To PreGen, Or Not To PreGen
Posted by Mage Mistress
That is the question! Or rather, it was the question during last night’s RPGChat on Twitter.
What’s that? You’re not familiar with RPGChat on Twitter? It seems to me like you need to get yourself on Twitter on Thursday nights from 9pm-10pm (Eastern Time), follow the hashtag #RPGChat, and get yourself in on the awesome fun! And not having a Twitter account is no excuse, ‘cuz Twitter accounts is free so GO DO IT DAMMIT!
OK, now that you have that done let’s discuss the topic at hand, shall we?
Typically, if I’m going to play in a campaign I want to make my own character. This is a character I intend to be living with for an extended period, and it helps me to get into that character’s mindset if I go through the character creation process. It also helps me to figure out the game rules if it’s a system that I’m not already familiar with. All of this is helpful if the intention is to be part of a long running campaign. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and I did spend several years playing a Dragon Blooded character who was made as a pre-gen for a one shot that we all liked so much that the GM turned it into a campaign for us and it was most excellent. That was the exception though, not the rule. As a rule I like to have more control over a character that I will be playing in a campaign.
For a one shot I throw that rulebook against the wall like a Changeling Module! (Even now one of my readers is twitching from her memories of the first time I played Changeling. You’re welcome, Aenaiyah.)
For a one shot I’m all about the random. Give me random charts and a pair of percentiles (no-cheats of course… or Ye Olde Zocchihedron) that will tell me everything about that character down to hair color, shoe size, and what they ate for breakfast that morning. Bring it! Alternately, hand me a pre-gen. It’s just as random as far as I’m concerned (I didn’t make the character after all), and thus the same level of challenge to step away from the possibility of type-casting myself as a player. Challenge me! Make me play a total idiot! (As witnessed here: Adventurer Misadventures – Haints!) Make me play a fanatical pyromaniac with no regard for his own safety and I promise you I will leap on top of the tank my fellow Space Marines are inside of with a flame-thrower reigning fiery death on the surrounding heretics in one hand, and the cigarette I’m lighting off a smoldering chaos demon corpse in the other. I am with you on this ride. All the way.
Just for love of ALL that is holy DO NOT give me three dots in Athletics with a specialty in “Blogging”. (I’m lookin’ at you “Werewolf the Forsaken” Pre-Gens!) There is an art to building pre-gens for a one shot. It’s something I enjoy doing for the modules that I write. For me, it isn’t enough to just toss some stats on a sheet and call it a pre-gen. I not only want the pre-gens to make sense on their own sheets, I want them to work well together. So OK, one of the pre-gens is dumb as a stump, but you can bet that pre-gen can pick things up and put them down with the best of them and that will become important to the scenario! Another pre-gen will have Sloth as a Vice and the lack of Physical skill dots to back that up, but they will have every Manipulative dot that I can squeeze onto the sheet because the easiest way to catch some ZZZs is to convince the people around you to do everything for you, and by the gods I vow I shall build ways for the player to abuse those skills into the story!
I tend to think of my One Shot Modules like B Movies. Maybe the characters are a film crew shooting the first episode of a new series for the Occult Channel called “Truly Terrifying Tales” at a long abandoned asylum. Or perhaps the characters are a bunch of rich kids being sent of to a remote boarding school to learn how to be productive members of society. The characters might be a Hunter Cell trying to track down a missing subway train. (And yes, I see what I did there.) The character shells are suitably stereotypical to the setting, making it easier for the players to pick them up and run with them. These are characters most people will have some sense of familiarity with. You don’t need a 13 page background story when two or three sentences of inner monologue will do. Of course the player can always opt to play the personality differently than I suggest (what am I going to do, fire them?), but I find that it’s helpful for new players who maybe aren’t sure how to roll play to give them those couple of sentences to illustrate the character. I also find that more experienced roll players tend to enjoy the challenge of playing them as written.
While obviously playing the pre-gen personalities as written isn’t a requirement, I do make an effort to build them with fun personality conflicts in mind to help the RP. For example, the camera crew includes one jaded camera operator who just wants to shoot some footage and get this over with and god help the producer if he stuck me with some newbie operator on the second camera, and of course the other camera operator is the obligatory newbie who is a big fan of the first and totally into the supernatural! The show’s host actually has some minor supernatural abilities (whether the other characters care to believe that or not) but no physical skills whatsoever, and the producer is just trying to keep everybody in line and make this thing good enough for it to get picked up as a series so they can all get a steady gig out of it. The boarding school kids include a schoolyard bully and toady, a charmer who can get away with anything, a brainy hacker, and a stoner. The Hunters have an electrician and a construction worker who might be able to fix the train, a go-getter medic who wants to make sure that no one got hurt (Heaven Forbid!) with a somewhat less industrious ambulance driving partner, an MTA employee who knows the tunnels inside and out and has a secret hoard of “discarded stuff” nearby (it’s AMAZING what construction materials get left behind after a project), and a police officer in case they run into any unsavory types in the dark tunnels under the city. It has been my experience that the players rise to the occasion and bring these potential conflicts to all new levels. Once a character tossed someone out of a third story window. Good times.
The thing of it is, when you’re at a convention you’re playing outside of your normal group. You might never see these players and this GM again, and there is a limited amount of time on the clock. I don’t want to spend that time building a character. I want to create a story, and I want it to have an ending that’s more satisfying than “and then we ran out of time.” Your mileage may vary, but I have seen someone spend THREE HOURS making a Savage Worlds character for a one shot.
SAVAGE F@&# WORLDS!
Folks, it was not pretty.