5 New Ways to Introduce Player Characters

Here are 5 questions to ask your players that aren’t “Are you a male or a female?” These 5 introductory questions will provide a clearer image of the visions of your players without limiting them to the binary of “strong female characters” or “flawed men.”

How is your character dressed?

What someone wears says more about them to strangers than perhaps anything else ever will. Are their trappings more expensive than what they can afford? Are they excessively simple? Have they dressed themselves to hide something, or reveal?

What markings can we see?

Is your character tattooed? Ritually scarred? Striped, spotted, or painted? Body markings can speak to a rich connection to their past, a traumatic history, or evidence of a fresh fight.

How does your character introduce themselves?

A strong relationship to a higher power is often felt in the first meeting with a religious PC through their blessings, or curses as the case may be. Alternatively, a greeting might open the doors to quirks a character’s picked up along the ways. Do they timidly offer their name? Does their voice boom in jolly greeting?

What does your character notice first?

Inevitably, your story starts somewhere. Once establishing the setting of the opening scene, find out what’s important to your PCs by seeing where their eyes land. Lay plenty of objects and NPCs around to trap them into revealing something deeper about their character. Who notices the coin purses at the hip and who notices blasters? Does anyone notice just how alien the architecture is, or how cold the unnatural chill in the room?

What does your character smell like?

Maybe more character development than introduction, what a character smells like can also define them. The adventurer’s will be on the road (or in the ship, no board the balloon) for what may turn into a long time. Might as well find out now who will be attracting the fleas.

How a character smells can also let you know more about their job, their upbringing, and social class. Do they smell of expensive oils? Stink like mechanic’s grease? Have the scent of a long journey without bathing still on them?

Smell is also one of the first things we react to as humans, whether passively or actively. Maybe a character doesn’t like strong perfume, or only feels at home with more earthy travelers. Using this sense also gives other PCs a threat for constant interaction beyond planning who will hit the orc, and who might delay their action.

However you choose to have your players introduce their in-game personas, make sure to get the action moving immediately to encourage the players to begin interacting.

How do you introduce your PCs?

Planning for Fun: How to Start Your RPG Campaign

It. Finally. Happened. You did it! A group of people want to play a tabletop roleplaying game with you. Not just for a session. For an entire of campaign.

But where do you begin?

Planning for a campaign means establishing your characters and grounding them in the world you’ve created, but it also means establishing trust among the players and GM to provide a fun, respectful space to tell a story together. This may require a solid Session 0.

What is an RPG Session 0?

A 0 session is a session before the story of the main campaign starts. It can be a time to come together and craft characters, or polish ones that were created independently. It may be a chance to learn the geography of the world, or build it together as a group. Session 0 is also the time to establish the boundaries for your worlds without end.

Understanding the basics of the world is important to the ultimate success of the campaign, but many players also carry heavy burdens of negative experiences at the table. They also have certain themes that will place a burden on them mentally, emotionally, or cap the fun they feel they can have. Establish these at the beginning of your time together to reaffirm the agency of PCs and strengthen the relationship of everyone at your table.

I’ve created a 1 page guide to help you form your conversation around the PCs and themes that will be included in your adventure. Click on this link to download the Session 0 Worksheet.

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What Do I Write About?

Since launching our submissions, I’ve had more than one person approach me to say “I love this, but what do I write about?” I tried my best to explain that I want to see lists and resources and personal essays and critiques, but maybe there is another way. To explain, I’ll write about myself.

I began playing Dungeons & Dragons with my mother and my brothers. After that we played Alternity until the game “lost the battle” (my mother’s words) to the Star Wars RPG. I remember listening to the CD introduction that came with 3rd Edition as a family and a 10 person game at my father’s where we all died and my wolf survived us, dragging our bodies out of the cave and to an Elven temple.

One of the scariest things I’ve ever done was entering the GenCon costume contest in 1999. I won for the youth category. I think there were 3 of us. I passed out on the convention center floor while we played a board game past 10 PM. I was 9 years old.

In middle or high school my brothers and I discovered Call of Cthulhu, which changed our lives forever. Kenneth Hite answered a historical question I asked on Twitter so that I could finish my then-stalled (now published) novel, and I am unreasonably grateful.

My first game outside my family happened when I went away to college. It began with the DM describing a Player Character crawling out of a vagina he had cast onto a wall, and ended when another player (a girl) told me I “just wasn’t very good at role playing.” After that, I launched Babes in Armor and started a Twitter account. It’s been nearly a decade.

In college, some Very Bad things happened to me. More than once. I failed out and moved back in with my mother in Milwaukee. While struggling to find some direction, I interned at two non profits focusing on rights for women in the workplace and nervously pitched to FemPop. I wrote a regular (always late) television recap for them and reviewed games and went to C2E2.

I returned to school a year after dropping out of college. Eventually I took a class where we created a world together and played in it as a Creative Writing project. We used the World of Darkness rules, and I excitedly went to an RPG talk that featured creators who worked on all sorts of games and only Will Hindmarch gave me his card.

I wrote a truly terrible application to Monica Valentinelli for the Conan RPG (I had and continue to have no games writing experience), and she turned it down in an unbelievably gracious way. Uncanny later published her essay, “We Have Always Been Here, Motherfucker” and it changed my life, again.

At some point I wrote, terribly, about my negative experiences at a local game convention for FemHype and it helped heal me a little to have a space to talk, and I will never get over the generosity I’ve received from outlets on the internet. There are so many bad experiences I’ve had gaming (like the comic book shop owner who played CoC with us after hours and called me “whore” for an entire session, in character). There are also so many good. The last time I played with my older brother was at a demo game for Matt Forbeck’s Shotguns and Sorcery, and it is still one of my favorite gaming memories.

There are things I have questions about. Did other people discover their sexuality way too young on text-based RPG forums? Was it just as uncomfortable? What resources changed the game for you? What RPG made you realize there was more to roleplaying than D&D?

In the end, I could write and write about myself, but I would rather read about you.

Upping the Ante: Candace Thomas and Designing Big Bads

Earlier this month, Blizzard senior game designer Candace Thomas commented on how they create the boss monsters we love to team up on:

No one likes an easy boss. We want to feel challenged, and, ultimately, accomplished when we win. In video games this can mean a successful mashing of the buttons or pulling out that special item at just the right time, but good boss design extends to tabletop roleplaying games, too.

The Classic TPK

AD&D on extra hard is a staple at many gaming conventions, and gamers who started playing with their dads or cool uncles may remember the DM doing everything in their power to murder their party in as stylish a way as possible. Struggling to impress an older relative you look up to as a child is very different from the motivation most adults have for playing.

Winning means different things to different players, and part of the beauty of tabletop roleplaying games over video games is that you can tailor challenges to your players. Their love of loot may have gotten them into this, or their love of loot may be sated after conquering the dragon guarding its horde. No matter their motivation, destroying them completely is not fun for anyone, as you’ll quickly see when your players meta game against you.

Stem the CritFails

Major combat sequences still need to be a challenge, but look for ways of tripping up your players beyond impossible dice odds. Did the rogue rush forward without taking all of their surroundings into account? Did the bard fail their charisma check, but fail to notice?

Once they’ve had a few setbacks, let them win. Leave it to the “odds” if you must, no one has to know if you fudged the roll so they only pass out until being stabilized in the next round, and didn’t visit the land of the dead. That being said, if the Paladin’s greatword makes short work of the fleshy boss, maybe they’ll be defeated only to rise again, the puppet of a far more powerful, and perhaps less corporeal monster.

What are your favorite ways to help your players win while still maintaining your edge as a DM?

Please also submit your article, review, and essay ideas to us!

Get Your Game out There!

Interested in releasing your game, but unsure where to start? Step one (after creating a prototype of the game) should be to get your friends together and have them give it a shot.

Done with kind feedback from those who most love you? Send your design to a more critical eye by requesting play testers either through a local gaming group, a listing like r/TabletopDesign’s playtesters‘ page, or the big try: a convention.

Here are some other resources!

Free Rules Systems to Build Your Next World Around

RPG Worldbuilding is enough work without hammering out every mechanic. Use these free systems to kickstart your next universe, without the number’s game.

Open Legend is a stripped down rules system with a focus on collaborative story telling. This makes it ideal for those that want their RPG universe to flow with mythology and lore more than physics and condition tables. What is truly outstanding for this system are the level of development that has gone into its tools.

Let’s start with the basics: in order to interact with the gaming world, you need character! Open Legend Character Builder gets you rolling with an interactive character sheet plus tutorial. It’s also a great guide for anyone looking to design their own sheets in the future.

For those who would rather look to the stars, Stars Without Number offers endless possibilities for worlds and encounters. The rules PDF is available free. Set centuries after communication between planets has been cut off, Stars offers the possibility to build and expand a world all its own before introducing it to another one as technology pushes toward the galactic scale again.

Fate is a system designed to mold to whatever genre you want to explore. It’s lighter on dice interaction, heavier on narrative, and ideal for mishmashing genres until you get the characters you’ve always wanted to know. While Fate has plenty of base rules systems to offer, it’s best suited for intimate interactions between characters and spaces than epic architectures or Tolkienesque wars.

This was just the most timid of toe touches into RPG worldbuilding. We’re looking forward to bringing more resources for you to shape your settings into exactly what you imagined, not to mention tips on how to run them.

 

Cartography for Campaigns

The world of role playing games are ripe with seemingly endless possibilities to make your game tactile, more visually engaging, or more easily accessible. One of the most basic tools is the map. Whether for the RPG world, the characters’ homebase, or an encounter, maps instantly pull PCs into the setting and start the game’s movement and engagement mechanics going.

RPG resources are popping up on all platforms. Instagram account Fantastic Maps has excellent how-tos to assist with fleshing out those encounter areas, or populated regions. Check out the classic town map tutorial as a starting point!

For a quick fix on a pick up game, check out this city map generator, complete with auto filled in guild sections. The creator accepts donations for creating and hosting this awesome tool. Give if you can!

Placing NPC and PCs on your RPG map can be just as important to setting the scene. While colored stones, painted wood game pieces, or even just torn paper may do the trick, there’s little more fun in the world of 2D representations of 3D space than fulling illustrated tokens. Some users have created free templates for NPC tokens that you can print yourself from popular games with Dungeons & Dragons. Roll Advantage has provided a free tool to design your own for a more personal touch.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have as much fun playing around with these tools as you will using them in game!