Is this all that I am?

Is this all that I am?

The whole point of role-playing is getting a group, as small as 2 in some cases, to play characters that will live in the game world and solve all of that worlds problems, or at least the one at the end of a story arc!  This post is actually aimed at the players and is aimed at the creation of story relevant characters.  However, I would encourage the refs to continue reading to see how I tied the two pieces together.  To give a bit of background on this (and it’s companion post earlier)…I have been looking at making a new Shadowrun campaign, and have been thinking about characters and the runner team.  I began wondering what sort of ideas I might be missing, so I have been doing some research looking at several blogs, and forums, and reading the well thought out “The Game Master” by Tobiah Panshin (  I found things I liked, some I didn’t, as well as things I did and did not agree with, but it was definitely enlightening.  Putting this stuff together I’ve come up with the following guidelines players when they are creating characters.  I have not used this procedure, but it seems like it would work, and I will be using it for at least the simmering idea I have.  This is, in some ways the player view on the earlier post, but it does include player only info, as well.  Although not quite the same rules from the other side of the screen, they are closely related:

  1. Grok the world around you!
  2. What Am I doing?
  3. Do I know you? Or “Jinkeys!”
  4. Uphill, both ways…

Rule 1:Grok the world around!

This is the player side of the ref’s first rule.  While the ref needs to give you the setting and the general direction of the plot, it is incumbent upon a player to make sure they understand the world in which the character they are about to make has lived in for all their life.  This includes if they have lived in multiple worlds or realities!  Even if the plot revolves around normal characters being caught in extraordinary circumstances, you need to understand that.  When you start thinking about your character, keep in mind exactly what the plot and setting are.  And never be afraid to ask questions, because your questions might spark a thought by your ref that had not been considered… you may have just modified the setting!  However, don’t start thinking character yet…this is purely an understanding step.  If you already have a character in mind, don’t let it solidify too much yet…there are things that need to be hooked onto the thought frame before too much flesh is added!

Rule 2: What am I doing here?

This is kinda like the corollary to the second and/or third ref rule.  Now you start working with the other players and the ref, and deciding what role your character will have in the party.  If you are a BESTER, then this will be easy or very hard.  Each party member needs to have a specialty…the role that they are the go to person for.  In the Refs post, I talked about 4 soldiers…we know that they all have similar skills, but there needs to be one person who is the expert.  Of course, if the setting requires every character to have First Aid, Shooting, Lock Picking and Projectile Vomiting, well…everybody needs them, BUT…each person must be best at one of them…If you have 7 players and these are the only required skills, then you can have experts in other skills, but you should always have a person who is the first choice in a situation.  This will allow every person at the table to have a chance at the spotlight.  Now is when you start fleshing out your character idea…but don’t fill out too much…(starting to see a pattern?)

Rule 3: Do I know you? or the “Jinkeys!” rule…

This is the rule that insures the character has a reason to join the party and go on the well thought out, meticulously planned adventure that your ref has created…The whole point here is to give your character a bit of a motivation… Talk among the other players, and see how you can connect them.  This can be because they know one another, perhaps, and makes them want to join together to accomplish a task.   Maybe they have never met, but know OF one another… If they don’t know each other, maybe they are employed by the same employer…very typical of Shadowrun, where they might all be from the same fixers stable.  But, sometimes this is not enough to reasonably keep them together.  So, the Jinkeys rule comes into play…Your player should have a natural reason to WANT to go after things.  If they can all support one another, great…but…if your character is one who never takes a risk, and allows the authorities to deal with everything, then they are not much of an adventurer…and have very little reason to be part of adventuring party.  Even better…If they know one another AND they are “natural self starters,” then the have great reasons to be part of the party.  (Jinkey’s, of course, was Velma’s version of “The game is afoot!” (Scooby Doo!))  Somewhere around this time, your character might be close to gelled!  You notice that we have got a fairly complete character build so far…but there is one more part before you start to finalize that alter ego.

Rule 4:Uphill, both ways…

This is the final rule to be addressed, and it the direct translation of the Refs 4th rule:  HOOKS!  If your ref is using the tool I proposed in the earlier post, then they will have some built-in hooks for you to use. (Of course, at this point, I haven’t used those tools either…so they may just not work!)  If they don’t provide you some built-in hooks, now you should consider creating the hooks to tie the story to your character.  If you are a Profiler, or a Storyteller, then this is meat and potatoes…build your background, but keep in mind, in your novella of the pre-story story, you should be providing the ref with 3 or 4 hooks that can come up and be used for OR against your character.  Make them obvious and clear…Bold them…Highlight them…write them in different colors…That way both you and the ref know what you intend.  If you are not really into making deep background character, then think of a tv show or movie, with a character that might be like your character…Talk it over with your ref, and then you can work up some hooks…Remember, hooks can be just about anything…something that you want, something that you regret, something you are looking for, some one that wants you, something you stole (of course the previous owner is still not happy…)  If the ref has provided you with hooks, talk them over with him (and you may want to do it privately) make sure that nothing in the hooks is outside of your comfort zone (beyond the contract).

After these four rules, you build your character!  You have decided what their specialties are, how they will fit in the group, and what “surprises” may show up (based on the hooks).  It is possible that if your ref gives you a very specific hook, that it might give a bit of the plot away…consider it foreshadowing and just go with it…It may not be what you think…Remember that this is my experimental rules for character creation to make a better character party.   I would recommend that, if possible, you go through the same procedure for replacement characters. (By the by…you might check this web site that I have just found if you want to work out some sort of alternate persona for your character!) Keep in mind the table contract.  Every one is here for fun.  But if they want to ham up their character, let them!  If you harass them about it, be absolutely certain they won’t be upset, or be driven to put away the ham.  On the other hand, If somebody is not comfortable choosing a voice, and an accent, wearing character attire, and never breaking character, then don’t tease them about it!  They may be uptight…but haranguing them about it will certainly not make them get outside their comfort zone! And remember…HAVE FUN!!!!

Where the party at

Where the party at?

The whole point of role-playing is getting a group, as small as 2 in some cases, to play characters that will live in the game world and solve all of that worlds problems, or at least the one at the end of a story arc!  This post is aimed at the referee and the control a ref has over character creation.  To give a bit of background on this (and it’s companion post to follow)…I have been looking at making a new Shadowrun campaign, and have been thinking about characters and the runner team.  I began wondering what sort of ideas I might be missing, so I have been doing some research looking at several blogs, and forums, and reading the well thought out “The Game Master” by Tobiah Panshin (  I found things I liked, some I didn’t, as well as things I did and did not agree with, but it was definitely enlightening.  Putting this stuff together I’ve come up with the following guidelines for GMs when their players are creating characters.  I have not used this procedure, but it seems like it would work, and I will be using it for at least the simmering idea I have.  I have stated repeatedly that I feel it is my job to work any character in…I still feel that, but I think I am going to be implementing these fences on those wide open fields.  I have no problem saying no to a character, I would just rather say yes!  Here are my rules:

  1. Share the love…or at least the plot line!
  2. Make a Party!
  3. To each, a roll (even a role)
  4. Something to do, Somewhere to go

Rule 1: Share the Love…or at least the plot!

This may not be obvious…and for a big top down guy like me, it wasn’t!  My worlds often have several stories going along, just waiting for players to touch one, so I can listen to the music!  Of course I have main plot lines that I will guide players to, but that is not the point.  The idea behind this rule is to make sure the players know what kind of game you are running!  And, since my players read this blog, I will use the impetus of an upcoming game to illustrate.  However, the game I am currently working on is a Shadowrun game, and for this ongoing example, I’m going to discuss a rules free game.  So, to Illustrate:  Lets make a plot based in modern-day, but with a conspiracy, x-files type setting.  The players need to know that they are going to be playing characters in a story that will include government conspiracies and cover-ups.  It will involve some advanced technologies, and in the story the governments of the first world nations are generally believed to be the bad guys. Also, the game will start in Europe, but will travel the globe.  What I wouldn’t tell them is that the technology comes from an alien that came to recover the Roswell crash.  I also wouldn’t tell them that the government is just trying to collect the technology from a multinational corporation who is equipping it own spy’s and agents with it.  Given this, they can make characters who “Know” the truth is out there…and perhaps have even seen or encountered it…or be part of the tinfoil hat crowd, or the anti-government conspirasists.  Why can’t they play someone who was part of the corporation and left because of a disagreement with their methods?  Well, first it would spoil a plot twist.  After that is discovered, a replacement character might be allowed.  Second…the Corporation would spare no expense silencing or ridiculing,or harassing the character…kinda tough for a starting character in what will probably be a fairly gritty setting!  This allows the players to start considering what sort of character would work in that situation.  You could give them a lot of information without revealing the plot, anymore than a movie trailer would.

Rule 2: Make it a Party!

This is where you may have to raise the heavy hand (or bring down the fingers!).  In this rule, you are required to make sure that each of the characters will have a role in your expected plot.  Also, you could make sure your characters are connected in some way.  That tends to make getting the party together fairly easy if character A knows character B who went to judo class with Character C who met Character D on a dating web-site…but that is not always needed.  It is important that since you know, at least in theory, where the plot will take them, that they each make a character that fits in the story line, and will have things to do.  There is another part to this rule: The party is a party!  They are not support for one of the other characters!  They are important!  In terms of party balance, no player character can be the “Ring Bearer,” (Thanks Tobiah Pansion) but they PCs can be the fellowship who need to protect the NPC Ring Bearer!  In our X-files game, A role-playing geek who is as huge conspiracy theorist, who left college to pursue it would be a good character…but a med student who needs to complete school so she can pay off her tuition and save her grandmother would have much less of a place, even though it could be a viable character, it might not work in your plot…What about four soldiers, who were just separated form the army because they go too curious about some of the nighttime activities of certain members of their leadership…Great!  They know each other, they have a decent tie in to the plot, they will probably be great characters…Rank is no longer important as they are all separated…but  there is a caveat…and that leads me to…

Rule 3: To each, a role (or roll)

This has been called the “too many cooks,” or the “balanced party” rule…when all of your characters are infantrymen, the only thing that differentiates them is their hobbies, in a game sense.  Here you need to make sure your characters all have separate strengths.  You can’t have everybody be the sniper any more than you can have everybody be the field medic.  In order for your characters to each have a chance to be THE character during the plot, they will have to have different strengths.  In our example, we know that they will all have some basic combat training…side arms, long arms, hand to hand…so, how do we make them different?  Well we have hit upon two specialties…the Long range shooter and the medic.  What about an Intel analyst with maybe some interrogation training?  Maybe someone from the motor pool to keep vehicles running?  Helicopter Pilot?  What about a ranking officer with some administration and tactical training?  What about a comm guy who is used to working with, and as a hobby, hacking, satellite communications?  This is not to say that every player wont have some skill in all of these things.  It IS to say that one character will be THE go to person when it come to this task!  (Sorry Besters! (Unless it happens to be your character!)) This is the time that you and your players discuss character ideas and connections.  At this point the characters may be fully formed, or just some vague ideas.  However, you will know that none of the player will be obvious enemies ( A priest of the death god, and a chosen of the god of life, for instance,) and can see how they have the potential to work together and if and how they know one another. Now you have a group of players that will work in your plot, they will work together and they will have a chance to be the main character.  There is still something missing…

Rule 4: Something to do, Somewhere to go

This is something I have struggled with for years as a GM…character motivation.  In the generic “you all meet in a bar” starting, players often form together because they are the people who do something (aside from holding up a PC card)  and then they stick together when someone want them to do something…and now they are a group, so they wait for someone else to give them a job…and so on.  It is important for your characters to have motivations to provide hooks that you can exploit.  When your characters are being created, tell them you need a background for them.  This is not usually a problem, for some characters, because they love to create backgrounds!  But others will find it difficult.  But what you need from them are hooks, and tell them that.  Perhaps you need 3 hooks from each player…you need an enemy, a close friend, and a goal, perhaps.  These can be very detailed; the former friend, who you were always just a little bit better than, who blames you for the time they almost drown trying to prove who could swim deeper, but is now the CFO of a major corporation.  Or they could be simple.  I have always felt protective of my little brother…  Tell them that they should expect these to come up in the plot, for good or ill.  Tell them that you have final say on each hook and you can add meat to it or pare it down.  Coordinate with them on things they would be aware of…If they give you a goal of “want to be rich” you need to see how they define it…and to what ends they will go to get rich, as well as why they don’t just set home watching get rich quick infomercials?

I will be using a tool I have created…don’t know how well it will work, but i think it should be good.  I’ll let you know how it works…but here it is:  I am expecting 3 or 4 players, so I will be creating 5 or 6 hooks in the following categories: regret, achievement or goal, hatred and loss.  Each player will draw 1 of each of those…This will give me hooks I have already created into the plot.  The players can then create as much or as little background that MUST include those provided hooks  I will probably have them add one more or replace one of those.  that way I have at least 4 and perhaps more hooks that will automatically  give the character a reason to follow the plot line!

With these rules in mind I think I might get a very good game.  So, if and when we play it, I’ll let you know how it worked.  The next article is for the players, but you should read it too.  It will echo a players version of these rules.

3 Times the Charm

Many people who have played at my table know that I usually allow players to alter their characters for three game sessions, without restriction.  However, many don’t really understand why, so…let me ‘splain! I’ll start with the 3 game limit and how it works, then we will talk about the why.  In most games, I will let a player modify their character.  They can change anything or everything about them.  The other player’s characters will never notice any change.  This could cause some problem, such as a character that starts as an orc Assassin, who then changes to a human healer, but I would normally allow it. I generally only allow this when we start a campaign, but there are times I might allow it for replacement character, but I will discuss that later.  Like character creation, any changes need to be approved, but, once again as most of my players know, I will allow just about anything, as I mostly feel that fitting people together is my job…but, of course, I probably try too hard to make a group from some characters that will never fit…but that is another post.  🙂

Simple, eh? OK!  Now, Why?  This is the most useful tool I have found to make sure that a player has a character that they want to play and that fits the world.  In any game system, when a player creates their character, they usually have some idea of the character they want to play.  Some player motives may be less inclined to create a specific character idea, but others will definitely have more than a vague idea.  And this is where we can find a breakdown. Sometimes the players’ idea and your idea of the setting are different. Even after they’ve created a character in a setting maybe they didn’t understand how a rule worked that is important to their new character concept. This is where this concept comes from. This tool allows the leeway needed to make the right character.  Although I will repeat and clarify this in a post about making characters, I feel it is important to help the players create the character they want to play.  Sometimes this means I will recommend changes to a character.  But whatever the reason, even if there is no real reason, it’s just something they want, such as “Oh!  I didn’t realize how important the NOTICE skill would be, so I want some points in it!”  Let them do it!

This does bring about a bit of a conundrum: What if the character dies in the first 3 games?  You can handle this 2 ways, right?   Either make them create a new character, and start the 3 play clock again, or allow them to be not killed.  Normally, as I pointed out in this post, character death is a touchy, but needed issue.  However, particularly in an epic game, I would recommend NOT killing a character in this window.  The loss of such an immature character is a pointless exercise in character creation.  Only rarely will the player, or other characters for that matter, bond with that character in such a short time.  Let people get attached before you put them under dire threat!  As far as replacement characters, I will usually only offer 1 or 2 game sessions before they are locked into their character, because the player should be more comfortable with the setting as well as the rules used.  However, there are exceptions, such as a fairly complex system, more to the FGU end of the scale, or if the player is playing way outside their comfort zone.  But either way, I have yet to see a need to have more than 3 sessions!  (I have allowed 4 on a couple of occasions, but then one game  usually lasted less than an hour, and in most cases only about 30 minutes, so i just didn’t count it!)

For my games I have found that any time before the start of the 4th game is a reasonable time to create the character they want.  In your play, you may find that is to many, or not enough.  Obviously this is suited for long-term games only!  If you have a story line that is expected to play out in less than 6 sessions, you can’t waste 3 for character perfection!  I would still recommend at least one game where they can “Try on” the skin of the character before they are stuck with it…but like all of my other suggestions, if you do its up to you!

Finally!  A short one!  That has taken me almost as long as it took to post ALL of the others!  Well…I think I can get back on the once a week schedule now… (Yeah, right!)