Handy pre-gens, just in case

My favourite RPGs are reasonably detailed 1980s designs in which character generation requires at least a bit of knowledge of the rules, and takes some time even for players who understand the choices to be made and the bases to be covered. Recent game designs are supposed to have much simpler character representation systems that allow much quicker character generation — Spirit of the Century is supposedly designed for scratch games in which chargen and a whole adventure are done in an evening and the characters perhaps not used again — but I have not yet found one that lights my fire.

Back when I was at ANU and playing ForeSight all the time with players who played ForeSight all the time, I was quite often asked to “run something tonight” for a group of students who did not make up the group for any campaign I had going at the time and who were all too poor to go out for a movie (or to have TVs in our rooms in college, for that matter). Since I retired to the bucolic fastnesses of my home town RPG has been mostly an occasional thing when I was visiting somewhere or someone was visiting here and we had straitly limited time. In the old days my ForeSight players could usually whip up a character in about twenty minutes, but they aren’t often whom I play with any more, besides which they have gone rusty on ForeSight, even in the old days there were often visitors and other ring-ins who lacked that mastery, and besides it takes longer to generate a team of characters who will complement each other and interact amusingly, because of the overhead of co-ordination.

So part of my “advanced role-playing kit” is a collection of folders that I have accumulated over the decades, each containing a sheaf of character sheets, each with a page of description and playing notes and an equipment list.

  • One folder contains four characters making up a firm of American P.I.s from the Prohibition era.
  • Another contains twelve vivid and various fantasy characters from my perennial fantasy setting Gehennum, which were originally generated for my first attempt at play-by-email.
  • Another contains five Vampire characters — the whole population of Canberra by night, which my collaborator Andrew Smith and I generated for a game we ran at CanCon (in ’94, I think)
  • Another contains the characters I generated for the Flat Black game I ran at Phenomenon in ’04, four criminal investigators for the Independent Commission for Justice and an Imperial Marines medic seconded to them.
  • Another contains about eight explorers, anthropologists, and archaeologists in a sort of Indiana Jone or The Mummy vein.
  • Another — which needs work — contains five characters who make up a team of effectuators or effectives of an unspecified NGO in Flat Black.

With these on hand I can call in on friends who have forgotten any ForeSight (or Vampire) that they ever knew, and if I am called upon to GM, or if I can impose on my friends to play, then within one of the genres specified they can simply choose characters, read the page and the character sheet, and we are ready to go.

Do you do anything like that?

What genres and settings do you have prepared?

What genres and settings would you like to have prepared in that way?

All my demo adventures for GURPS come with pre-gens - (a) generating a character can take a while, and (b) it’s mildly complex if you don’t know the system. I know some people tune their pre-gens so that each character will have a big spotlight moment in that particular adventure, but that’s a bit too dirigiste for my taste, so instead I usually look through the skills, find one or two that each character can do rather better than anyone else, and try to make sure there are some uses for that skill.

So several of those pre-gen groups could be used in other things. I haven’t done so, though.

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I have only run one game with pre-gens, and I mean literally one game. Not long before we moved out of San Diego, I ran a session of Hellcats and Hockeysticks (an RPG based on St. Trinians) for C and four of our women friends. Since it was a one-shot, I drew up something like eight or ten pre-gens, and invited the players to choose names and to spend two points on skills in addition to what I’d done. It seemed to work fine.

The characters were Tanqueray (“Tank”), a hockey girl named for what her mother was drunk on when she was conceived; Samantha (“Sam”), a horsey girl from Virginia; Sabina, an exchange student from Russia; Tora, an exchange student from Japan (samurai rather than yakuza); and Pansy, an upper-class British sweetheart.

It was a seriously incoherent game, but we all had fun. . . .