A few entries ago, Questing GM was asking about how we GMs can get players to give useful writeups like ones posted earlier this week. The answer to this isn’t clear cut and simple, and relies much on the players that you have. Much like Buddhist enlightenment, we can only show the door, but it’s up to them to step through.
That being said, here are a few guidelines that might help you out in getting your players to generate character writeups:
- Avoid Mechanics – Avoid as much talk about builds as possible. While this is easier in some systems (nWoD) than others (D&D), avoiding technical and mechanical terms and discussion early on will draw the focus towards making a concept first.
- Make sure the Setting is understood – When bringing up the topic of creating character writeups to your players, make sure that they have a clear idea of what the setting is first. The more they understand the setup, the easier it will be for them to make a concept for it.
- Give them an incentive – Offer free experience points or other in-game benefits to those who would give a well rounded character writeup. This serves the purpose of providing player motivation to actually submit their writeup, and allows for you to tie-in their background to tangible character sheet elements. However, make sure that this isn’t abused so that characters get free boosts to any power stat. The purpose is to make a well-rounded character, not a broken one.
- Require weaknesses – This is where things get a tad hairy. Characters are not supermen, no matter how much the players would want them to be. Ask the players to detail any weaknesses of personality or morals the characters may have. Inform them that anything they put in will be used in game at one point or another to provide conflict. Remember, without Conflict, there’s no point in actually running a game. There’s no true satisfaction to be had in a game which does not present any form of risk.
- Ask for NPCs – This might seem to fall in the purview of a GM’s job, but consider this: If a player defines the NPCs close to him he therefore becomes a participant in the world building aspect of the campaign, and invests (to a lesser extent) his own creations to the game. In addition, by defining the relationships the character has to an NPC, you don’t run into the awkward and admittedly uncomfortable dissonance that occurs when a GM is forced to come up with these relationships on the fly “Okay, um, you go home to your wife… let’s call her Sarah.” It’s completely artificial and the player doesn’t know how to relate to it.
- Ask for enemies – This doesn’t mean you should ask him to create the bad guy for the game, but it does mean that you can ask for a player to define other NPCs who might not necessarily like the character. Iet’s face it, no matter how charismatic you are, someone’s bound to hate you, if only on principle. From antagonistic bosses at work (a la J. Jonah Jameson) or rival charcters that serve to generate conflict even without combat, these work to encourage the player to interact with them as well on a personal level.
- Ask for Motivation – Characters don’t just sit around until an NPC tells them to “go hither and slay yon dragon.” No matter how many gamers might think so. Characters have motivations, they have goals and dreams and things they want to achieve in their lives. These are also important things to the GM as these serve as further hooks in the game, or could be folded into things such as interviews with npcs, or even investigation matters.
By getting players to think of their concepts to this level before they begin statting out the character, you and the players will get a better handle on the stories that can be told with this character, and how you can go about pushing their own agenda in play. With tangible goals, more natural relationships, and the occasional annoying npc of their own devising, players are more able to appreciate their characters and will be more willing to interact with the setting.