How often have you shown up to the first session and been confronted by a group of players with their characters already built but they have nothing in common? One player has brought a Gangrel who impersonates werewolves. Another player has a Tzimisce that is the priest of a pack of Black Hand. A third has built a Baali intent on “watching the world burn.” The fourth player got confused and built a Wereshark for some strange reason. As the storyteller you’re left sitting there wondering how to bring these four characters together into a coherent group. Even after you get the Wereshark player to build a Vampire, you’re still left with three characters that would sooner set the others on fire than work together towards a shared goal.
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That example might sound hyperbolic, but it’s happened to me. Letting players bring anything to the table means that they will bring anything! Instead of letting players choose anything, I prefer to limit their options during character creation, and I also sit with each player as each character is built. By limiting the players’ options and watching/assisting with character creation, I begin each chronicle knowing that the characters will fit into the plot and setting of the game.
For whatever reason, many players approach character creation as solo endeavor. They sit down with the game books and create their character in a vacuum without input from other players or the Storyteller. Yet, this character is supposed to fit in with other characters as part of a group. The best approach to character creation is to spend the entire first session on just that. The players can discuss their characters as they are being built. The Storyteller can provide input and make suggestions on which abilities and so forth will be the most helpful during the game.
Players can also ask the Storyteller questions and get a feeling for what kind of encounters or scenes that are likely to appear during the game. For example, most of my games are based around investigations. I don’t emphasize combat but I do like having lots of chases. So, players in my games would be better served by putting points in Investigation rather than other abilities. I also like to set my chronicles in one city rather than having the coterie travel around the world; so, there is no reason for characters to have houses in other cities or planes to travel to distant countries.
However, the Storyteller must realize his/her own tendencies. It took me a while to realize that I was always running investigation style games. Knowing that tendency I can give players accurate advice on what they can expect during a game. However, if the Storyteller doesn’t know what his/her tendencies are, they could give bad advice and the character could end up with abilities that are not used during the game. If the storyteller tells the players that he is planning on having combat every session, but instead he is only has combat once every 4 or 5 sessions then the player who has put every point into combat abilities is going to be useless. The same would be true if the Storyteller said he liked running games focused on politics and social encounters but every encounter could only be resolved through punching someone in the face. In other words, don’t give players bad advice. They might be resentful if they spend points during character creation on abilities that will never be used.
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Storytellers should think carefully about what kind of characters they want to allow in their game. I am a big fan of limiting players’ options during character creation. If your chronicle is about a group of Camarilla vampires defending their city from a Sabbat invasion, then you probably shouldn’t allow players to be a group of independent vampires who don’t care one way or the other about the Camarilla or Sabbat. For my last two chronicles, I have limited players to only Camarilla clans; they weren’t allowed to play any independents like Assamites or Giovanni, nor were they allowed to play typical Sabbat clans like the Lasombra and Tzimisce. That simple limitation made running the game much simpler because all the players were involved in the Camarilla’s politics rather than each character answering to a different group and having to weave together those politics.
However, running a game focused on the interparty conflict between a group of vampires from different sects (Independent, Camarilla, Anarch, and Sabbat) forced to work together is a great Chronicle, but it wasn’t the Chronicle that I wanted to run. That would mean that each player must be of a different sect. Or you could run a game where every character was from the same clan and the primary conflict of the game is clan politics and fighting against other clans. So every player must build a character from one clan. Both of these ideas limit players but in different ways. Without these limitations, the whole basis of these campaigns would fall apart.
Rather than treating character creation as a solo experience, the players and Storyteller should work together to ensure that the character being built fits into the group and chronicle. Rather than each player building his/her character alone and bringing it to the game, the first session should be set aside for character creation so that the Storyteller can offer input and the players can all contribute to each others’ characters. Otherwise, you’ll have a group of individuals that don’t make sense, and the Storyteller will have to figure out how to explain why that Wereshark is hanging out with a Tzimisce rather than eating him.
I’d like to thank David for sending me the idea for this article. If you have an idea that you’d like me to discuss, please send me an email.