It is convention season and we at JBE want to help every GM running a roleplaying game at the con—whether it is published by my company or not—run something that players will remember. For a publisher, an introductory con game is a chance to sell players on your product. For a home GM running at a con, it is a chance for you to get experience running a game and share your love for a game or an adventure or whatever with others. To help players remember you and the game you ran, you should follow some best practices to make this introductory experience epic for the players. This is the first in our series of Running an Epic Con Game. Follow the whole series here.
Today we are starting off with the most basic part of any game that all players interact with: the character sheet. In a matter of minutes someone who has never played a game before, lacking any knowledge of the basic rules of the system, has to determine which of these pieces of paper they should become for the next four hours. The ease of use of that sheet is going to be a huge part of whether they have fun a the table. If the player cannot understand how these numbers translate into a character, it gets frustrating fast. This bring us to point number one:
Have a Story Accompanying the Character Sheet
We all play role playing games instead of miniature games or board games because of the story. We want a story that we can remember and get into. So give us one right away with the character. Was this character a former circus performer that moonlighted as a cat burglar before becoming an adventure? Tell us what happened to make the person change professions. Was the character a war hero? Telling us about their part in the war is far more interesting than reading “Class: Fighter 2, Background: Military.”
And don’t just make it a wall of text. Have a paragraph or two of the charcter’s backstory and then finish it off with some bullet points for who should take this character. Going back to the cat burglar for a second, those points should read something like,
This is the character for you if you like:
- Hiding from the authorities from above
- Taking dangerous risks for a big pay out
- Finding our the truth through less than legal means
Being able to weed through the characters the player is not interested quickly allows them to quickly find one they enjoy.
From there the player begins to make the character their own. The best way to make the character their own is allow for some customization. This brings me to my second point:
Allow for Customization
Traveller is great for this. In the game, you get skill points from where you grew up, the careers you have chosen, and from connections you have with other players. In Traveller con games that I run, I will have already spent the skill points for the character’s early years and careers. However the players decide how they spend the skill points for connections. This gives them an excuse to get to know each other’s characters right away and has the players thinking about their character sheet.
That’s the real trick right here: having the players think about their character sheets. Between a list of skills, equipment, and abilities, a character sheet can be bit overwhelming to those that never played the system before. If you have them focus on one part of it for a few moments and get them thinking about it, the rest quickly becomes more manageable. Not only that when we do play the game, the players are more familiar with their character and are able to make rolls quicker, saving the game time. So if you the system you are playing has skill points or dots or whatever, hold a few back and let the players choose how they want to spend them. You’ll probably be repeating the instructions on how many they can spend, the maximum they can have in any one thing, or whatever over and over again, but it is worth it to let players feel like they own this character.
Here is the most important customization of all: let the players name their characters. Unless there is some massively important reason why they cannot name their characters, players should be allowed to do so. This helps them to feel that this character is my own, making the adventure you are about to run more personal and thus more memorable. Even if you were doing and adventure like, “everyone is from the same family,” the players should still be able to choose their name. Perhaps someone is playing a cousin with a different last name or someone adopted by the family and never took the family name. The family member could have gotten married and taken their partner’s last name. Maybe they changed their name because they hated their parents. The possibilities are endless. Let players make the characters their own.
Speaking of players making their characters their own, this bring us to our third and final point on the subject of character sheets:
Let the Players Keep Their Sheets
If you are running the exact same game five times that weekend, make the character on a computer and print off five copies of the character sheet. There are usually a form fillable PDF somewhere on the web for the game (frequently at the publisher’s website). Hang on one moment.
*Opens the door to the publisher community*
Publishers, if you do not have a form fillable PDF of your character sheet downloadable from your website, make one!!!
Where was I? Oh yes, if for whatever reason you can’t prefill a PDF and print off multiple copies, fill it out by hand and make copies of the character sheet. Every player should walk away from the game with a free character sheet. No exceptions. This is the memento from the game. This helps them remember their character and your game. This will help players remember your game long after you part ways with the players.
If you need an adventure to run at your next convention, may we suggest the ones on this last here for D&D 5e and Pathfinder 1e.