Character Generation Process

Shifting Sands

Player Guide

In keeping with the scene-focused system we will be using for Shifting Sands, the character generation process will be aimed towards creating characters that players are excited about developing, with strong motivations, great possibilities for dramatic relationships, and who fit well in the overall network of characters and factions. When you are thinking about possible character concepts, ask yourself questions like: Why am I interested in this character? What do I want to explore about it? Do they have potential for a developing story arc? How will they change over time? What will they add to the game? What is supposed to be fun about this character (i.e. Gail's Law)? Will I enjoy playing it for several years? What kinds of connections and relationships do I see them having? What kinds of factions might they be part of?

We are not looking for characters who are loners or who have no motivations; they suck energy out of the game instead of feeding it, and our story must be a collective effort. We are looking for characters that bring energy and have reasons to engage with other characters. Here are some common archetypes that suggest themselves; of course the relationships and motivations you build with any of these will be key. There are a multitude of other possibilities as well, so be creative!

Example Character Archetypes 

Member of Parliament

Dilettante Socialite





Colonial Official

Family Matriarch





Foreign Office

Church Official





Agent Provocateur






Royalty in Exile

Martian Noble, Priest

Consulting Detective




Military Officer

Martian Official

Social Worker



War Hero


So you have an idea; where do we go from here?

General process:

  1. Preliminary conversation: The player has a conversation with a GM about what they're looking for and what ideas they have. GM gives feedback, discusses the character's motivations and answers to the meta questions below, and looks for areas of opportunity and concern.
  2. Character essay: Player writes a short essay about their character. It should contain information about their personality and characteristics, their occupation and/or how they spend their time, the people who have been important to them in their life, and their goals. When we say short, we mean it. We're thinking around 100 words is about right. This is not the time for flavor and in-depth background. (Philip, we're looking at you.) When it is complete, highlight or bold 10-15 individual words that are most meaningful to you and send it to the GM staff.
  3. Character generation: The player and a GM work together to use the essay (and specifically the highlighted words) to build the character sheet.
  4. Character review: The GM team reviews the character for consistency and fit, makes updates and places them in the network of characters.
  5. Player acceptance: The player has a chance to discuss, negotiate and absorb the character as it comes out of the review.
  6. Iterations: Lather, rinse, and repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 until the player has a character they can sink their teeth into and the GMs have an asset that will add energy and drive interactions in the game.
  7. Backstory: At some point early on in the campaign, the player will flesh out the character and write the backstory, but not necessarily right away. It is fine if they are done up front, but you may wish to wait until you have a session or two under your belt, have formed some good connections and can include them in the backstory before writing it. Regardless, we would like them completed by the end of the second between times (i.e. before the beginning of the third session).

The Goal

Everything on the character sheet and in the background should help inform the roleplaying. Some of the items we ask about are different ways at getting at the core of what we want to know: Who this person is, what motivates them, and why they are the way they are. While we do have some numbers involved, we are most interested in motivations and emotional connections, not detailed stats and exhaustive lists of skills. We don't really care about how many flying High Martians they can pick off on the wing at 100 paces; we do care about knowing why they want to kill the buggers.

Meta Questions

As we discuss the character with the player and explore how they see the game unfolding, the GMs will want to know the answers to the following questions:

What does the player want out of game? What types of plots are you interested in? What kinds of relationships are you drawn to? What are you looking forward to going into game?

What does the player not want to experience? What types of plots or relationships do you want to stay away from? What are your concerns going into game?

Are there any other players you have been talking to about forming connections with?

Anything else you think the GMs need to know about your character or your expectations for this game?

Thank you for your interest and enthusiasm!



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