ST231: Helping Players with Character Creation

Taking the time to help players – both new and veteran – create their characters is a vital part of effective storytelling.  The Player Characters (PCs) are the cast you have to work with when creating your stories.  The more you can help shape them and the better you know them, the more powerful your stories will be.

Getting Involved

Players are always eager to jump right in – many times, an idea for a character will pop into their heads before they ever come to see you.

There are some steps that are advisable prior to creating a character concept.

  1. Encourage your players to take a step back and go back to the source material before beginning character creation.  Make sure they read (or re-read) your VSS and your City Setting, if you have one.  This is a way for the player to glean ideas and find ways to connect their character to the city and its history, as well as a way to help them find a place within the stories that you and other players are telling.
  2. Having players read the source materials will do a great deal to help prevent concepts that simply won’t work within a particular VSS or setting.

Obviously, players are always going to have some idea of what they want to play, but we as STs should always make reading the VSS the starting point when a player comes and says, “I’m thinking about creating a character.”

In the case of players who are new to the MES, it’s a good idea to take more time to talk to them about the game and to work to find ways to create a character that they will not only enjoy, but that will give them an immediate “in” to the game – something that will help them get involved as quickly as possible.

  • Give them the VSS and walk them through it so that you know they understand it.
  • Give them some ideas of good character concepts that would work well within the game, and help them identify other players with concepts that might mesh well with theirs for character ties.

Involving veteran players in character creation

Don’t be afraid to call on your veteran players for help when working to integrate new players into your game.  Likewise, don’t simply shunt new players off on veterans. Rather, once you’ve sat down with them and made sure they understand the VSS and the sort of game you’re running, identify a veteran player to act as a mentor for the new player, and let this mentor help with the more detailed parts of character creation.  Involving current players in character creation is also good for helping a new character come into play with immediate ties to already-existing characters as well as potential ways for them to get involved quickly.

Character Concept

The character concept is the seed of the character’s history and background.  It is a short phrase or statement that encapsulates the most important aspects of who the character is and what experiences they bring to the table.

For example:

  • Former criminal defense attorney on path of redemption
  • Reluctant monster
  • Hooker with the heart of gold
  • Trust fund baby
  • Robot in disguise

It is from this concept that the character’s background develops.  If there are certain concepts that will not work with your VSS, that perhaps the game already has too many of, or a concept that you know will be untenable with the current characters in the game, be sure to tell the player and be ready to offer up alternatives if the player is leaning towards an unusable concept.  Often, it’s not necessary to outright deny an entire concept; components of the initial idea can almost always be used by changing the perspective slightly to make the concept more complementary to the VSS and the current characters.

Poor or Unviable Character Concept(s)

How do you deal with the player who wants to play a concept forbidden by the addendum or by your VSS. This is where it becomes complicated for you as a Storyteller but not impossible. How do you keep a player who wants to play from causing damage to your game, others, or even themselves? Players are very passionate about their “ideas” and will tenaciously defend them.  One method is to speak with the player and see why this concept and no other will do.

Ask them about why it is important and are there alternatives to that specific concept. For example someone wants to play a Nazi or a sexual predator. Two immediate tools come to your aid in removing such concepts from entering play. The addendum is your first line of defense, it clearly outlines what is a forbidden concept(s).  If the concept is clearly forbidden by the addendum, offer the player viable alternatives that fit the spirit of their idea.

Your second tool in screening out “poor” concepts is the Code of Conduct, clearly if the concept is of an extremely offensive nature this will create issues with other players. Speak with the player about this and again offer alternatives to the original idea

Another problem that often arises is when the concept is clearly one that is going to imbalance the game or does not fit the VSS. How do you deal with this issue? Here the way forward is less clear but you have options.  Start with the player’s idea itself, what about it creates the problem? If that is changed or removed does it invalidate the player’s desired concept? If approved for play will it cause more problems? Worst is when its 10 min before game start and the player does this very thing, you don’t have time to deal with the player.

At that point you simply have to say “No” and explain that you will work with the player after the game session. Offer them an NPC to play for that session and include them in the game to make them feel apart of it. Use that opportunity to help them see the game as being more than just a single player or character. Once the game is over revisit how to help the player design a concept that will fit both the game and their desired story.

So once a new concept or a revised one is found for the player, we next work on helping them build the foundation of their story. We create a history for this concept that supports, affirms, and gives life to the character concept.

Background/History

A character’s background needs to expand on the character concept – and here is where the player should first start thinking about the character’s defining Virtue and Vice or Nature and Demeanor, as they often are a primary factor in determining what a character will do in any given situation.

Some players really enjoy going into great detail about their character’s past, and for these players, your primary responsibility may be simply to act as a sounding board as they toss out ideas.  If you can, try to find possible connections with your City’s history and other PCs, and keep an ear out for details that will help you find a niche for the character in the game and its current stories.

For those players who dislike writing, getting them to create a background can be difficult.  In these cases, ask them for just three paragraphs.

  • Past: The most important events that happened in the character’s past
  • Present: What the character is currently doing, and what brought them to the city
  • Future: The character’s current goals and motivations

Another thing to encourage your players to do is to create a timeline of events.  These are especially helpful when players start to form ties with the larger game outside the Domain.

It’s also important that you as Storyteller to remind players that when they create a background, it should be with an eye towards some of it eventually finding its way into the game and into the public eye, or at least discovered by the character’s more trusted associates – even secrets.  The Man with No Name is great for about six or eight hours of movies, but we run through that in about two games, and after that, the “enigma wrapped in a riddle, cloaked in mystery” can rapidly get old.

Remember to remind players that if they plan to have their character have been in locations other than your home city for any length of time, the player must make contact with the appropriate STs (either the VST of the Domain, or the RST/ARST/ANST for Dark Places of the Map for the region or country for the location. Inform your players

The key repository for this information is ran by the AGSL Dark Places on the Map or DPOTM. This repository is known as the registry. It can be found at  https://sites.google.com/a/gsl-office.org/gsl-office/home  for further guidance. Use of this resource for any location, event, or anything in PC’s background outside of United States. This is a must and cannot be emphasized any more strongly. A player must use the registry to record these events and ensure that they are fitting within the larger chronicle. But do this after speaking to all the appropriate Storyteller’s involved.

Character Sheet

The character sheet should be the last thing the player works on, as the abilities chosen on the character sheet should always be guided by the character concept and background.  Attributes, Skills, Merits – all of these should reflect the character.  A character whose background is as an intellectual and scholar should not have a character sheet filled with Physical Traits and Skills while putting few points into Mental abilities.

A good general rule of thumb is that characters should start with about two to three things at which they are very good at and many more things at which they are average.  It’s also important to leave areas for character growth and improvement over time.  This is especially true of players who have lots of experience points (XP) available to build their sheets. Help players use the points and XP available to them to find balance between min-max and well-rounded PCs.  Extreme min-maxing should be discouraged, if not outright disallowed.  Players should be warned that in Chronicle of Darkness games, an attribute of 1 is below average and should be played as a disability.