Joshua Kitz is the author of The Sanctum of the Fiery Ladder, winner of 6d6’s adventure writing competition. He is currently working on his own super-heros RPG called Simple Superheros and he sent us a few thoughts on character generation and RPG design.
When you sit down and begin contemplating designing your own Role Playing Game a number of questions arise. One that became pivotally important for myself is . . .
What is the greatest strength of table-top Role Playing Games versus other mediums of entertainment?
Certainly it is not the speed and ease of combat, computer games have far outstripped us there. Wether the graphics of the computer and television have outstripped the graphics of the imagination is something that could be debated, but this is not the revelation that struck me.
The greatest strength of a pen-and-paper RPG is the *collaboration* and the *creativity*. It is the combination of various ideas, personalities and backgrounds into something that is greater than one person could ever create. This depends on the existence of a live human who can react to anything a player comes up with. Be it a combat action, a piece of roleplaying, or a new character concept or backstory. Many pen-and-paper set limits of various kinds on players imagination and contributions to the story.
Thus a primary goal of the superheros game that I designed was to encourage player creativity from the very beginning, that is during character creation. Moreover the whole needed to be very simple and thus flexible.
Because RPGs greatest strength is in the collaboration the game has been designed not to restrict you or your players creativity but to encourage it. It is a toolkit to unlock an interactive story, to build a game universe (with its own unique conceit, rules and limitations) that could never exist without *all* of you. Other games are limited by what the designers were able to imagine and expect, a RPG need not be so. When you and your players brainstorm characters, as GM you should always explore the ideas they present. A concept for a power should always be possible, limitations and weakness should be discussed until it fits within the power frame of all the rest of your characters.
Early ideas from the players on their characters, their background and the world should help you shape the universe. In this way each groups game can and should be different and each new universe created by your group should feel new. Encourage and adapt your universe to your players creativity. This philosophy lowers the burden of being the GM and gives the players a greater stake in your shared universe.
A pen-and-paper RPG is not like a book, movie or play, it is something so much more then the sum of its parts. It is a infinitely flexible story with many authors whose creativity is only limited by what you and your table willingly impose on it. There is no correct way to play a RPG: for its greatest tenet is fun for all participants.
Hence variations on themes and ‘rules’ are encouraged. Don’t shy away from being derivative, for this is a great strength that allows a collective common ground to be easily developed and understood. Originality is merely creative fusion of what has gone before.
(C) Joshua Kitz