As a GM, there is nothing I like less during the start of a campaign than character creation. For me, having to herd a group of players through the act of creating their characters is often more than I can take. Though an avoidance of pain, I typically let my players take great liberties with their concepts, which often leads to disjointed groups or straining the campaign premise. Last week I did something unexpected, and I called for a Character Creation Do Over.
It Seemed to be going well
We were starting a new Fate Core game based off of a previous home-brew world, Elhal. We started with the Campaign Creation activities and came up with an interesting set of events, people, and places in which to set the campaign. Then we got into character creation. Of the three players, one concept was pretty solid, one was pretty good needing a little work, and the last one was not really a good fit for the world (aka Snowflake).
I did what I normally do, which is to bend the campaign world to fit. An adjustment here, place a village there, and the last character became an ok fit. We wrapped the session and everyone headed home. The first sign something was wrong was the lack of a GM’s High, but I chalked it off to being tired.
The next morning, I got separate emails from two of the players. Neither was happy about how the character creation process went. Neither was excited about their characters or the group, and were not excited for the campaign overall.
What I Would Normally Do
In the past, I would have reassured the players that this was just the start of the campaign, and like the pilot of a TV show, characters are always a bit off until they have been played a bit. We would have then plowed into the first few sessions and let things shake out. Often this would result in someone changing or making a new character, or I would alter the original concept for the campaign to better accommodate the group. I would hope that in the coming sessions the group would develop a chemistry and would gel as a believable group.
I have had about 50% success rate with this method. Some times the most unlikely group of characters clicks and the campaign takes off. The other 50% of the time the group never seems to come together, the subsequent sessions become more labored and eventually no one is really having fun. The campaign then gets killed unceremoniously.
What I Actually Did
Looking at two separate emails from players, and my own lack of excitement, I emailed the group and told them that we missed our objective of creating a viable group. I told them that everyone needed to start over. The group took it well; no one was overly invested in their characters.
We started from scratch. We re-worked the campaign concept coming up with one that was more interesting. From there we started the process of making new characters. For the one player who’s character was the least best fit, I worked directly with them to come up with a concept that they would enjoy while making sure it tied well with the campaign world. The other players started working on their characters again. This time the characters are more interesting, look like a functional group, and tie into the campaign setting well.
Player Freedom vs Viable Campaigns
When I was just a young player, I had a very combative and fiat-driven GM. Because of that, I tend to fall on the more laissez faire side of GMing; preferring not to interfere with player freedoms. In the past, I would work to make any character concept work for the game, to the point of changing the type of the campaign, so that the player could play the character they wanted.
In writing the Campaign Creation sections of Odyssey, I came to realize that there are such things as a poorly designed party, ones where players come up with concepts that do not fit together or into the world. Since I adopted my philosophy of No More Average Campaigns, there is no reason to take a poorly designed group into a perfectly viable campaign and hope for the best.
There is a middle ground. A GM works alone or with the group to make up a good campaign premise; something that will be enjoyable and playable for the entire group. The players have an equal responsibility to create characters who fit the campaign premise, and in most cases, who can work together as a group. That may mean that they can’t play the exact class they want, or take one power over another; in other words compromise.
As GM, you need to be active in character creation, providing honest feedback, challenging player choices, and helping to facilitate the creation of a group. Character creation should not be a hands off activity for a GM. At the same time, take a hard look at the group of player characters and don’t be shy to say that this group does not have the right stuff, and send them back to the drawing board.
If They Don’t Come…Tear It Down And Build It Again
Mike Mearls said it best, “Each participant is responsible for entertaining everyone else, regardless of player/GM role.” Character creation is not just a player activity, it is a group activity and by working together as a group, the chances that a viable group will be created are much greater. A good group will go a long way in a campaign, and will bring hours of enjoyment to the players who play them as well as the GM who is narrating their way through the campaign world.
Have you ever rejected a player’s character, or an entire group’s set of characters? Do you let players make any kind of character they want, or do you take a more active role in character creation?