- Random character generation
- Attack-less combat
- Minor heroic characters
This post will address the first item.
I almost started this as a poll: which do you prefer, random or non-random character generation? Or rather, “chargen” as we call it “in the biz.” But then I got to thinking : just how random IS random chargen anyway?
For the most part, early edition D&D…held up by many as the shining star example of random chargen…isn’t all that random. In B/X, OD&D, or AD&D “random-ness” consists of exactly 8 dice rolls, possibly 9 if you are a magic-user and your DM has you dice for the spell(s) in your spell book. The basic eight are:
- The Big Six ability scores
- Hit Points
- Starting gold
That’s it for OD&D and B/X. AD&D has some other stuff if you’re using the Unearthed Arcana (Comeliness, Social Class, Birth Order, etc.) as well as the optional “Secondary Skill” roll in the DMG (which I don’t see used all that much).
Chargen itself consists of quite a bit more than those random rolls…and none of it is random.
- Choice of class
- Choice of race (some editions)
- Choice of alignment
- Choice of equipment
- Choice of spells
- Choice of proficiencies (some editions)
- Choice of deity (some editions)
- Naming the character
- Crafting a character history/back-story (some groups)
Considering a 1st level character can get killed by misfortune at the drop of a hat, that’s quite a bit of non-random work (especially for an AD&D character). And these choices and options have just gotten MORE cumbersome over time for “the world’s most popular RPG.” Weapon mastery, non-weapon proficiencies, skills, feats, religious spheres, ranger specialties, future mapping (for prestige classes), etc. It raises the question “with all this CHOICE what’s the point of random rolls at all?”
I know that as a DM in my youth, I often did away with random rolls in chargen. Yeah, you heard me. As a DM I’d ask: “what do you want to play?” Player: a magic-user. Me: “okay, you have a Strength of 9, Intelligence 18, Wisdom 14, Dexterity 15, etc.”
Hit points? Same deal. “Let’s see you have a 5th level fighter. That’s a hit point range of 5-50…call it 32 hit points and add your Constitution bonus.”
As a DM, I wanted to GET GOING with the “actual play” stuff…other players already had characters (some of whom were also “non-random” creations), so all the random stuff would be assigned by Yours Truly and off we’d go on the adventure. The player would still be “buying” (selecting) equipment even as we were getting into the first monster encounter. What can I say? I prefer to move at a brisk pace.
[hmm…I could probably write a whole series of posts on playing “fast and loose;” maybe I’ll do that next week]
Here’s the thing (or one of the things): I liked to get to the action AND I liked the threat of imminent death. And the way you get that threat is by not being afraid to kill players…in traps, in combat, in random freak dungeoneering accidents. And the only way THAT can work (and still be fun) is if players don’t end up side-lined too long due to a terminal arrow through the gullet.
[a note on resurrection and raise dead: this type of powerful magic (including wishes) was generally reserved for only the longest running, most beloved characters. When chargen is fast (even for making an experienced character; e.g. “you’re 12th level you have X hit points and the following 5 magic items”) it’s generally more expedient to make a new character than march the party several days journey to the nearest temple with a high priest or whatnot]
Expedience is the most appealing part of random chargen. At least for me…I’m not really sure why else it’d be desirable. Because you want to be “surprised” by how the character turns out? Because you really can’t decide what character class you want to play? News flash: you’re going tohave to make a choice about the latter, regardless. And if you’re playing B/X, those choices are wide open (there are no minimum qualifications or pre-requisites for any of the human classes).
So assuming expedience is your thing (and not just the “suspense” of what you’re going to roll), is D&D random enough? Should class be rolled randomly (as it is in the Warhammer Fantasy RPG)? Should back-story be determined by dice rolls (like Cyberpunk’s “Lifepath” system)? Should even skills/abilities/advancement be determined randomly (hello, Traveller!)?
Okay, let’s check out the “non-random” type of chargen: the path of all choice.
[there’s also a 3rd type of chargen, something I call “the competitive form,” but I’ve only ever seen it in one game: Amber Diceless. Hmmm…maybe Baron Munchausen, too, whose whole game is one big chargen process]
For me, the biggest example of the all choice/non-random chargen system would be White Wolf (mainly because I’ve never played GURPS or Champions). Assign points for abilities. Assign points for skills. Assign points for powers (or spells or whatever). Assign points for willpower. Assign “freebie points.” Assign “flaws” to gain more points. Use bonus points to get “merits” or boost other stats.
Chargen in White Wolf takes a LONG-ASS TIME. Longer still, if you don’t have affirm character concept in your head already. Which, added together, makes most of their games fairly lame for me…because it cuts down on the action by taking character death off the table.
I say this from experience. I enjoy action and danger and challenging characters (or mauling them might be a better way of putting it)…I like swift and violent games more often than not. But if a character gets killed (or even knocked into “extended torpor” for a Vamp chronicle) what happens?
The player ends up sidelined for a long, long time.
Having a character offed in play is punishment enough…forcing a player to sit out because chargen takes so bloody f’ing long is ridiculous. Of course, it never actually comes to this as the “concept character” is SOOO beloved to the player (the player had to think long and hard, and delicately craft their fine creation) that allowing a character to die isn’t really an option. Too much drama and heartbreak down that road…and unlike D&D there’s no “raise dead” or “resurrection” spells.
I look at chargen in a game like Werewolf (which is nothing if not a combat game), and think, “now THIS should be a MMORPG.” Or Sim-Werewolf or something. Let players spend hours crafting the perfect character, and then they can tool about their deathless little virtual worlds to their hearts content, pretending to be, well, whatever.
But noooo, MMORPGs don’t allow your character concept right off the bat…you have to get to “level 60” or some such before you can be a plate armored knight on the back of a horse (WoW)…or “level 40” before you can fly through the air with a cape or have a character with super-speed (City of Heroes). Lame.
Like most Americans, I’m not much for delayed gratification…and extended choice in chargen delays my action-oriented game play more than I can stand.
Now having said all THAT, I think that SOME choice (and extended chargen) is important in any Supers RPG.
a) In general, superheroes are a lot less mortal than D&D characters (they may die 2-3 times in a couple hundred issues, but that’s a pretty slim amount). Likewise, they have a tendency to come back…either as clones, or robots, or updated with new costumes, or magically or whatever. So it makes sense that players put a little thought into a character they want to have around for the long haul (i.e. a continuing series).
b) Random power selection, in my opinion, generally turns out to be ridiculous more often than not. Some character conceptualizing is appropriate to the genre. One thing about Marvel that always irritated me was the random power selection…especially when I had a character concept in mind.
All right, that’s enough design stuff to chew on for right now. Your thoughts are appreciated.