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.

Deeper Dialogue

I have even ignored game stats in favor of writing down motivations and personality traits for NPCs. Unless it’s vital to the game in progress, I could care less what the crunchy statistics look like as long as I know why an NPC is there and enough about them to make it seem plausible. My notes from any given session might be a hot mess sometimes, but as long as I get the NPC name, a vocal tick, physical quirk, personality note, or something else to vibe on next session, I could really care less what the NPC’s Agility score looked like.

A little GM advice for making character conversations slightly more meaningful, or maybe having more of them.

My advice to the Game Master looking for that added bit of depth to their game is to know your NPCs as if you had made the character and you were going to play him or her yourself. One of my favorite moments as a GM is when my players start dialogues in character with an NPC outside of a game session.

One of my players would ask me random questions like, “What would Selena do if I threw all of her tofu out of the fridge along with all of her salad fixings?”

She would whimper and look innocently at the party and ask what she was supposed to eat. Selena was an NPC vegetarian werewolf in my Werewolf the Apocalypse game in college. She had wandered in from the cold and taken up residence with a bunch of Fianna that lived together. It just got crazier from there. So many great roleplaying moments came from that one NPC, including several that happened out of session.

Personality traits are like building blocks for NPCs.

This is probably not a new concept for some GMs. I write down one outstanding personality trait or quirk for a minor, throwaway NPC like a stable hand the group might only meet once briefly. I write down three if it’s someone the group will interact with in a meaningful way or if they will see the NPC again. I write down six traits like I was designing the character as a player for regularly occurring characters. The bonus perk to this system is you can turn a minor NPC into a full fledged party retainer by adding more descriptors each time they meet him or her.

I have even ignored game stats in favor of writing down motivations and personality traits for NPCs. Unless it’s vital to the game in progress, I could care less what the crunchy statistics look like as long as I know why an NPC is there and enough about them to make it seem plausible. My notes from any given session might be a hot mess sometimes, but as long as I get the NPC name, a vocal tick, physical quirk, personality note, or something else to vibe on next session, I could really care less what the NPC’s Agility score looked like. My notes will have names underlined, personality quirk circled, something about the NPC’s background a bit further down, maybe their appearance… you get the idea.

I can always patch in combat scores as I go or in between sessions. Combat turns in most games go in terms of seconds. There’s not a lot of meaningful dialogue when swords, fists, arrows, and so forth are flying. However, the dialogue before and after the combat? I’m going to want to remember what the character was like if it’s someone the group is going to be dealing with again.

More to come. Have a great week. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Have fun!

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