Tales from the Gazebo – Character Creation Part 2: The Brown Coat Method, Continued

Character Creation Part 2: The Brown Coat Method, Continued
By Cape Rust

Welcome back to my discussion of the Brown Coat or “independent method” for character development. We discussed some of the upsides and a few of the minor downsides to this method. I’d like to delve into some of the major downsides and end on a positive note.

Because all of the players are developing their characters independently, there is a good chance there will be major gaps in certain roles in the party. You might get a group of players who all want to play supporting role types. If this is the case, which characters will they support? I will concede that I have seen that work before, but when it came down to it, it was difficult for the GM to design encounters when no one could hit hard enough or shoot straight enough to kill off the bad guys. This goes back to the alliance method or party template. Firefly is a game that involves space travel and while it wouldn’t be hard to run an adventure without a player character pilot, it might not be as much fun. This character creation method could be the one time when every one of your players decides to play the same type of character.

“Because we listened to Cape and did extensive prep work, we don’t have to worry about the fact that every character wants to play an inter-galactic manure dealer game (that would be a crappy game!), but if you haven’t done much prep work, be ready for some crazy character ideas from the players that might cause you to have to completely re-think everything you’ve prepared”. If all of your players really want to go that route, then as a GM you should do your best to accommodate them; however, have fun with it. I do recall a Firefly episode where cattle were being transported, so what would happen if all of your IGMS characters had to break onto cattle transport ships to get the manure before it was wasted by the crew cleaning up their cargo bay? I don’t mean to take a dump on your players “good” ideas, but you can play their silly games.

Independent character creation has the effect of reducing team cohesion as well. How could you expect your players to interweave each other into their back stories if they don’t know what kind of characters the other players are making? If you know, you can tell the other players, but if you don’t, then the first time the characters meet in a bar or tavern will only add to that tired old trope. Let’s face it, as players we often meta-game these situations and for the sake of the game, we are willing to throw our characters lives on the line to save a fellow PC we only met a few minutes ago. Yes, there are cases where this works but I have found that most games work better and last longer when the characters have a back story that involves other characters. The situation feels more real.

One of the people I game with is a busy guy and when I say busy, I mean staying up for 30 hours because he works a full shift, stays a few hours late after his shift, comes home, then works on his house. He loves to game, but doesn’t exactly have a few extra hours to make his character away from the game table. Heck, we are lucky to get him to the game table, so what do you do in that situation? You have to slow the game down to give him time to make his character. Now this is a good chance for the other characters to talk and make last minute changes, but you still don’t get the depth you might when everyone creates their characters in one location.

Now for a few positive parting notes about this style. First and foremost, the Brown Coat method keeps those players who always take one for the team from having to play yet another magic user, because no else wants to take the time to learn spells. They can play whatever they want and if they ask what the other guys are playing, as a GM, tell them it doesn’t matter. Reward them for their past sacrifices and if one of your other players steps up to the plate to play an unwanted role, let them.

This method does account for a more realistic group. How is it possible to have a group in the real world that has one of everything you need? I understand that this is role-playing, but the Brown Coat method adds a little something, something to the mix. The key to all of this is how you handle it as a GM. If you decide to use this method and tell whatever story you want, damn those characters your players have chosen, then you can quickly start railroading your players and most of the time, that is not a good thing. There are ups and downs to this method and as a GM, you should always take your players into account when choosing a method. I will finish the character creation series with the alliance or hybrid method. Enjoy your week, and always try to put your player’s needs first.

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