Character Creation

As a GM, I enjoy working with my players as much on the character creation as on the story itself. Often being there to encourage them towards a character that is as much a utility to the team, as a character with a strong background. I sit with each player for hours talking with them about how their character got to the point he or she is at. Finally, at the end of everything, I ask the following Questions which I've discovered have quite often had the players completely changing their character in an effort to match the answers they give.

In the following questions, you are character and storyteller, no need to ask if something is possible, it's just so you get a feel for how your character will react to a situation, and insure that you don't feel completely hopeless in rough situations.

  1. You awaken to find you are trapped in a tower. There is no visible door, and only one window, too narrow for a man to squeeze through, about 10 feet above your head providing the only light source in the room.

  2. Travelling to a nearby village, you are ambushed. Behind you, you see 2 men come out of the woods with huge viscious wardogs on leashes, and ahead of you 2 men who look more like Ogres than anything, perhaps they even are. They don't look happy.

  3. Speed is of the essence, as you travel towards a friend to warn them of an impending danger. Breaking through the edge of the woodlands, you find yourself on the brink of a very deep chasm, far too wide to jump over, with walls of loose rock that would surely cause any climber to plummet to his death.

  4. You have been imprisoned for a crime you didn't commit. Shackled to a pole that is in the middle of the dungeon floor, that reaches from floor to ceiling. You hear the guards laughing and commenting that come morning, your head will be feeding the crows as it rests on a pike. Knowing the ruler of this town, you know they are not just trying to scare you, they're being quite honest.

  5. Something you want very much is residing in the top of the tower before you. The tower is an old relic, with no legal inhabitants. You do know though, that the previous legal tenant wasa very fond of traps and other dangers, including possible paranormal animals as guards.

My querie, and the reason I'm posting this, is to find out what other people do that is 'unique' for the character creation process. My colleagues are getting a bit use to the questions, and usually have answers figured out way before hand (which isn't a bad thing), and I'd like to surprise them with something other than 'How do you handle' type questions.

I'm pretty sure nearly everyone does the usual, "How did you become....", "Where are your parents/siblings now..." type background questions, I'm looking for stuff unique that would actually make my players stop, surprised and think. Similarly to when I started asking the posted questions.


I thought of a fun technice I've been subjected to by a friend of mine who's a game designer and likes indie games
The consept is called 'Kickers'. And the idea is that the player shall come up with an (or several) open ended scene(s) with his character or close npc's, a scene that the character has to react to, and cannot ignore.
Fx: Njordi wakes up in a back alley after a hard night at the Tavern . This is about half a days walk from the covenant. The first thing he notices is a beggar trying to take off his boots. After chasing him off and discovering new levels of pain from his head, Njordi discovers that he has a broad bracelett on his left wrist, and it doesn't seem to come off when tries to remove it. Inside his shirt he also finds a pouch with lots of silver pennies and a cut off human nose.
Now, what happens next is completly in the open. The gm gets to use this scene one time in the future, and can use it as a start of an exiting adventure. The players usually anitcipates this with dread-filled joy.
This is a way for the player to comunicate to the gm a little about what he likes to play, and since he wrote it himself, and in such a way that it cannot be ignored, it usually kicks off the action and adventure pretty instantly. Hence the term kicker.

Wow..... I really really like that.....

I appreciate Sphynx's well written idea on the efforts he makes to develop well rounded deep characters.

I like to believe the characters of my campaign are both well rounded and deep as well.

I point this out simple to set up an alternative method for developing sound characters.

When I sit down with players to game the point is to game. I want them to make a character as fast as possible. The more you think about it doing the math, and build the perfectly constructed character, the less time we spend gaming.

After the character is built we look for the thinest reason possible to explain why the character is involved in the troupe. Our ultimate thin reason is, "They live at the covenant and up until this point haven't been asked along on an adventure."

Actually the thinest reason EVER is as follows:

Once a bunch of grogs was on a snow covered mountain. One player left the game and we said his grog fell in a hole and died. The end.

About two months later (real time) the player came back and wanted to play his grog. In the game the same bunch of grogs were deep in a dungeon about 200 miles away from the snow capped mountain. It was about two months later in game time as well.

Somebody played a whimsy card (remember those?) and the grog fell out of a hole in the ceiling. When we stopped laughing he got up, was back in the gang, and we started gaming again.

Anyway, having developed 'character' and 'motive' we game. Actual character development occurs in game. After the session we learned certain elements about this character. One element may be the character is stupid and they never are played again. Such characters had little time put into them and it's easy to trash them. If a character proved interesting, we may tweak their V/F's, or skills. Such tweaks take little time. For instance, "I'd rather use a whip than a bow." So we swipe one skill for another.

For us, what is important to a character is what they bring to the table. The stats simply encourage us to bring something interesting to the table. The backstory can be developed after the fact. Specifically after a character merits a backstory.

Another benifit of this 'quick' method is no storyline becomes dependant upon a character. For instance on numerous occasions we built complicated characters who were key men to a story. After a session, perhaps two these key men drop out because the player didn't like the character or the player just stopped showing. Now we've started an important story line and have no main character to run through the story.

The absense of complicated histories prevents the key man crisis from occuring. Besides we find it interesting to develop a characters history as we play. We have numerous characters with rich backgrounds and all these characters played through that material rather than just thought it up prior to gaming.

It's not my goal to dismiss Sphynx's ideas, I like them. I just want people to consider the idea that rich characters do not necessarily require large amounts of time or energy.

This is only a problem if the only time you do character-creation is during game-hours. In most games (in my experience), people hang with the GM and do one-on-one on a non-game day to create the characters, and the story and experience of it usually is as good if not better than game-day itself.

No complaints though about how anyone does character creation, or any other part of the game actually, since most people here know I play Ars Fantasy isntead of Ars Magica. But I guarantee, when you create a character in this manner, the player doesn't get tired of the character after a few games... :stuck_out_tongue:

Ok, first I have to say this should not in away be considered an attack on your or your methods. However you just touched up on topic that I've been discussing with players. And that is the premise that game discussion on 'off days' is better than game day.

I get this. On Friday night I was helping my brother pack his truck so he can drive cross country to California and move into his new home. The entire time we packed the truck we talked about our campaign and Tremere issues that are particular to our game.

This was fun and in a sense a kind of meta-gaming. We sketched possible story lines, possible reactions from players as well as characters as well as in game groups. Two hours after the truck was packed we were still talking about gaming.

So just this Friday, I did as you did. I had an non-game experience that was as fun, maybe more fun than game day. As much fun as this sort of brainstorming is, I don't know if it should be more fun than game day. Maybe it's not something that can be controled, but part of me wonders why the discussion of possible storylines or the development of characters is more entertaining than the actual execution of these ideas of these ideas on game day.

On a certain level, this suggests that game day is 'less than' or maybe even a failure if the 'off day' material is 'better'. If that's the case, then it suggests game day has room for improvement. Or is it simply that 'potential' is more interesting than 'execution'?

I don't know if there's a good answer here, but this is something I've been pondering lately.

The reason is 'bonding'. Like it or not, their character isn't the spotlight character in the story, they're just a protaganist in a room full of them. Time spent bonding with your character is just awesome for a person, which is why alot of players often seem more excited about getting experience than political intrigue with the Order of Hermes. Character growth is also part of the bonding process. As you said, time to make the story better (and why we play Ars Fantasy.... :stuck_out_tongue:)


I feel this is an oversimplication. Characters become the focus of adventures. Through initiative and interesting play players become key men. But this is done after the fact. Also we make sure the focus rotates from player to player as well as from character to character.

Well clearly this is an opinion. I can't think of one person in our troupe that is more interested in gaining exp over developing the character of their character. On numerous occasions our troupe has had diceless sessions and inside my troupe I'm virtually famous for forgetting to give out experience. While it's become a running joke, no one seems to care to much that the two or three sessions earned them 0 exp.

I think our story is good, sometimes even great. I guess my point was, that hanging out and talking may not be table talk gaming, but I am starting to view it as a form of gaming. Meta gaming perhaps.

For instance some guys get together and watch football. But the game is just a few hours a week. But all week long they can about football, watching other games, comparing stats, whatever. All these things are part of the hobby of 'football'.

I suppose I'm proposeing that this discussion, this forum, any discussion of gaming, is apart of the hobby 'gaming'. What I find interesting is that for many people this discussion part is more entertaining than the actual game day. It's an observation, that's all.

Well , i am one of those 'Howling Curmudgeons' who wants my XP.
I like seeing any character grow and develop.
When gaming sessions happen once a month , progression slows.

This isn't as crucial with Ars Magica ,
if you allow more than one study season a year.

These days ,
i see XP as the 'Wage' paid to the players for turning up.
Not as the reward for 'good roleplaying'.

Yeah, Ars Magica goes a long way to make this view relevant, the only type of xp the player can't organize all on his own is adventure xp. isn't it? And in our saga we are leaning towards a flat 1 xp pr. session of an adventure, if you like your character to take adventure xp. If the adventure doesn't take too much time, and it seldom takes more than a third of a season, the player can allways decide that the character practice or study for xp instead.
And what place is it for the gm to decide how good you roleplay anyhow? If anything it should be a vote among the players; the one who made the session most fun for the others gets most xp. Not that I see that as a relevant alternative.

I like to be generous with xp, especially in 5th edition where it takes a bit to pump things up.

  • Player shows up ready for action: Player showed up, on time, with character sheet, dice, pencil and so on.
  • Munchies: The player brought some consumables to the session, whether food, drink, paid for pizza, maps, whatever is appropriate. This bonus to any player who coughed up. A –1 Tightarse Award to anyone who complains that this is “unfair.”
  • Acting: For good roleplaying of the character’s personality; particularly good roleplaying may give a double bonus.
  • Bravery: For self-sacrifice of character above and beyond the call of duty. By which we mean, risking your life, rather than just, “hey, Brobdignag the Stingy paid for dinner at the inn!”
  • Constructive: For actions or ideas which significantly helped the mission to completion.
  • Journal: player writes at least a one-page journal of the game session, and/or makes an illustration of its events.
  • Negatives: If any of these factors was particularly bad, the GM may subtract points. For example, the player may have showed up prepared (+1) roleplayed very well (+1), but ruined the mission (-1). So the player only gets one point. If they were also to be incredibly selfish by, say, not reaching a hand to a party member slipping off a cliff (-1), they would earn no xp at all for that session. The minimum is zero.

And so players get 0-7 xp per session. They can spend 1xp of this on each of their characters other than the one they played this particular session. On average, players get about 3xp per session. Nobody has written a journal yet:(

Aww. That's too bad. Our saga started out with a little recap email sent out before the next session. That's snowballed into a 2000-4000 account of the session complete with added extras, "off-camera" asides and details that perhaps the players and characters didn't catch during the session.

The storyguide for the session usually does them. It's hard work but really worth it, I think.

Well, we only had one gaming session so far, another tonight. Some players who normally write journals don't bother if they think they game mightn't survive. So I'll give 'em time;)

But hey, people write, or they don't. The xp bonus is just a reward for those who do it, not offered in expectation that it'll turn non-writers into writers...

For myself , i always take notes.
Players and Character names for a start.
Any NPCs we meet and interact with , (who , where and when).
Various events , get the ST to check i have it right (after session).
If i have time , my IC view on what is going on.

I'm not a writer by inclination , so my notes are always a bit messy.
But i do note the date of the session , and In-Game Date if i can.

This is automatic , not because i expect XP.
But , if there is any extra to be had .... :smiley:

At the moment , even if i can get players ,
most of them want a DnD spell list
and are not inclined to get into the Ars System.

[size=150]HUGE BUMP[/size] :open_mouth: :smiley:

Fellas I just ran into this thread while searching for something else (watch for new threads coming up) and I just wanted to add, even if I'm not sure that you're all still around, that I really enjoyed reading your debate.

Roleplaying is strange thing - and I do know the situation of how talking about a session can turn out to be more fun than actually playing it. I believe som of this is related to roleplaying and not just about hobbies in generel (such as the example of football-fans). Sometimes expectations can be sky-rocket high and difficult to ever achieve - either due to the expectations OR the game. I recall having played for ages with an old time group (playing all sorts of stuff, though not Ars Magica) and always going out the door really excited about going to play and always being more or less disappointed during game. At moment we've got another thread running on RPG theory - and for my own part getting to know RPG theory has lessened the number of disappointments. When meeting with one group of players I adjust my expectations to the sort of roleplaying I know I'll play there instead of hoping futilely that it'll be something different - instead seeking the genre preferences I can have resolved in that context.

As for my Ars troupe - I know we have mostly matching preferences (as it's been an important part of putting it together) and I know what to expect of it. But even so talking about the game can often be as great as the game itself, for several reasons I believe. Sphynx - bonding might be a part of it, but not all of it. I think one of the things is a conscious reflection - which you don't always do during game. If the troupe is doing well people will often have a good feeling for each others' preferences in the given scenes - but it is often a intuitive impression. Talking about a game off-game leaves you time and room to explicitly reflect together about larger elements of the story.

I really dig creativity. It's cool. It's sexy. It's persuasively attractive, almost primordial. I like roleplaying for a lot of reasons (social interaction, nostaliga, subjects of interest such as history or fantasy etc), but I mostly see it as my outlet for creativity. And the creative process of a roleplaying game - running sagas most of all - doesnt begin as you sit down at the table, nor end when the session breaks at night (midnight, morning, or later...). It is continuously. Discussion on these boards might jolt ones creative process, running into themes in book, films or reallife can jolt it too - and little can jolt it more than having talks with those who participate in the game! Even when talking over old stories we are somewhat creative - in the way we re-tell or re-imagine it - as when we are discussing current events.

All in all, I think that talking of a saga taps directly into the vein of creativity - and that's what's so fullfilling, fun and thrilling about doing it. So talk away - ride the mind-blowing buzz of creativity off-game!! And if in-game starts to look bland in comparison it might be about time to think about what can be done to re-adjust the sessions to make fun(-nier) again. Try new stuff out - not so much new material but new ways of doing the basic interaction of how you play, because if talking about playing is more fun than playing then it's because you access the creativity easier off-game than in-game. Both should be fun, but the creativity should be more dynamic and interactive in-game, so dont be afraid to test things out to recapture the in-game creative agenda.

In long sagas, we kind of do this meta-gaming. Just that we bind it into the saga development. The SG (usually me) points out what happens in broad terms in the area/tribunal, and the players say what they and the covenant do to react to such things or if they take the initiative and contact this or that character/organization. it is more like a "bird's view" of the campaign that allows us to fast-track some important stuff without taking it for granted. Then, in one point or 2 we "come down to earth" to play 1 or 2 relevant scenes of this background developments.

The we have the more usual gaming sessions, that are key points in the development of the saga and cannot be glossed so easily. Sometimes they could, but we like playing them out as well. :slight_smile:

So, you can do both, really



An other thing I noticed is that I would solve most of this stuff (myself, not as my character) in a completely different way than my magus would :open_mouth: :open_mouth: Teleport/movement spells seem to be at a premium in the presented situations.

I would also add some POLITICAL consequences.

  • How to react to being renounced,
  • how to react to a Wizard's War,
  • how to react to a challenge to certamen to get your apprentice from you,....
  • How to deal with a guy (or girl) trying to bring you to bed for dubious reasons....
  • How to answer to a challenge to a duel to the death by the son of the most powerful noble in the vecinty....
  • how to react to a proposal of marriage by the daughter of said noble, that would be EXTREMELY upset if you refused, no matter that you are a magus and have sworn the code....

It is an incredibly cool concept here. I have never gone in such detail but now I would have liked to :slight_smile:



large portions of my one saga were developed through metagame discussions of where we wanted the saga to go. My two players of my Ultima Thule saga are ultra old school, and trying to get them to do anything other than the classic "one-DM and one-character-per-player" was difficult to say the least. They way I got them to break the old mold and embrace troupe style was to encourage these discussions. As a result, I don't feel a need to trick or goad the players into action as I may have done in games past. Instead, I discuss what I would like to do, and the players give me ideas as to how to bring it about. In that saga, I have my own character that I let them make the rulings on. One time I handed the dice over to Scott and said "I want to slay the frost giant chieftain of Svalbard so I may earn my Archmagus status", and he ran a cool adventure.

Relating to another thread, the result is also a somewhat democratic approach to the rules. I couldn't get the ward penetration ruling to fly even if I wanted to. I'd be out voted :slight_smile:

I've been subjected to this sort of questioning before, and it, in truth, irritates me to all hell. I much prefer to play that sort of thing out in a game rather than it being thrust on me out of context, for numerous and sundry reasons. Not the least of which is that it's jarring and annoying.

Not that I don't think artificially 'balanced' situations aren't crap anyway. There's no incentive to get anything new because the GM will just adjust everything. If the players and characters can't handle a situation, tough beans. Ars has plenty to do they can find something.

I much prefer to do the standard 'how and why.'

Heh, I can understand that response.

It is rather presumptious of a SG to have expectations for their players to have considered their characters in such depth, especially if the SG and players are new to each other - is anyone making similar demands on the SG to defend their Saga before it starts?

If they know each other, they know the level of consideration that each puts into their characters/game - and, in theory, find that level at least acceptable, since they're here. If they don't know each other, such demanding introspection seems a little pushy, unless the SG seeks exceptionally high standards of complexity in all players, characters and posts - and we get back to knowing each other well, again.

I like to think of myself as an author when I create a character - maybe I'm full of myself, but that's my approach. Maybe not a great author, but I'm gonna try, gonna tell a story, along with several others, and here's my contribution to the character pool. And many authors will tell you that characters can take on lives of their own, and do surprising things - and I've found that true. So how can I know before hand? A guess, at best.

The more inspiring the SG, the richer the game world, the more spontaneous and creative the other Players, the more complex (in the sense of "realistic") my character becomes. Lots of aspects arise that I never would have thought of initially.

I think that such penetrating/grilling questions are only necessary as a one-time educational tool, to invite novice/intermediate players to have such considerations during the CharGen process. But if they don't want to, if they just want to build a cardboard hero and have fun, those questions aren't going to force it.