Group character creation should be performed with all of the members
of the group in real or virtual proximity. “Shuffling the sheets,” the
process of sharing the character sheets, is what allows everyone to be
invested in all of the characters. It also allows everyone to learn
more about the mechanical options available to the group and how these
The start of the process is a discussion about the group
social contract. As part of the social contract, the group should also
discuss what kinds of narratives they want to explore. Articulating
this before the start of the character creation process is essential
as it allows everyone to put binding positive and negative
requirements onto the group. While these requirements are usually
story based, there is no reason why they cannot also include
functional or theoretical requirements.
With the group requirements
set, everyone then articulates one positive requirement for a
character. The positive requirement can take many forms, but at its
heart it is an idea that will shape the rest of the character.
Depending on the size of the group it is worth allowing one or all of
the players to make one or more characters at the same time. To ensure
that everyone has choice, even if players choose not to make an extra
character, the DM should participate in this process. While she will
not end up playing this character, it means that every person, even
the person choosing last, will be presented with a choice of
characters. Preservation of choice and agency is critical at all
stages of the game.
Negative requirements will not be solicited, as
they can manifest as post hoc editing of individual characters. As
each player claims ownership of a character to play in game, they will
be allowed to make whatever edits they want to the character:
customizing it to fit their own particular requirements. It is futile
and un-fun to expect a player to choose to play a character that
doesn’t fit their own requirements, however it was generated.
then provide a mechanical sketch of each character. A sketch varies by
system, but is best described as a single choice of a mechanical
characteristic by each player. Shuffle the sheets and repeat until
every character has a complete sketch. This outline of character, with
everyone making a choice for every character, provides a community
consensus over the nature of characters. People engaged in this
process are encouraged to ask for help or information from more
experienced players, but to not allow them to dominate character
creation. One way to enforce this is to allow suggestions only as a
response to a direct question.
The process of making single choices
also is a sneaky way to inculcate system mastery. As each choice is
treated as a different event and is explained to the group, that
explanation combined with the act of making a decision serves as a
reinforcement mechanism for learning. In this way, the character
creation process can teach a new group a system far more effectively
than a solitary creation process.
With sketches completed, shuffled
many times between players, it then becomes time to sanity check all
of them for their faithfulness to the requirements. Edit sketches as
needed so that they align with the group social contract and the
individual requirements for each character. With the
mechanical-functional sketches out of the way, a group backstory
should be invented. As the group comes to exist as a joint entity, it
is trivial to create real bonds of trust between characters. One
common theme of group narrative is an organization, providing a
convenient trope to explain trust, a history, and a source for new
characters. It is important only that there exists trust between
characters; the form of those bonds of trust is up to the party.
a group backstory in place, shuffle the sketches and allow players to
craft and share a backstory for each character. The backstory can be
as long or as short as the player wishes, but should draw upon the
dominant mechanical themes in the sketch. It is at this point that the
characters should be named.
With sketch and name in place, it becomes
time to complete the build of every character. Groups may choose to
continue the random shuffling for the complete build or may simply
allow players to choose their character at this point and have the
eventual “owner” of the character complete the creation process.
creation complete, the group should articulate general tactics for
each character. By allowing the group as a whole to brainstorm,
individual players will not have to play out unprofitable interactions
with other characters through trial and error. These tactics may be
encoded as checklists at the group’s discretion.
This group character
creation process involves everyone in the group at every step of the
way. One downside of this is that it becomes proportionally more
difficult to add new players to the group after the fact. They will be
presented with pre-established characters to choose from. While the
new player will be welcome to customize the character they have been
handed, there is very little room for originality within the
constraints set by the original group. If the occurrence is seldom
enough of if combat losses have been incurred, the advent of a new
member of the group may be a time to do another round of group
character creation, adding the characters so generated to the already
existing game organization. This activity then becomes a formal
welcoming ritual and keeps the group strength up despite losses to
unfortunate events in the world.