Using Pre-Generated Characters in Savage Worlds

I’ve run five or six different campaigns in Savage Worlds at this point and used Pre-Generated Wild Cards for every single adventure. I’ve concluded that unless you’re running the same kind of campaign every time (ie. Always D&D fantasy or always Deadlands, etc) there’s no way to get around this. Pre-Generated Characters are a must.

Savage Worlds gives you the most flexibility for running any kind of campaign you want. That is it’s greatest strength. One time, you’re running D&D, the next is a pulp noir mystery. And even within those campaign types, you can have sub-genres; a D&D-style dungeon crawl, a D&D war between kingdoms, a D&D style city adventure). Our games move through plot points, not through sandbox maps, because we’re trying to tell at least some version of a story. And that’s why you can’t have Players just making up their own characters. For the adventure to be fun, the characters have to fit the story that the GM has in mind, at least to some degree.

If I tell players they’re going on a D&D-style dungeon crawl and that they might need to buff up on fighting skills, that still isn’t enough information for them (unless they’re headed into a boring adventure in which all they do is go from melee to melee, rolling dice to beat up the monster of the week). If I’ve at least got a bit of variety to the challenges they’ll face, they might also need Climbing for a vertical tunnel. They might need Persuasion or Intimidation to get past a virtually indestructible sentry. Maybe they’ll need Riding just to get to the dungeon. Maybe it would be useful for at least one of the characters to have Knowledge (Underdark Lore) for them to get past a particular riddle. The possibilities are endless.

Savage Worlds games typically require not just one dude with specialized skills, but a combination of skills among several players. It goes way beyond the D&D formula of Fighter (Meat Shield), Thief (Disable Traps), Magic User (Heavy Artillery) and Cleric (Emergency Medical Support). Particularly for campaigns set in modern genres, you may need far more specialization of skills.

In Zombie Run, it helped to have a player with Knowledge (Nuclear Engineering). Who is going to devote points to that in character creation, just on a whim?

In another case in that Zombie Run game, even the hardest, meanest Wild Card in the party didn’t have any Knowledge (Battle) Skill, so in the climactic mass battle at the end, they had to rely on the general-ship of a second-best NPC (because their first choice got killed about a half hour before). That nearly cost them the win.

Those examples actually happened using Pre-Generated Characters. However, they were definitely the exception. The Players at least had minimal Skills to deal with most situations that came their way. Most of the time, their Skills were a natural, logical fit to help resolve the Plot Points. Without using Pre-Generated Characters, I could see these kinds of problems cropping up in many, perhaps most situations.

When you don’t use Pre-Generated Characters, you can actually have ridiculous consequences. Imagine a Western Deadlands style adventure in which none of the Players bothered to take the Riding Skill — and the very first thing they have to do is chase down some banditos on horses as part of a deputized posse. All the Players fail their Riding rolls, fall off their horses and injure themselves. Now the Sheriff that deputized them in the game is wondering why he bothered with these jackwads. Worse, the Players are left feeling foolish, through no fault of their own.

Pre-Generated Characters help build up the scaffolding of the adventure. A Player scans the character sheet and immediately gets a sense of where their strength lies and what they’ll likely be called on to do. It helps them see how they’re part of the story, immediately.

Before you begin a campaign, it’s good to give the Players a choice of their Pre-Generated Wild Card. Maybe create a few extra characters that could still be used as NPCs or Mooks if they’re not chosen by the Players. And by all means, let the Players add a couple of dots to their Pre-Generated Wild Card’s Skills so they can feel a bit more like they own the Character and will get to do what they want to do.

If the Players complain during the Game that their Pre-Generated Characters never seem to have the right Skill to resolve an in-game hurdle, there are two possibilities. First, the Players might just not be thinking creatively about how to use Skills they aren’t familiar with (because they aren’t the ones they usually choose). Alternatively, it could be the GM’s fault, if they haven’t matched the in-game challenges to the abilities of the Pre-Generated Characters.

I used to hate the idea of using Pre-Generated Characters. It seemed a bit lazy and took away from the freedom of being anything you want to be in a role-playing game. But in the plot-focused land of Savage Worlds, a little freedom can be a dangerous thing.


3 Comments on “Using Pre-Generated Characters in Savage Worlds”

  1. JourneymanGM says:

    In my experience, pregens are primarily useful for convention games. If I’m limited to at most 4 hours in a game, I don’t want to be spending time having to make up characters. For a campaign though, I would never do pregens.

    • jnarvey says:

      Our campaigns are usually short — just a few sessions at most. Also, we’re very plot-point centric (Well, I am) rather than sandboxy. I think that explains our approach.

      I think if we were running longer campaigns (and multiple campaigns using the same character) we’d spend the time to make up characters to the extent that the GM would probably have to significantly adapt plot points.

  2. J Gregory says:

    Rather than pregens, I prefer to build Archetypes that have the prerequisite skills and edges present, but stil require some fleshing-out. As well as making sure that the party has the skills to get the most out of the adventure, this approach also provides some niche-protection and helps avoid unnecessary overlaps. It still leaves scope for the players to contribute to the build themselves, especially in ‘characterisation’ areas like Hindrances, and I find that leaving this little bit of wriggle room for personalisation really helps player buy-in.

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