Tales from the Gazebo – Character Creation Part 1: Crew-style Creation

Character Creation Part 1: Crew Style Creation
By Cape Rust

Everything should now be outlined and you should have a general idea of how your adventure is going to run. Notice that I said general idea, not a specific plan for how your adventure will run. Some of you will remember that no plan survives the initial contact and this rule is almost as true in gaming as it is in warfare. Now we are moving on to the point where you can make or break your entire game: character creation.

Every GM likes to run character creation differently. In the next few weeks, I will address three methods I’ve seen and we will look at how they might play-out in our Firefly game. For this article we will call these three methods the Brown Coat method, the Alliance method and the Crew method. Each method has advantages and disadvantages and in the end, for most GMs, a hybrid version of these will probably be best.

The crew method could be called the party template method if it wasn’t a Serenity game we were running. This approach is one of the easiest methods and is akin to casting a theater production. If you use this method, the first thing you have to figure out is exactly what “roles” need to be filled. Because Firefly adventures generally revolve around a spaceship, the logical cast should correspond to the positions in a ship’s crew. If we look at the actual positions on the ship Serenity we have a captain, 1st officer, pilot, engineer, gunner, and medical officer. Some of these roles could be filled by the same person. Not all of these positions are needed on every ship, but for the sake of this adventure let’s use these roles as a foundation. For my game I have five players and you will notice there are six positions. This could easily be remedied by simply filling the last position with an NPC, however things never seem to be easy when it comes to dealing with player’s wants and needs.

One of the problems I will face is that two of my players want to be pilots. Do I make them choose who will be the captain and who will be the 1st officer? Do I choose or do I flip a coin? The choice you make as a GM can depend on quite a few factors. First, while people often think of the captain as the pilot, the Firefly series actually showed us that this doesn’t have to be the case. Mal could fly the ship but Wash was the pilot, well Wash and the dinosaurs. Both of the players said pilot, not captain, so I’m still in the same situation.

Here are some factors I look at if the group wants to use the crew or group template character creation model. Who in the group is the best leader? I’m not talking about the person who is the loudest or the best role-player, I’m talking about the best leader. One thing we tend to forget is that while this is a game we are playing, our in-game choices tend to be based on real-life experiences and our reactions to in-game situations is the same. If you are going to pick the captain or whatever you want to call the leader, think long and hard about what each player brings to the table. Instead of using names I’ll just give my players numbers 1-5 with a brief description of their play styles and some factors I think are important to the leadership choice.

Player #1:

  • Wants to play a pilot
  • Is extremely active at the table, wants to role-play
  • Likes gear, and likes to tweak characters to do maximum damage
  • Tends to play utility characters that can do lots of damage
  • Develops in-game goals, but is willing to support party activities
  • Is an experienced GM who tends to story tell, mild railroader

Player # 2:

  • Wants to play a pilot
  • Is playing by Skype
  • Is normally flexible on the type of character he plays
  • Normally plays characters who are action oriented and compulsive
  • Gaming is as much of a social activity as a passion 50/50
  • Normally will fill any role the party needs
  • Is value added at the table
  • Has never GM’ed

Player #3:

  • Married to Player #1
  • Is mildly ADD at the table
  • If she becomes bored she tends to disengage from the table but is never a distraction
  • Normally plays stealthy characters or healers who are selfish and believe in self-preservation
  • Does not know the rules very well
  • Is an asset when engaged
  • Has never GM’ed

Player # 4:

  • Experienced Gamer
  • Tends to play characters that are thinkers
  • Experienced GM and is a rules-lawyer
  • Has a work schedule that causes him to miss some sessions
  • Likes to run games more than play in them
  • Characters are always willing to do what is best for the party, is not selfish at the table

Player # 5:

  • Experienced Gamer and GM
  • Tends to play blunt powerful characters
  • Is often placed in the leadership role, by default
  • Gets emotionally involved with games in both good and bad ways
  • Takes good game notes at the table

This is just a quick snapshot of the group. I included some of the real-world considerations as they will factor into the game. The obvious choice would be player # 5, but what if he is tired of being the leader? Then who do I choose? Player # 1 would be good, but he is married to Player #3 and if there are real-world problems, they could spill into the game. And while player # 3 is OK with her husband being her GM, she might have a bigger problem with his character being in a leadership position. Player #2 would make an interesting choice, but because he is playing by Skype there are many real-world issues that make choosing him risky. Speaking of risk, #4’s work schedule puts him at risk as well. Choosing #3 as the leader might keep her engaged, or it might not…

While I don’t advocate the GM choosing the leader of a party template or crew character build, I do endorse choosing a leader, and if the GM must choose I would choose player #4. He is a thinker in the real-world and at the table, everyone at the table likes him as a person and they all tend to respect his character’s selflessness. If his work schedule becomes a problem, then a change would have to be made, but that can be dealt with later. He understands what it takes to run a game and could pick up on GM cues and become an “inside” man for the GM helping to move the plot along without railroading the characters.

To sweeten the deal for the player selected to be the leader, I would actually give them the ship. This game is about space exploration, so why gimp the players by not giving them a few benefits? The gift of the ship for the leader gives him some leverage and adds to the legitimacy of his position. To maintain balance I will make the ship a clunker, not complete space junk, but a real fixer-upper. This will give the entire party something to save up for and it will keep the engineer busy.

As for the pilot situation, I have a good fix for that. The ship that the leader has was an old pilot instructional craft, so it has to be flown by two people at all times. This can be changed later on, but it forces both of the pilots to have to share the flying load and will reduce the tension that two wanna-be pilots might cause.

As for the rest of the positions, I’m not as worried about them, but a good leader can make or break the game for the adventurers and the GM. Next week I’ll finish up the Crew method for character building and possibly move on to the Alliance character building method.

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