March 4, 2011

DMs Creating Player Characters

How much control should a DM have over character creation? Is it ok for a DM to create a character and force a player to play it?

At the beginning of every campaign one of the first questions a DM asks himself is, how will the characters the players build fit into my campaign concept? Sometimes the question requires no answer since the campaign is designed to allow for all types of character concepts. But there are other times when it does matter.

If the campaign is one of intrigue, double-dealing, political subterfuge and subtle negotiations, a barbarian from the savage lands is not going to work out. From here most DMs have a few options. The first is to outright deny the character concept. This is a perfectably acceptable way to handle it.

The second option is to allow the concept with some previsions. This will entail working with the player. It would require clearly stating the campaign premise and asking the player how the character will fit in. If the player is just looking at the barbarian as a disruptive force, “to shake things up”, then the DM can and should say no. However, perhaps the player is looking forward to character development wherein the barbarian slowly acclimates to civilization and changes over time. This would be an exciting premise for both the player and DM.

A third option is for the DM to provide the characters for the players, already pre-made. This avoids the possibility of potential problems. It also takes away a player’s choice. As the point of this article is to explore the concept of DM-made Player Characters, lets look some Pros and Cons of a doing just that…

Campaign Fit- The characters will be sure to fit into the planned campaign theme. If a character is disruptive to the campaign it will be because of the player not because of the character.

Backstory- It is easier to craft stories based on the background of a character if the DM wrote the background himself.

Fun- Let’s be honest. For some people it is fun to create characters. For a person who GMs most of the time, this is his one chance to experience the fun of making a character.

Character Knowhow- The DM will know what the character’s are capable of. Can they fly to bypass an encounter? Does someone have the right skill to complete a challenge? Creating the characters will mean the DM already knows the answers to these and other questions.

Speed- The group can get right into game play on the first night instead of setting the first night aside for character generation.

No Attachment- Sometimes players can become too attached to their characters. Without the process of character generation the players are free to view the character as a tool for exploring the campaign and its tropes. Dying in a blaze of glory is more of an option as it is no longer about preserving that which they built.

Character Knowhow- One of the benefits of creating your own character is that you know all its strengths and weaknesses. The player also has a better understanding of what each of his powers can and can not do. Sometimes there is confusion if an ability is just a name on a character sheet. If the player did not make the character himself the player will not have this knowledge.

Fun- Let’s be honest. For some people it is fun to create characters. Not allowing a player to make a character takes away a facet of his fun.

Dislike- The player may flat out not like the character the DM built for him. Maybe he didn’t want to play a controller. Maybe he doesn’t like gnomes.

Investment- It is harder for a player to become invested in the character you built. There is a gradual build up while creating a character wherein the player takes and casts aside the things he dislikes and likes about the future character. Without this process there is little emotional attachment to the character. Without this attachment the player may soon find himself simply going through the motions.

Taking a quick glance at the Pros and Cons, I see one recurring theme. Almost all the Pros benefit the DM and all the Cons affect the player. While there are a lot of good points for a GM making the characters for a new party, I do not believe they are strong enough to take away the right of a player to make their own character. No mater how logical the Pros sound on paper there is a gut reaction to a player making their own character that in the end, at least for me, means I will always insist on making my own characters no matter what. For me, it comes down to whose character it is, the GM’s or the players?

Now, I am not opposed to a DM putting limits on character generation. If a DM rules that there can be no Barbarians (or gnomes or non-humans or the fly ability) in his campaign then so be it. Most games have a wide variety of choices so it is fairly easy to create a character concept even with limitations.

What do you think on the topic of DMs creating the characters for their players? Are there more Pros and Cons I missed?
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