Improve Your Game: Character creation as a team effort

In some modern roleplaying games, especially games based on FATE rules, character creation is something one player can’t do on his own. In order to create your character you have to cooperate with your fellow players. The character creation method in FATE makes sure the background stories of the player characters are already intertwined in some way. The GM (and the players) will never have to face the issue of the dreaded “team of loners” that have no reason to cooperate.

Another game that makes cooperative character creation necessary is the latest edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game. In that game each party has to chose why they are working together (there’s a limited number of choices) and each party type grants certain abilities. There’s even a mechanic for handling in-party stress.

What I’ve learned in my years of roleplaying experience is, that a game definitely profits when the first session of a new game consists of character creation and coming up with a reason of why these characters work together. And in my opinion game masters should make it clear that the characters are supposed to cooperate. In-party intrigue and infighting may be fun once in a while, but when the party members are on each other’s throats all the time, it has usually an detrimental effect on any game.

My advice to GMs is, that when you’ve decided what game to run, schedule a character creation session. Talk about what the players have to expect. Then ask the players to discuss their character concepts and make sure each character at least knows one other character in the party. Another possible connections are being a friend of a friend or having the same mentor, patron or enemy. Whatever it is give the players a reason why the would work together. And trust me, forcing the player characters to work together “because the king said so” never works. It’s better when the players come up with something themselves. The GMs role should be to encourage them to think about reasons.

As with all roleplaying advice your mileage may vary, but creating characters as a team effort definitely made things much easier for the players and the GM. If you haven’t done so, give it a try.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

3 thoughts on “Improve Your Game: Character creation as a team effort”

  1. In my last campaign, I wrote some house rules that connected all the characters together. Each player would take a facet of another player's character and invent an event that connected their two characters.

    It was difficult at first but once the players got used to it then some superb events were coming out.

    One of the big difficulties with this is that when a PC dies, you have to add this step in again. That can feel a little jarring.

  2. My group just recently decided to play The Dresden Files RPG and had our character creation session. Everyone is new to DFRPG and most (all except me, really) are new to FATE, so I was curious to see how this would go down.

    Let me say without the slightest exaggeration that I have never witnessed a group become so enthusiastic about a campaign before. The best part of the experience was that the GM and each player were engaged in supporting and inspiring the ideas of the others.

    Most of us (myself included) started the session off with some pretty bland, generic ideas of the kinds of characters we wanted to play. By the end of the session, I walked away surprised with how my character concept had evolved into something way cooler than what I started with. I think, had I built the character on my own, he wouldn't have been nearly as fleshed out nor would I be nearly as invested in the campaign.

    The benefits of group character creation aren't limited to just how to link the party together. As this DFRPG experience has shown me, the sharing and supporting of ideas around the table can help players to take their own character ideas and really breathe life into them! I think I'm going to adapt this approach to the next campaign I run, regardless of what system and setting I use.

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