Sloppy Ensemble Cast Creation

edited November 2018 in Actual Play
I'm sure there's a much more elegant way to go about it, but I thought I'd share what I do, sometimes with friends to make pc group dynamics interesting. Or at least my attempt. I mean, rules can only do so much.

So, I have everyone write down an aspect, like a trait. You guys know what I mean. I give 'em a sharpie and a somewhat small index card. Like, those half-sized ones. This way they can't write too much. I don't want a sentence or even three words, but one word or maybe two is just fine. I think one word is best, but sometimes people have trouble distilling something down to a word.

So after they've written their important trait down, I have them show everyone what they wrote. This way, they have a thing that is their own.

Then, I ask everyone to make opposite words for each trait. Sometimes a trait will have a couple different approaches. Sometimes there's no clear cut opposite, but a bunch. That's okay.

I ask everyone to choose an opposite trait. I ask that they please not choose the same one that someone else has chosen. If that means, taking the little piece of paper that the trait is written on, that's okay. If you can work this out without much fuss, that's great too.

The third step is someone writes a trait for your character. You have to accept this new trait. You can decide this however you like, but getting everyone involved is I believe the best thing.
It coaxes people into letting go of creative control. Also, it get's another player invested, and it might give a person the sense that someone is interested in their just-made-up thing.
Someone is interested in your idea.

That's it.


  • Shared character creation is a wonderful thing, in a lot of ways. (Although some players will bristle at it! For instance, someone who used my "It All Ends in Tears" playset found it a negative that the setup process decides some things about your character, or allows other players to do so.)

    I'm not sure I'm following the "opposite words for each trait" part of your post, though. Can you illustrate with an example?

    Is the idea simply that the character ensemble has to each choose a trait from a pool of traits which are the opposite of the original traits created by each individual player? So that, for instance, a "Strong" character in the group means that someone else must choose to be "Weak"? If I understood that correctly, I like it, although I'd have to try it to see how it feels in practice. (For instance, the last person to pick effectively gets no say in what their character's second and third traits are.)
  • @Nathan_H this sounds pretty good to me!

    Have you played Shooting the Moon (by Emily Care Boss, part of Romance Trilogy)? You should like that one. It uses a very similar technique to create three tightly-bound characters (with a specific built-in imbalance).

    Now, my question is, what game(s) do you use this for? Does the game that follows build and expand on this form of character creation, or does it feel like a tacked-on bit?
  • Paul, yes.

    James T. Kirk - Intuitive/Spiritual, Mr. Spock - Logical, Bones - Emotional

    Or if just doing two made up ones, Grizzled, with the opposite being Naive, Inexperienced, or Trusting... one of those would work.
    I was thinking about two characters on the television show Barney Miller.
    A contrast helps you see the other side better.

    Paul, I let people just write a made up word. I don't have them choose from something already written down. They pull this word from the very place were their own ideas come from, their wells of imagination.

    I'm not sure I follow this whole, the last person get's no choice thing? Let me reread what you wrote.

    So, a player get's to choose their second trait, but not simply from their imagination. It's gotta be one that contrasts with another player characters trait. The third trait is handed to them, by an individual or creative consensus.

    Rafu, no. But I maybe should?
    I've used this with games that have Traits/Aspects and with games that don't, as a sort of guide. It's simple enough that it can be tacked on to another game without too much fuss. I maybe wish it weren't the case, like I wish that these words had merit in the games that just used them as a stencil for more detailed character creation.

    I just thought it'd be nice to share what I do, because I think character chemistry can be poor in many rpgs. Even fancy modern rpgs.
  • It looks pretty good to me and I'd use it as is if I felt something was missing from the character creation process of the game I was about to play. Thank you for sharing.
  • edited November 2018
    I like this technique.
    Why not start with your 3rd step ? Saying :
    1 you have to care for the others' contributions and
    2 see, it doesn't hurt, you invested in your character within 30 seconds no matter what.

    Also, is drawing a relationship map too long ? It lets people see where the bonds are feeble.
  • Ah, so in step two you write your own trait? I got the impression from your initial summary that everyone wrote one and then passed them around. That makes more sense.
  • edited November 2018
    DeReel, I start with the step where people have complete freedom, within the limitations of the little piece of paper and their imagination, because the whole thing is getting people to relinquish authorship/ownership of some kinda bullshit half-assed idea thing. It get's them to slowly accept someone else's input. That's step three.

    Paul, it doesn't matter, whoever comes up with a good enough word that contrasts with one that someone else wrote. It can be you, or another player. It's never happened that I've been left scratching my head. I have never needed to assign a particular word to anyone, but I do prompt and remind. I do take an active role in facilitating this. If you need more direction, after step one, hand your paper to your left and have that person write an opposite down. There might be a couple words that work. Allow for that.

    Like, I just watched LA Confidential and the two main characters are Direct and Indirect/Political. Direct could be Forceful or Blunt?

    It doesn't matter who does it, but come up with a word or two that's an opposite or contrast with something another player has written. This should be talked about like a conversation. I don't care if the first step isn't, but the second one should be. I mean, sooner or later you're gonna be talking with these people, so why not start now?

    I see no reason why who does what matters. It seems like a non-issue. If one person is feeling creative, and writes down a couple opposites for the traits in step one, what's it matter? It's no more haphazard than creating a cast of characters in most rpgs. You'll figure it out.

    I did use the word Sloppy in the discussion title.
  • OK, you prefer to do it progressively.
  • edited November 2018
    I was trying to understand whether, and step two you wrote your own trait, or if someone else did it for you. It sounds like your answer is "whichever!"

  • edited December 2018
    Step 2a you come up with a contrary
    Step 2b you pick a contrary (melee ensues)
    Some players will want the same, some players won't have client. I love these election games (marriage, the farmer in his den, etc.) If you don't state a priority to solve ex aequo it is solved by consensus. It's okay if there are lots of third parties.
  • Paul,
    At some point, you're gonna have to collaborate with these schmucks that you're hopefully, occasionally looking at.

    It doesn't matter who. I'd rather it be someone else, but it doesn't matter who. What matters is that you have to select one of these contrasting/opposite traits in step two.

    This is just a way for some people to ease into collaboration.

  • Ok, so check me on this shorthand:

    * In step two, everyone should write a trait that's the opposite of a trait created in step one. (It can be, but doesn't have to be, your trait.)

    * Everyone collaboratively splits these among the group, so everyone gets one.

    * Move on to step three.

    Close, or not?
  • edited December 2018
    Hey, I finally assembled something like that with narrative wings. Just watch :
    Pick 3 pairs of conflicting notions for the whole table : Discipline vs Harmony, Cold reason vs Gut feelings, Alone vs Together, Magic vs Mundane, etc.
    Then make everybody pick their character concepts (Major and minor) in relation with at least half the notions.
    What a relation is could be entirely subjective but should be communicable. If I say Sorcery is Gut x Magic and Commanding Officer is Cold reason X Together, I think it speaks for itself. BTW, these two don't share the same story world. Commanding Officer could be Discipline under other circumstances, whatever.
    Of course, characters can evolve, but this indicates where their resources are at the start. They have a horse in each race.
    The trick is : frame the players early into the Common. Less rifraf ensues.
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