I love pre-built characters. That might seem strange, because I also love building characters. On a week when I don't have an RPG to play, I'll often sit down with a rulebook and build a character that will probably never get used. And yet, I love a system that provides a good array of pre-built characters, and I admire players who post pre-built characters online for others to use. Here are five reasons I love pregenerated characters.
Everybody comes to play an RPG for their own reasons, but in my experience most people curious about an RPG don't really know what they're in for until they play it. Even people who have watched actual-plays or listened to podcasts don't tend to know what to expect.
Now think about this. Over the course of your hobby, you might build a lot of characters, but you probably spend a lot more time playing those characters. I'd guess it's probably a 10% and 90% split, but even a drastic estimate like 30-70 significantly favours playing to building.
When a friend tells you they want to try playing an RPG, their first and potentially only experience can either be 90% playing and 10% building, or it can be 90% building and 10% playing. One of those scenarios does not accurately reflect what playing an RPG is actually like.
I understand that building characters is fun. I build characters I never intend to play. I love building characters. But for somebody who has 0 hours of playing, the RPG "experience" shouldn't consist of 2 hours of paperwork to 4 hours of playtime. Their first experience should be all playtime, and only enough for them to decide whether they enjoy it.
A pregenerated character ensures that new players don't eat up valuable evaluation time with mystifying administrative forms.
I like trying new RPG systems, because nearly every system I've ever tried either has a great idea embedded in it someplace, or just a fun mechanic that's good for a laugh. Part of experiencing a new system, for me, is the process of building a character for that system.
Sometimes, I just want to try to the game's mechanics. Maybe I'm at a gaming convention and I literally only have a 4 hour block to spend with the game. Or maybe I'm just not sure I like the game enough to explore its every facet. Give me a pregenerated character and there's nothing standing between me and the new game I want to evaluate.
Examples in RPG books are hard. I don't tend to like them, because they're usually so specific to exactly one situation, rendering them useless for 99% of the questions I have as I read. However, a few example character builds are refreshing not because they answer questions but because they prompt them.
I can't count the times I've looked over a sample character build only to realise that the math doesn't add up the way I thought it would. Is the sample wrong, is the book wrong, or am I not understanding the process? More often than not, I've misunderstood something. I've applied a bonus twice because the wording was confusing, or I've failed to take a trait because the book hasn't stepped me through the build in a linear way, or whatever.
A sample character build is nice for the questions it makes you ask.
I'm a fan of the concept of a boxed game. In my head, at least, an RPG I enjoy playing is essentially a board game without the board. There are rules governing movement and actions, there are dice for decisions and tests, and there are obstacles programmed into repeatable scenarios so you can play and re-play an adventure as often as you like or not at all.
It's a board game, and board games come with a board and player pieces and rules. I prefer when an RPG comes with a map, but I accept that the board changes depending on the adventure. The rules are in the RPG rulebook. But where are the player pieces? I don't like the idea that the player pieces are described in the rulebook for you to build yourself. I want 3 or 4 player pieces delivered in the box.
Roleplaying games are in part about chance. You roll die, you see what happens. You can boost your stats to influence the results, but ultimately it's up to a dice roll.
Pregenerated characters offer a unique opportunity to extend this game of chance to the character you play in an adventure. Next time you sit down at a one-off game, take some pregenerated characters, assign them each a number, and then roll a die. Play what you roll.
Believe it or not, building characters isn't for everyone. I have friends who will happily play an RPG but they just won't build a character. They just don't have the interest.
It might feel weird to somebody who enjoys building characters, and it might even offend people who believe that building a character is a vital part of RPG, but it actually doesn't matter. I hand them a character sheet that caters to their interests, and they play the game. It's casual, it's easy, and it lets everyone participate in the shenanigans around the table.
Despite my appreciation and respect for pregenerated characters, ultimately every RPG player who wants to ought to learn how to build a character. I'd never remove that from an RPG. But games like Wrath & Glory, Shadowrun, and even Monster of the Week (which I don't particularly enjoy), and lots of game conferences with pregens as part of the games, have reinforced for me the idea that building a character isn't an intrinsic part of roleplaying. You can play a character that you didn't build. It can be just as fun as playing the character you did build.
Both options are good, but including pregenerated characters makes an RPG more approachable for more players.