Monday, June 14, 2010

Character Building Exercise

So, one of the players in my M.A/C.C game has run into a bit of a snag. He's having total writer's block - or the equivalent of - when it comes to his character for the game. He can't figure out what he wants to do, how to do the backstory, he can't really figure out anything about the character. So we took his sheet and looked at it, it was a solid sheet sure, well grounded and spread out over various areas for a full, well rounded mechanics-wise character. This was the tip off to part of the problem.

See, the player in question is good but he is also fairly new to gaming. He started with our group about 2 years ago, he has played only with our group, and that means he has only played in the games our group runs. A bunch of point buy, primarily Fantasy and Sci Fi based games with the occasional dabbling in Super Heroes. But point buy means he's never had to force himself to make a character from odd mechanics, and well it just looked like he'd stalled out on this one for whatever reason. So we decided to try and do something about it.

The normal approaches of what do you want to do, what do you like, etc didn't work. So we moved on to bigger guns, random character generation. We made a bunch of stat sets and made him make a skill set randomly, forcing him to focus on specialization for the character rather than his usual "cover all the bases" that our games have ingrained into him as being necessary. With these stats and skills, far from anything he'd willingly make we asked him to give a story that connected the points on the character. He stalled, so we (other housemates) provided a few examples using it and asked him. He stalled again, so we switched settings and did it again with Dark Heresy's random gen system.

This time he had a character story, and we gave some other examples, other details to think of. Now the primary difference in what he provided and we provided comes down to experience. As I said, the guy has 2 years of playing experience, where as I and the other person helping primarily have over 10 years of experience each. That is a lot of difference in character gen experience. The way to fix that though, is what we did with him.

Anecdote out of the way, have you ever tried to do just that? Just throw some stats together, throw some skills, and make a story. Use a Random Generation system if you need to, but the idea is to just build characters. Specialists, generalists, things you'd never play, things you would play, just make make make more and more characters. When you have the points, connect them. How do you explain a Grand Mastery in Melee and Defense, combined with professional level Driving and Animal Handling skills? How about maxed out piloting skills with professional level acting and music skills? What made that fighter also become a master churgeon? Throw those combat stats you love so much onto a character, and add reluctant fighter to the mix. Now explain how that came to be.

The exercise will help you out, both as a GM and a player. You get stronger at developing characters, better at weaving quick stories out of random stats to make a character that could be fun to play. As a GM this helps you with making NPCs up quicker, with PCs it is a store to draw from when that char-gen writer's block hits you. In both cases, it also strengthens your ability to just smile and respond the next time you ask for something outlandish and the GM goes "how do you explain all those things on the same character?"

Experienced or inexperienced it is a fun exercise to do if you have some time. It is also a great way to familiarize yourself with a new system and get used to how char gen works. So give it a shot when you have a few moments. Who knows, maybe you'll come up with your new favorite character.

Happy Gaming!

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