8 Tips on Convention Character Design

I just wrapped a podcast with the most excellent Jenn of Jennisodes fame! It was a lot of fun. She’s sharp, clever, and has the whole interview thing down to a science. We’ll keep you informed as to when that officially drops. I gave shout outs to the crew as I could work them in. We talked about all the various stuff in the works. If you want more, you’ll have to listen to the show when it drops.

Now, let’s turn our attention to creating pregens for conventions. Yes. This is likely the worst segue in the history of the RWR, but deal. I’m ready to call it a day, and need to spit some truth at you before I go.

I listened to the latest episode of Smilin’ Jacks, and I was surprised to hear some folks struggle with creating pregens. The thought hasn’t really crossed my mind, but then I’ve been writing and running con games since I was a kid. Seriously, I should tell you sometime.

In any case, here are some tips.

1. Give them all a short, interesting back story. (Keep it to a paragraph. Any longer and they are either going to (best case scenario) copiously read it, slowing things down and not paying attention or are going to not pay attention to it anyway.

2. Make sure they’ll all play well together (i.e. don’t give them hindrances which, if roleplayed correctly will cause party strife, a number of these folks at con games don’t know each other, and you don’t know how people you don’t know will react).

3. Give them a broad-based reason for being together. (Players will buy into this conceit readily and will come up with, on their own, reasons for being together, readily creating a group dynamic.)

4. Provide niche protection. This one can be a little tricky as what could happen if a certain character isn’t played. Right? Tell them, up front, some one has to play Agent Whitehorse or provide Whitehorse’s skill set to another. (Or see 5.)

5. Provide a sub-optimal overlap of skill sets. For example, if Agent Whitehorse is “the” medic, make certain someone else has the requisite skill set (at a lower level, such as d6 instead of d10, he can do in a pinch, but it’s not Agent Blackjack’s main groove).

6. Make certain all the characters are fun (and, possibly, quirky). While Jimmy may be a killer hacker, give him something a bit off. Maybe he won’t work his technological mojo if anyone is in the same room as he is? (This one may sound odd, but it’s true. People don’t normally play off-beat characters in their home games and love it when you throw them curve balls. There is a pregen in Journey to Red Temple who, though he is an amazing archer, will not shoot into combat for any reason. I’ve left this quirk wide open and I’ve seen players interpret it in many fun and interesting ways.)

7. Give them space to make their character their own. This can be in minor ways (like choosing their weapons, languages, or a particular expertise or interest) or larger ways, like allowing them spell choices. This sense of ownership more readily thrusts them into the mindset of their character and, by extension, into the game.

8. Most importantly of all, make certain the characters are designed with the scenario(s) in mind. While an awesome hacker can be, well, awesome. He may be worthless if dropped into a dead zone without access to any technology in a hundred miles.

That’s it. Add these tools to your arsenal. Provide tips you use below.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!


4 Notes on, 8 Tips on Convention Character Design

  1. This is not so much a character design tip, but just a little something that has helped me around the table at games where I had no idea who my players were.

    Design the characters to be gender neutral, or at least gender ambiguous. I know a lot of great gamers out there who have no problem playing cross gendered PCs, but just as many who struggle and even a few that it’s just plain embarrassing to watch them try. Doing it this way allows a little bit of the player to rub off on the character and makes everyone comfortable.

  2. Hi Sean
    Some interesting tips, and whilst I agree with them in general, especially point (8| I think that that (2) “Make sure they’ll all play well together”/ don’t give them hindrances which, if roleplayed correctly will cause party strife’ is debatable. If the system is Cold City, or Apocalypse World for example, then they thrive on conflict. Getting back to Reality Blurs’ games, Realms Of Cthulhu can still have inter party conflict and still work. eg Character A could have an objective ‘Acquire the Necronomicon for the Miskatonic Archive’ whilst Character B could have ‘destroy the Necromonicon to prevent anybody accessing the vile secrets hidden within’ as an objective. Assuming the party manage to complete this section, it leads to an interesting situation. I also don’t think it matters if all six players have never met before, as long as the pre-con blurb states something along the lines of ‘Contains inter party conflict / PvP’ I also think that a much milder PvP, especially at the start of a con scenario quickly drops a roleplaying hand grenade on the group. For example in my Pulp Realms scenario ‘Zeppelins & Ziggurats’ one of the characters ( a Dr of Medicine ) has a hobby of fishing and likes to take his fishing gear everywhere. and has found out about a particular breed of bass near the location of the investigation. The leader of the group knows of this characters’ penchant for fishing, and is on the lookout for valuable cargo space in their plane being taken up with a whole raft of fishing tackle and gear for every occasion. So, do the group take the extra excavation equipment spares on their Dakota, or the fishing gear. Over to the players…..in reality this has played out differently with each group I have ran the scenario with, from a blazing row, with other party members joining in the argument that they are supposed to be tackling the Mythos, not arguing about fishing ! To the kit being smuggled on, to it being smuggled on by the Dr, then smuggled back off by the Leader….all good fun, and sets the scene, as ultimately they are all in it together, but each have their own personalities, which sometimes clash, but is all good fun IMHO

  3. I always make sure the characters are FUN. I never make a character that I myself wouldn’t want to play. I’ve played some SavageWorlds characters before who were clearly lesser characters in the crew. The Core Rules pregens (Buck Savage, etc) are really guilty of this…

    Second, I give the Pregens a very board motivation for adventuring. Rather than saying this Deadlands’ cowboy wants revenge against the singular guy who killed his family, we say that he now wants revenge on ALL badguys who might threaten innocents. Now he has a reason to fight the monster-of-the-week with the rest of the crew, not just to hunt down a particular outlaw.

    For Realms of Cthulhu, I’ve also had some success making all of the pregens a team of FBI agents without names or severe hindrances. The characters have varied skill sets, but no names or motivations. At the table then, I encourage each player to play that pregen as themselves. So you’d be Agent ______ (whatever your last name is). I found that people enjoy this and get very comfortable playing themselves as an FBI agent. I’ve also had players who take this as an opportunity to make up someone new to roleplay, which is also encouraged.

  4. Good stuff all around, but I’m going to zoom in on Paul here for a moment.

    Paul: You can certainly have those elements of cross-purposes and agendas. It depends upon the level of experience and the players. Stipulating it up front is certainly a clear way to set expectations, so there is no misunderstandings for folks coming into things. I’ll still stand by my position for the vast majority of folks, especially GMs new to the convention circuit (regardless of prior game experience). I’ve just seen things go wrong one time too many. Playing it safe is certainly not the way to go all the time.

    As always, these are my opinions and suggestions I’m offering up gained through my personal experiences. This is life. You don’t have to follow any rules. Ever. You do, however, have to face the potential consequences of your choice(s).

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