Continuing the discussion from My strength is as a strength of 10 because I am average:
The characters that I play (other than NPCs, of course) tend somewhat to repeat themes. Some of those themes are my favourites that I enjoy and actually prefer to play, others are forced on me either because my comrades will not discharge certain functions when I am in the group or because GMs familiar with my play insistently present me with certain types of challenge, and some I suppose must be because of lazy habit. One way or another, I never [ get to | successfully | bother to ] play PCs that are of low rank and status or that are diffident, young PCs, PCs who are other than tough and hard-hitting in combat: I’m always the grizzled field officer with the SMG, never a sniper or a lowly rifleman. I [ get to | successfully | bother to ] play brainy bricks.
When Tonio Loewald designed a semi-random character-generation system for ForeSight he was partly inspired to do so I think by DragonQuest, an RPG that he enjoyed, but his avowed purpose was to jar players out of their ruts, to spur them to explore parts of character space that they would not habitual play in. It didn’t work, and we players soon replaced the character generation system with a point-buy procedure called “the Purcell Conventions”. I think the reason that we disliked the semi-random system so much is that it made some characters just better, much better, than others: characters who rolled high ages got more generation points, more years of education, and more money than young characters, and faced the same chances in rolling attributes. I think the reason that it didn’t work is that it seldom decisively kicked you out of your rut and had no systematic tendency even to suggest a clear alternative. I think that that might have been a difficult thing to implement in an RPG that doesn’t represent characters are examples of defined types.
I think I’m not alone here in preferring RPGs that do not have character classes in them, and that do not mechanically support characters being defined as one of a range of distinct types. I prefer detailed and expressive character representation systems that can be used for genres, settings, and mash-ups that the designers might never have thought of. So I wonder about ways to help character-players out of their ruts that reliably and decisively
- spur players to leave their well-worn grooves,
- suggest a specific alternative rather presenting a daunting infinity of unspecified possibilities with the admonition to play anything at all other than what you want
- avoid saddling players with characters that are strictly worse than or redundant in company with the rest of the character party
- avoid producing parties that lack a capability that their ethos requires.
My best thoughts along this line, so far, depend upon doing this by means of the craft and good will of the players, rather than on trying to build good results for any possible campaign into either an ingenious set of constraints on character design or an elaborate random generator. That is, the players (perhaps acting in collaboration) first design a party and a set of character concepts, then assign specific concepts to individual players, then (perhaps acting individually) implement those concepts using a suitable set of character design rules. It seems to me that such an approach can present everyone with a “here’s a role: play it!” sort of challenge without imposing a crock of no-fun onto anybody.
Here’s a blue-sky thought, little considered and completely untested, and that I would certainly want to work on a bit before I used it.
- The GM first makes sure of how many character-players there are going to be, and then either considers the cast calculus for that number, notes that number of core capabilities required by the party ethos, or that number of schticks for iconic characters in the procedural that will be serialised. That is, in a suitable space the GM chooses a number of character cores equal to the number of players.
- The GM notes each character core on the top line of an index card.
- The GM makes a list of different aspects or features of a character that might be useful in characterising or distinguishing characters in such a party as is being constructed.
- The players gather around a room or table, and the GM deals out one card to each character-player.
- The GM announces a cue for an aspect or feature from the list they made at step three, such as “age”, “physique”, “home world”, “profession”, “circumstances of their teen years”, “favourite recreation”, “football team supported”, “sex, gender, and orientation”, “spouse, lover, or dating habits”, “NPC friend or contact”, “religion”, “foible”….
- Each player considers what is already on the card they have, and writes on a new line a response to the GM’s latest cue.
- If the GM’s list is incomplete, GOTO 5.
- Starting at the GM’s right and proceeding around the room or table to the right, each character-player may suggest one more cue.
- Each character-player writes a response to that cue on their card, and then passes the card to the left.
- When each player has had one chance to offer a cue the GM collects the the cards, shuffles them, and deals one to each character-player.
- Any players who wish to swap cards may.
- The character players go away and generate characters to fill the part specified by the top line on the card they have. They may take anything else written on their cards as a suggestion, if they wish.
- The player whose character design incorporates the most of the suggestions off their card receives no prize.
- Players may swap characters if they wish.