Variety is the Spice of Pre-Gens
Posted by Mage Mistress
There are those who feel that you should always make your own characters, even for a one-shot convention game. It is, they often point out, a good way to get a feel for the system if you’ve never played it before. I can’t entirely disagree with that opinion, but I also can’t say I agree wholeheartedly.
If I’m starting a campaign I absolutely want the players to make their own characters. The intent is that they will be living with these characters for a while, and I want them to feel comfortable with them, happy even. Additionally, we can spend an entire first session making sure people have the rules down, working out any questions people may have, and if there are any House Rules this is a good time to work them out. Players can write backstories and I can weave them into the campaign world, making it feel as though the character has been connected to and interacting with this world for the number of years the character is old. It’s a beautiful thing.
It doesn’t always work for a one-shot.
For a long term campaign the players have motivation to make characters that mesh well. Not only will they be living with their own characters for a while (hopefully), but they will be living with each other’s characters too. There’s a strong chance that if you’re starting a campaign the players know each other (though I can tell you from personal experience that this is not always the case) and they might just work together to give their characters reasons to be working together. If your players are fantastic they will also work out pet peeves to play off of.
At a convention all bets are off. You don’t know who will be playing at the table, or if they will get along. I’ve been pretty lucky in that regard, but I’ve heard some horror stories. You also don’t have the luxury of a character creation session, and the GM simply doesn’t have time to rewrite the module on the spot to incorporate a character’s backstory.
Additionally, I enjoy making new characters. I love trying to figure out who they are, what makes them tick, and what skills they would pick up along the way. There simply are not enough days in a life for me to play enough campaigns to satisfy my love of making new characters. I also enjoy watching other people play them. Sometimes they take those characters places I never in a million years would have thought of going. Other times they make choices I totally would have made. Either way it’s fun for me.
And so, I’m coming up with my pre-gens for the Savage Worlds modules I’m writing for RetCon this year. I want to make sure that the characters in each module have reasons to work together, but I also want to give the players ways to get under each other’s skin a little bit. There will be a built-in alliance or two, some bad habits here and there, and ties to the big picture of course.
I tend to make my pre-generated characters based on some trope or other. I want to make sure that when someone selects a character packet they are going to see the character they are expecting. After all, what they are expecting is the character they would like to play. If it wasn’t they would have picked something else! For example, if you pick up the Innocents Character labelled “The Face” you’re going to get a character with loads of dots in Manipulation, Persuasion, Subterfuge, and Streetwise, and the character description is going to make it clear that this character is a silver-tongued troublemaker who never gets punished because the teachers have a tendency to blame someone else. On the other hand, if you’re picking up “The Toady” then chances are you’ll figure on hacking someone’s email by punching that person repeatedly in the face until they give you their password… and you would be right on both counts. I want to make sure that when you pick up the character you have a pretty good idea of what it is without having to read through pages of descriptions or needing to know what everything in the stat block means. I want the characters to be both accessible to people who are new to tabletop roll playing games (or the particular system), and fun to play no matter what your level of roll playing experience.
I also want to make sure that with the mix of characters available to the players the module’s core issue can be solved. I don’t want to set up a no-win situation for the mix of characters. That’s easy to do, and no fun for me as a GM. I want the players to use their wits, but if fisticuffs really is the best way to solve a plot-point I want to make sure that at least one of the characters is capable of throwing a punch. Furthermore, if they need to stop a computer virus that is activating a rampaging army of robots I want to make sure that they have at least one character with computer skills in the group. I want to stack the deck so that the players have characters with the skills necessary to solve the main crisis. If the players make up the characters at the start of the session they may wind up making an squad of fighters with all kinds of fighting skills who are trying to calm down an angry mob before a riot breaks out… or spin doctor to a group of nearby reporters. No good can come of that.
Of course, no good will come to the computer programmers when the army of rampaging robots arrives if there is no one around who is capable of dealing with the robots.
And so I will be spending the next few weeks making some space marine types, and some scientists. I’ll stat up some people with medical skills, and some people who can cobble together just about anything out of spare parts. There will be some characters with an incredible knowledge of history and the occult (if they believe in that sort of thing), and some who exist to pick things up and put them down. Hopefully when I’m done there will be something for everyone.