[RPG] How to a GM alleviate a new player’s analysis paralysis when creating a character


My players are paralyzed about making their characters and as a GM what can I do to help?

The players are new to role playing games let alone D&D 5e, and are getting bogged down. They tried out their characters in the first session, but I could tell some were not really happy with the game. Three players were fine, but two didn't really seem to enjoy the characters they had made. One had mostly bad rolls as a ranger, and the other was having second thoughts about a paladin. Now they're having trouble choosing what they want to build. They're second guessing themselves, and they're discussing options based on what they think the group "needs" and not what they want.

I've found a few questions that deal with similar issues:

Investing in one Character, Spell Analysis Paralysis, and Frequent Switchers though helpful, do not really hit at the heart of this particular problem.

How can a GM help players make character creation choices without doubting themselves and play characters they want to play?

Best Answer

There's an apparent paradox in character creation for an unfamiliar game: to effectively and confidently make a character requires knowing the game, but to know the game you have to already have made and played a character. It's not really a paradox, but it can feel like it when you have limited time to play and want to get started as soon as possible in order to get right into the fun of an ongoing campaign.

There's a simple solution that has worked well and consistently for me, but which requires trusting that patience pays off.

Play a demo session first

What has been successful for me across RPGs is to run a one-shot demo session using the new game before we make our real characters in our real campaign. This introduces the players to the moving parts of a character through hands-on playing experience, which gives them a basic understanding of what's important when making characters. This can also effectively introduce the players to the setting and playstyle that they will be making characters for later.

Whether the demo characters are pre-made or made by the players doesn't seem to matter. (If they know these are throw-away characters, they don't suffer nearly as much analysis paralysis in making their own.) What matters most is that the demo session gives them an experience that reflects the realities of play that should be informing their character creation choices.

For example, in a game where understanding the skill system is critical for character creation and evaluating character effectiveness (RuneQuest 6), I have run an "obstacle course" session where they made characters and then played through an in-setting coming-of-age trial that involved a lot of skill use (but no combat or risk of death). By the end, players had a visceral understanding of what was and wasn't a good skill rating — one player initially thought that 35% was a good skill and spread their points around to hit that number in as many skills as possible, and came out of the demo realising that she'd underestimated that by half and that choosing a few core skills to maximise first, before spreading the other points around, was key. They all also profited from the crash course in the cultural context they'd later be playing in.

In another game where the interplay of character creation choices and combat is a big deal (Savage Worlds), I had them make one-off characters and then threw them into a dungeon that I knew well enough to run on-the-fly. They had the freedom to go where they wished and test their characters in a variety of non-combat and combat situations. As a result, they got a good sense of how the game functions overall and in its combat, magic, opposed skill, and healing subsystems in a very short time, and were confident making characters for the longer-scale fantasy campaign we later kicked off. Notably, when we started that campaign we had a new player, who had a much harder time creating her character than the ones who had the demo session initiation.

In both these examples, taking the time to give the group early hands-on experience with characters and the system meant that the players were confident and quick in future character creation for the real game. The difference was like night and day: where before they were lost and stumbling through the options, afterwards they were focused and dove into the chargen process with clear goals in mind.