Character Creation is both creative, collaborative, tactical, and a signal for one’s expectations from play. Can a definite procedure help people to approach the game in the right way?
Recently started a new campaign for Living Alchemy. Living Alchemy uses modules- characters are introduced into a setting with a few elements. You can read about my Bright Eyes module here. The character creation session went well but I feel I avoided certain traps using my personal experience. I suspect it could have been done more easily, more clearly, and quicker. (It took about two hours in total)
The new module is called The Eurydice Contract. It begins with Anya Morrell commissioning a group to retrieve her fiance's body in order to revive him. Her fiance was marooned by “Black Sam” and only “Black Sam” knows the body's whereabouts. Here’s a visual guide.
Ostensibly, it takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean, but I think of it as encompassing all romantic seafaring tropes.
Here’s the procedure we used. Each player should create characters in serial. It should take from ten to twenty minutes per character.
- Choose a persona. How is your character perceived? What is their name, class, sex, age, profession, religion, and country of origin?
- Choose an affliction at 4D. (Outcasted, Addicted, Survivor’s Guilt, etc.)
- Choose a relationship with a module character or another protagonist.
- Choose your class (Patron, Scholar, Agent) and associated resources. (Patrons begin with tons of resources and special abilities. Agents begin with virtually null.)
- Choose your trades. (Basically skills)
- Describe your character’s dress and equipment. (Dress and equipment are mostly about scene framing.)
- Determine your character's transgression. What is the worst thing that will happen to your character if they continue their current life forever? What will they do to change it?
The idea is you start with a basic person who lives in the world. They have some kind of psycho-social condition which means they are a character who absolutely must change. Then, they’re brought into the core “scenario” through a relationship. At this point, you can fill in their skills, abilities, etc. Finally, you describe their “transgression”, which will be their first action in the game.
Our first character was Sean Murphy, a newcomer to the Caribbean who fakes her death after a horrible fire she may have caused. She plans to join her father “Black Sam”’s crew (Mulan-style). Originally, she wanted “Black Sam” to be her uncle with her father being an important character. I suggested merging the two characters. Making conflicts more personal and immediate is something I frequently do.
We have Captain Theobald, a man sworn to avenge himself against “Black Sam”. After being discharged by the British Navy, he will kick his crew off the ship at the nearest piece of land and bring the slaves up to function as his personal crew.
Theobald took longer to make than the other two characters combined, partially owing to the game’s mechanics. He was introduced with a long backstory about trading undead slaves which I shut down. When people have long backstories, it’s almost always to anchor expectations about how to treat the character. e.g. “How dare you refuse me! I married the governess of this island! I’m important!” This doesn’t really work in Living Alchemy since its mechanics are robust to that kind of thing, so it’s more about managing player expectations.
The players spent over twenty minutes thinking about the features of Theobald’s ship and near-zero time thinking about who his crew was or why they followed him. His most interesting feature, raising the slave crew, was an afterthought.
Finally, we had Sinichi the ninja-pirate. Or rather, a Japanese slave freed and mentored by “Three-Fingered Jack”. His player wanted his transgression to be to marry into high society, but I thought it was too far-flung from the situation. His transgression was changed to dealing with the discovery that “Black Sam” killed his mentor.
Here is a graphical summary.
Even though the antagonist is “disconnected” from the protagonists and the players are disconnected from each other, I’m confident this will work. Still, it made me conscious of the contrary expectations.
- Players must imagine a character and identify with them.
- They must bring their character into a fictional situation, one coherent with the other elements of the game both specific (Anya, Jack, Sam) and implied (The Caribbean, the game’s implicit expectations).
- They must address that situation with tactical awareness. Their resources and abilities must address their situation.
- Some steps have multiple purposes. Choosing relationships establishes a dramatic situation but also affects how you treat your affliction, the most important tactical consideration.
There has to be an easier way. I might try dividing character creation into three sections:
- The player starts with a basic character/archetype they can relate to.
- Establish the situation they're in.
- Choose abilities that will allow them to resolve the established situation.
What are your ideas? What have other games done to avoid these pitfalls?