Progressive Character Generation

In books and movies, it’s rare to know the entire history of a character before the actual plot begins. In fact, in many books and movies, the only backstory you ever get occurs in flashbacks, after you’re familiar with the character on a more pedestrian level.

The DayTrippers campaign is fine with that. It’s all well and good to expect the Players to create the important aspects of their own characters’ pasts, but it’s entirely another thing to put them on the spot, forcing them to marry themselves to a character concept they haven’t even spent any time playing yet.

A DayTrippers character begins the game in a fairly “generic” state. Sure, each PC is individuated by stats and skill choices, but the real character of the character is something we don’t know yet. In many cases, not even their Player knows them yet, and that’s fine! Specific traits, goals and values can come up at any time in play; no one is forced to create them until it feels appropriate to do so. We’ll get to know this character in their present-day context, the same way we get to know real people, and we’ll learn more about their past as it is revealed to us.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT SCENES

In a game with Progressive Character Generation, or PCG, the Players “wear” their characters for a while before determining a lot of details about their history, psychology or values. In the early days of a character’s career it will be easier and more fitting to produce this sort of content, but no one follows a perfectly straight line in life, and everyone is multi-faceted. Learning a whole new angle on someone? Happens all the time.

Here’s how it works in play…

Once per session, each Player may request a Character Development Scene. Some examples:

  • Flashback Scene – flashing back to an important lesson or pivotal moment in the character’s life
  • Relationship Scene – showing the character in a relationship of some kind, either currently or in the past
  • Training Scene – demonstrating some aspect of the character’s training, capabilitiy or personal ethic
  • Ah-ha Scene – a sudden realization helps the character to suddenly understand whatever they’re facing

Traditional fiction writers are able to go back and forth while writing, adding backstory and exposition to early chapters as it occurs to them. As GMs we should try to make our Players’ jobs less difficult than that of the professional writer, not more difficult.

The PCG approach gives the Player time to think about their character and see them in action a bit before committing to details that may or may not turn out to be important. Instead, the Player learns about their own character just as we do when we’re reading a book or watching a movie – or writing one. In addition, this approach gives the Player an opportunity in every session to link their character’s backstory to the current plot, as commonly seen in well-written stories and filmed entertainments.

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– excerpt from the “DayTrippers GameMasters Guide”, coming soon from As If Productions.

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