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A3 Series • #2

In my first article, I wrote on my responsibility as the GM in creating a plot for the game. This time I’ll look at character creation from a GM’s perspective. The players should be the ones making the characters, but that doesn’t mean that the GM should not have input. In my opinion, there are four ways a GM should approach character creation with their groups: open-ended; lightly guided; concept guidance; and pre-generated.

An “open-ended” generation guideline means anything in the rules of the game system goes. The GM does not give the players any significant guidance on creating the characters. This is my least favorite because it allows for some odd combinations that can be distracting from the plot line and make for some very big stretches in party cohesiveness. It also creates situations where a player creates a great character but that character does not fit in with the campaign. I have seen scenarios where a player created a wilderness-based barbarian who is stuck in a campaign that is filled with political intrigue. Such disconnects can make for some great role playing but it puts additional burdens on the GM and players to make it work.

“Light guidance” means that the GM gives some broad guidelines to the players regarding details of the campaign. As an example, the GM can let the players know that the campaign is going to focus on political intrigue within the capital city, a large municipality surrounded by small farming villages and homesteads. The primary political organizations involved are the church, an order of knights sworn to protect the region, the merchants’ guild, the thieves’ guild, and three noble families vying for control of the crown after the king passed away unexpectedly. The players have a general idea of what the campaign is going to be based on and enough leeway to make characters that will fit within the campaign. This is the approach that I typically would lean towards.

“Concept guidance” is a bit more stringent in that you are giving the players a character concept with a more developed backstory. I would use this when I have a campaign that has a strongly developed story in which I need characters to hold certain roles. An example would be running a campaign that is going to have the players take on the role of rebels against a military occupation in their homeland. One of the concepts is a character of noble birth, the child of a local count whose lands have been taken and whose family is either killed or imprisoned by the occupational force. With this I can develop some details of the family and land. The player taking on this concept may be limited in choice of race, but the options for class would be wide open and they can be free to create some details so long as it meshes with this general concept and any details of importance that I have for the storyline.

The final option is “pre-generated” characters. I admit, I love building characters, but for a system that is well-known to the players I generally will not do this unless a player asks me to. If I am introducing a new system, or it is a very complex role playing system that the players are not very familiar with, this is a method I will employ. In the case of the Guild, this method works well as it allows someone to sit in at the table without having to take the time to build their own character. For most home campaigns, however, I would recommend avoiding this.

Which one of these approaches you use is going to depend on you, as the GM, and the players in the group. In some cases you may even use different tactics for different players. Some players may want more specific guidance while others want less. What I generally try to keep in mind is making sure that the character created is going to fit into the campaign and made to feel important and useful. First and foremost is that the end goal is to have fun and for the players to have a characters that they can enjoy.

I’ll have more next time.

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