Friday, May 25, 2012

How to tell the difference between me and Monte Cook

Monte Cook has 'fessed up to not liking character creation. I love it. And, as a true apostle of my own preferences, I can explain where Mr. Cook is looking at the matter all wrong.

His very first point is a mistake, one that's pretty common: What if I make a character who can't work in the adventure and/or the campaign?

Then you and/or your GM are dumb.

Look, if there's a concept you really really really want to play, you need to tell your GM about it. Talk about what you want to do and how it fits within the GM's plans. And if there's an adventure and/or campaign that your GM really really really wants to run, they need to make that clear from the very beginning.


The GM's job is to help the players have fun. So if you want to play a diplomat, the GM's job is to let you be diplomatic -- or to warn you off before that diplomat gets made. And the former is better than the latter. A PC is somebody's way of saying "I want to play this kind of game." The GM needs to listen to that statement and adjust their game appropriately.

Yes, yes, sometimes you just want to run Call Of Cthulhu and have horrible blasphemous whatnots all wrapped up in investigation-heavy mysteries. That's fine. Make it clear to your players, and if they really really really want to play characters that don't fit your plans, run something else instead. When your ideas are so very precious that they outweigh everyone else's fun, it's time to write up your RPG scenario and self-publish it, rather than inflict it on people who didn't ask for it.

So that's step one to help Monte have fun. The other crucial thing is contained his very last point: What if I make a character and then get locked into a bunch of mechanics that don't do what I want to do?

Then you and/or your GM are dumb again.

Mechanics are just words and numbers on a piece of paper. If some of those words and numbers aren't providing you with the play experience you want, change them. This is not a difficult concept. When I'm running a new campaign or new system, I let players change their character mechanics through at least the first 3 sessions. They gotta do it with me and they don't get to ignore the rulebook, but if you made a character that doesn't work the way you wanted, it's easy to fix.

Honestly, I let players tinker with their mechanics pretty much whenever. As long as what they gain is balanced by what they lose, why should I mind? Look at the Champions mechanic/tradition of the "radiation accident." Apply this wisdom to your own games.

There's step two for Monte. And some of his other points are excellent. More games should include pregens, both for the convenience of lazy/inexperienced players and to give you some idea as to the designers' assumptions. And all games should include fast character generation options -- I like spending 2 hours refining every last iota of my PC, but not many other people do. I cheerfully admit that I'm insane.

Insane, but right.

C'mon, kids. You should be able to play Character X if that's what you really want. Maybe the GM needs to loosen up about their campaign idea, and maybe the rules need to be bent. Don't be a jerk, don't be selfish, remember that other people need to have fun -- otherwise, play what you damn well please.


  1. Yes to all your points about the social contract (making sure that the referee and players are all on the same page). However, I think you missed his most important point, which was about backloading mechanical choices. Not having to deal with knowing what all the feats and spells (or whatever the mechanical elements are) before the game starts greatly lowers the barrier to entry. Also, complicated character generation is at odds with potential lethality (if you enjoy real danger in the game, that can be a big problem).

  2. If you've got pregens and fast character creation options, I think that solves the mechanical complexity problem. But I still like intricate, detailed character creation -- a system can offer both. And that's managed more by social contract than by rulebooks, I think.

    Then again, we might just have different foundations for our perspectives. Rereading Monte Cook's column, I still don't see the mechanical issues as his most important point. I don't doubt that you did see it that way, but I don't get that from it. So I'm curious what else you got from it, if you'd like to share.