Thursday, March 17, 2011

Characters for One Shots

Forgive me if this seems a bit rushed. It was originally combined with another topic, but I decided at the last minute that I should separate them for proper discussion. The topic is actually from a conversation I had with Atraties earlier in the week. In this conversation, Atraties was talking about a Star Trek game that he is in. Now, originally when the game was being set up to be run, the intent was for it to be a 2-3 shot game. The GM, and players, wanted nothing more than to try the system out and see how they liked it. Now, over a year later, the group is still playing. Atraties has been fascinated with the characters in the game because they weren't made to be a team, they were made for a one shot. It got me thinking, just how do we make characters for shorter games as opposed to longer ones?

More Pronounced Strengths and Weaknesses
Looking over my own methods for one shot characters, the first thing I realized is that when I make a character for a short game their mechanical strengths and weaknesses are more pronounced. The train of thought that I have here is that with a shorter game, there is less time for character to define the..well, character, and so I want my person to be able to stand out for their abilities. This can involve a bit more crunch, trying out power ideas, or just making sure that all my stats are even numbers in a D20 game so that every point is being used for something.

Weaknesses also get this treatment. An area where my character is weak, is probably an area where they are really weak. Again, there's not much time to establish the character in a one shot game, so they need to be able to cut out their niche quickly. Being great at medic rolls, but horrible at combat is one way this can happen. I'm also more likely to take disadvantages that I otherwise may find to debilitating for my tastes - or that type of character - and give it a whirl. Either way, the end result is the same.

Shorter Term Complications
Anyone who has GMed for me can tell you, I put a lot of hooks into my characters for long term games. Even when I have relatively little control over what actually happened in my character's history. I put these hooks in to give the GM something to do with the character, but also to give me room for the character to grow. A particularly loving relationship with a little sister defines the character, yes. But it also gives the GM a way to turn the screws in the character, or bring about some real change and challenge of ethics by making my character weigh that one precious life against say...the fate of the world.

In one shot games I still have some of these things. Honestly, I can't help myself. But they're less pronounced and generally much shorter term. In one game, years ago, I used the little sister angle and that the sister was missing. This gave the character a reason to be involved in the plot, but not much else. In a more recent game with the sister bit, it was a defining part of the character that inspired change and growth, as well as just revealed different sides of my character as the game went on. You can't expect that in a one shot though, so - generally - I leave them out.

More Quirky
This is kind of counter to some of what I said, but one shot characters can be more quirky. Now, I don't mean twitchy by this, but they can have character aspects that just don't last long in big games. For instance, Atraties character in the Star Trek game started with an inability to accept blame. it was always someone else's fault. That generally doesn't fly in a long term game without causing major problems, but in a one shot game it is just something that is there.

Other things can include patterns of speech, bad habits, or even just bizarre tendencies that you don't normally see. These things may be annoying over a long term, but for a short game they can help define the character very quickly, without running the risk of becoming annoying because, hey, the game ain't going to be that long!

And You?
This is how I do it. I may not have covered everything, but those three points are where I see the biggest differences in my short-term vs long-term characters What about you? Do you notice any of these trends in yourself? Other trends? Are you more experimental with a shorter game? Sound off in the comments below.


  1. Well, my first experience with role-playing was a one-shot and that's the only one-shot I've ever played because nobody else I know runs them. I'm actually the only person I know that runs one-shots, so I don't ever make characters for them, but I run a lot of them and I've noticed a few trends.

    Whenever I run a one-shot now, I always run a rules-light system because it's quick for new people to pick up and character creation usually only takes a few minutes. Now, it doesn't matter what the system is, but when my players make their characters they almost always min/max whether it's best to or not. I've straight up told them with certain systems that it's better to spread your stats than to min/max and they still min/max and that's fine, it's just a trend I've noticed.

    As for their other qualities, they usually just role-play as themselves unless I suggest they make some sort of personality for their character or if I provide a known setting (like the Cowboy Bebop series of one-shots I ran). When they do make personalities, they do usually make them a bit more strange (my favorite so far is the high school teacher in a fantasy setting that walked out of class, took his chair and started adventuring. He was also a cannibal) because we tend not to take one-shots too seriously.

    Right now I'm running a three session mini-campaign and their characters are a bit more serious than usual even though they know they're not gonna use them for very long. I guess it's just what I call the one-shot that makes the difference.

  2. The most memorable situation like that that happened for my group was what became the greatest Top Secret campaign the Universe has ever witnessed.

    Shameless link:

    The primary reason for why the game was so enjoyable had a great deal to do with how it was run without any concern that the characters might be "too awesome."

    I didn't intend to have to deal with the ramifications of handing out awesomeness (that was supposed to be an issue someone else had to deal with.) And once the awesome genie was out of the bottle, and I realized that I was saddled with coping with the situation, I embraced the awesome and just let the magic happen.

    That's what made a good TS:SI campaign into the greatest game to which mortal man has ever been witness.