Lessons Learned: Part One

As some of you may know, I am in the process of writing a couple of Star Wars Saga Edition One Shots for our local college’s annual convention: The Ghosts of Alderaan and Hard Contact. In beginning the process of writing these one shots, I’ve discovered a number of things about the writing process that I would like to try and codify to some degree to see if they can help the next writer a little bit. The first thing I will tackle is character creation.

Rule #1: Pregens

When I write and run one shots, I like to have pregenerated characters ready to go. This tends to make things run a lot smoother when you have a time constraint like you usually do in a convention setting. This way, you get can into the game within 10 minutes to a half hour instead of an hour or an hour and half, especially if you have new or indecisive players. All you have to do is explain the basic rules of the game for those that don’t know them, explain an ability or two on a character sheet, and then let the dice start rolling.

Rule #2: You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing

When beginning to create pregens for your one-shots, it’s important to keep in mind that while you may enjoy building a wide variety of characters, you can create too many of them, and it can be overwhelming for a new player (or an indecisive one) to sift through a dozen character sheets for a character they are going to be playing for the next few hours. Sit down for a few minutes and write out a few broad ideas for the characters, maybe 8-10, as follows:

  • Jedi – Force User
  • Jedi – Lightsaber Combatant
  • Gunslinger
  • Pilot
  • Techie
  • Medic
  • Leader
  • Heavy Weapons Guy
  • Rifleman
  • Scout

Than sit down and take a harder look at them, thinking about the kind of game you’re writing and how each of those character roles are going to interact with the game. Begin striking out some of the ones that you won’t need, and combine some with others if you can.

In the above example, I decide that having a character completely devoted to piloting starships and vehicles is a little too specific for the one shot I have in mind, which will involve at maximum one starship encounter. I don’t need a dedicated pilot, but I do need someone who can at least pilot the ship with some level of competence. When looking at the rest of the character ideas, any of them will have access to the Pilot skill, and more than a few of them might even have a feat to spend on Skill Focus for the character. I keep that in mind and move on. The Rifleman seems like a solid character option, but if I go that route, it gives me a total of four characters that really do nothing but combat (the other three being the Lightsaber Jedi, the Gunslinger, and the Heavy Weapons Guy). I could easily combine the idea of the Rifleman/Sniper with the Scout, giving him some options outside of combat, while at the same time, still keeping him a valued member of the party when the chips are down. As for the Techie and the Medic, well, I cover this in more detail later, but suffice to say you really don’t need them on the list, and the Leader can have a number of good options for dabbling in a little bit of healing, so you can strike them off the list, leaving you with six character ideas. This is a good number to start with, as you can always add another character should you find you have a role that needs to be filled after you’ve made them.

Rule #3: Generality Over Specificity

It’s a good idea to keep your character ideas broad. While you might enjoy creating the “Archaic Weapons Duelist” or the “Jedi Diviner” or the “Armchair Academic,” is everyone at the table going to want to play them, even if the idea fits into the one shot? Keep the ideas broad enough that they are going to appeal to a lot of different players. This isn’t to say that you’re pregens should be so broad that they are all essentially clones of each other (unless they all happen to be… you know, Clone Troopers – sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), but they shouldn’t be built with such a specific purpose in mind that it turns out to be the only thing they can do.

The same rule applies to combat focused characters as well as non-combat focused. Make sure that if they lose their weapon, they aren’t so reliant on it that they’re screwed for the rest of the game.

Rule #4: It’s Them! Blast Them!

Players are going to want to shoot things. Make sure you have built the characters with this in mind. This is why I warned you off from tech and medical focuses for your pregens, because those characters can quickly become so focused on following those pursuits, they can become crippled in combat. While this is fine for a player that wants to play this type of character in a long running game where they can really find their niche, but this really isn’t possible in a four to five hour game. While you shouldn’t shy away from giving a character training in the technical and medical skills, don’t build a character idea around those skills, especially when there are many so many options to add an ability like that on as a “kicker,” and let them remain active in combat every round.

Rule #5: Give The Players The Keys

Because you’ve spent the time creating the characters, you know what they can do and what they cannot do, but a new (or sometimes a player who doesn’t have the new supplements you’re using) player might look at a talent or a feat and ignore it because they don’t know what it does. Here’s what I do in this situation:

If there is an ability that cannot be shown by writing them into a the attack, damage, skill, or other numerical areas on the character sheet like Skill Focus, Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Toughness, or Improved Defenses, write the description on an index card and paperclip them to the character sheet.

Do this with Feats, Talents, and Species Abilities, as well as any other rules that they are going to be playing with a lot. If you have character that is going to be making a lot of grapple checks, it might be a good idea to write on the back of one of those cards the high points of grappling and how it interacts with the characters stats. The same is true of characters that make a lot of use of autofire attacks, or have a skill that isn’t used as often as the other ones.

If you do it this way, the player has at their fingertips all the information that they need to run the character without having to halt the game to look something up in the rulebooks. It may take a little more time up front, but it’s so worth it when you can watch a player use an ability for the first time without having to look at the index card because they’ve had it in front of them the whole time.

Rule #6: Second Thoughts On Second Thoughts.

When you’ve created your pregens for the game, give them 24 hours and then take a look at them again. Do they still look good? Take a second breeze through of some the character options that you may not have considered and take the time to re-spec a character here or tweak a build there, but most importantly, look to see that it still looks like it’ll be fun to play. That’s the important thing. After that, focus the rest of your energies on polishing the module and doing evverything you can to make sure it’s ready to run and don’t second guess yourself on the pregens anymore.

So there are the six rules that I’ve come up with so far on characters when writing one-shots. I’m sure there are many more of them that I could think of, but this is a good start, and it wouldn’t be fun if I held your hands the entire time, right? When it comes right down to it, experience – as they say – really is the best teacher.

So keep writing those one-shots, Gamer Nation. I look forward to reading and playing adventures with your names on them someday soon. And hey, if you have some rules that you feel I may have missed and feel are important to mention, send them my way.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Lessons Learned: Part One

  1. veganshane

    Great set of rules. I ran a saga edition game at Con of the North down here in the Twin Cities at the begining of the month, I agonized a great deal about adding a tech focused character, and how to tweek my story to not need one. In the end I opted for a good tech with all sorts of talents and what not that kept him mobile in a fight, and out of the way of blaster fire until he could unleash his tech specialist goodness when it could help the combat types.

    I also found keeping pre gens gear limited and then letting my players just have a frew items they thought might be useful as long as they were not totally over powering seemed to help the players take a bit more ownership of the pre-gen

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      The equipment idea is one that I had overlooked, but I like it. Saddling them with the basics (weapons, armor [if any], and a utility belt with a medpac) is something I do with all my pregens, but beyond that letting the individual players pick out the rest of their general equipment is a good idea, even if just from a small list. That’s definitely something I’ll have to consider.

  2. Luke Lowbrow

    I needed to read this, man. I’m working on my one-shot for Kubla Con right now. Your timing is perfect. Thanks, dude.

    • Glad I could help out in any way. Hope the one-shot goes well for you. I’ll be running both of mine a week from tomorrow (soooo much work to do to polish them up yet… XD), so I’ll probably have a retropective and a few more lessons learned on the actual writing process then.

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