Before you start to read this, you need to remember I am returning to DM/GMing after a long break – so I am always playing catch up with the new ideas.
So here is the question I have been puzzling over – How much information should I request from the players about their characters before they enter the campaign? Background? Motivation? Rationale? Mother’s maiden name? ….
Before you start to read this, you need to remember I am returning to DM/GMing after a long break – so I am always playing catch up with the new ideas. Being a DM/GM for the most of my RPGing life, I rarely actually make up characters or indeed play them. I have had a go at creating characters mainly because I think it is important to understand the rules associated with chargen but it is one of those areas that I find difficult to remember due to the lack of regular engagement with it. After experiencing Roll20’s new Charactermancer option, I discovered how quickly it is to create 5e D&D characters compared to games like Shadowrun – which I always have to set aside a good couple of weekends to complete! But one thing which I thought was missing was the background and personality of the character in the Roll20 process and it got me thinking – where should characters develop into their final form – at character generation or during the campaign?
In the beginning…
Everyone probably starts with an idea for a character – whether this be a sturdy fighter, spell flinging street mage, the ex music hall entertainer or a multi-armed science officer onboard a spaceship. Usually the class/skills come first and then a suitable race and gender completes the process. Essentially the attributes and skill levels just add a ‘playable dimension’ to the character before it embarks on its first adventure. In the past I have asked players to provide their character’s background, personality and motivations. Background’s provide me with some sort of understanding about the character and possible plot lines, personality how they will play and interact with the group and motivations the how and why they are in the world. But maybe I have got this all wrong, perhaps I am asking too much from the players. Should I just ask for nothing and the players just create the basic character before playing?
Too much, too soon..
I always like the first session of a new game/campaign. That moment when I actually see the characters interact for the first time and I get my first true ‘feel’ of them – their voices, their interactions, their philosophies. I do think rather than asking for a background, a rationale for their choices within chargen might be a better request. The other thing which I really like is how characters change throughout the campaign. I have nothing against ‘one shots’ but I am definitely a ‘campaign dude’ – enjoying long and intricate story lines with opportunities for characters to develop and change. Maybe, by asking players to think too much about their characters it actually presents a ‘fixed’ character right at the beginning of the campaign. Pre-generated background, can really cause me problems at times, especially if they are out on the path of revenge since I wonder why would they ever go adventuring in the first place! I am thinking now that the main focus of the character generation should just be personality with the motivation being set at the start of the campaign by the GM and the players developing their own as the campaign progresses.
Summary of ideas…
This would relate just to new games or new campaigns but also for all individual sessions. Essentially at character generation, the character is a blank sheet with any possible outcomes possible. The campaign could provide the starting point for the characters – in a similar way as I did for the recent Call of Cthulhu campaign when the players started off members of the Carlton Club and then the rest is up to the players and their characters. Maybe they encounter a group of dedicated knights in the first adventure and decide to join their order or, after a nasty encounter with the local thieves guild they swear revenge or they actually fall in love with that icon from the Absalom station and decide to apply to be their bodyguard. In the future I’m definitely going to focus on the characters within the campaigns rather than before they even enter the first gaming session.
Do you ask your players for any background stories or even rationales? Or do you just let them develop within the session? How do you interact with the backgrounds from the players as a DM/GM and how does this impact on your campaign? As always I would love to hear your ideas and techniques, always looking to improve and develop.