Creating Pre-Gens, for WPG (or any game)

edited August 2008 in Story Games
NerdNYC is running a little mini-convention in early September, and I agreed to run a four-hour session of With Great Power... I was thinking of using pre-gens based on "real" superheroes, to (a) facilitate audience investment and (b) save time on char-gen. But I've never used pre-gens before (or run a game at a con).

Questions:

1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using pre-gens? I feel that with supers games, audience investment is absolutely key, and while it's possible to achieve this with "new" characters, it usually takes longer than 4 hours playing with strangers. But I've never played this way before and I'm not sure how it would work.

2. I'm going to have 3-5 players. How many pre-gens should I create?

3. How detailed should pre-gens be? Right now I'm thinking that for certain characters, there'd be a lot of detail for someone who wants "the real deal," and for others (i.e., those characters I don't know very well) there'd be a lot of blank spaces for customization, and players could pick and choose based on how much freedom they would like.

4. For With Great Power... specifically, should I establish the Struggle beforehand? Or should we do that at the table? On the one hand, I think having the Struggle beforehand would allow me to prepare a little bit more, and select some pre-gens that I know fit into the themes. On the other hand, I think establishing the thematic conflict and creating a roster of characters might be domineering and un-fun for the players.

5. (This is just for fluff.) So, if you had to pick Marvel or DC characters for pre-gens, who would be on your shortlist?

Comments

  • FYI, I haven't read WGP yet.

    1. Pregens save time and reduce the amount of effort players need to invest in order to participate. Unless the game is designed to quickly create PCs and/or requires player authorship at that stage, I'd suggest not bogging things down with chargen. That said, you can leave certain details up to the players. This can be anything from the PC's name to the choice of a few Aspects/Feats (depending on the system).

    2. Unless the game involves a high PC body count, I'd make as many PCs as you expect there to be players.

    3. For one-shots, I think you need to keep detail to a minimum. E.g., when I run d20-based games like D&D, I try to evoke a PC (outside of the typical stats) with a compelling picture, flavorful choice of equipment, and maybe a 1-2 sentence in-character quote that sums up their basic concept. Long back-stories are a waste of everyone's time. Let the player fill in the details.

    If you're going to use existing, well-known DC or Marvel characters, I don't think you really need to provide more than a picture, honestly.

    4. I abstain!

    5. IMO, the strongest archetypes are the Justice League: Supes, Batman, WW, Flash, GL, etc. If you go Marvel, the X-Men, Spidey, and the core Avengers (Thor, Hulk, Cap, Iron Man) are probably the most well-known.
  • I do a fair number of convention-based one-shots, and I always have pre-generated characters. For Gen Con I brought a complete TSOY adventure and all the PCs written up, with the exception of four abilities (one Expert and three Competent) that I asked players to add, to round out their dude to their liking.

    I try to point the pre-gens strongly at one another, which is tricky if there is a flexible number of participants. In a 4-6 player session, I'll have six PCs, four of which are pointed at each other and two of which are pointed at each other as well as mildly at one of the other four. If I have less than five, the four core dudes get handed out first.

    People will be happier to take a pre-made character and leap directly into the action than spend precious game time crafting their own unique flower of awesome, in my experience. Just make every one fun to play and part of the relationship map.
  • edited August 2008
    Here's most of my answer, hope you find something useful there.

    Here's a couple things I didn't cover in the blog post above:

    2. I ran my game with four players and that might have been one too many for a four hour slot. But I Buzz has the right answer for almost any convention game (PS - I've run high-body-count games with multiple pre-gened character for replacements!)

    5. I think the question is, which of these supers can most of your players come up with four aspect for on their own? I'd be hard pressed for Superman and Batman - not because I don't know them but because they have become very shallow over their 70+ years of existence. Also, if their aspects are too played out on the big screen, then it might be hard to do something interesting with them at the table. More conflicted characters like, Spidey, any X-Person, etc, make better WGP characters, but you still have to watch out for the "been there, done that" problem. Turning a well-known group darker or tearing it apart could work well for WGP, but I think you'd need everyone's buy in.

    I agree with Jason's advice on pre-gens in a more generic sense. The 4 to 6 player problem is the bane of everyone who wants character-driven convention games.
  • Scott, wow, that's helpful! Thanks! I really like your approach of pre-defining the Strife aspect and leaving everything else loose. It certainly takes the load off the GM to improvise something.
  • No problem! Thanks for giving me an excuse to show it off.
  • edited August 2008
    Hi, James! Thanks for running WGP... at RECESS.
    Posted By: James_Nostack1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using pre-gens?
    When Kat and I run con scenarios, we each prep 5 heroes with 4 aspects a piece. We also prep 2-3 villains that might menace these heroes. At the table, we have the players choose their Strife, and then craft the Plan and draft which villain or villains will actually be in play. BTW, we craft the Plan publicly in front of everyone, particularly to guage the interest of the players in the direction of the Plan. When I put forward an idea, I can easily see whether the players are thrilled at the idea of stopping it, or just thinking they'd put that issue of the comic back on the shelf. If it's the latter, then I change the Plan until I get a reaction like the former.

    Scott's idea above of having pre-gen Strifes, Villains and Plans, and allowing the rest of the Aspects to be created at the table sounds really cool. I might have to try that at my next con.
    2. I'm going to have 3-5 players. How many pre-gens should I create?
    Kat and I usually make 5 characters for a scenario. Often, 2 of them will have strong ties to each other, and the other 3 will have strong ties with each other, so with 2 players, you hand out subgroup A, with 3 players, you use subgroup B, and with 4 players, you leave out one of subgroup B. OF course, there's also no big problem with just laying out all the characters, giving a very brief intro (3-5 sentences) to them, and letting the players choose. Most players can innately sense connections between characters and choose accordingly.

    By "strong ties" between characters, I usually mean something like having each other as a Relationship Aspect, or perhaps sharing the same Relationship Aspect, or having a common orign or motivation.
    3. How detailed should pre-gens be?
    See above
    4. ForWith Great Power...specifically, should I establish the Struggle beforehand? Or should we do that at the table?
    I always establish it beforehand. There's so little time at a convention, and the Struggle tends to be such a head-scratcher, that it's really not worth the trouble. So much stuff gets layered on top of the Struggle that players often forget about it. When I eventually revise the game, I'm not sure if I'm going to make it as central as I have. It hasn't proven itself to be so vital to my own post-publication play. But that's a topic for a different thread.
    5. (This is just for fluff.) So, if you had to pick Marvel or DC characters for pre-gens, who would be on your shortlist?
    I'm a Marvel man, myself (as if you couldn't tell). One thing we've done in a number of our con scenarios is to do "Inspired by..." set-ups. I have a scenario called "Mutant Academy" that is very much like the X-men, but all the characters are original. I have the straight-arrow team leader, and the tough rebel, and the optimistic good girl, and the spy for the Bad Guys, but they're my own characters. When I intro the game to the players, I make a big tongue-in-cheek deal of saying how these are completely my own ideas, 100% original and stolen from nobody, certainly not The Uncanny X-men. It serves to break the ice of playing with new people a little bit, lets players know that I love this superhero stuff and love making new things out of it even more, and frees them from any bounds of "keeping canon," which is always death to a game like WGP.

    E-mail me at my gmail account: stalwartIP and I'll send you the characters so you can see what I mean.

    One last thing. Pay the $10 and use Heromachine to make pictures of your characters. Comics are a visual medium, after all.
  • Michael, during the typical 4-hour convention slot, how far do you get through the plot? I usually only have time to get through one big fight or two smaller ones and about halfway through the plot arc (even counting cards two-for-one), but we have lots of aspect-priming enrichment scenes. But that's been a pretty satisfying con experience for the players. If you have convention tips on how to get to the finish, I'd love to hear them as the redemption and transformation of aspects is one part of the game I usually don't get to at a con and I've found it a very rewarding part of the game.
  • edited August 2008
    Hi Michael, thanks for the reply! If you and Kat are going to be in Brooklyn on 9/6, I'll make room for you in the game.
    we each prep 5 heroes with 4 aspects a piece. We also prep 2-3 villains that might menace these heroes. At the table, we have the players choose their Strife, and then craft the Plan and draft which villain or villains will actually be in play.

    That's more or less how I planned to do it.
    we craft the Plan publicly in front of everyone, particularly to guage the interest of the players in the direction of the Plan.

    Interesting: I wasn't thinking of full disclosure, as WGP is one of the few indie games that explicitly directs the GM to withhold information from the players. I'll have to mull that over: I can see doing it in public can increase the dramatic irony, I'm just worried about not providing enough excitement. I'm concerned a little bit about the "Czege Principle," which I think is a bit more relevant to WGP than other games.

    My idea was to devise the Plan while the players were figuring out ways their aspects can suffer. But I suppose if I get blocked, or can't think of anything good, I can always enlist them to help brainstorm, since it would be in public anyway. This also might sidestep the problem I've noticed where players usually guess the plan way in advance, and sometimes pretend like they don't know it.
    OF course, there's also no big problem with just laying out all the characters, giving a very brief intro (3-5 sentences) to them, and letting the players choose. Most players can innately sense connections between characters and choose accordingly.

    This is what I was thinking of doing, but I like that "sub-group A / sub-group B" approach too. Hmm!
    One thing we've done in a number of our con scenarios is to do "Inspired by..." set-ups. I have a scenario called "Mutant Academy" that is very much like the X-men, but all the characters are original...

    This is what I've done in the past, but this time I'm almost certainly going to use "established" characters for three reasons.

    (1) When I get bored, I sometimes "stat" published superheroes for various RPG's, and I want to get a return on that investment;
    (2) I've never seen a WGP... actual play report using published characters, and I'm curious to know how it would work;
    (3) 99% of RPG's place an emphasis on home-grown characters, and I'm curious to see what happens when gamers have a "spec."

    We'll see what happens.
    [Cheerfully derivative characters] serves to break the ice of playing with new people a little bit, lets players know that I love this superhero stuff and love making new things out of it even more, and frees them from any bounds of "keeping canon," which is always death to a game like WGP.

    Yeah, I've got two plans for the canon problems:
    (1) Leaving a couple aspects blank, or offering a choice. I have no idea what the Flash's motivation is, for example, so that's open to the player to define. Or: for a while in the 1990's, Superman was some blue guy who had electricity powers, so Superman's player could choose whether he prefers Classic or Lame-Nineties version.

    (2) DC, and to a lesser extent Marvel, have this whole "parallel realities" stuff going on. I plan to say our game is a parallel universe, and so n00bies who don't know continuity don't have to fret about it, whereas comics nerds can get all worked up over whether Nick Fury is white or black.
  • Posted By: scottdunphyMichael, during the typical 4-hour convention slot, how far do you get through the plot?
    Hi, Scott.

    I normally get about as far as you do. 2-3 enrichment scenes per player, and a big conflict scene for everybody. My wife, however, usually gets through the whole story arc with 4 players in four and a quarter to four and a half hours. Most players are having such fun at her table that they don't mind running over. That's why I often say she runs the game better than I do.
  • Posted By: James_NostackInteresting: I wasn't thinking of full disclosure, asWGPis one of the few indie games that explicitly directs the GM to withhold information from the players. I'll have to mull that over: I can see doing it in public can increase the dramatic irony, I'm just worried about not providing enough excitement. I'm concerned a little bit about the "Czege Principle," which I think is a bit more relevant toWGPthan other games.
    In play, I haven't found this to be a problem. In fact, making the Plan publicly increases the excitement at the table, as I can taunt the players with the terrible things that will befall them if they lose. Just as knowing both the Stakes and CounterStakes of an enrichment or conflict scene beforehand makes the choices within that scene more meaningful, having the Plan as public knowledge acts as a sort of CounterStakes for the entire story.

    One note about soliciting player input, is I try to use it as a suggestion for a general direction for the villain's Plan. Then, I try to put that little extra twist that really makes the players quirm. Lame example:
    Player: "Maybe if the villain transforms my motivation it will become 'I smash anyone who questions me.' I become a thug."
    GM: "How about it becomes 'I hunt down my wife, for all the times she questioned me in the past.'"
    Player: "Oooh. You're evil."

    Definitely let me know how the game goes.
  • Thanks for the responses Michael! I had the same question as James and I will probably try that next weekend at my WGP home game (it's the first session).

    And it's good to here that not even your wife can get it all in four hours! I try to never go over the time limit, even if the players want me too, but hopefully I can get a Story Games Lounge going at the next local con and not have to worry so much. Definitely a good confidence booster that I'm doing as well time-wise as the author.
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