You want to craft a set of characters that the players care about, are
interested in, and can quickly step into. You also want characters that
interesting things can happen to. Here are my goals when creating a set
of PCs for a character-provided event.
- Interesting. The PCs should be interesting. It should
be clear from the sheet what they are like, and what makes them unique.
They should have enough familiar elements that people can identify with
them, which enough new stuff to stir the players up.
- Capable. The PCs should be useful during the
scenario. 80-90% of their skills, spells and equipment should have the
opportunity to be useful during play. Their classes and races should
not hamper play unless you specifically design an encounter to engender
Role-Playing around this issue.
- Playable. Characters who are “quiet”, “shy”,
“submissive”, “not much for talking”, or so on are very difficult to
play. Again, I’ve seen world-class Role-Players?
do wonders with such PCs, but in general, you want each PC to be able
to verbally contribute to play. You also want a well-enough defined
personality that the player has something to work with, but not such a
weird or hard to understand personality that the player is at a loss on
how to play them.
- Connected. The PCs should have a connection to their
environment (such as the campaign setting) and to each other.
Off-camera dependents, relationships, businesses, and other
responsibilities are a good way of connecting the PC with their world.
- Complete. The PCs should have backgrounds, histories,
recent event summaries, personalties, and opinions of other PCs, as
well as full stats, equipment, spell lists, etc..
- Accurate. Try and eliminate all rules errors prior to
play. Find your friend the rules weenie, and have him look over the
stats. Most importantly, make sure that all the prose is accurate –
accidentally leaving the “and this PC will get mind-controlled later”
note on the character sheet is a big oops.
Here is the process that I typically use when developing a set of PCs.
This isn’t a set-in-stone process, but these are the general steps.
They don’t always go in this order, either. Sometimes figuring out one
step congeals enough things to fill out all the info for another step.
- The kernel. Often, this is a theme. Such as they party are all :
- Members of a family
- From barbarian tribes
- People who once had a part of Vecna grafted to them
- Baby red dragons, raised to be good
- Students in a wizard/cleric school
- People who lost prized magic items to Disenchanters
- Survivors of Orc raids
- About to achieve a prestige class
- Fallen paladins
- Were all in love with one of the other party members who is now a vampiress
- The recent past. Where are these people at in their lives? What has happened to them recently that shaped them?
- This is where you tie into the plot of your scenario
- Environmental events (earthquakes, rain, purple skies, third moon appears)
- Changes in relationships (marriage, divorce, new love, new resentment)
- Political events (Struggles for thrones, wars, border tension)
- Local mood (racial tension, worries about crops)
- Why are they together? What has brought, and
keeps this set of characters together? Why, despite personal
differences and individual agendas, are they loyal to the group?
- An old adventuring group
- Forced to work together by a government group (weak, avoid)
- Someone saved someone’s life
- Have a secret that keeps them here (secret relationship, need, etc.)
- Parents told them to protect each other
- Good friends all exiled at the same time
- Childhood friends
- Gender Balance. How do we make a group of 3
females and 3 males? (We typically use this balance, along with an
extra male PC that isn’t present in all the rounds, but your mileage
- Race/Class Balance. What type of races/classes would
we like to see? How can we make a balanced group that will be useful in
the environment they are in (or will be in)?
- Relationships. How does every character feel about
every other character, the world, and their situation? I usually use a
bubble diagram, with a bubble for each PC, each major existing NPC, and
other important nodes, and then draw relationship lines between all the
bubbles, labeled with a description of the relationship. See this blank character relationship diagram.
- Life Debt
- Luke, I’m your father
- Secrets. Each PC needs at least one secret
that will probably be revealed during the course of the adventure.
Nothing in my experience as consistently engenders great role-playing
moments as when an in-game situation forces the revelation of a secret.
- Past deeds
- Current deeds
- Disease (lycanthropy, etc.)
- Current/Past lies
- Motivations (secretly looking for the Eye of Ra while party is looking for food)
- Something Unique. Each PC needs to have
something about them that is unique. This may have gotten covered
above, check it now. Would you want to play each of these PCs?
Equipment can count for this, but should rarely be the only unique
thing for a PC. More like personality, class, relationships, secrets,
- Tournament Balance. Is each of these PCs equally
playable? Is there one that is clearly “better” than the rest? You are
trying to look for “quiet” characters, or characters that “always do
what the leader says”. You need to make each character equally strong,
so that people don’t feel that one (or more) of the PCs is the “winning
PC” that they “have to play”. In our experience, truly great players
can make the most of any PC, but effort spent on this step will save
you complaints from players later.
- “Can’t we all get along?” Often, I see parties that
are made up of PCs that all hate each other’s guts. The truth is,
unless you have a massive plot hook, why would anyone put their life on
the line for a bunch of people they hate? You need to make sure that
each PC has a reason to be there, and if they are unlikable, that there
is a compelling reason for them to be there. You covered this in step 3
– check it again.
- Cliche/Stereotype Check. Make sure that your PCs
aren’t overly cliche, stereotyped, been-there-done-that. If they are,
find some way to tweak them a bit to make them more interesting.
- Connectedness Check. Are each of the PCs connected to
the world, the story as you know it, each other, and to themselves? You
need to make sure that the PCs aren’t on the periphery of the story
Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they need to be in the thick of things.
- Detailed Personality. Write the detailed personality
for each PC. You need 3-4 major personality traits that people can take
advantage of during the course of the scenario. “Easily distracted by
green books” is not a good personality trait if there are no green
books in the scenario. You need 3-4 so that people can pick an aspect
of the PC to make their own. One master trait is important, when you
are writing the opinions of others about each PC, you don’t want things
to be all over the map.
- Stats. Write up the character stats at this point,
including a first pass at equipment. I highly recommend using PCGen or
something equivalent – it saves oodles of time and errors.
- Usefulness Check. Is everything about the PC going to
be useful during the course of the scenario? Did you give them a bunch
of stuff they won’t use? Make sure that each PC has useful skills,
abilities, languages, equipment, spells, traits, weapons, etc..
- Recent events. Write up a first pass at recent events that the PCs have experienced.
- Opinions of other PCs. Write up what each PC thinks about each other PC. Keep it simple at this point. Later passes will add more detail.
- Playtest. If you can, now is the time to playtest. If
you don’t have that luxury, I suggest you at least have someone else
look them over at this point.
- Do it all again. At this point, you make successive
passes at the PCs, refining things. You should also be writing the
scenario by now, so you might need to adjust the PCs to better fit the
scenario. Did you write in a pit trap? Do the PCs have rope? Do you
want them to? The hardest thing to keep correct is relationship stuff –
if you make a little change, you need to check all 36 entries for how
PCs feel about each other to make sure nothing else needs to be