RPT#129 – Old Campaign, New PCs: Creating New Characters For Existing Campaigns
A Brief Word From Johnn
Free HackMaster Module Contest!
Kenzer & Co. has kindly offered 20 of their B1: Quest For The Unknown modules as prizes so it’s time for a contest. With 20 modules up for grabs, I think the odds are much better of being picked as one of the winners. Cool!
Contest entry deadline: Saturday, June 29th, midnight PST.
Contest details: NPC secrets. Send in generic NPC secrets, 25 words or less per secret, multiple contest entries allowed.
Please include your name in the email entry.
Send your contest entries to: email@example.com
Example secrets could be:
- The NPC has a body buried in the basement.
- The NPC is really a female disguised as a male.
- The NPC has a deadly disease and has 30 days to live.
An email with three secrets like those, for example, would give you three entries in the draw.
Kenzer & Co. is also paying for shipping, so there’s no strings attached here.
Privacy: For this contest, I will be forwarding Kenzer & Co. contestants’ names for the draw, but no emails, IP information, or any other personal information. Names only. They’ll pick the winners, email me their names, and then I’ll contact them all by email myself.
Check out Reader’s Tip #4 at the bottom of this issue for more info about HackMaster and the prize module up for grabs.
Good luck with your entries!
Convention Tips Supplemental Ready!
All of the great convention GMing tips that were requested in issue #126 have been put into Supplemental Issue #8: “Running Games At Conventions”
This Supplemental Issue is 100% free and available simply by sending a blank email to:
My autoresponder should send it to you within an hour or less. It’s a big issue though–8500 words, 48Kb. I hope you find it valuable and I feel non-convention GMs will get some great tips out of it too. 🙂
Johnn Four firstname.lastname@example.org
Take Home a FREE Copy of Undiscovered Quests & Adventures
For a limited time only, Eilfin Publishing will be giving away copies of their first supplement to Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure when you purchase a copy of the game. The supplement, Undiscovered Q&A Issue #1, is a 96 page e-zine filled with great gaming material. And as a bonus, we are offering free shipping on all books to RPTW readers!
Go to http://www.eilfin.com/rptw.html for details
A Guest Article By Walks in Moonlight
Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Walks in Moonlight, and I have been running a Werewolf campaign for more than two years now. Of the six players currently in my game, two have been playing since the start, two have been playing for around six months, and the other two joined within the last three months.
Now, one of my original players has decided he wants to change characters because, after two years, he just couldn’t stand playing his character any longer, even though I felt it was an important part of my game.
I had no problem with allowing him to create a new character though, so I offered him two options:
- Carry over unspent xp to be used as xp for the new character.
- Use slightly more than half of unspent xp as ‘character creation’ a.k.a. Freebie points. This would be in addition to the standard creation points given to a new character, as well as any points earned by taking Disadvantages, a.k.a. Flaws. (Please note that Werewolf, like the other World of Darkness games, is not a game where one has ‘levels’. PC power level, therefore, is more subjective.)
He countered and asked he be allowed to use half of all the xp his previous character had earned, both spent and unspent, as he felt he could create a more ‘useful’ (which I read to mean powerful) character with it. I said no, but offered him enough Freebie points so that he could buy an extra Gift (power) if he was so inclined, which is about the level where the second newest player was. (The most recent had just joined two weeks prior to the character change)
He accepted the offer, but felt dissatisfied; I felt exasperated. So I asked Johnn for advice on the matter. We both agreed that this question be posed to the readers of Roleplaying Tips Weekly, and that if there were sufficient material, then I would write a guest article about it. [ https://www.roleplayingtips.com/issue120.asp#tipsrequest ]
Given the volume of great responses, I believe there is enough for two separate articles:
- How to handle the creation of new PCs for an existing game.
- Working new PCs into existing campaigns.
Today we’re going to deal with handling the creation of new PCs for an existing game.
First of all, my thanks to everyone who wrote in. The advice was fairly evenly split between:
- Not allowing the experience point carry-over.
- Compromising at some point in between.
- Allow the player to keep the xp.
A couple of readers even offered their viewpoint as players faced with this choice. I suppose the best way to compose this article is to divide it into three main sections:
- Dealing With A Dead PC.
- Either Way, It’s Still A New PC.
- Dealing With A Bored Player.
- Dealing with a Dead PC
Death of course, is inevitable. And in a campaign, it’s not too unusual for characters to succumb to the wounds inflicted by the creatures and/or villains of your game world. So your player’s PC just died: how do you, the GM deal with this? Here’s what some of you had to say:
- Keep PC mortality low. Not all traps are meant to be lethal and not all monsters are simply out to kill everything in sight. A role-playing game should give players opportunities to ROLE-PLAY, not just fight monsters. Even when I played D&D, I often found the intrigue of interacting with the NPCs more exciting than the combat.
- Let the player play a PC of equal level as the dead one. There are a fair number of arguments for this one:
- The player’s probably unhappy about their character’s death. Why make them suffer more?
- Difficulties with running parties of disparate levels. The weak ones get upstaged by the strong ones and the challenges worthy of a high level party could easily kill the weakest member.
- Constantly replacing powerful characters with weaker ones creates a vicious cycle of deaths. Average PC level goes down as successive characters die, which leads to stagnation, rather than progression of the characters.
- The game’s supposed to be fun. Therefore, the GM should do what is needed to keep the players happy.
- Players should have backup characters in reserve. One GM requires that his players have 1 active PC and 2 fully fleshed inactive characters, for a total of 3 characters per player. The inactive characters remain at 1st level until tapped, and at that point, they are given 1/2 of the original character’s xp.
- Character is one level lower than the original PC.
- Controlled Reincarnation. This GM invented a new spell that allows the player to bring in a new character of the race of their choice. The character then loses two levels: one for dying, and another as a cost of the spell. In addition, this spell requires an 11th level Druid, which the party has to find.
- Some GMs use mathematic formulas to determine the starting level for a new PC. Here are some of the ones used. Using my campaign, I will give you an idea of how the various formulas work out based on the five remaining PCs, which could be vaguely translated to D&D cleric characters of 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 10th level:
- Minimum experience level to get them to the “average” level of the party. (Translates to about level 5.)
- 10% fewer xp than the lowest character in the party (Translation: 1st level; 0 level if you’re mean.)
- Average the PCs’ experience. Give 3/4 of the total. (Based on minimum xp for each level, this translates to about 7th level.)
- 2/3 to 3/4 of the old character’s xp, based on the circumstances of the death (an avoidable death earns less, while a heroic, well role-played death earns more.) (Translation: character winds up being about 9th level, regardless.)
- For World of Darkness games: player gets to use 1/2 of any unspent xp towards a new character, in part to compensate those players who were saving up for a large expenditure. This is pretty much the exact method I offered to my player.
- Hit the books. Check out other game systems as many actually have rules that cover bringing in new PCs. But always keep your own gaming system in mind. Your players might protest if you use the guidelines from say, Dungeons & Dragons to apply towards a Vampire game.
- How did the PC die? Did he die after jumping in a spike filled pit and after the GM asked “Are you sure?” at least once, and probably twice? Or did they die walking into an illusion that they (the player) knew was an illusion, but they (the character) failed their save against it?
A well role-played death should be rewarded, while a contrived death should be discouraged. The GM should determine which category the character’s death falls into, and reward (or punish) the new PC accordingly, using one (or more) of the methods for new character creation outlined here.
- Player starts at the same level as (or possibly one or two levels lower than) the lowest character in the group.
- Character starts at first level. Here are the arguments offered for this:
- Why should the other PCs be penalized because one character died? Is it really fair to the other players that Player A gets to be the same level, when Player A’s character died and the other PCs successfully won through the challenge?
- Players tend to value their character’s levels more when they’ve earned them as opposed to simply being handed them. Why not take stupid and unnecessary risks with your 5th level PC if you know the GM will let you create a new 5th level PC?
- All the other characters started at a lower (or even first) level and worked their way up.
- Playing a lower-level PC can be an interesting and challenging experience for a player used to playing a higher-level one.
- Because the player can now bring in a new character, they might min/max the character to better fit the campaign, which could give that character a distinct advantage over PCs created earlier.
- This actually may be the harshest of all the methods. Let the other players decide the new PC’s fate. Give them the option of either starting at 1st level, the same level, or some compromise in between. And while this should eliminate resentment between players (i.e. You let so-and- so start at 5th level when she died!), it could potentially create more (i.e. Your character got killed before we encountered the ancient Wyrm. Why should we let you reap the benefit?)
- Either Way, It’s Still A New PC
Perhaps the best argument for this line of thinking is that if a player doesn’t like his/her PC, they can get them killed off. All it takes is one fudged die roll, one flying leap off a 30′ castle wall, etc.
Also, it’s good to keep in mind that old characters make good NPCs. You remember (hopefully) the mannerisms and habits of the old PC, and the PC has intimate knowledge of the group, which you, the GM, can exploit. Not to mention that you don’t need to spend time creating their stats.
And of course, rewarding the players and keeping them happy and interested is important to any campaign, so if their character dies, or they’re bored of it, they should be allowed to make a new one. Now based on this ‘unbiased’ approach, here are the suggestions for dealing with new PCs:
- Same level as old character. After all, in most systems there’s no hard and fast rule that players HAVE to play a first level character!
- Same level, but with disadvantages:
- No prior knowledge of the campaign.
- Character loses all magic items, equipment, favors owed, etc. In a long-running campaign, this can be a major disadvantage. The player’s old character is dead, so the party can’t go to Zarn the Priest and ask him for major healing spells anymore because the old character saved his illegitimate son; the new one didn’t.
- Character works for what they get. That could mean that they have to create a damn good background, detailing things their character has done to justify the higher level, and that they have to find a way to work themselves into the party rather than leaving it to the GM.
- Average level. Character starts either at or behind the average power level of the other PCs or the GM gives the PC the average xp of the party. In this way, the character will be ‘useful’, but will likely not be the ‘best’ or ‘most powerful’.
- Give the new PC 10% of the highest level character’s xp.
- Use the dice.
- Vampire Revised offers a method where you give 1d10 per 10 points of experience earned by the AVERAGE character in the party, which would be spent as experience points instead of the more valuable freebie points. Based on this method, the new PC would have been given 2d10, resulting in between 2-20 xp.
- Dice determines starting magic items for a PC.
- Percentile dice determine how much xp is carried over from the old character.
- Make character 1/2 to 1 level lower than the original PC.
- Make the character first level. Everyone else had to start there. And if the GM creates well-balanced scenarios, the players will have fun regardless of what level their character is at. And while this philosophy seems harsh, here are some ways to compensate for it:
- Give the PC knowledge important to the campaign. Perhaps he knows the location of the secret Imperial base they’ve been searching for. Or he knows the ‘truth’ about that nasty villain who’s been plaguing the PCs.
- Limited use magic items. Perhaps the character has a +4 sword lent to him by a priestly order that must be returned at a later point in time. Another example might be a wand of fireballs with 8 charges left.
- Prepare a solo campaign for the PC until the PC is ready to join (if it takes longer than expected, have the player play an NPC until they can safely join the PCs). Or, alternately, allow the PC to join, but have ‘side tasks’ that only they can complete (and thus is the only one that gains xp). For example, while in town, a merchant could hire the PC thief to steal a scroll from the library of a fellow collector of rare historical texts.
- Accelerated progression. The DMG has a suggested rule of using ‘accelerated progression’ for PCs. That is, you take the experience earned and offer another 20% as bonus, similar to the 10% xp bonus given to a character with better than average stats. This gives the PC an opportunity to ‘catch up’ without overly punishing the other PCs (or making them miss out on RP opportunities.)
- Experience Point Vouchers (EPVs). One GM gives these to those players who contribute above and beyond simply playing. Examples of this include (but are not limited to) a weekly campaign journal, regularly maintaining a website for the game, detailed time lines, and sketches (using any medium) of their character or those of the other players or perhaps even a recurring NPC.
In a nutshell, any effort that enhances the game but is not part of the gaming session. These vouchers can be redeemed for a character only during game downtime, which can include any time spent resting in a town, doing spell research, or even time spent resting in a dungeon, as they are meant to represent ‘inspiration’. “It was unclear last night, but upon thinking about it, it suddenly makes sense!” And of course, if a player loses their character, the EPVs can be redeemed as a way of gaining an extra level or two.
- Communication: This is by far the most important thing. Make sure your players know what your policies are regarding new characters in advance, rather than when they want (or need) to change.
- Dealing With A Bored Player
In a perfect world, everyone would be happy with the character they created. But things happen. The player might have expected a ‘social’ campaign that turned into a ‘hack and slash’ game, negating their character’s abilities. They get bored with the PC. It happens, so now you have to deal with it.
- Perhaps the most important thing may be to find out why the player wants to ditch the character.
- GM might be able to help the player rediscover the ‘coolness’ of their character. Perhaps all that is really needed is fine-tuning, rather than a new character.
- Flavor of the week. The player has just discovered a new rule/class/ability and wants to use it. This smacks a bit of power gaming and should be discouraged quickly, especially when you consider that some systems (like d20) come out with new supplements fairly regularly.
- Player frustration. The player is frustrated by the PC’s limitations and rather than work around them or going in a different direction, chooses to abandon the PC. Again, the GM should try to help the player.
- The player may be bored of the game, not of the character, and allowing them to change won’t really make them happy.
- Most GMs will allow a player to change PCs. Here are some of the reasons offered, as well as some suggestions:
- Abandoned characters make good NPCs. As discussed before, their stats are already created for you. And it can be quite interesting when the characters encounter someone who used to be their friend and is now under control of the GM!
- Players should inform the GM in advance of the character change. This gives the GM a chance to work the old PC out of the story and bring a new one in
- Allow the player to use an NPC for a while. That way, they can ‘try out’ the type of character they want to play before making a commitment to it.
- Have the players read the applicable books to their Class/Clan/Tribe to chart a path of progress for the old character. If that fails, allow the player to switch, but ask that they plan for the “long-term”. Character continuity and consistency are good for the game, as well as for the GM.
- Character changes are not reversible.
- Once a player switches characters, they can’t change their mind. This could mean the death and/or dismemberment of the old character (some GMs won’t play the old character as an NPC) which might make the player think twice.
- Player should not be allowed to play the same “Class” of PC. After all, if they’re changing characters, why would they want to play the same class twice? Some GMs even apply this rule to dead characters in hopes of preventing the creation of characters that simply want to ‘get even’ with the killers of their old PC. (This tends to be more important in Vampire or Werewolf.)
- Offer the character a heroic death. Don’t tell the player you’re doing this, but offer the PC opportunities to ‘sacrifice’ themselves for the team.
- Characters can ‘leave’ if they have a good reason, but role-playing opportunities should not be denied to the other players. For example, if the PC’s leaving because they want to escape justice, you’re depriving the other players of a good role-playing experience.
- If you do allow a player to change PCs, here is a sampling of how other GMs deal with the level issue:
- Allow the player to start new character at the same level as the old one.
- The character starts at one or two levels lower than the original PC. Try to reward character retention, but don’t entirely discourage switching.
- Give character 10% – 50% of their old character’s xp.
- Give the character minimum experience needed to get to the average level the party.
- Give the character 80% of the experience earned by the lowest character.
- Player CANNOT use already spent xp towards the new character. New characters shouldn’t get credit for things they didn’t do.
- Players cannot change characters unless theirs dies. Period. End of sentence. Character changes disrupt the game and destroy the cohesion of the PCs. Of course, if a GM were to take this harsh a tactic, players would find ways to circumvent the rule by simply ‘suiciding’.
In the end, no matter which policy you intend to use, I believe that communication is by far the best method of all. Tell your players up front what your policies are on character creation, and then there will be far less room for criticism or complaint. Of course, if you’re going strictly ‘by the book’ and use the rules already in place for your own game system (assuming, of course, such rules exist), I think that will garner far less arguments than using some other method.
Now in case you’re curious as to how I intend to resolve my dilemma, well, the past is past, and cannot be readily changed. So what do I intend to do in the future? Well, with luck, my player base will remain stable, no one will get killed off and no one will want to change characters. But failing that, I think I may just leave the decision to the players next time.
Thanks again for all your help.
Walks in Moonlight
Walks in Moonlight, guest author of this week’s tips, needs a few more ideas to help her flesh out the sequel article:
“Greetings again! When I asked for tips on introducing new characters, I don’t feel that I was clear on what I really wanted.
Having run a Werewolf campaign for over two years, I have had a number of players come into the game. And after a while you start to run out of ways to bring a new character into the game. There are only so many times a pack leader can say “Here’s Mr. X. He’s your new buddy.”
So my question to you, the GMs, is how do you go about introducing a new character into an existing game besides the tried and true method of meeting them in a Tavern? Do you make the players do all the work? Or do you give them a break and take on the burden yourself? Or some combination of both?
So, if you have any PC intro tips, send ’em on in to me at:
- Feel Free To Experiment With Kings & Their Citizens
In the same way that different cultures will have different monarchical styles, methods of succession, etc., so too will there be different ways in which the kings interact with the citizens.
Take for example the Forbidden City in China. The emperors are very distant from their people but the laws that they pass have immediate and serious impact on the everyday lives of the population. Another example is the Japanese Emperor under the Shoguns. This style of ruler was largely ceremonial and had no ability to issue laws affecting everyday life. But what about some examples that may be harder to find “real” analogies for?
In one of my games, I have a civilisation where the King (Pharaoh as it turns out) owns literally everything within his/her domain. Essentially, in this kingdom, there is no legal concept of private property. The citizens have a dispensation to use the resources for personal gain (soil and metals from the ground, rain falling from the sky, and the diverted waters of the Nile) in return for taxes, military service and respect for the laws. But in the absence of personal property a very dramatic change takes place in the nature of the relationship between the citizens and the rulers of the land. If the Pharaoh doesn’t like what an individual is doing any and all possessions can be “re- nationalised” without any problems.
As GMs we can make the rules any way we like. One of the interesting points to come out of last week’s tips on kings is the “try it out” concept. It may be that a new Pharaoh ascends to the Sun Throne and wants to give his/her citizens the right to private property. Obviously, this will have a big impact on the culture. But what happens when the next Pharaoh ascends and wants a return to the good old days?
Feel free to try everything you want! Don’t forget, people far more stupid than all of us have been rulers before and they’ve tried things that would make our minds boggle. Why? Because they were the King! You don’t have to justify any legal system, systems of ascension, or whatever. It just is the way it is; and if the PCs want to become rabble-rousing political agitators then that’s great too.
Different styles of monarchical structure will give a nice feel to exotic lands and cultures. You build it how you like then add the PCs and see what happens.
- Tips On Building Dynamic Campaigns
Hey Johnn, I really liked the last issue. I wanted to write in because of the info requested about a “dynamic” campaign. I have a couple more tips for you:
- Have recurring NPCs that are rather important to the setting. I once hosted a campaign where I had a bunch of characters who the PCs ran into from time to time who were pretty detailed and had their own stories going on. I got some feedback about that later on from a player who said that this made him feel like the world was going on outside of his own character, which seems to be the definition for a dynamic campaign.
- For a modern or post-modern campaign (or possibly in a fantasy campaign if done right) give random news reports about world stuff. I haven’t tried this yet but I have it planned for my up-coming weird post-modern campaign. I plan to have a private little episode with each of the players after all the story stuff is out and about, and then feed them with a news report of information that may or may not come up in the campaign. From my visual rehearsals (meaning from when I visualize this session idea in my head) I calculate that it should work well.
Oh, that’s another thing you might want to pass on. If you recall, I used to complain a lot on how I seemed to have lost my gift for GMing. Well, before this seemed to occur, I used to do a lot of visualization. What I would do is imagine sitting at the table with my players and saying all the things I planned to say for important parts, bad-guy speeches, important descriptions, or whatever.
In retrospect, it seemed to work very well, and I plan to return to that with this new campaign. Some self-help and psychology books speak of this concept of visualization for important life stuff. I’ve been reading The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective people and that’s one of the things that they really seem to push that I used to use but never thought about.
- More Dynamic Campaign Tips
From: Simon M.
Keep it very simple, start the party in a small town and let them do all the work. Give them enough money to survive a week. Place several small jobs in the area at their disposal. Simple in-and-out work.
From this handful of small quests you should get a stack of Dramatic & Dynamic hooks and ideas. Make the PCs really busy with NPC interaction by introducing lots of contacts and shady characters. It’s possible to establish 1-3 threads that are happening in your world right now. Keep it like that and don’t over-commit yourself to an early burn-out by loading yourself down with too much campaign management.
Story arcs such as a war somewhere, a new trade route established by a local merchant, an upcoming royal wedding, new discoveries, long lost tombs, are good ideas to work from.
After each game spend time updating your notes. Use a plot tree or some flow charts so that you can easily look back and follow their progress. Keep your work to the local level, where your heroes are adventuring. Keep track of your NPC actions, villains, creatures, and humanoids. Work with motives, goals, perks, flaws and lifestyles for your villains.
- More Info About HackMaster And This Week’s Free HackMaster Module Contest
I didn’t want to load the top of the ezine with this information for those readers who have no interest in HackMaster, so I thought I’d put it here, out of the way but still accessible to those who’d like to know. 🙂
I have yet to play HackMaster, but I’ve snagged the books and have been planning a campaign for awhile now. The game is basically 1st Edition D&D on steroids. It’s a serious and playable game. And don’t let the name fool ya: you can hack or roleplay, it’s up to your group, and the rules allow for either style.
For example, I’ve just boned up on the Honor Rules. Every character has an Honor score that goes up or down according to his/her actions. Having a high Honor gives PCs hero points for re-rolls, automatic successes, bonus EXPs, bonus dice pools, and other benefits. You can burn-off/sacrifice Honor at any time for various benefits as well. Low Honor means EXP penalties, bad karma, and other nasty things.
What I like the most about the Honor system is that it’s based on roleplaying–not hacking. And by roleplaying, I mean heroic or honorable actions, not just/only acting. Diving into a fire and suffering a permanent charisma hit in order to save a child is worth just as much Honor as a clever insult or tear-jerking performance (note though, Honor is not dependant on alignment; evil PCs and NPCs have Honor too).
About The Module That’s Up For Grabs
Noah from Kenzer & Co. sent me this blurb about the contest prize:
“Here is some info on the module B1: Quest For The Unknown.
Many years ago, rumor has it, two noted personages in the area, a fighter of renown and a magic-user of mystery & power, pooled their resources and expertise to construct a home and stronghold for the two of them to use as a base of operations. Word just reaching civilization tells of their demise. If one only had the knowledge and wherewithal to find their hideaway, there would be great things to explore!
This is the first instructional module designed for use with HackMaster, filled with plenty of hacking for beginning players.”
Here’s a link with more info: http://www.kenzerco.com/rpg/hackmaster/
Good luck in the contest!