Published on February 18th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen1
How To Get The Most From Character Creation
Last week I talked about how to prepare some campaign ideas for a World of Darkness game and how to approach customizing a city. This week we’ll go over character creation (“chargen”) and how I adapt my game to my players and their characters.
The example I’m using is the new World of Darkness. I’m running a game where the players are paranormal investigators who discover the supernatural. The players have been asked to make characters who fill both a cast and crew role in their YouTube channel. The fictitious group has produced an episode a month for the last two years, and so far they haven’t found anything they consider proof of the paranormal, though the first session of play will change that.
I prepared all of the information from last week prior to knowing who exactly the characters in the story would be. We had established that they would be investigators via email, but we hadn’t had a session to really hash out character creation. Before I could go much further, I needed to know more about the kind of person my players would be acting out over the course of our games.
Getting on the same page
In that vein, we gathered together for a preliminary session to make characters that would fit well together. I asked the players if they had thought of character ideas in the week since scheduling our session. Some had and some hadn’t, preferring to see what others were enthusiastic about and then build from there. We went round-robin and talked about the details of the YouTube channel and other setting conceits so everyone would be on the same page as we explored characters a little bit more.
Depending on the kind of game you’re running and what sorts of inspirational material you’re pulling from, it’s helpful to ask the players to think of characters as belonging to a different kind of media. Especially with players who are new to roleplaying, I find that if you ask them to think of their character as being on a TV show, it gives a good frame of reference. Otherwise, it can be unclear what kind of character to make. With the frame of reference of a TV show or movie, the player has a better idea of the archetypes they should be pursuing. Here are the characters that my players came up with after some discussion:
- Paul: wants to play the guy who runs the channel, a 4channer and Redditite who loves creepypasta.
- Nicole: has an idea for a “dirty Bob Ross” who is a depressive alcoholic and works in a really up-beat touristy job.
- Robin: knows he wants to play the hipster cameraman, someone who took “all the classes at NW Film Forum”.
- Karen: her character is a Joan Jett type who brings Daria style cynicism and realism to any situation.
- Scott: wants to play a retired journalist who is staying active by helping her great-nephew with his “website show thing”.
Tying the threads together
Communication is essential to a cohesive group, and in my opinion, it’s on the game master to be the one to initiate dialogue between the players. To that end, before we even touched character sheets with places for numbers and stats, I got out the Character Creation Worksheets from the Fate Core RPG. I find Fate’s character creation method produces characters that are more intimately connected to each other and tends to give new players a starting point for developing relationships and distinguishing their characters from the other players’ characters.
Basically, the Fate Core method involves thinking up previous occasions where your character had a pivotal moment with other characters, then passing the sheet around so others can contribute. In our case, I asked each player to come up with an interesting moment in a previous episode that started off with their character. By the time we passed them to two other people, everyone had a three-part story where their characters had interacted with everyone else in the group previously. This means that now the players have biases and friendships firmly established before we even start writing down stats.
It was during this time that most of the characters thought of their main cast and crew niches to fill. There is some overlap, but for the most part everyone has something a little different to bring to the table. By doing this you ensure that you can focus the spotlight on certain characters if they don’t seem to be getting much action, just by invoking the thing that they have specialized in.
Characters you can believe in
By now we had come up with 5 main characters and a handful of half-thought out supporting cast members that we can expand on as the story goes along. The main characters that my players came up with are:
Robert Allen: a 20-something trust fund kid without a job who spends all of his time reading creepypasta on 4chan from his swank apartment in South Lake Union. Bobby originally founded the YouTube channel after getting encouragement from the paranormal sub-Reddit he moderates, and now the constant attention and internet fame he has in his subculture are like an addiction. He doesn’t really care what he has to do, Bobby wants to be the first in the world to get real proof of something weird, and he’s willing to put himself (and by association the rest of the group) into increasingly dangerous situations to do so.
Ronald Berger: Ron just turned 40 and has nothing to show for it. His kids died in a freak boating accident and his wife left him soon afterwards, unable to cope with the memories of their shared past. Depression and alcoholism lost him his office job, and now he drives tourists around the city in a corny amphibious vehicle- a job he hates almost as much as he hates himself. He just can’t let go of the fact that he saw something drag his children under the water years ago, but his therapist/bartender tells him he’s projecting. Ron isn’t so sure.
Taylor Swift: If you ask Taylor about his name, all you’ll get is a withering look and a snide comment. A film school prodigy, and a complete skeptic, Taylor joined up with the cast to help make a name for himself. Everything on the show is beneath him, from the shakycam Bobby likes to add in to the final edit to Ron’s incredibly gullible personality. While others on the show are skeptics, Taylor is the most vocal about not believing in the paranormal. He’s also the most devastatingly scared group member whenever anything is even the slightest bit creepy.
Lucy Fur: An eccentric vocalist for an up-and-coming local scandinavian-themed black metal band, Lucy legally changed her last name to “Fur” to prove how many fucks she doesn’t give about your opinion. As a cynical “bad-girl” who has seen it all, it’s very hard to shock her and Lucy is a fan favorite on the show. She often takes drugs while filming, which is a source of irritation for some other members of the group (her activities never make it into the final cut). While she isn’t a believer, Lucy still knows a lot about the occult and hangs with a lot of self-proclaimed witches and satanists.
Margarette Fletcher: All of the old-time locals know Margarette, mostly from her run as an investigative journalist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until it closed and she finally retired. A couple years later she heard that Bobby (the son of her niece) had started an investigative YouTube show about ghost stories in Seattle. Intrigued, she offered her help as a way to continue the job that she loves, even if it’s in a way that is slightly bizarre. She is a smooth talker with a load of area knowledge, and uses her contacts from her P.I. days to open doors for the group that would otherwise be closed.
Define similarities and differences
There is a nice spectrum of skeptical to believer in this group. Ron is totally convinced that at least lake monsters or cryptids exist (which is part of his reason for staying at his current job, to keep an eye on things in Lake Union). Bobby believes, but seeks proof to validate that belief; while Taylor doesn’t believe but would rather not do a seance, just in case. Lucy and Margarette are both skeptics, but Margarette cares more about validating her beliefs than Lucy does.
As far as crew duties are concerned, Bobby took the video editing role and does community hype. Ron is the mechanical and electronic tech- he knows how to fix a generator and can attach infrared cameras pretty much anywhere. Taylor is the cameraman and has the only eye for cinematography in the group, despite Bobby’s thoughts on the subject. Lucy knows sound, mics and music- her band does the outro song, and she does foley work on the show’s final cut. Margarette runs the blog portion of the site and is the local relations expert, which means she’s the one to meet with city or county officials when the group needs a permit to film somewhere or access a fenced off location.
It was only at this point that we got out the actual World of Darkness scantron-esque character sheets and began filling them in. At this point there were few surprises, with a notable exception: Robin chose the Unseen Senses merit for his character Taylor. This means that Taylor has kind of a “spidey-sense” for strange phenomenon. We decided that what that meant was up to me as the game master, to be revealed slowly over the course of the game.
Planning for the future
Little surprises like that are exciting for me, as it means that I have access to a really potent plot hook to hang a story off of in the future. Also of note for future exploitation is Ron’s obsession with Lake Union and his search for cryptids, which should make for a strong session when we explore that more. As an older person, Scott’s character also presents an interesting option to have colleagues that are even more elderly and in a nursing home or assisted living, which could be sufficiently creepy for the group.
Bobby could also have some great character explorations as he is driven to further extremes to prove his convictions to the world. It will be interesting to see how the character reacts to actually getting proof, which will probably be another nice surprise for the story! Lucy has some nice hooks in the form of her band mates- what does she do when the next time she does “ritual magic” with her Wiccan friends it works, to everyone’s alarm?
All in all there is a lot to go over, which is great news for me! Now I have tons more material to work with as I further shape the world that the characters live in. I’m going to go back over the material I established in the first week, see how much of it works with the characters I have, and come up with a first session to run the characters through!