Characters and Con Games

by Thomas J. Howell

One of the things I think I do particularly well as a convention Game Master is have well designed pregenerated Player Characters (pregens). I mostly run Shadowrun games at Total Con and Carnage, and for every Shadowrun con game I run I use one set of pregens. I do this because it means that I am intimately familiar with the skills, the gear, the motivations and the relationships of the pregens. I know, for example, that one character suffers from a drug addiction, so it’s not hard to remember to tempt her when things get tough. Another character was a famous actor once, so lots of NPCs are eager to talk and reminisce. Using these same pregens repeatedly also means that I spend more of my time planning time other elements of the game.

Another benefit to me as GM is that all my convention games can exist in a single timeline. It can be fun for repeat players (who may remember what happened in a previous game and like how the world reacted to that), of course. Even beyond that, though, it allows me to add in details from previous games that layer texture onto the characters and world. Maybe in one game the face will finally pay off his debts, but that doesn’t mean people won’t continue to talk about it or that it won’t be relevant in some way to the current game. Perhaps a character began a new romantic relationship and details of how that happened come up as flavor or even become integral to the adventure’s plot.

This technique is easier to use if the GM takes a few moments immediately after the game ends to jot down important events and interactions that took place (ex: the team’s local bar was sold to a new owner; the hacker made a new enemy; they now owe favors to a corp exec, etc.). These notes then become a goldmine of ideas for planning future con games!

One often overlooked aspect of creating pregens is the character sheet itself. How does one present the pregen in a useful manner? It is important, particularly in a game like Shadowrun, to avoid overwhelming players with information. The minimalist approach is best: show only what is necessary to make informed decisions and die rolls, or information important to characterization of the pregen by the player. Combat information is all in one spot and things are alphabetized. Game mechanics such as advantages, equipment and special abilities get a brief explanation about their function. In my convention games, each pregen also gets a one paragraph backstory, some notes on personality and motivation, and a short piece on how that character relates to the other characters on the team. If this handout goes longer than the front and back of a single sheet of paper, it is too long and time to seriously consider whether everything on the sheet is really necessary.

It is ideal if at least one item from each player’s sheet is important to the actual game session or adventure you are running. It could be an important contact, an ability that will be critical to the group’s success, or something that plays to the main or side plot of the story.

Regarding the physical presentation of the pregens: I suggest a tri-fold with the character’s name, a picture of the character, and a defining statement (similar to a Fate RPG style Aspect). For example: Morry Dash (name), a pic of Morry’s mug, and “Former child star in debt to the Triads”. On the player facing side I include a few quick adjectives and phrases for playing the character (ex: hangdog, jaded, bleeding heart, etc...) and a short list of factions, locations, or other elements likely to appear in the adventure whether the character is positive or negative on those elements. The pregen itself is ideally laminated or put into a vinyl protector. Players can then use wet erase markers or wax pencils to write on the sheet.

Whether you are running at a convention, a pub game night, or a school game club, well designed and accessible pregens will make your job as GM easier and get the players, even completely new ones, into the game more easily and with more enthusiasm.