When I’m not sitting behind a screen or writing Gnome Stew articles, I’m also an RPG freelance writer. That means that my weekly group usually gets dragged into whatever I need to playtest for my projects, the latest of which is Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.
Running a playtest is like running a one-shot. The players are only going to be playing a short while and it’s often not worth blowing a session on character creation, especially when the players are unfamiliar with the system (it’s even more fun for new games, when I’m running the game from a few rtf files, but I digress…).
Doctor Who posed a particular problem because only one of my players was really well-versed in the lore. The others had seen a few episodes but weren’t really knowledgeable about the characters in the particular era I was running.
Even if I had given them proper Companions (for this playtest I decided to make the Doctor an NPC), there’d still be that awkward period where the players try to adjust to playing unfamiliar characters that they didn’t design. I decided to try something different.
Rather than giving them official Companions or making some up, I modeled their characters on PCs from previous campaigns. I made a few adjustments to make them more in-line with Doctor Who, but overall they had the same personalities and backstories.
It ended up working much better than I expected. The players leapt right back into playing their old PCs and interacted well with each other. It wiped the awkwardness right away and I was able to sit back and let them gel with each other a bit as we launched right into the adventure.
This got me thinking. There are a lot of times when the gaming group can use a one-shot to fill time, whether it be due to switching campaigns, conflicting schedules, or just a needed break. Recycling old PCs with a slight re-skin would help ease the players into jumping into a one-shot.
1. Taking the PCs of a modern superhero team and reskinning them for a low-powered 1930s pulp scenario.
2. Taking a group of fantasy adventurers and reinterpreting them for a space opera adventure.
3. Taking a group of Starfleet officers and turning them into a historical Naval crew for an occult or wartime adventure.
4. Upgrading a modern occult fantasy group to four-color spandex-clad heroes.
5. Taking characters from various games and allowing the players to play the actors that portray those characters on fictional TV shows for a horror adventure.
Try this trick next time you’re running a one-shot and see how it works for you. If you have tried this, how did it work? Did your players really get into it or would they rather have played original characters? Did you encounter any hiccups along the way?