Characters Aren’t Set in Stone (Or Written in Ink)

I’ve intended to sit down and write something up for the last three weeks, but life has kept getting in the way. It’s hard to find the time and energy to write sometimes anyway with a toddler, and in December I also have a birthday and a wedding anniversary that compete for my attention. Oh, and there is also this thing called Christmas that tends to eat up a lot of time. So gaming has been pushed to the back burner, and writing about gaming got pushed off the back burner and into the floor, where it then accidentally rolled under the stove. And I couldn’t reach it with a broom handle and the stove is a bitch to move and – what in the hell was I talking about? Right. A blog update.

This is something I do in my games that has worked well so I thought I would share it here. Basically, anytime we start a new game – and especially a new system – I’ll let players change pretty much anything they want to on their character sheets for the first game or two. I don’t mean that they can make up new ability scores or give their character whatever equipment they want, but I do mean that they can move stats around, redistribute skill points, switch spells, possibly even change their whole character concept or their class. This mutability is allowed during and after the first session, and possibly the second or even third session. I might even allow rearranging skill points and such to occur much later, if the new distribution is more in line with how the player envisions the character and how the character has been played up to that point.

The goal here is not to allow a player to better “min/max” his or her character. Rather, the goal is give the player a chance to feel out his or her new character, and to make sure they are playing the character that they want to play. Perhaps a rule works differently than a player thought it did, or maybe the player didn’t realize that several skills the character is suppose to be good at key off of an attribute that is lower than it should be. So change it.  Don’t punish a player by forcing him to play a character he is unhappy with because “the game has already started” and it’s somehow too late to swap a 12 and a 15 around. Ideally, he’ll be playing that character for a long time, and everyone will get the most out of the game if everyone is happy with the characters they have created.

Allowing this sort of thing is super important when trying out a new game system. In this situation, players should be given the utmost freedom to make changes based on their growing understanding of the game mechanics and how their characters interact with the world. In fact, it’s probably best to play a short “throw-away game” with any new rules, giving players a chance to learn how the game works before asking them to make decisions about a character that they are going to be committed to for possibly the next several months.

Again, this isn’t about a player moving stats around to suddenly be good at something that would be immediately beneficial (why yes, my guy can pick locks now!). It’s about allowing people to make the character that they want to play, and realizing that the character creation process can sometimes take a little longer than the time spent writing things down before the game.


One thought on “Characters Aren’t Set in Stone (Or Written in Ink)

  1. Aside from the fact that your first paragraph would fit perfectly on my own blog (except my son just turned 7), this whole idea is a wonderful idea. In fact, often use it as well. My wife running a Dragon Age game, and she let us do exactly as you say. Worked out nicely for a couple of people. My character was pretty much just how I wanted him to begin with, but it was nice to know that if I needed to, I could change a thing or two.

    Happy holidays!

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