On Friday my group got together and we had a chat about what we want to do next. Due to some of the real world stresses several of us are under, we decided that a game that was more morally 'black and white' than 'shades of gray' was a good idea. Not that we don't want to tell stories, but we want ones where we can blow of steam and not worry about moral complexities and whether or not it's ok to be punching that guy in the face.
After going through the options we had, it was decided that I would stay in the GMing seat, and that we're going to play D&D fifth edition. This makes 2 D&D games I'm running - something I never thought I'd say again - but I also like to think it's a testament to 5th ed's strength that my whole group is ready to go into it - sometimes while already playing in the system in another game. That's rare.
Anyhow, with the GM and game decided, we're onto Character Creation. So let's talk about that.
The first thing I like to get onto the table when I'm running a game is to make a note of anything that for whatever reason I'm not going to allow into the game. It sucks starting with a list of "no this" but I'd rather be upfront than have someone come up with a concept they put a lot of work on, only to find out that it's problematic for the game.
I tend to restrict things for two reasons: 1) the thing won't work for the game we're in. For example, being a force sensitive in a game where you are part of the Empire in Star Wars could work for some games, but could also be a death sentence for the whole unit in others. 2) the idea is mechanically complex to a degree that it will hurt the game or be too hard to work with. The 'mimic' and 'nullify' powers in Mutants and Masterminds are good examples of these, as they rely on re-doing power math in the middle of combat and that tends to break me out of the running.
Can There Be Exceptions?
The other reason to bring these restrictions up first is because if someone does have a good idea for something I'm restricting, it lets them talk to me about it. Exceptions can be worked out, or alternate ways of doing things to make them simpler. Sometimes the no is a hard no for reasons, but a good idea from a player I trust to execute it well tends to make it worth putting some extra effort in.
Handling Attributes and Stats
Most game systems will tell you how they want stat generation to go. Some systems are point buy. Other systems are random. Some, like D&D have multiple options. I personally really like the way I read Matthew Mercer of Critical Role does his stats. Players roll 4d6, drop the lowest die, and can assign numbers where they please. However, if someone rolls a stat block that adds up to less than 70 they can re-roll the whole block. This gives the variance of rolled stats, likely giving people strong and weak areas to work with, but protects a player with bad luck from ending up with a bunch of 8s.
In general, I recommend going with the default rules the book has when working with a new system. The default is the default for a reason, and tends to fit into how the game is going to work the best.
Let Players Explore, Ask Questions
With stats done, I try to take a step back and let the players sort through the book and follow the character creation process. If they have questions, I try to answer them. When they're nearly done, I try to ask questions. Ask if they have a story in mind already. Suggest some things where maybe they can fit in. Make sure the sheet and character are actually done, and the math adds up.
If the character is done to the system and player's satisfaction, great. If not, well, that can be worked on.
Pre-Existing Relationships or Other Assumptions
For some games I like to make the players already be a group. It lets people share more about their characters upfront, and especially come up with reasons to make their characters stick together in a group or as a party. In other games - like D&D - I'm more ok with people starting off separate - though I usually will still have ground rules like "you all want to be adventurers and go off on adventures" if only to be clear that in getting the game going I'll need them working with me, and not have to specifically hook a reluctant adventurer to go along with the game we all agreed to play.
That said, even if people are starting separate I like to encourage folks to have at least one IC relationship already built. It helps people establish their character in the group. It helps bring them into the group. And it helps the group feel more natural I feel. I mean, how often does no one in a group that sticks together as long as adventurers do not have any prior connections?
How those characters met is up to them, but making it a story is often a good thing. Have each player mention something they did to help, and something they did that went wrong. Between the two, you get a full adventure.
Backstories and Planning
Characters are made, there's two things left. For the players, try to get a backstory from them. It doesn't have to be long. 2 paragraphs will do just fine for most characters, isn't too long for the people who are reluctant to do backstories, and will stop the people who want to give you a 500 page novel from going way too indepth for your purposes.
Once that is done, I have the character sheets and the backstories then it's time to plan. Which we'll go over next time.