Making Characters by the Binder Full?

Am I the only GM that insists on making a ton of characters for myself just to get a feel for the system?


Am I the only GM that likes to make characters, too?

When I’m trying out a new system to see if I want to run it, I make characters. I make enough to have an entire party. I know how people tend to have a distaste of pregenerated characters, so most of my good characters become really overly crunchy NPCs.

This has its upside, though. It gives me readily available party members to fill in for positions in the group that no one likes to play (cough-healer-cough.) In a pinch, it might also give me a foil for one of the characters, a competing dungeon party, or even a bad guy.

Hidden benefit to making tons of characters.

First, it gives me an idea of how to make/explain characters for a new system. Second, I can read a system and know pretty fast how it runs. Making characters helps me catch some of the nuances I might have missed. It also helps me learn the design process for the game itself so I can build new character classes, spells, items, etc. Last, it does give me a building block to help the players if I get in a pinch.

If I have new players, or if my players are new to the system, having generated a ton of characters helps me teach them the best way of going about it. Most of us know D&D, but not every game runs character generation the same way. I even build cheat sheets on blank character sheets for some games. Anything involving point buys for attributes probably has a heavily annotated character sheet in a folder around here somewhere.

Second, I’ve read a TON of game systems. I can read a few lines in the first few chapters and have a pretty good read on how the game is going to work. But actually creating a character helps dig into the nuances of the system. I learned a lot about ICRPG making characters.

Third, it truly does help build better balanced and fun new classes, items, spells, equipment, etc. I’ve had three or four games where I started building classes right after I made a couple of characters. For example, in Bare Bones Fantasy, I built a warrior and a cleric. Right after that, I designed five or so flavors of samurai, ninja, Wu-Jen, Kensai, Monk, Wuxia and a bunch of other stuff. I had the same experience with ICRPG. Good games. So flexible.

Last, having a pile of characters lying around helps me if a player gets in a pinch designing their character. Not all character creation systems are created equal. Some are super easy to pick up. Others… there’s a lot of help needed. (I’m looking at you, Role Master, Mythras, and Traveler.) Having a couple of characters to just hand out so that people can just jump in and roll dice is a huge advantage, especially if it’s a pickup game. It’s also a good tool for players to see what a completed character sheet looks like to copy skill lists, equipment, spells, etc.

The more interesting the system, the more characters I tend to make. It’s fun exploring enough options to crew a starship or raid a dungeon. Sometimes I even have a party of characters handy for designing dungeons, not as pregens, but as a group of guinea pigs, err… “test subjects” to see if an encounter is balanced to my liking. I can’t predict everything, but it’s good to know if my Roper/Rust Monster/Goblin sharpshooter room is going to be deadly enough.

Hope you’re having a good week. Please, stay safe. Remind your loved ones that they’re loved. Thank you for being here. See you soon.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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