So you’ve got a great idea in mind for your next game — how do you handle PC creation? Not in the sense of, say, point buy vs. rolling for stats, but in terms of making sure you wind up with a fun, playable party of PCs.

Most GMs have their own ways of handling this, and I want to look at a few of the more popular ones here — but I’m also interested in a completely different approach: having the players collaborate on character creation.

This is a delicate issue, because in most RPGs the only thing that the players have control over is their characters. So why would anyone want to give up some of that control? Let’s work up to that by looking at some of the ways that GMs can encourage the creation of a non-random group of PCs.

Themes: Most games have a theme — for example: “Mercenaries who were hired to fight a proxy war between two spacefaring merchant houses.” This gives the players good idea of what kinds of characters will be viable, fun to play and useful to the group. Some GMs prefer to dictate the theme, while others allow player input to mold the concepts behind the game.

Restrictions: If you’ve played D&D, you’ve probably heard this one: “No evil alignments.” Even though D&D is typically about a party of heroes, there’s always that one guy who wants to kill babies and steal from the other PCs — and in most games, this just doesn’t work. As long as you’re not too restrictive, setting some limits is generally a good idea.

Pregenerated Characters: For most home games, this is a bad idea unless you’re running a one-shot (although it’s perfect for conventions). While it’s nice to know that every aspect of the party will dovetail perfectly with your game (making scenario creation a breeze), it’s also pretty boring for the players.

A Character Gen Session: It’s pretty common practice to sit down before the game and talk about characters, share books and exchange ideas, and this can work quite well. Having a session for character generation is an easy way to make sure the party doesn’t have four bards in it, and the players don’t lose any creative control in the process.

Some games take that approach — the character generation session — one step further, and have the players work together to build their characters, not just talk about them. That’s the idea that I’d like to explore here.

Primetime Adventures (PTA) is a perfect example of this: the PCs are all part of the same TV show, and the players collaborate to create not only their characters, but also the supporting cast and the framework of the show. PTA is definitely an exception, though — most RPGs aren’t set up this way.

But there’s nothing stopping you from using this approach in the games you already play — and it sounds like a lot of fun to me.

So when wouldn’t this approach work? It wouldn’t work in games that are built around intrigue and infighting between the PCs (like Vampire or Paranoia), where in-character secrets are paramount. (Edit: John pointed out in the comments that the above is only true if you’re into immersion — if not, separating player and PC knowledge isn’t an issue, and this approach will work just fine in both Vampire and Paranoia.) I also can’t see it working well with players who don’t like coming up with character ideas on the spot — but apart from those two exceptions, I think you should be able to fit collaborative PC generation into most RPGs.

What would be involved? Not a whole lot in the way of mechanics, for one thing: I’m not suggesting that every stat and skill be micro-managed by the whole group. The idea is to collaborate on the broad strokes, with an eye to what choices will make the game more fun for everyone.

This would include sharing ideas, thinking about themes for the party — and connections between PCs, and between PCs and NPCs. (It’s reasonable to expect a bit of give and take, as well, but I think on the whole that open compromise is better than quiet frustration.)

That said, I can see this idea falling flat with some of the folks that I’ve gamed with over the years, which is okay — it’s not for everyone. If you propose this idea for your next game and just hear crickets, it’s probably best to leave it at that!

Since I’ve never tried this out, I’m curious to hear about your experiences with collaborative PC creation. Have you given this a shot, whether in a game that’s built for it (like PTA) or one that isn’t (like D&D)? If you haven’t tried it, what do you think of the idea? And what have I overlooked?