Monday, October 22, 2012


Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed.  
             - Zoe Washburne.  Serenity (2005), by Joss Whedon

When I ran D&D games in Duluth, that was a favorite quote.  It embodies what really happens when someone tries to save the day.  It usually goes wrong.  When it doesn't, we give people heaps of praise and place them in the limelight.  Out of my friends, Fletcher especially dislikes heroes, or rather he doesn't believe in the idea.  Let him give you the full explanation, but despite his distaste, his RP Characters always seemed to be endowed with heroics.  They believed that it was one of their valued qualities, and Fletcher did an excellent job of playing that up.  Inversely, my own characters always seem to abhor the idea of heroes, to the extent that they don't believe they could ever be one no matter the circumstances.  I'm beginning to think that those concepts are rubbing off on me as well.

I love the idea that people can be heroes.  Many of my games focus around a group of people saving the world, kingdom, blah blah.  In the end, they become recognized figures in songs and tales.  I ran game after game that had a save the world ending when I was in high school, but that slowly began to change when I discovered that there was no real persistence to a world after that story had played out.  As such, Saratta was born, and I began telling stories that didn't always mean a terrible end to the world (and they don't leave it in ruin).

Becoming a hero always seems to come toward the conclusion of each tale (or anti-hero depending on the game).  It is at a pivotal moment when a group could simply give up and say to heck with it that they turn things around to become heroic figures.  This has been my general expectation out of RPGs, so when a game throws that off it can be a bit shocking.  In this case I'm speaking of a moment during the storyline of Guild Wars 2 where a commanding officer of a rather military-esque group stated to my character "We need Heroes, not tale-tellers".

In that moment I was immediately drawn out of the game and I found myself annoyed.  Annoyed because the last thing a military group needs is some Hero charging recklessly into battle.  Heroes don't put thought into their actions, they simply do something, and with a little luck they can succeed.  But they don't always succeed, and as such, the last thing a military organization would want is a Hero (unless it were trying to boost troop moral, but they would "create" the hero at that point).

In the many games that I've run, that "charge before thinking!" trait has always been hand in hand with every group that considers their characters to be a hero.  They damn the consequences of their actions and simply go for it.  It can be fun, but it can also get the group killed.  As a DM you want heroes in a game to make for some amazing action, but as I learned playing Guild Wars, please, please, don't call them heroes outright unless what they have accomplished can really be heroic.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'm Probably Going to Kill Them

I've been doing a considerable amount of prep work for the upcoming game.  I've had 2 months now to make sure I have some of the work done in advance so I don't get stuck ad libbing the whole session.  As a result, I have begun crafting some pretty devious combat sequences - I just need to take some time now to get the monsters on paper.  As a result though, I'm getting the feeling that some of the encounters can and probably will prove to be overwhelming.  In short, I'll probably kill the whole group if they aren't cautious.  That's what a GM is supposed to do right?

Combat sequences fall near and dear to peoples hearts when it comes to RPGs.  I'm a bit of a romantic when it comes to wanting an Epic battle against a dragon, or bringing down the big bad.  Plenty of others mirror that feeling, and there are also those who make combat out to be the most important aspect of the game - hence the reason for Combat being the third pillar of the RPG.  It is important to many RPGs (even though creating a non-combat conflict will elicit better roleplay) and will give some of your players the escape that they are seeking.  With large groups though, creating the perfect encounter is a challenging endeavor.

If you play with a large group, you already know how time consuming a combat session can be.  I'm not sure why anyone would like to sit through such an occurrence, but for those who do, I will continue crafting combat worthy of your swords and hammers.  More people in a group means more actions that everyone can do.  More actions means more people having to figure out what they want to do.  Add your 1000 goblins to the mix and you easily have a combat sequence that could last for hours.  If you go too easy and only put 1 monster in though, the combat could only take 10 minutes because the group could kill it in a single round.  Where is the happy medium?

Sometimes making a hit point sponge is the only way to help soak up the damage that a large group can deal, but you don't have to limit yourself to such creatures.  When you have a large group (or even a small group, as they are easier to adapt to) you need to start thinking outside of the box a little in terms of the creatures you use against the group.  Change things up a little bit too.  Just because the book says a monster can only hit 1 target with a beam weapon, make the creature use the beam as a sweeping attack to hit many.  This has proven to be quite effective for my combat sessions and makes people spread out a bit.

Tailor some creatures for specific members of the group to take down too.  Flying creatures that can only be hit by ranged, or a creature that is easily attracted to the groups heavy armored "tanks".  I get some of my inspiration for monster fights based upon the boss battles from MMOs.  There they have many people working to take down a creature, and the most interesting battles require everyone's participation to overcome.  I'll use one of my more recent monsters as an example of something you can use in a large group.

The creature is a demonic Minotaur with a double headed axe that has a mouth on one of the blades (ever seen the Unnatural Axe from Munchkin?).  5 eyes float above the monster.  The creature attacks the nearest things with the axe, allowing the demon to regain health if it kills someone.  The eyes above shoot beams at everyone while the creature fights.  The beams transform the victims hands into a maw of teeth that hungers for their flesh.  The eyes attack the greatest damage dealers.  Close combat characters with a good AC keep the main creature distracted while the eyes are taken down.  Then everyone can focus damage on the main threat that gains additional attacks as it becomes weakened.  The end result was a pretty cool monster fight and some near deaths.

The whole combat took a lot of time though, greatly limiting the potential roleplay that I could get out of the situation but providing enough tension to keep people interested.  Unique creatures or unique abilities can go a long way toward keeping your large group interested in combat even if it gets long.  Try to avoid back to back combat though, unless that is the type of group you are running.  I've found that too much combat will burn me out unless there are some RP breaks in between.  I have definitely written in such breaks into the coming game, and it might help your own sanity if you give it a try too.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lets All Go This Way

Like the last post, this one focuses on large groups and how you to handle some of the hardships that will arise.  I was reminded from the comments about just how often people dislike large groups, and even I have to agree with them.  If I could have a group that met my target number, the game experience would be far more streamline.  Still, there are options available for having fun with large groups.  Today we are going to take on the second "pillar" Exploration.

Exploration entails delving into the world, learning the area and trying to discover new things.  It also embodies the plot that you have created.  With a small group, you get to deliver the game to all of the players at once.  That is the most ideal for maintaining interest, but a large group requires a more subtle touch.  You need to weave the story in a way that gets the plot points across but still includes everyone in the story.

It is very likely that your party will break up into sub-groups during the course of an adventure.  Sometimes this is strictly social, but all too often it can turn into a headache when dealing with the exploration aspect of a game.  My current game for instance has a wizard and apprentice who needed to go to a mages college to administer a test to prove that the apprentice could become a full fledged mage.  Meanwhile, the rest of the group was doing other stuff (I don't quite recall what 'other stuff is, so we'll just make that part up a bit) - Stealing from a nobles house... and general mischief at a bar.

With 3 separate events going on, there is little that a GM can do aside from asking for patience from the rest of the group while you tell another's tale.  A GM needs to spend a little time to keep the story interesting enough that it satisfies the needs of the immediate players, and keeps everyone else entertained as well.  GMs need to be especially mindful during split sessions to keep the mini-adventure short so as to maintain the interest of the other player.  It is also wise to give each group their own 10 minutes but make sure you don't make the entire game session go this way.  It will loose the attention of the group.  You may even loose interest in what is going on.  I know I have.  Take it from me, close up shop for the day and pull out board games and just let the group tangent.  Just because it is D&D day (or Shadowrun, Vampire, GRUPS, or whatever you like to play) doesn't mean you can't do other things with friends.

When you need to bring the subgroups together, create some action that is at a central point for the group.  I usually accomplish this through combat or NPC directives.  Perhaps a thief is trying to lure a member of the party away but is doing a poor job of concealing his efforts, or a panicked woman has lost her child and needs help.  Whatever you need to do to guide the group back together.

Sometimes you can't get the group back due to environmental situations.  Unfortunately, because of the groups size you simply need to cut your losses and focus the game on a single point.  What do I mean?  I had a combat session where half of the group got trapped away from the main combat.  The trapped group didn't know combat was occurring.  I had to focus the bulk of my attention on the group that was fighting.  It is important to note however, that I took a moment between the combat phases to find out what the other part of the party was doing.

Splitting your attentions can be difficult and maintaining your own interest while that is happening is even more crucial.  The best advice for exploratory scenarios, or even keeping your plot moving is to keep the group together.  Give them the option to go off on their own should the situation arise, but be sure you can rein them just as easily. A big bad monster you don't want to find while out on your own can be a prime deterrent, or potential for landslides that could kill you if no one was around to help, etc.

But most of all with a large group you need to be patient.  Take each situation and be quick on your toes to bring the group back together.  It takes plenty of practice so as not to make the group feel they are being railroaded but it is especially important to keep in mind as your gaming group grows.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Just A Few More

Gaming groups vary in their size. Some GMs like little groups, others like them a bit bigger. With the majority of GMs that I have talked to or played under though, the optimal group size sits around 4-5 players. When groups get any larger, it becomes difficult for the GM to pay attention to everything that is going on, so when your group becomes more popular and balloons to double that, what do you do?

My optimal group size is a bit larger than most, falling at 6. It gives a ton of room for group dynamics but also increases the chances that the group will break apart. Very rarely do I hit my optimal size and often I find my group doubled, falling into the 10 - 12 person range. I love having a large group. They give me a lot to work with but also presents some unique challenges that small groups rarely experience.

The first pitfall of a large group appears in its sheer diversity. Consequently, diversity is what I love the most about a large group. Many players means greater potential for interaction and character growth. It also means that you have to cater to multiple dynamics. My friend Justin had commented in a previous post about the "pillars" of RPGs - Socialization, Exploration, and Combat. To each player, one of these pillars is more important to them than the others. In a true role play group I want that to be socialization, but you can't forget about the other 2.

All 3 aspects require plenty of time and preparation on the part of the GM. We'll focus first on Socialization. As I'm sure you've figured out already, the socializing part of an RPG is my biggest focus. I love it when a group decides that the entire game session will be spent at a fancy restaurant developing upon, or playing off of some of the fears of the group. In one of my games such a thing actually occurred, resulting in a friends character Anze (played by Fletcher) to find herself in a situation she had always dreamed of being in but never got the nerve to try. A fancy restaurant meant that she could not start a fight or act uncouth. She had to adhere to the cultural norms and with everyone else in the group playing along the game played out like the dinner scene out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Ok, perhaps it wasn't quite that awesome, but I don't remember rolling any dice for combat and our group of 8 had a blast (plus, I was playing an NPC at the time, so in game the group was 9).

Having a ton of players means you will have to divert your attention to other constantly. I have made great use out of trying to give everyone 10 minutes or so. This presents them with a chance to tell you want their characters are doing and will sometimes lead to unintended hooks that create sub-adventures. Latch onto these because they give the members of your group ownership in the game. It makes them feel like their characters have a chance to make a difference or change the world a bit.

Unfortunately you will also have times where some members of the group decide that they aren't doing anything when their chance for the spotlight comes. I often end up moving on to the next character in the hope that they will interrupt me later as the game goes on. This usually doesn't happen, and then I feel like I didn't give them ample opportunity to engage in the game. This might very well be the case, but players in the game should also try their best to take any opportunity presented to them. Players, take some time to decide what your character would do. Don't think of them as a sheet of paper, but as a living, breathing person. If you were there, in their shoes, what would you do? Perhaps you might withdraw a bit (in which case, be ready to simply listen to the story as it progresses) but you might also want to grab the opportunity to explore something from your characters back story. When the GM is not spotlighting your character, talk to those characters that may be around you. Get to know them and form bonds. The larger the group, the more opportunity for growing in character bonds you will have.

Next Time: Keeping your large group from breaking into small groups is tough. Some tips and tricks for keeping a large group (and even small groups) on task without making it feel forced.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Does It Have to Be Epic?

In Dungeons and Dragons, we regularly battle impossible odds, collect unbelievably powerful items and build—or topple—kingdoms through the deeds of our characters. We nonchalantly brush off the near-death experiences and crack jokes while the situation literally or metaphorically blows up around us.

I'm in the progress of writing a new campaign, and a couple of nights ago, while writing up a draft of the game, starting thinking about how we—as characters and players—have gotten too used to so-called "epic games". Maybe it's just the nature of D&D, but nearly every game I've played has been epic in nature. There are almost always big, bad enemies, world-changing confrontations and heroic deeds.

Is that what we've come to expect out of our games? Can we, as players, still be satisfied by more mundane game settings?

A few years ago, Tim, Bob, Tucker and I experimented with a non-epic game. With Tim DMing, we crafted a series of "normal" characters with few of the heroic traits you'd normally expect. Our stats were laughably bad, and in a fight we'd have trouble defeating a run-of-the-mill kobold, much less a dragon.

But we had fun! We ran from a riot in the streets, turned a city library upside down and generally goofed around for a few hours. There was little of what you would expect in a normal D&D game—no pitched battles, almost no magic, no skill advancement.

As I write a world-changing plot and dream up all sorts of challenging battles, a part of me wonders if most players would be satisfied with anything less. If I didn't give them that, would they shrug their shoulders and say 'So, what?'

So, I'll pose a question to any fellow DMs on the forum. Have you run a mundane game? How did you manage the expectations of players, and the sense of accomplishment that most of us want from a game?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tainted Destinies - Teaser / Opening

A fissure ripple with energy along the side of a crater wall; a portal standing out of place, like a cut upon skin. A flash of burning light erupts from its edges as the last of the a small group departs through it. The dying light casts shadows off the bodies of the fallen that litter the fissures base. The shadows dance and weave, sprouting up like small demons to revel in the destruction that so recently touched the Sanctuary that stood here, leaving only the echoes of the Damned and the howl of the wind. It is empty now, except for a lone demon standing amidst the corpses.

Sand from the desert beyond blows in from the crater top, brushing past the gaunt, human figure, swirling about his form within the ruined hall. Black leather wings sprout from its back in contrast to its pasty skin. Crackling fire burns within the creatures eyes as he gazes into the portal. He breaths in deeply, growing larger, filled with the unholy power that courses through this place. The demon straightens his robes and turns away from the rift, nudging a body from his path with the tip of his foot as though it were refuse.


A whisper fills the crater, catching in the cracks and corners so that it comes from all directions. It reverberates through the ruined hall drawing to a single point around the lone demon. The demon spins toward the portal with supernatural speed, its wings causing a wind to pick up nearby bodies, flinging them into the nearby rubble and clearing a space immediately around him. His claws are extend from his hands as he seeks the source.

“Vhy don't you show your-self...” the demon says aloud, his voice carrying a thick Transylvanian accent; slow and deliberate.

The whisper becomes a laugh. A strong alto infused with power. It makes the demon shrink away.

Asptricollette. The voice is stern, like a father speaking to an insubordinate child. It comes out of the riftway, causing the hell fissure to ripple like a stone striking a still pond. The blowing sands part as the voice cuts through the air. The demon's eyes widen and he flinches at his name, bending into a curt bow. He looks into the portal and speaks to it.

“I have done as you have asked. Zhey have departed to zheir home bearing zheir burden vith zhem.”

Good. Hold out a little longer little child. Your troubles shall cease when I am free.

Asptricollette remains in a bow until long after the voice has stopped speaking. When no further words address him, he vanishes from the space in a burst of fire.

The voice continues, now echoing within the depths of the portal, briefly touching the minds of the traveler's within as they journey home.

Listen well children,
I give you the means to save yourself.

Three stars on twilight canvas you must seek.
The Thorn Eye and Mind will see the Cracks.
Gather Essence of Mortal Gods,
And Three M's to breach the way.
Return Deaths Mantle to its Rightful Throne.
For Souls from Hell to be set free.

A Blue Lantern will guide the way.
Your Tainted Destinies I embrace.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Role Play the Setting

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who got this topic rolling about in my mind. When players make a character, I have always pushed them to make something that they would like to play. Don't conform to the needs of the group. Missing a class? So what. Too many wizards? Big deal. But up to this point I never considered that a player is responsible for more than one character. After thinking about it though, they play two.

The first character is the one you control. You spent plenty of time working on making that character perfect. The second character is the World or Setting that you are a part of. The World can be custom made by your GM (which will require you to learn the idiosyncrasies of that world/region you are in) or it may be a premade setting. You did not create this character, but as a player you are responsible for it just as much as the GM is. Your character must conform to the restrictions placed by the setting - that is roleplay, just as if your GM handed you a character sheet with a list of personality traits and told you to play that way.

The World as a character is a living, breathing character. The people you interact within it, their prejudices, religions, governments and laws are all part of who your character is. By fitting into that role, you are effectively taking up the role of playing two characters. Your character is free to do as they please and grow, but you should do your best to keep it true to the setting.

In a custom setting this can be even more important, especially when drafting your character. It is not the GMs role to find a way for you to fit into a setting if you wish to play something (like a class) that exists outside of that setting. Take Ravenloft for instance. It is a realm where evil is always prevalent and powerful. If you had the misfortune to be born into such a place, you would not be a happy optimist who loves everything and everyone. This would not be true to the World character that you are responsible for playing. It doesn't fit.

In my own games I have run into issues where people pull character concepts from other world settings. Take my friend Keith for instance. His dwarf soul-melder is an offender of this idea (though one that I have allowed, and he checked with me first which is VERY important). Soul melding (which comes from the Incarnum setting) allows a character to use souls to affect themselves and the world around them. Needless to say, it does not fit into Saratta, leaving me with mixed feelings about allowing him, or anyone else to play classes scavenged from other Settings.

It also makes it difficult when trying to find way to incorporate his character into the world. I am not required to change my world to fit his (or anyone else's) character - Nor will I. With Saratta I have provided the setting. I give you the basic information about the world or region, and then it's your job as a player to ask me questions necessary for creating a character that can fit the role assigned.

Considering the world to be its own character played by a collective is probably a more advanced role-play idea, a concept that I fully intend to push onto those who play in my games, whether they are new to the game or not. For new inductees into the world though, it is the GMs responsibility to fill them in and let them know information that is common knowledge to the rest of your group.

GMs: Don't be afraid to tell your players 'No' if they want to play something that is outside of your realm (ie. Your world has no gnomes and they want to play a gnome, etc). At the same time though, don't be afraid of letting them try it out either. If you keep information about adventures to serve as world history you can always make the changes necessary to keeping that character a part of your world. I'll use Keith's character again as an example - when the adventure finishes and falls into Saratta's history his character will be a warrior who was also an adept magic user because soul melding does not exist in Saratta. This allows him to play what he wanted to, and lets me keep the character true to the world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Arguing Alignment

I'm going to start this post with a disclaimer: Handling players' alignments, and what happens when one of them acts in a way contrary to his or her alignment, is one of the trickiest elements of DMing for me to manage. Frankly, I think the alignment system set up in 3.5 is poorly conceived and can penalize players for role playing, which is why I only loosely abide by it, and am always looking for better ways to classify characters.

Let's begin with the problems, as I see them, with the 3.5 alignment system.

The Player's Handbook starts its section on alignment by saying that it is a tool for developing characters, "not a straitjacket for restricting your character." But that idea quickly flies out the window when the rules punish certain classes (particularly those that access divine magic) by asking them to adhere to a rigid set of behaviors.

The most obvious and obnoxious example of how poorly the alignment system functions is the paladin. No one plays as a paladin, because--as paragons of good and virtue--they're downright boring and don't give players room to develop their character.

Even a paragon has to have flaws, idiosyncrasies or bad habits. In a time of extreme stress or moral murkiness, even the best of people are capable of terrible things. Does the theft of five gold pieces from an old beggar after a decade of good deeds mean a lawful good character is no longer lawful good? I don't think so. Maybe he's just having a bad day.

And lest you think that I'm just using a post to rant about how much lawful good sucks, look at lawful evil or even lawful neutral characters. If they want to maintain their alignment, they must stick with a set of limited choices or behaviors. Characters on the chaotic end of the spectrum have a little more room to breathe, I think, but even chaos is ultimately limiting.

To be interesting, characters have to be dynamic; they must be capable of change. The alignment system in 3.5 D&D interferes with that process because it closes off certain paths that your character could otherwise take. Sure, you could switch alignments, but its a pretty unwieldy process that leaves your character boxed in by a different set of predetermined actions.

Are there any easy answers to the alignment quandary? Not that I've found. I'm tempted to ditch it altogether, but it's so inextricably wound up into the rest of the game that it's difficult to cut it out. What would you do with all those magic circle against evil spells, for example, if there was no alignment spectrum?

I'm interested to hear if any of you have a solid answer to the problems alignment poses. Or do you like to have it in place? Here's some additional food for thought.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


High in the mountains, the ranger, monk and cleric stood at the edge of a great chasm, their only way across a precarious ice bridge. Deep into a conversation about how to safely cross the bridge, the three didn't notice the snows behind them stirring until it was too late. A huge centipede-like creature with a gaping maw and pale, multi-faceted eyes burst forth from the snow, ready to hunt down and devour its unlucky prey. Surprised, the party spread out; the monk moved into a flanking position while the ranger and cleric stood face-to-face with the creature. They soon found that the worm generated intense heat--so intense that their skin blistered and burned when they drew too close. But one of the three, the monk, wasn't taking any damage.

It didn't take too long for the players RPing the ranger and cleric to notice that their companion wasn't being affected by the intense heat. It was a simple oversight on my part; while I had diligently tallied heat damage for the cleric and ranger each turn, I had neglected to do the same for the monk. I corrected the mistake, but not before one of my players jokingly accused me of favoritism.

The accusation, even if it wasn't serious, was a jolt to my system, and I spent a lot of time reflecting on it after the session ended. As DMs, we are expected to be eminently fair and consistent in our treatment of the players. It sounds great in theory, but is that actually the case in practice?

I think a certain amount of favoritism in games is probably unavoidable. As a DM, I engage more with the players who are excited about and immersed in the game. If you're an imaginative role player with an interesting back story for your character and you put more energy into my game, you're more likely to receive more of my attention than the player that hangs back and goes through the motions without putting any heart into the proceedings.

An example: My monk, the same one who escaped being burned, spent much of his life searching for his mother, who left him at a monastery when he was a young boy. That player was the only one to leave unanswered questions in his character's back story, and through clever role-playing, he made his quest to find his mother a recurring theme in my game. I rewarded him toward the end of the campaign with his own side adventure, in which he discovered his mother's grave and received a number of letters she intended to send him, but never did. I even typed out her last letter to the character and gave the player a copy to read out loud to the party.

None of my other players got that treatment. Was it fair? Not necessarily. But because he went the extra mile, I reciprocated.

I'd like to think that, in circumstances like that, a little favoritism is acceptable. Certainly, DMs should never treat characters differently when it comes to the actual number-crunching and dice rolling of the game. If the intense heat is damaging one character, it should be damaging all of them (unless they're buffed or have some other effect that prevents it, of course).

You do have to be careful about how much time you spend with one player over another. It's easy to pay attention to a player who is clearly excited about what's happening in the game over one who is less engaged. But one player should never eclipse the others. As a DM, I try to provide ample opportunities for each of my players to take charge or stand out, and after spending considerable working through something with one player, I do my best to rotate to the next person.

Still, it takes two to tango. If players want the most out of their in-game experience, they have to be willing to take charge and become invested in the events happening around them. My advice to players: Instead of browsing the D&D handbooks or seeing how many D6s you can stack, seize the spotlight.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Strong Vs. Weak Character Concept

Making a new character is always a scary process but we always have to start somewhere. This is where the idea of a character concept comes into play. What a character concept is simply what you want your character to be or what kind of person you want them to be. While many would classify this as what type class, race, or skill set I want to have I have tried to train myself to thinking what kind of person I want them to be and what kind of backstory I want my character to have. When I look at other people and how they build characters I always ask what they had in mind for their character. In this question I see two dynamically different ideas, the strong and the weak character concept.

The Strong Character concept is one that revolves around a specific idea about a character. These characters are well defined from the get go. They will have pages of backstories ready will sometimes have ideas of where they want to take their character. This is the idea I mainly stick with just because when I set to making a new character five minutes later I will have half a backstory written in my head for them. Strong Character concepts are great for experienced players who love making characters and want to go into the game with a good start. A well defined personality is always a great boon to characters starting it because it in that first session the campaign is defined by those first few actions. However in some players I have noticed that the strong character concept is also a hindrance. This happens because a person tries to nail in their character to tightly, for them there is no room for improvement that does not occur in their concept. Also, when a character follows a different path than what their concept allows the player gets frustrated at this. What is even worse is when a player feels marginalized because their concept does not work the way they pictured it. Overall Strong Concepts are good if you know what you want and are willing to stick with it but you do have to face the music that your concept may change over time.

The Weak character concept on the other hand is one that is more free form or when a person is uncertain about what they want done with their character. At character creation they may jot down some numbers and maybe pick a name but it takes them awhile to get to know their character. I must stress there is nothing wrong with this, just like college students out in the world for the first time characters are often unsure of themselves and who they are. This is a slower approach to creating a character allowing time to temper the details of who the character is and what they are doing. These characters are more easily molded to the story and can fit in easier than some Strong Character Concepts. First time roleplayers are good examples of this, they may not know what their character is yet but they are willing to try. Good ways to help a person to define their character are things like the one word and the 100 questions list or simply asking the character in game mundane questions about them. This concept can fall flat though; a person may come up with an idea about their character but not let it hold true to that character. For instance a character can say they were orphaned on the streets as a child and never trusted anyone but are super friendly with everyone they meet. This concept also can falter against strong concepts because the Strong Concept Characters override the weaker ones making them feel less important because they are not as developed. From what we can see weak concept characters are fluid enough to change when change is needed but cannot stand up against the hard and fast ideas of a well established campaign world or other Strong Concept characters.

In summary both concepts about a character are valid and things will always change. In the one week between making characters and the next week playing them you will see drastic changes to a character you thought you knew. As a GM you should never pressure your players into one form or another but instead adapt to each player as they need it. Don’t be afraid to blindside a strong concept character with a twist they did not see coming or drill the weak concept character on a detail about them. Either way the point is to create a character you will enjoy and have fun with even if they are not the complete. Because in my humble opinion a character is never complete.