermath of poor tactics and loner mentalities.

I don't mind that, since the game has been advertised as "Old School" and I was not shy in telling them that there were a good number of goblins and worgs in the group. I handled the rolls fairly, and adjudicated the scenario as best as I could given the circumstances. I don't feel like I was a dick, but I didn't hew to the "New School" standard assumption that every single encounter must be balanced against the party. That was a problem for some, but by the same token, this wasn't a surprise for them, given the warnings I gave them.

However, in thinking about the situation, I realize now that I failed the group by not enforcing the concept behind the character creation session. It was my first time to try it, and the session didn't accomplish what it should have. With that in mind, I figured I'd try to capture some lessons learned from this whole experience, so that the next time I do this, I won't make the same mistakes. (I can make all new ones instead!) This is how I get to become a better GM, so here I go.

First, I should do some actual research. If I had, I would have found a great post containing a template for the character creation session. I would have also found numerous threads on different RPG forums about character creation sessions, which would have given me some great ideas to work with.

Second, I should insist that players not come to the session with a fully created character in tow. If so, they should be ready to discuss with everyone else how they intended to fit into the group, and work and play well with others. I am not going to insist that basic roles be filled in the party, but I do think the group should have an idea of how they are going to work together. If a character is created in a vacuum, unless the concept is solid and designed with team play in mind, it's going to have to change. Players with predefined characters should be willing to make changes if it better suits the direction of the campaign and the goals of the group. In my games, it's not fun if I cater just to loners. That's one person in the spotlight instead of five, and that means less game time for every party member over the course of a session. It's to everyone's benefit to build a character that can work together as a team, because then everyone is getting more air time.

Third, I should not assume that the team will gel after an adventure or two, although that will happen in most cases. Instead, I should direct the group toward the concept of teamwork. Even if they decide not to heed that direction, at least I know that I put the thought in their head. After that, all's fair on the battlefield, right? (Okay, so long as I warn them about powerful encounters so that they can make a reasonable decision, then it's fair. That's part of "Old School", right?)

My game isn't over, of course. It wasn't a TPK, although I definitely heard the moans and groans of a naysayer in my group claiming that the sky was falling... er, uh, I mean, claiming the encounter would be a TPK. I think there may be a shift in both the type of characters and the direction of the game on the part of the player-characters. Fortunately, the background is open enough to allow for a great diversity of character concepts and party directions, so it should be fun to watch the game evolve from this point moving forward.

More Tomorrow,

1 comment:

Kobold said...

Would it help, when designing the player team, to invite players to come to the character creation session with a character concept, but no character stats, and then ask each player, how they think the characters might know each other?

A friend once ran a game where two of the players decided their characters were brothers and a third player joined in as well, and thus the Brothers Snotgobblersen, nordic warriors, were created. This provided the backstory as to why the characters were adventuring together as well as immediately suggesting a bond between them, even if they occasionally tried to steal loot off each other (this usually ended in a fist fight which became part of their ttade mark).

Mongoose Traveller handles this situation quite well with allies, contacts and associations, as well as a small group of skills to help balance out the skill sets at the end of generation.