What Does a GM Do During Character Creation?

While discussing how to read verbal and non-verbal reactions while playtesting, Robin Laws made an interesting point about the GM’s perspective versus the player’s in the character creation process:

As a GM, time spent during character creation can seem dull. You don’t get to join in until it’s over. That doesn’t mean the players aren’t having a rich experience. The designer/GM must see past his own wandering attention to see how engrossed the players are. Prep can be a tedious slog, or it can be play. If it is play, a design might be ill-served by streamlining efforts that rush players through a process they’d sooner linger over.

This is a personal failing of mine. I get hugely impatient during character creation. Even when there’s a surfeit of books for players to reference, finding entertainment in their internal processes is not something I’m good at doing, or have even thought to attempt.

Character creation is certainly an interesting time. In a lot of games, it’s the time when the players have the most creative control. They’re calling the shots about who their character will be, at what their character will excel. Around a table of excited players, concepts come flying thick and fast, so that it can be difficult to pick just one on which to focus.

It’s also the time when a GM can start gathering information about what the players want to see in the game. You can infer from the choices they make in skills the tasks they expect to tackle in the course of the campaign. So take that opportunity to either figure out how to accommodate their expectations or let them know those points or slots could be better spent in other ways.

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7 thoughts on “What Does a GM Do During Character Creation?

  1. Good advice. If you sit back and listen to what the players are saying and take note of where they allocate their skill points, they are pretty much telling you the kind of adventures that will excite them.

  2. I’ve rarely had an experience during chargen that didn’t involve SOMEONE who was short on ideas. It’s really useful to throw out question, get their feedback, and let those emerging characters inform the game. More than once I’ve scheduled a session of chargen with no idea what adventure I’ve run, only to create it from the hooks generated by the players.

    • That’s a technique I want to use, but never quite manage to pull off for some reason. Any suggestions for ensuring one uses the hooks characters provide, rather than wandering off into GM’s-pet-idea-land?

  3. I, personally, have found it good to encourage characters to intertwine their backstories with other characters or the world in general. If you are doing this then you’ll often find yourself overwhelmed by the rush at character creation, when everyone is refining the idea of the character they’d like to play. Working PCs into the game world before they leave the gate will help them to adjust to it, in addition to helping you restrict what characters they are playing [not all archetypes may be appropriate for all settings and games].

    It furthermore will allow you a bit more insight into characters, both to set up future occurring to be relevant to at least someone in the party [if no PCs care about a thing, it should be mentioned in passing] and to allow you to make certain every PC has a reason to be around with the others, which can be a serious problem if players are given too much freedom. If one character is just a jerk, no one has any reason to include them in the party.

    Bit over verbose of a reply I must admit.

    • One of my stumbling blocks with that is I never know how to draw the players in. Lengthy blocks-of-text infodumps don’t work. How do you get a player engaged without boring them with details or leaving it all for them to find in play?

      • That’s well… a difficult question, I suppose it’s sort of a cheap out but I try to make the world revolve around the players-but not be all about them. I don’t expand or deepen portions of the world that no one cares about, leaving them vague until I have need to expand them… Maybe we could just chat this evening as it’d likely be clearer.

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