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Enabling Player Fun – Changes After Character Creation

"Well it says I have blue, but I decided I wanted grey eyes…"

 

The Situation We’ve All Been In
I’ve recently found myself running a new game. It is only a few sessions old, but one of the players sheepishly approached me asking if he could change some stuff about his character. The character was cool, but it wasn’t fitting in with what the game became. Despite a good backstory, fun powers, and some great hooks that would come into play later in the campaign, the player wasn’t having as much fun with the character as he had hope. He wasn’t feeling as effective in combat and his demeanor didn’t quite fit with the rest of the party.  My group has always operated with the idea that you can make any change you want if it is in the first few sessions, and I totally understood. We retconned some things and made the changes. The game got a lot more fun for everyone.

Why Do Post Creation Changes Occur?
Making character changes after the fact strikes me as a pretty common occurrence in the realms of roleplaying. There are lots of reasons I can think of or have seen that a player might want a change.

No plan survives the battlefield, and no character remains the same once they’ve gotten in the game. When a player wants to change something about their character after the fact, it is usually because some aspect of the game would be more fun with the change. Players create characters for a lot of reasons, but rarely do those reasons fit snugly into what the Game Master plans.

Early Changes Are Easy, But What About Late Game Changes
My group has always operated with the idea that you can make changes in the first few sessions. Nothing is too set in stone, so why sweat the small stuff. But what about when the changes are requested after the characters have been well established? Well, if the reason is good enough there are always ways to handle it. And most methods for changing characters early on will work just as well for changing characters later in the game.

In the End…
It’s all about fun, and if changing a few aspects of a character make it more fun for one player, then it will likely increase the fun for the whole group. Changing things up after the fact can cause some chaos, but if handled correctly it can be smoothly handled. Have you ever had a player approach you asking about a change to their character after the fact? How big of a change is too big, or how many gaming sessions would you consider being to many to allow changes?

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.



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10 Comments To "Enabling Player Fun – Changes After Character Creation"

#1 Comment By drow On October 4, 2011 @ 7:30 am

my group is pretty friendly to changing things, and building it into the story along the way. i rebuilt my warforged paladin into a warforged warlord in our last game, and in my current campaign, the adventurer guilds exist to facilitate a PC retraining just about anything. or even race, via the changeling guild.

#2 Comment By black campbell On October 4, 2011 @ 9:00 am

I’ve always gone with the idea that a player can make changes after the first game or two — kind of like how characters change from a TV show pilot to follow on episodes. (Hell, Hill Street Blues resurrecyed to characters from pilot to series.)

I also allow rewrites after major story points are reached, if characters have had major life changes.

#3 Comment By Norcross On October 4, 2011 @ 9:08 am

I like to let my players develop their characters during the game. Like many GMs I think of campaigns as like a TV series. The first episode of a TV series usually establishes the basics about the main characters, but then you find out more about them and they become deeper characters as the show goes on. Requiring a fully-detailed character background the first session of a game is like a TV show that shows the entire life story of the main characters in the first episode, and then never goes back.
I don’t even require the players to spend all of their skill points at the beginning. If the player realizes during the second session that they want the character to have a certain skill, that’s much easier to accomplish if the character has a skill point that’s still unspent. Often in TV shows a character turns out to have some useful skill that they’ve never used before, but makes sense for the character. Likewise, I would also allow them to take a flaw/drawback during the game – perhaps their intrepid treasure seeker never told their companions about their fear of snakes until they are dumped in a room full of them, for example. Allowing characters to develop during the game has always led to much deeper characters for us than writing a 10-page biography and sticking to it ever has.

#4 Comment By BishopOfBattle On October 4, 2011 @ 10:46 am

When I started a Shadowrun campaign with my group, largely made up of individuals who hadn’t played Shadowrun much (and a few who had never played tabletop RPGs at all), it was with the caveat that they could change their characters after the first three sessions or so. Generally speaking, they were all welcome to change their character, though I required the more experienced players to justify their changes a little more. It worked out really well, letting my players drop skills they didn’t find they used and fit their characters together better in the group.

Now that we’ve been running for a long time though, I’m not sure I’d let my players retcon a character. I’m all for encouraging them to *change* their character, but I think I would require them to do it through in game mechanics. That’s probably easier to say with a system like Shadowrun than, say, D&D. Its just a matter of improving attributes and certain skills to turn your crude and rude gunslinger into a smooth talking, stealth operative as compared to trying to turn your Fighter into a Rogue in D&D.

#5 Comment By evil On October 4, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

My main rule for character changes is this: don’t do it mid-session. If you want to tweak your character, rebuild a character, or totally chuck a character and get a new one, that’s fine, but my players must discuss it with me out of game, and if we build or tweak one for them, it is done between sessions. The process of rebuilding is too tedious to be done during most gaming sessions.

BTW, my favorite hook for this is the death/rebirth method. It can explain away a lot of changes to a character.

#6 Comment By unwinder On October 4, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

I used to be pretty restrictive about this, but these days I actually encourage players to change stuff if it’s not working out. If the character sheet isn’t a constant, then the character has to be something more than just the game mechanics.

#7 Comment By mercutior On October 4, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

I think the key word here is fun. We all play games to have fun. Many games require a small commitment, say a few hours for board games and such, but role-playing demands a much greater commitment. No one has fun when he/she is not happy with his/her character and feels “stuck” with it. As a role-player you live with your character for years. Why would anyone want to continue session after session with a character, skill, feat, etc. that just doesn’t make him/her happy? Change is good if it facilitates happy players because happy players leads to more fun! Now if someone wants to change a few things to create a situation that “breaks” the game, then all bets are off!

#8 Comment By Razjah On October 4, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

I always use this. I even outright tell player that if something isn’t working they way they want to let me know and they can change it in the first couple sessions. I want the players to have fun playing a character they enjoy, not something they grow fond of over time.

#9 Comment By Roxysteve On October 5, 2011 @ 8:45 am

I run D20, BRP and Savage Worlds games regularly, and I’ve begun to urge players with new characters to “hold a little back” – keep 10-20 skill points unallocated in the BRP & D20 games. That way, if a character needs to suddenly become qualified to do something he/she didn’t foresee at charatcer generation time they can just allocate the points and away we go.

With Savage Worlds I use the “Defining Interest” idea by having them unallocated at the start of a game and letting any player claim one as play progresses – first one to call it, gets it. If the SW character is so badly built for the game that it won’t work at all, I generally suggest the player makes a new one from the ground up.

I also have a policy that if a character isn’t working for someone, they can have that character walk out of the action and be replaced at any time with another.

#10 Pingback By Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2011-10-07 On October 7, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

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