As discussed in Would GURPS be a good choice for a non-magic, 19th century tech level, roleplay focused campaign?, I am planning to introduce a couple of friends to pen & paper tabletop RPGs. I am planning on using the GURPS system, as it allows great freedom while offering a fair amount of well done and balanced item tables, etc.

In order to allow them a softer entry and some more familiar systems I was thinking of limiting their choices in character creation by:

  • Wealth Level (cutting it out)
  • Tech Level (no choice either)
  • Offering them some PC background templates as they are used to from computer RPGs (e.g. Mass Effect) instead of forcing them to do the whole point-buy chargen

The setting will be 19th century Earth-esque without any forms of magic.

I am planning on building up these introductory sessions also within tight boundaries, in the form of a military 'boot camp' where the players will learn about how roleplaying and dice rolling works together with their characters (e.g. they will go through classes of things such as hand-to-hand combat, firearm usage, repairing or building in-game items as well as playing cards with their NPC companions after a hard day of training...)

What are the effects, pro and con, of using these kind of limiting parameters to introduce new players to a game system/gaming in general in your experience?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Took the liberty of editing into more SE-friendly format (asking for the effects instead of "is it good" is the way to avoid subjective VTCs). Reopened, think it's good now. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 11 '15 at 19:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I took the liberty to upvote your comment as a form of sayingthank you for your help. \$\endgroup\$ – dot_Sp0T Feb 11 '15 at 19:04

I think you have two potentially opposing goals here - introductory and campaign.

Limited choice works great when introducing new players. In fact, this is often done with pregenerated characters ("here, play this guy") where there is no chargen choice at all (except for perhaps name). At conventions, I've run many games where someone shows up with no previous experience with that game and if handed a character sheet can roll forward with it.

But of course these are usually one-shot games. The problems with limited choice when starting a campaign are that people learn more about the system and the kinds of characters they want to have, then they're not as happy with their "starter" character. If you're OK with them changing/swapping characters during the campaign, that's fine. If not, you might want to consider a 1-2-3 session introductory contained game before making everyone ante up for a potentially very long campaign with overly constrained chargen choices. (Magic and tech are always the GM's to set, but the picking templates instead of crafting is where you may get into trouble long term.)

Consider instead running an actual separate intro scenario and then moving into your grand campaign plans. This gets you the pros of both with only marginally more work - you also don't waste time building a campaign if everyone declares roleplaying "lame" after the first session.


When you give players a bunch of choices, but they have no context or understanding of what it means in play - they're guessing in the dark. "I'm supposed to assign these points, and pick from these powers... but I don't know how the game actually works or flows?"

So it makes sense to limit player choice to start. In fact, unless the game is dirt simple to create characters for, I give players pre-generated characters to start.


  • When you know what elements are in play (character abilities, etc.) you can be brushed up on those rules specifically and help the players quicker

  • If you use pregenerated characters, you can make sure the characters are well-built for the scenario and not weirdly out of balance

  • If you use pregenerated characters, you can make sure to give character motivations that fit with the scenario and give the players a sense of initial direction


To be honest, new players will first be jumping the hurdle that all the action exists in imaginary play space, that events are formulated in play by people assering "stuff happens" and then trying to figure out how it all fits with the setting/genre expectations. They're not really worried about more choice at this point - so there's no disadvantages at this stage, other than you should make sure there's at least some pregen options that sound appealing to new players based on description.


So why are most people adverse to using pregenerated characters? Well... you mention you're doing this to start a campaign - and most people want to create their own characters to play for long term... but do these players even know if they want to commit to a campaign having not roleplayed before?

Are these players specifically into the kind of genre/setting you're offering? If not, will they be at a loss as to how their characters should act, or what conflicts make sense to engage with?

I really feel like you should make sure they're specifically interested in similar things and consider running a one-shot or a short 3 session run before trying to think any further along. If I was checking out something new, I certainly would not want to commit to doing several hours a session, for multiple sessions indefinitely, as an expectation for "trying it out".


Note: My answer comes mostly from experience with this kind of thing, both as a DM and a player in such adventures.

The Pros

  • A super controlled environment. You get to determine what happens. There is very little room for chance or unpredicted consequences.
  • A clear, unobscured goal. This gives the players something obvious to do; go fight this guy, go climb that wall, etc. This is helpful when someone is entirely new to something.
  • Bit Sized Pieces. People are good at learning things one step at a time, and the introductory scenario can make GURPS easy to learn. RPGs, in general, can be quite complicated, especially when you're coming from a video game background where your obvious exits are NORTH, SOUTH, and DENNIS.
  • Helps Establish characters. By giving them something which isn't central to the plot, but with these characters, you give them a little backstory and experience with each other. Nothing improves role-play like players having in-character experiences with each other.

The Cons

  • Where is the plot? Unless these training exercises are central, your players may not get to sink their teeth into plot, which may be important to the entertainment of players.
  • Dumbed down and don't like it. Some people don't like it when you dumb things down for them. Some people want all the rules and options immediately available to them.
  • May not like your pre-generated characters. For some people, character creation is a major joy in RPGs.
  • False Ideas of what RPGs are about. Players may think that pen-and-paper RPGs are exactly like Video Game RPGs, and may not realize the dazzling array of choices they have in handling situations in a pen-and-paper RPG.
  • Developing standard methods to solve problems instead of encouraging spontaneous or out-of-the-box thinking. Your players will likely fall onto the mechanics and behaviors they know to solve situations they encounter. If I were to use a painting instead of a pro-con list to answer this question, you get an example of how this can be bad.

While I do see there are more cons than pros in my list, I still think it's a good idea. Those pros far outweigh the cons, and some careful planning can negate most of the cons. Clarity about how the first session(s) differs from normal, and that this is special because people are new to playing and are learning the ropes, can help quite a bit as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You should also not that I am not really a painter. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Feb 11 '15 at 19:34

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