Group character generation for NPCs

When I first started posting about group character generation, I did not expect it to be such a theme of my blogging. And yet I find that I still have things to say about it. As I have not been able to play in a single RPG this week, this is what I’ve been doing instead…

The Court of Miracles

My friend Louis is running a game based on the Three Musketeers stories. My character in this game was raised in the criminal underworld, the Court of Miracles, and in the next session we’re going to explore it a bit.

As a conscientious player, I didn’t want to give Louis the task of inventing a ton of characters from my backstory, so I decided to invent a few NPCs that he could use (or not). To do this, I decided to follow my own advice (from my first group character generation post) and randomly generate some Relationships using a Fiasco playset. Since this is about the criminal underworld, I used a Mafia-themed playset called Hit the Mattresses! by Loki Carbis, and tweaked the results to suit the specific time and setting. For example, “Third Family mediator and the one who doesn’t trust them” came up a couple of times, and I simplified this simply to “one doesn’t trust the other”. I also ignored options about law enforcement and civilians.

The result? It worked amazingly! The relationships web gave a very solid framework to build characters on, and I’m really excited to see how these characters are used. I’m not going to give any information here just yet about the characters I came up with, since they haven’t appeared, but I can confirm that Fiasco playsets can help generate some really interesting groups of NPCs for your game, in any system.

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“Oh THAT’S why I’m hanging out with you!”: More group character generation

Last week, I talked about the importance of group character generation at the start of long-running campaigns. I gave examples of lifting mechanics from games like Fiasco and Smallville to improve cohesion of adventuring parties and make campaigns more character-driven. When I submitted the post, I had no intention of writing anything more on the topic, but in my natural internet wanderings I found several things this week that build on exactly the things I discussed last time, and I was drawn right back in.

What is the point?

Something that I did not explicitly articulate last time was why this is so important. Imagine you’re about to start a long-running game. You’ve perhaps already got your character—maybe you were even sitting around a table with the other players when you created your character—and you’re super excited to play this character because they are awesome!

Then the first session happens, and sure your character is awesome, but the campaign you’re playing in isn’t really giving your character to express their awesomeness to the fullest extent. What’s worse, the other characters are so different that you’re not sure exactly why your awesome character would be spending time with them. You start having to play your character ever so slightly differently (and, alas, make them less awesome), just so they don’t leave all these other player characters behind. You could easily have made a different character, one that was equally awesome but fit it better with campaign’s tone and the rest of the party, if only you’d known earlier what the game was going to be like…

This isn’t going to happen in every campaign, but when it does it can be disheartening and leach away your enjoyment for a game you should otherwise enjoy.

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“Why do I hang out with you again?”: The importance of group character generation

I am a huge believer in doing group character generation at the start of a new RPG campaign. I don’t just mean getting all the players in the same place to do character generation, but actually doing it together. Of the RPGs I’ve played in, nearly all of the ones I’ve enjoyed most have made character generation a group activity.

First, a quick explanation

Traditional RPGs seem to work in this way: 1) each player goes away and makes a character, 2) the GM throws all the characters together in the first session and gives them a reason to work together. To an extent, that’s fine, but there are hundreds of stories online about games falling apart because the party isn’t cohesive. It’s not a single unit, just a collection of individuals. In a D&D context, I’m talking about the Rogue who constantly steals treasure from everyone else, or the Paladin who refuses to support the party’s “evil” actions, or what have you.

It’s because, by making character separately—even if you made them separately while sitting around the same table at the same time—you don’t know what the relationships of the characters are going to be like until you start playing. I’ve been in games in which other players have tried to tell me, after character generation was already done, what my character’s opinion was of their characters. And, funnily enough, their assumption of my character’s opinion ended up being wrong.

Group character generation is a process, before or during individual character generation (but not after), of determining collaboratively how the party will act as a unit and how the characters will interact with each other.

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