Friday, August 29, 2014

Assembly Required: Development Step Five - Player Character Concepts

If campaign prep is 60% of the campaign, then player character prep is the other 40%. As I've stated before, these blog posts are not about a quick game with your friends or at the FLGS. They are a careful, thought-out  methodology that is meant to produce campaign settings that will last you more than a single campaign. During your Foundation session, your players have probably spit-balled one or two ideas for characters at you. You may have listed them. You may have not. You may have decided then and there that you loved their concept and "nailed it down." You may have shot it down. Regardless, that was the opening dialogue between you (the GM) and the player. Now, some GMs will tell you that you don't need to get this involved with your players for their character concepts, much less their character creation. To them, I say "bah." I've run lots of off-the-cuff  games but there has always been some form of give and take between myself and my players. Mostly, it's been using these exact same methods I'm blogging about, but in a quickened pace. GMs who are not involved in their player's character creation are GMs, who are inviting surprises and dissonance. I ask each player to come up with at least two concepts that they'd like to create. This is just in case I or the other players find one of them unpalatable. What's that you say? Why get the other players involved? BECAUSE I HATE OCTOBER SURPRISES. You probably should too if you're not an adversarial GM (if you're probably not going to get much help here - I'm sorry; I don't support that play style unless  explicitly called for by the game, e.g., Paranoia). What do I mean by an October Surprise here? Player character traits that could interact in...volatile ways. For example, one player wants to take Loner* (12), and another wants to take Chummy - both players are not going to be happy. For the most part, I rarely have this issue because I have great players who are interested in telling the story. It's also usually worth your time as a GM to spell out specifically what traits (attribute levels, skills, disadvantages, etc.) are inappropriate or off limits. There is even a trait-sorter - but it lacks a lot of the new traits to be found in further GURPS supplements. If you can discuss what sort of characters each player would be interested in with all players present, great, if not you can always use emails or video chat. The point of getting together to discuss these things is not just so you can screen unwanted character concepts for all parties, but so you can get an idea of what the players want. What challenges they want to face. What situations they want to find themselves in. What things they want to be able to do. Once you know these things you can fold them into  the campaign itself. This way you are "baking" the player expectations right into the cake. No need to add extra icing or candles.

The Worked Example: Something, Something Kill Monsters Urban Fantasy Secret Magic
After the long discussion that I and my players had during our Foundation session, everyone had a very clear, very concise character concept and what kinds of goals (I'll discuss this later) they hoped to achieve.  Since we're using variable power levels and creating backstories with Central Casting: Heroes Now! these levels are going to be mutable. So I ended up with:
  • C., brings another highly unusual concept to the table. He wants to play a man out of time. Someone from the 11th century who was a Knight Templar dragged forth into the modern age by magic. A warrior and monster hunter from his own time he knows tricks of the trade that modern hunters don't. He also decides that he was cursed by a witch who was his wife (he didn't know that fact when he married her) and seeks to "bring it to an end." Liking the concept quite a bit I decide that his wife is going to be the main villain of the first couple of story arcs. Hell hath no and all that.
  • C.J., my brother, brings another interesting concept to the table. He wants to be a sort of "magical goonba" (no, not the Mario goonba - the mafia kind). His character is a leg-breaker for a powerful family of sorcerers. The bastard offspring of the head of the house he has no social standing there, but is feared none the less. He decides he wants to use a Louisville Slugger as his "wand" and asks for some sort of magical relic starting out that relates to his family. 
  • L.A., besides being my co-GM/Adversary**, has decided she wants to player a highly unusual character. Drawing some inspiration from one of her wiki-walks she wants to play a demon with a soul (aka a "risen demon" - a common theme in Hindu mythology, but not so much Christian), a "cursed innocent" who was meant to bring justice and God's righteous fury to the Earth. But the other side got to her first and nearly claimed her. Stuck somewhere in the middle, she seeks to find balance within herself and make sure the monsters don't get anyone else. She also wants some magical abilities - but mostly necromancy since her character can talk to ghosts. To help her, she has a bound ghost as her familiar.
  • Troythulu wants to play a doctor with a military background who saw something (some sort of Persian or Bedouin demon or the like) in the first Gulf War that nearly drove him mad. He also doesn't want to start out with any active supernatural skills or abilities. Part of his concept is that he learns about the other world during play. He also decides that he doesn't want to have to buy Illuminated during the game and will set aside points for that during character creation.
So there I go, a ton of hooks the players want me to use along with dozens of good ideas on expanding and creating the campaign - and nearly all of them crowdsourced from the players themselves.
* I rarely if ever let players take this trait in my campaigns, and I do so for pure metagame reasons: Loner PCs are simply not conducive to troupe play. When I do allow it, it's modified with some form of limited, taken as a quirk, or rarely unmodified - but your character concept better be stellar.
** GURPS's version of the co-GM is the Adversary - I recommend you groom a player for the role who wants it; they are highly useful to GMs, who like to "split" players. See GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns p. B493 for more information on Adversaries.

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