A Writer’s Guide to Better Roleplaying: Developing Character at the Table.
While the article is really written from a player's perspective, I see this as a great article for every GM as well. If anything, I think it is more important for a GM to read this.
Normally I'd try to sum up the article before commenting on it, but the author (Rich Howard) provided an awesome bit of text at the end of the article doing exactly that:
Don’t let your character be static. Encourage other players’ stories as much as your own. Offer to become part of their narrative, let them become part of yours and find ways to merge your stories into an even larger epic.
If you let them, your continually evolving characters can take you to places you never could have imagined on your own.
In a nutshell the author is encouraging players to be more open about designing their characters with the group in mind. He offers a couple of suggestions that really hit home with me and I won't really expound upon them here (duh, read the article for yourself). One sentence hints at what I consider a requirement for my game that really helps: have a group chargen (character generation) session.
Now I've stated time and again my favorite game is HackMaster. It isn't for everyone and some people really dislike some of the stricter rules, like rolling 3d6 straight down the line for stats. Granted, with the newest edition there are some options after rolling, but for some haters that isn't enough. Of course at your table you don't have to follow the rules so strictly, but if your do there are benefits to selecting specific options during chargen.
Anyway, I'm not really typing this up to champion or defend my favorite game. My point is that I've seen time and again the benefits of rolling up characters as a group. Back in my HackMaster 4th edition tournament days, you really needed a group effort to roll up PCs because you wanted to make sure you had all the bases covered. This concept is still important today. Wow, the whole group decided to roll up Dwarven Fighters? Ok.......social encounters will be a bit rough and the only way you'll discover traps is setting them off, but you'll blaze a path through enemy troops until your unhealed wounds get in the way.
Sitting down to create characters as a group allows the GM to supervise the process (if that is important to you), allow players to advise and learn from each other, and to create a more cohesive group, if by no other way than by not accidentally creating PCs that will instantly be at each other's throats. As a GM I probably have already queried the group as to what type of campaign they want to participate in, come up with something I want to run (super important), and I have probably already come up with an idea or two.
While the players are creating their PCs and fleshing out the back-stories, I might get some additional ideas or tweaks to work in as I see fit. In my home group my wife's PC is a fighter and as part of her back-story her parents are retired Knights that operate a hop farm. That lead me to tweak the story in ways I never ever even considered. This has led to an unexpected BBG (Big Bad Guy), an easy way to introduce some NPCs, and a couple of potential adventure hooks. The other PCs, with seemingly innocent back-stories, have an even bigger potential.
A GM buddy of mine actually requires his group to sit down and create PCs together. Before the chargen session he sends out a questionnaire polling the group on everything to magic level of the campaign to how serious it will be and even if there is specific game world (or game world location) they want. One of his campaigns, because of the players input, ended up essentially being an Icelandic Saga. Another was set during the fall of Constantinople. One thing he does is require the chargen by the rules, but he allows players to swap characters in progress. If one player really wants to play a Mage, but has better stats for a Thief, that player can switch out the entire set of stats with another player who would rather play a Mage than a Thief. It is a minor thing, but still well within the strictest interpretation of the rules they play by.
Seeing the player flexibility and gaming suggestions by Rich in this article really struck me as a good idea and something that a GM should encourage at the table if for no other reason that it can benefit the player's enjoyment and make some things easier for the GM.