Once upon a time in Innistrad there was a werewolf…
Lots of talk about funny voices, world building, narrative decisions and encounter design but I rarely see folks talk about the skill behind GMing during character creation. It is a subtle thing and if done right can solve or uncover 99% of other problems that might have hit the table down the road.
I was chatting with a good friend, Tom, on twitter because I know he’s hungry to game and is a Magic the Gathering fan. I asked him a question because I thought he’d enjoy it. The conversation is an interesting way to dissect what would have happened in 2 minutes at the table but is slowed down in amber on the twitter.
I chose Innistrad because of Tom’s link to Magic the Gathering; I know he’d know the lore. I chose D&D because I know that is a game he’s familiar with and likes. Going to switch to screen shots.
Tom: Werewolf Shaman.
Tom: I was thinking in terms of Magic creature types. In DnD terms, that’s probably a human druid werewolf.
I jumped into the Innistrad pdf but didn’t read it too carefully – no need to just yet. Skimmed for werewolf material. You can see the details I found in my skim below:
Judd: Solo hunter or park of a howlpack? In doomed love with a Stromkirk vampire (name chosen because it was the ony I liked the sound of)? Mother heads up a witch coven?
Now I’m on the hunt. I want some Situation. In Sorcerer terms, I’m looking for something kickerish, somewhere to start the game that has…if you’ll forgive the pun…teeth.
Tom: Solo. More comfortable alone in the wilderness than with a pack. No. Detests vampires and other unnatural undead things. Mother and father both minor Thraben nobility/knights who morn their “missing” son.
He shrugged off my first two attempts to find a handhold on this character and then hands me the campaign in the third sentence. I have no idea what Thraben means and didn’t need it to get started. I’ll do the deeper lore reads later. I would’ve dug into it more if I didn’t feel like I had enough.
I felt like I had enough.
First game/first scene – You wake up having devoured a noble entourage. They were on their way to your ancestral home, upon closer inspection they were on their way to a wedding, the name on the wedding invitation is yours. How is that possible?
I have no idea what any of this means yet. I will know what is afoot before we begin play. I’d think that the answer will be inspired by lore. Not only do I have the free pdf but I bet I can find Innistrad-related cards and their bite-sized lore chunks online. That stuff is perfect for us. I’ve gotten to this point and had a lukewarm response or found that I had setting assumptions that the player didn’t have. It happens and it means I have to circle back or toss an idea into the scrap-heap or ask questions to figure out what is wrong,
Sometimes the whole concept is wrong or it is too much like something they just played or too close to real trauma or brushes against a trope they detest. It happens; that is why this stage is about questions and brainstorming – fast and furious – and not deep lore dives or heavy labor just yet.
Not this time, though.
Tom: OK! I’m in. When we playing? Who is actually getting married? Do I recognize the names? I also want to search the remaining belongings very carefully for clues.
Hell yeah. This is where I had to make the shitty adult communication that with everything going on in my life, I don’t think I’ll have a moment for a new game until autumn but the good news is we have a game ready to roll and if I visit NJ, we know what we can do should we meet up and have an afternoon together.
Ask questions, act on the answers, listen, empathize, expand and know when to STOP. Don’t give it all away during character creation. Save something for play.
This kind of collaboration makes the game much easier to run and heads off problems before they occur. It is not necessary for every game. With some games the players randomly generate a character and jump into play with both feet but even then I take a moment and just ask a few questions.
Questions and comments welcome. How do you deal with character creation?