Premise: Players bring characters to the table, and through some means, only some will get into the campaign.
I'm not advocating auditioning PLAYERS, though a role-playing club might very well do this to form its different gaming groups, and it won't work for every "story", but there are several set-ups that might allow players to bring some three characters they generated to the table and try them out. For example:
- A space fleet Academy
- Legion-style try-outs
- Contest of champions, who will represent the realm?
- A shared calamity; strangers all get involved, by the end, a few will have survived or found kinship and decided to work together. And so on.
Quite obviously, some of these set-ups are for games where 1) the characters are relative rookies and 2) have a shared origin, at least as far as their meeting goes. It's a Boy Band created by a record company, not a garage band that made it big, if you will. But is it any worse than that random meeting at the inn?
So how do the auditions go? It should be far more than the player presenting his or her character sheet to the group; it should definitely be role-played. A final exam. Tests and challenges. And these should include social interaction with whoever is testing. Are the characters going head to head, or teaming up against a bigger threat? And in the end, who or what decides who gets in? I see three major possibilities.
1. The player decides: After playing his various characters through challenges, the player chooses which he'd really rather play, having experienced the game mechanics first hand and realizing where he perhaps went wrong in the chargen process, or discovering his "voice" is best for a particular character.
2. The players and GM decide: A discussion (and possibly a vote) creates a consensus about which characters are best for the party. This would allow for the chemistry built between characters, which could bounce off one another, etc.
3. The scenario decides: Hunger Games! Characters who do not succeed at the tasks are eliminated, and whatever you have left (one per player), that's your party. Depending on the scenario, "elimination" could be lethal. Or dropped characters might come back later as replacements.
And the Audition doesn't have to be your starter. When you need a new character to join your party's ranks, it could be a one-off idea for that character's introduction. Again, a formal (or incidental) try-out makes for a better story than a stranger coming up to your guys and just joining up because their players know his player.
Have you done this? Or is chargen too much of an investment for you that it's not worth making and wasting characters?