Tuesday, November 13, 2018

One on One Character Creation

A lot of games talk about making characters with the GMs. Some games specify this should be done in a group setting - all the players plus the GM - in kind of a session 0 thing. Others are less clear. One of my favorite  ways to make characters, though it takes more time, is for player creation to happen as sort of a 1 on 1 between the GM and the player. Today I want to talk about that, and some things you should look to establish when doing so.

World Integration
The biggest benefit I feel you get out of making a character one on one with a GM is the ability to really integrate your character into the world. For example, in Legend of Five Rings it is easy enough to make a character that comes from the Lion Clan whose parents oversee a small rice producing village that the clan holds deep in their own territory. That's perfectly well and good.

However, while working with the GM you can do a lot more - because the GM is right there to work with. For one, you can make sure your idea for a character works with the GMs idea for the game on a deeper level. Is the GM as excited to see your character play out (not just be revealed, but playing out) as you are to run them? If not, how can you change them to fit that goal?

Also, while working with the GM you can work things out so that you're backstory elements - like that village we mentioned - are actually things that can be worked into the game. As a player, it can be especially awesome when the game comes around to your old stomping grounds. As a GM, it is definitely easier to work player backstory in from the beginning when you are there to help mold and shape it to not just what the player wants, but also what fits into the game.

Finally, the GM may actually be able to make things bigger and grander. Perhaps instead of being the samurai in charge of a humble village, instead your parents could be prominent samurai at Shiro Sano Ken Hayai (The Castle of the Swift Sword iirc) or for a larger village, which in turn can make your character both more interesting and more relevant on the world scale.

Privacy Works Best
For all the reasons above, but mostly because things can change, I like doing this as much as possible in a 1 on 1 fashion with the player and only the player. This is for much the same reason that your favorite author will not show you the first draft of their book (unless you're their alpha reader. Namely, the work isn't finished. And as such it is best to keep the other players out of it. Keeping things 1 on 1 will let the character grow, shift, and change, without leading to confusion. You don't want someone acting under the bad information that your dad is the chief instructor at a famous castle when you decided you prefer the humble country samurai better, right?

Also, having a finished character, grounded in the world and good to go will make for a stronger first impression on everyone.

Conflict Breeds Creativity
One of the best parts about the 1 on 1 is what can come out of the other person's ideas. As a player, the character is yours to make, but the GM may have ideas you didn't think of. As a GM, the player's ideas might be things that won't work in your world - which you should address - but a lot of them may intrigue you also. I can't think of a single creative work that hasn't been made better by having some conflict in its creation. That is the entire point behind constructive criticism is to show where things can be better, show where they're good, and find ways to fix the flaws. It is true for characters as well as other works.

Perhaps as a GM you want the plot to be about the children of these famous samurai, and so a country bumpkin doesn't work for you. However, the player definitely wants that angle, it is a hard want for them. You can just straight deny it, but by working around the conflict you open the story up to being made deeper. After all, why is this country bumpkin being included in an event with otherwise elite samurai? What makes them special?

In the same scenario, as a player you can hold onto the angle of being a country samurai while still meeting the GM's desire for famous samurai parentage. It can also add to your character to make them more interesting. Who was the famous parent? Do they even know about it? Why not? Why did that parent vanish into the country instead of taking the life their glory earned them?

Intermingled Stories
A lot of places say that RPGs are used for telling stories. I think this is a fine view, but I think one of the regular false takes is that you are telling a singular story at the gaming table. In fact, I'd argue you are telling several stories simultaneously. The GM, primarily, is telling the story of the world - which the PCs are big movers and shapers in. The Players, however, are telling the stories of their characters.

Working with the GM lets you intermingle the thread of the story you're telling with the one the GM is telling. Which makes for a stronger meta-narrative on the whole. So why not give it a try?

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