Monday, August 14, 2017

Make A Character Creation Document For Your Game (Seriously, It Helps)

In the days of yore, or so the legend goes, no campaign would start until all the players had gathered round the table. The dungeon master would sit at the head of the table, and watch as each player rolled their character's stats then and there. For the longest time this was just part of how gaming was done, but as our editions grew more sophisticated, we began to do more and more character creation on our own. Once we were able to assign our stats to the attributes we wanted, instead of just putting them in order and taking whatever we were given, it was possible to know exactly what character we wanted to bring to the table long before we ever touched our dice.

And when we got rid of THaCO? Woo, all bets were off!
This freedom presented a world of opportunity for players, but it also complicated things for the dungeon master. Because the more freedom players have to make the characters they want, the tougher it can be to corral them into the chute to get the campaign going. And once class, race, etc. were no longer randomly made-up on the spot, it made no sense to keep that approach when it came to making the character's history and story. So players started making characters with more depth, more history, and to whom they were generally more attached to from the get-go than a PC they'd been assigned through totally random rolling.

There is a great DM tool that I discovered some time ago that I'd like to pass onto you that both helps players create deeper characters, and helps you weave them more organically into the game. I've been on both ends of it, and it can be a lifesaver.

The Character Creation Document

I first came across the idea of the character creation document when I joined an organized LARP in Chicago. The short version is that it was a questionnaire that asked you all about your character. It asked what you did for a living, where you lived, who you were related to, what supernatural powers you had, and how you kept them secret (or didn't). It asked about your allies and your enemies, and about your character's goals, fears, hopes, and experiences.

It was, in short, a quick way for the storytellers to get a snapshot of who this character was, and how they would react to certain situations.

Ah... my PC's crippling fear of water...
Now, a character creation document is not a stone tablet that is meant to totally lock in your character's attributes. They can still grow and change as you play them. However, the document allows your DM to ask you questions they deem important to the campaign, and to your character.

For example, if your DM is running a game where there are important NPCs to act as mentors, friends, and family members, then they might ask you what qualities your PC admires in others, and what qualities others tend to admire in them? If your DM wants to run a more psychological game, then he might ask about your character's fears, what motivates them, and what enrages them? What do they care about? What would they sacrifice themselves, or others, for?

These sorts of questions don't typically have spots on a character sheet, but they can be invaluable both to DMs, and to players. Because the answers can help a DM shape the game around the characters, and the questions can help players fill out and develop PCs in ways they may not have been asked to in the past. After all, a player may not think all that much about what hobbies their PC has when not slaying dragons, or ask whether they've been married in the past (or want to be in the future). A character creation document gets all of that information, and puts it squarely into the DM's hands.

If you need a place to get started, you might want to check out 10 Questions To Put On Your Character Creation Document.

And, if your DM is generous, you might even get a special reward for completion. More starting gold, more XP (even though I personally recommend against using XP whenever possible), or even social benefits derived from your answers to your questions. I personally recommend putting a carrot out there, though, because when you dangle a reward players will give you much more complete information than they otherwise might.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully it stirs some thoughts for all the DMs out there looking for a way to get a better glimpse into the PC's heads. If you're interested in more gaming content by yours truly, check out my archive over at Gamers. It's small now, but should be growing soon. If you want to stay up-to-date on all my releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to help support Improved Initiative, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. All it takes is $1 to make a difference, and to get yourself some sweet swag.


  1. I really like this idea. I'll be implementing it soon.

  2. And where is said document to be found?

    1. You make one yourself, or find one appropriate to the game you're playing. The sheets I use tend to be for World of Darkness games, and they wouldn't be as helpful for standard fantasy games.

    2. Would it be possible to see yours for inspiration?

    3. As I am not the author, and it was part of an official organization, I won't post the whole thing. I will, however, list some of the better questions on it, made a little more general.

      - How did you acquire your powers?

      - What is your role in society? What is your day job? What posts do you hold in the supernatural community?

      - How do you keep your abilities secret from those you know and love?

      - Who are your enemies? Who are your friends?

      - What would you be willing to sacrifice yourself for? What would you be willing to sacrifice others for?

      - What is your deepest fear (known or unknown)?

      - What goals (short and long-term) do you have? What methods will you use to achieve them?

      - What would you like to see from the game, as a player? What would you NOT like to see?

  3. I think this is sort of thing is an interesting thought experiment for fleshing a character out! However, I've had an absolute pain in the ass getting players to actually do these. The last time I tried, it was met with one player straight up asking "Do we seriously have to do this?", one player filling half of it out, and the other two ignoring it outright. =/

    1. The solution to this has gone one of two ways when I've seen them used. The first is that you bribe players with a reward for completion (for the WoD LARPs where the doc was used, you got 15 bonus XP; the equivalent of a month and a half of play). The second is that if the doc isn't completed, you don't get to play till it is.

      I tend to take the second option. Even if I'm not using a full creation document, if a player doesn't give me backstory and motivations, their PC doesn't show up until they do. Even if it's something basic, like, "I was a caravan guard who didn't want to go home, and now I have bills to pay, and would someday like to rise above my humble station."

  4. Okay, I just tried this a couple days ago and dear lord does it help. I'm starting a campaign in about two weeks and I already got a reply with a completed doc, and the players I have that normally struggle with backstories have been finding the doc approach extremely helpful when developing their concept. I'll be using this approach for now on unless something better is discovered