Wednesday, October 19, 2011

D&D sans chargen

Today -C over at Hack & Slash talks about the way building characters discourages newbies, especially in games that lock you into long-term decisions during chargen.  To avoid decision tree gridlock I prefer rolling characters.  Well, that's one of the reasons at least.  Standard D&D chargen in most editions is actually a hybrid of the two concepts, since you randomly generate your six stats, hit points and starting gold but you select race, class, alignment and equipment.  I've had some success streamiling chargen by using random starting equipment charts.  I'd play a random class, race and alignment but I don't think everyone else feels that way.

Ditching initial character generation is not altogether is not impossible, though.  If I recall correctly one of the early print editions of FUDGE contained a variant for chargen during play.  No one has a Strength score until you encounter a door that needs opening, then everyone rolls 3d6 and writes down a number.  Whoever is brave enough to pick up the strange book and use the arcane formulas therein suddenly becomes a magic-user.  The player who puts on the chainmail and grabs the sword is obviously now running a fighter.  That sort of thing.  Everybody would start out as undifferentiated, undefined peasants, in the vein the DCC 0-level rules or the old module N4 Treasure Hunt but even less defined.

(How do you say "-C"?  Is that "Negative C"?  "Minus C"? "Dash C"?)


  1. I've got 'Treasure Hunt' and I'd love to run that to kick off a new campaign; certainly make it more interesting.

  2. Goodman Games published a level 0 adventure for D&D 3.5 (I think its Dungeon Crawl Classics #0) that is like Treasure Hunt (I think)...I'm waiting for the PDF to go on sale to buy it.

  3. The Marquess Courtney, Keeper of the Court, Defender of the realms of Agency, Lord of High Castle Abbadon, Creator of Realms, Scriptor of Text, Duke of Music and Song, Player of Games, Teller of Tales, He Who Watches Over Those Who Sleep, Emissary to the Frozen North, Programmer of Automata, Artiste, Master of Debate, of Clan Campbell of ye Crooked Nose.


    (Often Shortened to -C)

  4. Standard D&D chargen in most editions is actually a hybrid of the two concepts, since you randomly generate your six stats, hit points and starting gold but you select race, class, alignment and equipment.

    And rolling stats in pre-3rd edition, non-AD&D versions of the game is mostly a filter for your character choice since stats overall have far less impact on the game than the choice of class does. So the rolling of stats serves to speed up character generation (since you can glance over the stats and say "he should be a fighter or a dwarf with those scores" and move from there).

    And since I typically use the equipment packs from the back of B4 (The Lost City), that reduces character creation time even further. Roll your stats, choose your class, roll your hit points and money, buy an equipment pack you can afford and a weapon (maybe armor if your money roll was REALLY good) and you're off.

  5. Tedankhamen10:03 AM

    How about they roll nothing, start with a blank character sheet, then just determine attributes and class based on the choices they make? Seems liberating to me. The only limit I'd impose for fairness is the 6 attributes have to ultimately be paired up in three sets that equal 21, with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 18 (before racial mods). So yes, Timmy, you can have the 18 STR fighter and yes, Sheila, the 17 INT wizardess is fine, but you'll have to pay with an attribute of 3 or 4 down the line. I think I'll try this my next startup session...

  6. One of the beautiful things I am loving about Stormbringer 1st edition is that it one-upped old school D&D by not only making class and nationality/race random, but by making them really divergent in their power range. So pencil me in to the roster of the High Chaos Chargen camp.

    That said the extra 20-30 minutes necessary to pick out skills and compute the sub-abilities annoys the hell out of me for much the same reasons as the Marquess lays out.

  7. An enterprising DM can pre-roll a bunch of characters (or use a product with such: Rogues Gallery, the back of B1, etc.). Then assign each character a class-based equipment pack. That way when some people sit down to game, there is only one thing each player must decide:

    Which class of character you want? Then hand him his already-completed character.

  8. I did something like that here

    It actually worked out really well the one time I tried it.

  9. I'm greatly in favour of pre-gens or funnel methods because they're streamlined and can communicate a lot about the nature of the game you're going to be playing.

    I do like giving newbies a character hook, though - some easily-grasped idea of who their character is and what motivates them - and possibly concealing all mechanics from them for the first session or so. I've done this a few times and found it working out well each time: the new player buys into the idea of defining strengths and weaknesses for their character, then the next session you come with a completed character sheet for them, with scores that reflect the character they've already started playing.

    Obviously, for this to work you have to be comfortable with arbitrarily-assigned ability scores etc, and running the first session with no rules or dice. I have never had a new player try to munchkin the systemless game in that first session. Instead they often latch onto something I throw out as a defining characteristic and get into who they're going to be, invested in both up- and downsides.

  10. Anonymous11:51 AM

    In the Gary Con Terrain Challenge I had people choose fighter, magic-user, or cleric. Each had a sheet with a few circle-one choices (do you want the flaming sword, the intelligent sword, or the gauntlets of ogre power?) and a blank to write in ability scores, which we rolled the first time they came up in play. This was fun and helped get started quickly, although I had to model how to describe unexpected rolls: "It looks like your fighter is really weak! Did their ambition to be a knight make them train hard to overcome this limitation, or was their strength drained somehow in a previous adventure?"
    - Tavis

  11. Frank1:44 PM

    As an alternative, choice of action could determine the character's "quality" in this aspect. The first attribtue you use will get the highest score. The score of additional "new" attributes would gradually decrease (Either by using fixed values like 16,14,12,... or rolling 1d6+12, 1d6+10, 1d6+8, ...). By doing this, your preferred type of action would determine where you are good at.

    Or, when using it, you could choose whether you want to marvellous in it or suck bad time...

  12. We do this regularly in our current campaign, where character death is a common occurrence. When a new character needs to come into play, the player simply gives one or two sentences about who the character is and we start playing. When a stat is needed, its rolled.

    We play Pendragon, with no classes and no levels. So that simplifies the ad hoc chargen as well.

  13. Anonymous2:08 PM

    I'd pronounce it "Nick." Shortening "Negative C."

    Hm. As an Old School Hack supplement creator, I'll ruminate on what this concept of "generate it as you need it" might look like there. Maybe you spend Awesome Points to boost your starting stats if you're awesome before even getting attributes...

  14. I've always wished someone would have taken Treasure Hunt and turned it into a method that could be easily used by DMs to start campaigns.

  15. This kind of reminds me of the 0-level character rules in Greyhawk Adventures...characters start out with 3's in everything and 3 hit points, and they get a pile of points (Potential Points or Advancement Points or something) that they can use to pick up various abilities until they finally join a character class. It's kind of a rough system, but I have a weird hankering to try something that falls somewhere between FUDGE "in progress" character generation and the Greyhawk zero level approach.

    I'm not sure I'd get much buy in from some of my players, though... they already dislike being low level enough as it is.

  16. I haven't actually played it, but from reading the LBBs it didn't seem like stats really did anything worthwhile aside from potentially increasing XP gains. You could probably ditch stats and make chargen as follows:

    Pick a race.
    Pick a class.
    Roll HP (or just assign max HP, what the hell, it saves even more time)
    Give them a generic equipment package.
    Name the PC.
    Start playing.

    Let mages pick their spell when they need it (for new players) or from the start (for experienced players), and then tell them all about how you need to memorize them in the future.

    If stats don't directly matter, I wouldn't even bother to roll them later.

    Just an idea.

  17. So long as "-C" isn't "not-C", you're probably doing okay ;)

  18. Anonymous4:46 AM

    I like the ideas, but... I thought lack of character generation rules was generally deemed to be one of the huge failures of the various starter sets WotC has used to draw in new players? Let's not forget that creating one's own character and personalizing it is one of the biggest draws of this game and hobby that separates it from others. Creating your own character might be THE thing that hooks many people on gaming.

    That said, I agree it is far too much work in modern rules, and gives no more "fun" for all the work done. But the basic game from ye olden times already takes only 5-10 minutes to do. I'd suggest if someone isn't willing or able to devote that amount of time to character creation they wouldn't have the patience required to play it, either. It is not an instant gratification sort of hobby.

  19. Quarex6:27 AM

    That all sounds right to me, Anonymous, but I have also in the past tried to get two of my significant others to the gaming table--and both discussed the character creation process as their single biggest concern, one because she was worried about doing it wrong and the other because she says it is so boring that she would never actually make it to the orc-killing. For different reasons, each of them would have benefited significantly from one of the many systems discussed here, and though I am hardly prepared to say that men are the only ones who like making characters, I will say that we certainly may enjoy it too much.

  20. Anonymous2:49 AM

    I like the idea of defining characters based on what they do to survive. Presumably, players who like to fight will keep liking that, those who want to search for things will want to keep doing that, and so on. Let your actions decide what your character is good at.

    In principle, I see no reason someone couldn't adapt this approach for a beginning adventure in a 3.X style game, either. Use a skill? That's where your skill ranks go. Try a move in combat? That's your first feat. I realize 3.X isn't your cup of tea, but I think you've come up with a very transportable idea here.

    - N