I don't think I ever really explained why character generation is so important to an RPG. I know that most of you are already in the know about this, but I suspect we all have slightly different ideas about why it's so important.
There are two main reasons why I think character generation is important:
1) Character-building is many players' introduction to a game. It tells players what the game is about, and how it works. And how complicated it can be. More often than not, it's the most complex part of the game. And it really shouldn't be. A bad character generation procedure makes players less willing to play the game. Or sours them on aspects of the game before it even starts.
2) Character Generation is often the first point of communication from the players to the GM about what kind of game they want to play. The GM may give a handout to the players - and, indeed, they should. But the characters are the first chance the players can respond to that handout. Especially if the GMleft some choices in the handout.
The Project is here to address the first point - Stephanie and I started it because I was curious: Would we see Stephanie tripping over similar things in different games? What could some of these games do better? What problems can I foresee? Are there things that work very well and which can be applied to other games?
And, most importantly, does character generation turn her off of the game? All Flesh Must Be Eaten certainly did. It could be the best game in the world, but now I will never get her to play it without pre-gens. Which sucks on several fronts.
Like most gamers, I have a game I'm working on - it's backburnered while I work a few things out, but I have a system that seems to work. And character generation is lifepath-based (which means I need to write more paths to keep it interesting).
No less than Monte Cook had something to say about character generation a few weeks ago. It's an interesting post, but for me, the most interesting part for me was one thought:
I'm not a big fan of origin tales and the beginnings of stories anyway. I like to get right into the action.I'd never thought of character generation as being an origin story. But, really, that's what it is. If your game were a comic book, it'd be a team-up book more often than not. There are a few comic book characters who share an origin story, or who started as a team - the Fantastic Four and the X-Men both spring to mind - but most of the time, you take a string of already-successful heroes (or less-successful that you want to give a small boost) and slap them together. The Justice League is Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern. All of these characters had their own comics which served as their character generation. Justice League #1 is about these characters meeting and working together to face a common foe.
"So you all meet in a bar ... "
It highlights, by the way, another issue most games have with character generation: It often doesn't include the rest of the party. A few games have found ways around this - FATE-based games, for example, require that the group work together to fill in backstories together.
I'll talk more about that another time. Probably once we're done moving.