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In this article series I explore some helpful tips to becoming a GM of TTRPG’s and look at the perilous pitfalls that I have encountered along the way. In my last few articles we have chosen the game to play and assembled our players. Now it’s time to dig in and help them build them best level 1 characters they can be!
In most Core Rulebooks building characters is a large section and can even sprawl multiple chapters. Depending on the game you are playing, you have character stats to fill out, backgrounds and a multitude of equipment options to choose from. If you are playing with a group of new roleplayers this section alone can be daunting for them. As a GM, you can help walk your players through the beginning options of character creation for the world and setting that you have chosen. At the same time you can begin developing the world that your players will be playing in.
Even if you are playing with a more experienced group of players that have knowledge of the game world and Core Rulebook, I still find it important to build the characters together. During character creation you and your players have the opportunity to discuss what type of character they want to play and how they feel that their character will fit into the party. It is also an time for the players to get additional info and for the GM to start practicing his rules muscles, because it is during this step that your players will begin to test their limits on the game world.
So here you are at the table. Your players looking at you expectantly, blank character sheets sitting in front of them, eyes shining with
excitement. It’s time to roll!
Welp, hang on just a minute, we have one more thing to talk about.
Expectations! What did you expect?
Before any dice hit the table or numbers written down or dots filled in, a good healthy conversation should be had on expectations for the group. What you as a GM expect to see. What the players expect to see from the GM. Which type of story you expect to tell.
By now you already have a rough idea of what you want to do as a GM and what the players want to do as players. Setting your expectations is a way of letting the players know more concrete, real world stuff. Things that everyone at the table can agree on.
Real world stuff like, how often do we want to get together to play? What happens when I want to steal from another player? How descriptive should I get when describing combat or sexy scenes? Now is the time to get input from all players before running into problems after several sessions.
During character generation day I go over a list of expectations that I have with all my players. I gather feedback and additions to the list. I recommend doing this with each new group you play with. Just exclude the questions that wont fit your particular party.
Real World Stuff:
- How often will everyone be able to get together to play? Once a week? Once a month?
- How much time can we reasonably expect to give to this game? 4 hour session? 8 hours?
- What is the plan in case one player or more players are unable to attend a session? Do we play without them or reschedule?
- What is the minimum amount of players to continue a session before we cancel it?
- How long do we expect this campaign to run? 6 months? A year or two?
- How do we plan the next session? Is it a set day, like every friday? A group decision? Does the GM pick a date and whoever makes it plays that day?
- For combat scenes, how descriptive does everyone want to be? Is there anything combat related that you don’t want described?
- For sex scenes, how descriptive does everyone want to be? Do you fade to black on the first kiss, or describe lovingly talking to each other?
- Is there a subject matter that is taboo for the party and should not be shown in any scenes?
- How much exploration can you expect? Are we playing in only 1 town/city? A kingdom? A Continent?
- How do you handle metagaming? What does everyone think metagaming is?
- How does the players handle party secrets, or secrets that one character knows but another character doesn’t know?
- How does the players handle Player versus Player scenarios? Stealing vs attacking another player? Mind control or involuntary actions?
- How much time are you going to allow to look up a rule for an item, ability, or special power?
- What do we do if there is a conflict between two players?
- What do we do if we have a conflict with the GM?
- Disagreements with a ruling at the table?
- How much technology are we allowing at the table? Is it okay for people to have their phones out, or does it have to be put away during the session?
All of these questions I failed to ask at one time or another and came back to bite me. Don’t get bit, ask ahead of time!
Now onto the Build!
Most TTRPG’s have a set way to build the characters your players will play in the game. When playing a new game with new players, building the characters is a way to introduce them to the rules.
Most games start off with character stats, the raw building blocks of the characters. I spend this time explaining the stats and how they are used in the game. This gives a broad overview of how stats are applied and the basic mechanics of how dice rolls work.
Usually the game will then move into a character class or specialty for the characters. I go over these, again in broad detail. Knowing what my players want out of the game allows me to focus on individual players during this time. I can help them in selecting a class or type to play.
Jim wants to be a sword swinging hero that always stands at the forefront of the group. Maybe a fighter or Barbarian will be to his liking. Jane wants to travel the stars and take the dangerous jobs no one else wants. Maybe the spy archetype or hacker will suit her. Thomas wants to play a modern kid who is plagued by spirits of the dead. Maybe a, ah…spirit seer… yeah, actually, that one was easy for him to choose.
As you move through the sections on building characters take notes on what sparks your players and what seems to get them excitedly talking. Add it to the players profiles that you have been building as it can help you craft stories that sparks for them later on down the line.
It is inevitable that during character creation you are going to get a player, players or the entire party that wants to do something unique. I have had players ask me for a dragon to ride on, their own personal space ship, a really cool magic weapon that I swear GM won’t be game breaking I promise! I’ve had players ask for a unique build, like fur on a human or magic that only works when they sing or wings that don’t work but wouldn’t it be cool if they did?
Every player comes to the table with a vision of how cool there character will be. It’s the GM’s job to help wrangle that in to something that can fit into the game. It can’t overshadow the other players and doesn’t destroy the hopes and dreams of the player that came up with the idea.
Every GM is different and how you react to these are up to you, but it is another opportunity to see what sparks the player and gets them to engage with the game. For me, if it’s cosmetic only, I allow it. Sometimes NPC’s in the game will react to it and other times it just fades into the background. If it’s something that is game changing I will usually say no, but I will give you an opportunity to acquire it in the future.
In the case of the dragon, I worked it into the storyline as something the player would get when they got to higher levels. For the magic sword, I told the player that the sword was magical and that the longer he used it the more it would be revealed, but your starting character doesn’t
know that yet it’s just a family heirloom. The uniqueness of the items and character choices added to the flavor of the game.
My favorite example of this was a player who couldn’t make up his mind on what nationality he wanted to play, so he asked me if he could play all three. We worked together to build a character that had multiple personalities and that during times of stress he would roll to see which personality had dominance. It led to some of the greatest and hilarious times in that campaign.
Bringing Your Party Together
While helping your players build their characters something that should be at the forefront of your mind is how the party will know each other and how they will play together at the table. A lot of games leave this up in the air on how a group of characters get to band together against the forces of darkness, or ply the space lanes in search of that one big score. It is a fantastic time during character creation to build in how the characters know each other and dive into a little bit about their backgrounds.
As a GM you have leeway on building the parameters on how they know each other. Perhaps they have all been adventuring together for a few months now and have gotten to know and like each other before the adventure begins. Maybe one person is the Captain of the starship and he’s hired the rest of the crew to take over important functions like Pilot and Mechanic. Maybe they are government agents and the team was specially built for this mission and they work so well together they are assigned to every mission together afterwards.
I find as a GM that even discussing for a few minutes before the first game is played how everyone knows each other and what their motivations for sticking together are goes a long way. Even if you don’t want them to know each other at the beginning, having a conversation with the players to tell them that “you are a group and will stick by each other through all the craziness that will happen” can go along way in cementing in the players heads that they are a team.
Something that I have done in the past to help get this mindset for the players is asking each player to tell me a truth that their character knows about another character. It is meant to be something small, but something that will help build that the characters know each other. Examples of this would be “ My character Tim knows that Xania snores at night.” or “My character Molly thinks the way that Kaleb scrunches his face up when he’s really thinking about something is cute and endearing.”
As always, it’s important to make sure that the other players are okay with this. Maybe Xania’s player doesn’t like that she snores. The players can discuss it amongst themselves until both people agree, or have the first player make something else up.
The Party that Slays Together Stays Together!
Now that the players have come together and built their characters it’s time to jump into a story! Join me next time as build our first story for the party to explore, and remember, Party On!