I just recently have been 'installed' as a GM in a Pathfinder game. My opinions on d20 aside, I decided to take a different tack with this game. I steered the game as far as I could in very MEDIEVAL direction. A attempt to put the realism first in a fantasy game. In other words, I was certain it wouldn't work with my players. So I'm going to just share what I did, what the setting looks like and, well, show what I think made the character creation successful.
I went gone ahead designed the group template:
"You've hit the big time. The Baroness has knighted you, making you minor nobles and members of the Order of the Emerald Stallion. Now, you're working directly for Baroness Lady Sotira Greenhall. As her vassals, you obey the word of Marshal Yahma and help keep the peace.
"The large Barony of Greenhall can grant rewards to its loyal servants, from land to titles to households with servants. The game covers the missions of the Emerald Stallion, from their week to week adventures."
Thats right. Its a story about a group of Knights (the TITLE, not the Class). Minor nobles. Hell, if I could I might've tried to get my players to try diving into Houses of Blooded, since its been inspiring me thus far. But I don't have them too attracted to that yet. But I can try to bend d20 back until it feels like it.
Anyway, its a sandbox game. There is a 'big bad' and the players seem to be interested in following some sort of plot. During Character Creation I wanted each of them to have some random elements in their characters, yet not to have to do all the work that is involved with creating d20 characters. I used stat arrays, had them roll for hit points, roll for random traits, etc.
Then I had them each detail 3 NPCs, just with a Name and a Relationship. Since there were four players, the next step worked out. I had each of them define three true things about the NPCs the other players had created. Essentially building a social network around them. Its an idea mostly fostered by John Wick and his work. The last thing I did was use a mechanic I call Karma points but really stole from John Wick again.
The point was to reward players for doing what I liked and wanted, and to punish them for doing anything that I didn't like. Karma let me do that. And the players picked up on their importance. All of them also tried to add to the setting, which was great. It allowed them to create truly great character backgrounds. Enough for me to totally mess them. You know, make the game fun.
Then I improvised the first game with some goblins- essentially a test run for their characters. Altogether, they all walked away happy and entertained and wanting more. Yep. I did what I was supposed to.
THE SETTINGThe Barony of Greenhall is a vassal state under a greater political body, the Inland Empire. Its ruled by the Baroness, whose been in office for a little over a year. As part of a shakedown, she has added new knights to the rolls to change things up. The players work out of Crossroads, the City of Curses. Over the last year, most of the criminal elements in the Barony have united under the banner of the Bandit Queen.
Here is a map of the city of Crossroads for you: