Fitting Characters into the Campaign (Cyberpunk or Other Games)


I used to play a lot of Cyberpunk 2020 back in the day. Uh, the day being the early to mid 1990s. In the many campaigns I played in, I cannot recall a single time where one us of created a Rockerboy. For those of you who don't know, a Rockerboy is a "rebellious" musician who uses music to fight authority. If you've played the video game Cyberpunk 2077, Johnny Silverhand is a Rockerboy. I don't think anyone played a Rockerboy in our campaigns because we were never quite sure how a Rockerboy would fit in. A Solo, yeah, we always need someone who can shoot someone in the face so that's easy. A Med-Tech? Sure, we're going to get shot in the face by a Solo so we need someone who can patch us up. Netrunner? Of course we need someone to take an hour of the GMs time while the rest of us run out for pizza and Coca-Cola. But in a game where most of the PCs are involved in criminal activities, where does a Rockerboy or Media (journalist) fit into the group?

While I'm using Cyberpunk as an example for the opening post, this is a problem that can plague many games. I've heard Call of Cthulhu Keepers lament trying to fit together a group of investigators made up of a dilettante, a cab driver, antiquarian, criminal, and a journalist. In old school AD&D, it could be a problem fitting fitting a Paladin into some groups or having a Barbarian in a group with a Magic User. How do you get such disparate character concepts together for a campaign where they all share a common goal? (The answer involves a session zero of course but we'll get to that.)

I'm going to divide campaigning planning between weak and strong ideas. A DM with a weak idea for a campaign might just tell their players to make characters for Cyberpunk and the advantage to this is it allows the DM to build the campaign around those characters. While a DM with a strong idea for a campaign will get rather specific about what the campaign is about allowing players to tailor their characters to expectations. But whether you're dealing with a weak idea or a strong idea DM you can take care of this in session zero.

Session zero is the time for both the players and the DM to work out how their characters are going to fit into the campaign. If I tell my players our Cyberpunk campaign is going to involve up and comers getting their first big break and engaging in a heist, I expect them to make appropriate characters but I need to work with their ideas as best I can. What if someone wants to make a Corporate or a Cop in this game? I thought at Corporate would be a tough fit, but maybe he's a low level executive of a rival corporation and he's executing this heist to tank their stocks. Maybe the player hadn't thought of that, but it'd provide an easy way for their basic concept to fit into the game. For the Cop, maybe he's not a member of the police force but a private detective, maybe working for Danger Gal investigations, and he's involved because the heist is against an Arasaka front company. I didn't originally plan for the heist to be against Arasaka, but this gives me a good way to fit a Cop into a criminal enterprise.

Anyway, how do you guys work to fit player character concepts into your campaigns? Is it a good idea for all parties to be flexible? Or should the DM be a cruel tyrant grinding the dreams of his players beneath his booted heel while lapping their tears?

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Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Ultimately, it's going to depend on the campaign idea. If it's GM-driven (wanting to run a particular AP or adventure, wanting to run a particular style of campaign like Night City PD, etc), then many options are going to not fit - particularly the rockerboy types among cops or traditional paladins in Paizo's Skull and Shackles AP. But if you just tell the group you've got a hankering to run Cyberpunk and leave it up to them to pitch their characters and how they'd fit together (maybe a weird Buckaroo Banzai group of rockers, brain surgeons, and explorers), you might see different and less often seen character options come up.

I want to emphasize that neither approach to getting the game night together is wrong. Sometimes the idea is pitched by a sole authority (the GM), sometimes the idea is collaboratively grown by the whole group.

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