I’d like to talk a bit about my process for character creation in my games. Since I only really run GURPS, this is more or less specific to that game system.
When I begin the process of helping one of my players create their character it almost always starts off with the same question: What do you want to play and how can we fit it to the campaign? Because the process of designing a campaign always proceeds this and has already been decided upon I don’t usually worry about fitting the campaign to the character. Most of the times my players have a exceedingly good idea of what sort of character they want to make when they mutually agree on what sort of campaign we are going to have. More often my players are creating a new character for a campaign or campaign setting that is already firmly established. Whether they just want to retire their previous character, are joining for the first time, or are replacing a character that has died, the process is more or less the same.
First we come up with the concept, I try to be fairly specific with this and encourage my players to do so as well, for example, a cop technically is a concept, but a dirty cop who breaks the laws to get the bad guys who couldn’t otherwise be punished is better. I guess I just like a sentence for a concept better than a word or two. Once that’s done I spend some time just talking with my player(s) about their character, I try to do this on a one on one basis but sometimes that’s just not possible. We discuss at length what they are trying to achieve with their character, what the character’s goals are, some of his back story, etc. Usually this takes about a hour (maybe two) after that we either begin the process of writing up the character’s back history (usually around 1,300 words worth). Lately I’ve been using the Central Casting books (mostly) by Paul Jaquays to help give a framework and I highly recommend them to any gamers who have problems coming up with a good back story. After the back history is done we move on the character’s personality and description, depending on how artistic L.A. (who has a Twitter account now by the way, @deathsbard) each player will get their very on character portrait, or if she’s still warming up I like to use movie and TV actors and actresses to help the players build up a picture of their and others characters. Since I tend to run my games like a serial drama or novel it works out pretty well for me, your mileage however may vary.
Now reading this I can hear some of you saying: “You make your players do ALL that”; yes and no. Some of my players couldn’t write a book report to save their high school grades, and that’s okay, I write out what they want for them and they do other stuff I’m not so good at (like designing custom weaponry, maps, etc.) I always find it a fair tradeoff and usually most of my players do as well. The information and thought that goes into the pre-design of the character ALWAYS becomes useful later on when I, as the GM, begin to design story arcs, plots, etc. that tie intimately into each characters story. As my brother likes to say “Christopher, you don’t run games, you run fucking TV Shows that we see in our heads.” I’m not saying I’m the greatest GM ever, in fact, I wouldn’t say I make any higher than a C+ on lots of things, but I do like to be prepared ahead of time, because when I start to run a game a lot of improvisation starts taking place, as the story begins to take on a life of its own. I like to view my Gamemastering style as something like: 70% improvisation and 30% prepared with my player injecting their own antics.