The Genreless Hurdle: Character CreationDecember 3, 2013
I’m gearing up to run a Hero Quest game in the near future. One of the things I’ve found over the years is that games where the mechanics allow players to “do anything” with a character, often also suffer the problem of not giving enough guidance as to what kind of characters fit, or how to get create a character with a good angle in terms of motivations and conflicts.
The usual solutions are:
1) Have a familiar genre so the group simply falls back on the expectations of the genre (superheroes, police drama, etc.) – games like Capes, Big Eyes Small Mouth, and Primetime Adventures utilize this.
2) Have a massive setting dump in the form of either the game books themselves or a large licensed set of shows, movies, books for people to have read as fans. This is pretty much what Heroquest by default has going on, and usually how most folks end up running something like GURPs or most genreless games when basing it out of a specific setting.
This is one thing where a class based game usually excels – you have a pick list of options, and a bit of description on what that looks like and directions to go in play.
So I’m snagging a few tricks from some other games to put together a character generation process tailored specifically to the setting I’m working with.
A pick-list of professions or roles within a community. Simple, straightforward, much like classes, but also the least interesting part.
Notable Aspects, Spirits, Heirlooms, History
Each of these are pick-lists as well, but angled a bit more – designed to give some idea of the character’s place in the society – where does your family stand? What are their obligations? What is their influence? Reputation? (by extension, where are you to all of that?)
In a certain way, this sets players up to “build your own splat faction” – much of what Whitewolf or Legend of the Five Rings type splats do, is provide a political/philosophical faction which then you build a character aligns with that angle, or is built to go against/play off of it. In this case, you build your family/clan situation, and while you’re doing so, you’re considering whether your character personally is with this, against it, etc. In a way, this mirrors a bit of what both Pendragon and Artesia do as far as generating your family’s heritage.
Not only all of that, but many of these are also built to try to provide places to angle conflict from – obligations, competition, etc. This ties a bit into what Polaris and FATE games do with aspects – something can be both a source of power as well as problems.
The other feature of this is that it helps players get the setting – even if you don’t pick some of the options, you can easily see that there is probably another family or clan who would fit one of the other molds – so you can think about your character and clan in relation to that – maybe they’re your rivals, your allies, etc.
Values and Relationships
With all the above, then we look at the village/Clan’s values as a whole, and you basically place your character as one who upholds, or challenges society, and what that looks like. And you name a few characters that matter and why they matter. This becomes the mechanical hooks that keep this focused in play, not merely background material.
While it’s been set up as pick-lists, it’s not limited to just those lists – other ideas can be used as well, just that the list makes it easy to find a direction instead of looking at a blank sheet of paper.
Obviously, this seems like a bit of work, but the other advantage is that as a GM, whatever the players don’t choose, I can simply run down the lists and pick something if I need to improv a character, clan or family NPC relatively easily.