What came first, the chicken or the egg? A question for the ages, or at least up to around 2003 this was just a thinly veiled attempt to discuss evolution outside of the pretext of religion, but this can have an interesting relation to the wonderful world of paper RPGs as well. The question goes a bit like this. What comes first, a PCs personality, traits, and interests or the PCs mechanics. The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer to this question, but here I will try represent both ends of the subject.
The Chicken: It’s pretty funny how must RPG books have players set up their background, race, then class. As we all know the character choices made can have a huge role on how players mechanically. If you pick the labourer in Genesys then it means you are going to have a high brawn score and will probably be a fighter, but that choice is made before you decide if you are a fighter. So if we follow the steps one by one we start with the chicken. It’s a really interesting process, and its one that I don’t actually use very often for my character creation. The more and more that I think about it though the more I like it. Definitely a narrative gamer should follow the path of finding out who your character is before you decide their stats. It takes the control of your characters stats away and forces you to think in terms of your character.
The main question is not “what do I want to play as” and instead makes you ask “what has my PC been doing to get where he’s going to.” I like that players are now forced to be put in the perspective of their character rather than what they want which is a huge key to roleplaying better. Starting off a session zero like this can really change the tune of how your players treat the game and if it will be more of a tactics type game or a storytelling game.
The Egg: This is the approach that I usually use when I make my own characters. This is definitely the territory of power gamers and more seasoned players. The reason for this is because it was not until recently that narrative gaming has become very fashionable in paper RPGs. It has always been a thing, don’t get me wrong, but it was not until recently that other games the DnD were popular on their own accord, and they were pretty technically demanding until fifth edition. Another reason why players might find this approach more natural is because they transition from video games into paper RPGs. Whenever you build Dovahkiin’s stats it doesn’t matter if he is a barbarian or a wizard because he will still probably end up as the Dean of the Mage’s College so it’s pretty natural for players to worry about mechanics rather then the path that will be followed. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but it is quickly becoming something I want to move away from just to experiment with the other approach.
This style of playing helps in a good old fashioned kick down the door sandbox approach. If you are running the Gauntlet for riches and glory, then stick to what is important. No one will care what your character feels when you are neck deep in zombies but they will care about the combat role in your group.
Play the game however you want though. The best part about this is that there is no right answer on what to do. It’s more about what style player you are and what you want to get out of the game. It does mean though that it’s good to have an opinion on whichever option you like. This is especially important if you are a GM for when you direct that session zero. It will be your responsibility to set up the expectations of your players as well as help them make the best PC’s they can for the adventure ahead.
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