Character Creation Part 2
In one of our previous articles Matt discussed how to create characters that are easy to relate to and have depth that makes them enjoyable to play or interesting to read. From a table top gaming standpoint creating a character that is fun and challenging to play is incredibly satisfying. However sometimes the vision that you have as a player does not match the vision the Game Master has for the world. Finding out that the identity you spent so much time and effort to create is never delved into, used, or simply won't mesh with the DM's world can be a terrible feeling.
As a Game Master this is an equally terrible situation to be in. After having created a complex and vivid world, having to tell a player that their amazing character idea doesn't quite work is disheartening. You don't want to say no but, at the same time their backstory might be so complex it directly conflicts with your game. Here are some tips on how to deal with this situation should it arise and some advice on how to avoid it entirely.
So when faced with this situation you have a few options. You could let the player keep the character and not change your world at all. This is the easiest and unfortunately also the trickiest method. On the one hand it requires no additional effort on your part initially and you can jump right in, however you also run the risk of ignoring or hindering the development of the character since key elements of their backstory might not be part of your larger plan for the campaign. It could also cause you to improvise additions to your world that, depending on your skill as a DM and/or your player's preference, come back and affect game play in unexpected ways. A common example of this is your player being part of a larger organization, such as a religion or guild, that you didn't plan for; your player would always be wondering where other members are or asking about it's influence/impact on the world. Eventually this could lead to a break down in immersion as your player keeps questioning you or an overemphasis on their backstory to the point you neglect the other players. All in all this is a route to be avoided if possible.
The second option is too either alter your world or have the player alter their character. This is the most common option with many Game Masters simply telling their players that the character idea won't work. If your player agrees and makes a new character that does fit into your campaign then the problem is solved, but it might cause your player to be resentful. The better route would be to alter your world to incorporate the conflicting elements of their backstory. The only possible issue with this is if your player begins contradicting you about the material. Using the example of a religion or guild again; you could have an NPC from the organization act a certain way only to have your player contradict you about improper motivations or minor details that you've changed. Having your player argue with you over this material is worse then having them question it's absence. So if your player really wants to use a character and you make changes to accommodate them just be careful, cautious, and communicate with them as you proceed with your game.
The third option is my personal favorite and the one most likely to succeed. Sit down with each player separately before the campaign begins and work WITH them to create a character that perfectly fits into your gameworld. You begin by asking the player if they have an idea of what kind of character they would like to play, you then tell them where in the world that combination would most likely to be found. Describe that region/city/area to them and continue to work with your player from the top down. By doing this you will address your player's larger goals and flesh out the smaller details as you go. Ideally at the end of this process your player should have a character that they are excited to play with the side benefit of feeling invested/immersed in your gameworld. As a bonus you may come up with details and ideas for your game that you had not considered beforehand.
Much of this will depend on your players and what type of game you are running, however the key message here is to communicate with your players early and determine what they want out of their gaming experience. Each campaign should be fun for both the players and the Game Master and hopefully by using this advice you will be off to a great start.