OK, so it’s 1965. You’re working on a groundbreaking new TV series. You put together a pilot, and it’s well received by the network and the public, so you’re on for a full series. All is right with the world—except . . .
Except that doctor guy was really no good. And the physicist—well, he kind of duplicates the role of the science officer. And the folks playing the navigator and the yoeman aren’t really what you were looking for. And, while we’re at it, the uniforms need a little tweaking.
Well, what can you do? Nothing, right—I mean, the episode is done. You can’t go back and change these things in the pilot. And it wouldn’t make any sense to change them now.
On the other hand, who cares? If you need to make some changes for the show to work, why not make them? Change the physicist to a helmsman. Tweak the uniforms. Swap around characters—or actors—to get the doctor and navigator and yoeman you need. The show will come together, and the audience—if they even really notice—will forgive you.
OK, enough history. It’s today. You’re trying out a new game system. Or maybe a game you’ve played a lot, but it’s the start of a new campaign, a whole new direction. Everybody gets together, you make up some characters, and you play through a few encounters or plot points.
And . . . it turns out the fighter’s feat choices aren’t really lining up with the player’s approach to the character. And the cleric and wizard are just a little too close in personality and appearance. The rogue had no idea he was going to go down so easily, and wants to completely rebuild the character.
I play with something I call the “first session rule.” Like a director putting together a TV pilot, I assume things aren’t going to work out perfectly from the get-go. There will be character choices that weren’t exactly right for the setting or the chemistry of the group. A couple characters will seem to overlap too much, or some key base won’t be covered as well as the group would have liked. In some cases, a player might simply not like what he or she has come up with.
So here’s the first session rule: Go ahead and make the change. Whatever you want (within the context of the rules, of course). Keep the XP you’ve earned, and any items or info you’ve picked up along the way. And we’ll just ignore the changes and play as if things had always been that way.
It’s counter-intuitive. I mean, continuity matters, right? Yes, but I’ve used this rule for a couple decades, and I’ve never once regretted it. A few adventures down the road, who remembers what feats the fighter might or might not have had in those early sessions? Even when a character changes completely—race, class, build, name, whatever—it’s not generally what makes those first sessions memorable.
And I think this rule has even saved some campaigns that might have fizzled early. It only takes one or two unenthusiastic players to stall a campaign in its infancy.
Truthfully, I usually extend this rule through the entire first adventure. What do you think—what sort of changes should players be allowed to make, and for how long? And if you won’t allow it, what other steps would you take to save a campaign from weak chemistry or poor choices in the character creation process?
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