From Whence Character?

A topic of disucssion that’s recently arose: does it matter who makes the characters?  Not in the sense of coming up with the stories behind them, but in the sense of turning them into game stats?

In preparation for a demo of Savage Worlds, I’m writing up all the characters, from top to bottom.  The only real player choice is *which* to play, not *what* to play.  Still, I think it will be a good time.

I’m looking ahead to a game using the HERO system, in which I intend to write all the game stats for the characters, given the player’s writeups.  Here, the players are deciding *what* to play- what I am doing is perhaps interpreting *how* that should interact with the game rules.  The question on everyone’s mind is: is there merit to this?

It seems to be a given sacred cow in roleplaying that character generation is half the fun.  (Pedantically, I will counter that any self-described ‘indie’ or ‘funky’ gamer should relish the thought of an opportunity to slaughter a sacred cow, just to see what happens.)  Anecdocally, I’ve made characters on multiple occasions for players playing in games I’ve run, who were new to the system or uncomfortable with chargen.  This did not, as far as I could tell, impact their enjoyment of the game relative to people who had written their own character stats.  And anecdocally as well, I’ve played in a game where all the characters stats were written by the GM, based on a writeup by the player.

Let’s look at this objectively, shall we?

What are the advantages of having all the characters’ stats designed by one person (the GM)?

*Complimentary design:  One person (assuming they’re doing their job) can make sure that all the traditional bases that need to be covered are covered.  For example, he can make sure that any important skill is known by at least one party member.

*Niche Protection:  If one person is supposed to have one thing he does well as his niche, this person can ensure that nobody else accidentally is better at that role.

*System-Familiarity Balance:  In highly complex games like HERO, some people will be better at making characters than other.  Is it right for those people to have more in-game effectiveness because of this skill?  In some games, the answer is yes, in others it is no.  A single character builder levels the playing field.

*System-Perception Coherency:  In a system like HERO, a given special effect, like say, cyberware or hacking, can be built in a number of different ways.  It is advantageous from a campaign perspective for all individuals with the same sorts of powers interact in similar ways.  (For example: a hacker that operates on a ‘multidimensional movement/multiform’ to represent some sort of Matrix avatar, and one that operates on MindLink and MindControl to represent contacting and gaining control of computer servers will be very different, and are difficult to support in the same game.)

*Strength of Characterization:  I think this is by far the biggest advanatage of this approach.  In order to have a character, a player can’t just write down a bunch of numbers.  He has to come up with an idea, and conceptualize that idea strong enough so he can communicate it to another person.  In doing so, it is guaranteed that the final character will be more than simply a stat block.

And what are the downsides?

*Blandness:  The risk of having everything made by the same person is that it will all start to look the same.

*More Work for the GM:  More work for someone who already has a lot on their plate already?  Sometimes, this is a recipe for game burnout.

*Creative Inconsistency:  What happens when the stats the GM comes up with don’t match the ideas the player has?

*Loss of Player Control:  This is by far the greatest set-back.  Character Generation is typically considered the one means of control the players have in traditional games, and it is natural to be loathe to give it up.  We fear a loss of control.  To what extent is this fear justified, and to what extent is it simply instinctual?  If one is giving up game-shaping power, what are they getting in return?

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3 thoughts on “From Whence Character?

  1. Tim says:

    I have no problem playing a GM-created character, at least in a one-shot or demo game. For longer games, well, character advancement should allow me to make up for any perceived shortcomings, right?

  2. Willow says:

    Well yeah. Otherwise it’d be lame. And if there were perceived shortcomings, I’d hope you’d bring them up to me before the game.

  3. Daniel says:

    What’s the game and what’s the goal? I think that’s an important consideration.

    In a game like Hero, I’d never want to make a character or learn everything I needed to learn to translate a concept into a character sheet. If I were ever to play Hero, I’d be completely down with you doing this because the amount of knowledge I’d have to actively seek out in order to do it wouldn’t be worth it to me. On the other hand, if I were already intimately familiar with the system and enjoyed engaging it, I’d want to make the character. But if that were the case with all the players, I doubt this would even be an issue.

    In a game like PTA, there’s no value for the GM to make all the characters. It’s just pointless because it’s too simple and too personal.

    This is the biggest reason I can’t seem to make myself run BW/BE often. I hate creating characters with players who aren’t well versed in the system. I can totally see using pre-gens or assisted-gens (new term!) in a game like this because the handling time is just too great. On the other hand, I’ve chosen a different solution – I just play different games.

    Regards,
    Daniel

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