Most folks are familiar with using pregen characters for conventions, but I’m becoming more convinced that they have a value in home games as well.
First off, I think pregens are valuable if you’re playing any game where character generation is going to take more than 10-15 minutes for a new player. Second, you use them for a short run of 1-6 sessions, not for a 6 month campaign – the point is to get players playing right away AND give them a chance to see HOW the mechanics work for the character stats, etc. This way when they do go to build their characters they’re not stuck having to blindly guess what stats mean what, or how it will look in play, they’ll have had a chance to see it and mess with it first hand.
What this does is:
a) lets players experiment without having to be overly attached/protective of the characters
b) avoids players having to experience “character build regret” where they’re stuck with bad choices for a whole campaign because they didn’t know how the mechanics actually worked
c) lets everyone get to playing right away.
d) makes sure the group of characters are appropriately built stat-wise for the scenario – no character is left missing vital skills or powers
While I’ve seen several games include pregens (or 90% done pregens) (Feng Shui, Legend of the Five Rings, Shadowrun, Mouse Guard, D&D4E) it never seems to catch on other than “Oh Joe showed up late and he’s not good with mechanics, give him one of these” kind of thing.
1. Archetypes are good
While it can be tempting to try to make some tricked out mechanical build, or an “against the grain” fiction type, it’s easier to do pregens with clear archetypes and situations. Assuming this is a new game for the players, you want to reduce the amount of things which require questions – there’s going to be enough questions to answer as it is.
2. Good builds not perfect builds
Aside from the fact that you reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of time spent vs. value in play, the other fact is that some of the players have fun in tweaking character stats – when they make their own characters they’ll want to find the optimal builds. If you’ve already built it, it cuts out their sense of discovery.
Of course, if you’re not that crunch inclined and your players are they’ll come up with something better no matter your best attempt. Just focus on making something solid that reliably does what it’s supposed to do.
3. Avoid Bunk choices
Unfortunately, most mechanically crunchy games have bunk choices included – powers no one uses, etc. Avoid these because all they serve to do is clutter the player’s character sheet and act as a “trap” – one that keeps punishing the player for using it until they figure it out. And since you picked it for them instead of picking it themselves it feels cheap.
Also try to avoid overly specific power types. If a player has a power they never use because the situations where it’d be useful are so rare, it’s a waste of space.
4. Build with your scenario in mind
You’re doing a short run, so you know what kind of conflicts you’re looking at – both in the fiction and in mechanics. Build the characters to be able to competently meet those challenges. If the heroes will have to talk to the king, you probably shouldn’t make them homeless vagabonds. If the game calls for political negotiation, you better make sure they all have some skill or influence to deal with it.
5. Include a short description and advice
For each character, give a paragraph of who they are and what they’re good at, then include some specific advice about general strategies for using their abilities/skills/powers.
Remember, if the players are new to the game, they have no ideas what a power does necessarily, what stats mean, etc. So including, “The knight class gives this character really good defense, and you work best as a blocker, getting in the face of the enemies and holding them off.” gives a player a sense of what to do and whether they want to pick this pregen or not.