Every Day DM: character creation basics.
Hey there Table Top Titans! In this installment of Every Day Dungeon Master I’m going to tackle one of the first things you should be thinking about when starting any table top RPG. Your players! Or, more specifically, their characters, which is how they are going to interact with your world.
Once you’ve picked the kind of system you want to use for your game, you now have to decide what kind of toys you are going to give them to play in your sandbox. There are literally dozens of ways to do this. You could take it out of a book, if you’ve decided to use an already established system. One of my personal favorites is the FATE system, which allows for action but even character creation is incredibly heavy on your character’s backstory and how it mingles with each other character in your group. Heck, I’ve even played a game of D20 Modern where we reverse engineered our starting characters from the charts in the book. If jumping a 10 foot distance was a DC of 10 and we could jump ten feet, we filled in a ten in the jump skill. That was a pretty rough day of character creation, but you catch my meaning.
The thing I have noticed during making my games is that most players seek to make their characters stand out. Whether they are the number crunching MinMaxer or the Justified-through-development Story Sorcerer, everyone seems to desire as much customization as they can get from the get go.
This doesn’t mean you have to have thousands of feats and skills, dozens of different rules for weapons and powers, and a myriad of classes or races all preset with concrete rules before you start. It just means you have to give them some freedom. Now, in Dungeons and Dragons, they do take the approach that has the classes, races, feats, weapons, powers etc. There is nothing wrong with that and, in fact, a lot of players like reading what the “typical” version of a Wizard or Gnome is, and building their characters to be the neurotic and outcast weirdo of the group. The Pixie Barbarian story that floats around the internet comes to mind.
It’s important to remember that this is not the only way to break this down. I recently played in a game where everyone is a human security guard working at a cursed zoo. Our options in the beginning of the game were starting weapon proficiency, previous employment, and off duty hobby. All of which had a bearing on how the character played and what options that had during the adventure. During some of our super hero based games, our only real distinction is what our power or gimmick is. In this case each character roles all of the same dice at character creation, have the same point pools to buy from, but where they put those points depends on if they have some sort of will based magic ability, or are just a normal man with bat-themed equipment.
For the Pilgrimage game that I used as an example in my previous article, I got this idea in my head that each of the hipster-esque characters from Scott Pilgrim Versus the World had more power based on the amount of emotional baggage they were carrying around. To that end, I created a triangular character creation grid. You chose your musical instrument and your power at character creation. At first level you had one triangle, which each side represented a part of the character backstory. The first was the person who gave you the baggage. The second was the “trauma” they gave it to you during. The last thing was the neurosis or quirk your character has because of it. This quirk you had to actually roleplay into your character.
For example, one of my characters who we will call the Meister had a bass guitar and the power to use it to cause earth shaking shockwaves. His story was that his first girlfriend (person) broke up with him because he wasn’t BAD enough (trauma) and he subsequently became a knee-jerk delinquent, willing to start any fight, womanize, and be a down right jerk (quirk).
The longer you play, you get to add a new triange, increasing your baggage, quirks, stats, and powers. This way, I have a character creation that allows the players to customize what their characters can do, build a backstory, and add entertaining roleplaying quirks. These quirks will help the roleplaying portiosn of your game stay light and flow in an interesting direction, and the backstory, by it’s nature, offers plenty of fodder for bringing people into each characters individual storyline from their past.
So, in your game, what kind of characters are you going to allow your players to make? Can I be a greaser were-unicorn? A genetically modified bulldog person who ran a toll booth before the zombie apocalypse? Let me know in the comments!