Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Deal-breaker: random character generation

Last week, in reaction to our Wednesday-night game-planning meet up, Jeff mentioned that random character generation is a deal-breaker for me. Yes, I grew up on it, but I grew up doing a lot of stuff that I no longer enjoy.

This weekend, though, I got to thinking about why - specifically - I don't want to play games with random character generation.

Part of it is that I'm fairly risk-averse, and I don't want to get stuck playing the substandard character because random dice told me to. I like playing the cool guy. That's one of the big reasons that I play RPGs.

Also, sometimes I - you know - have preferences. I might be in the mood to play a particular sort of character. I don't see why I should have to sacrifice those preferences on the basis of rolling dice. If I'm playing a game, it should be fun for me. That seems like a no-brainer.

Ultimately, though, I think it comes down to what I want to get out of the game - and the character. If I'm playing a PC as a token that I move around through the dungeon, then random character generation is more acceptable. On the other hand, I don't have a huge attention span for that sort of thing. It might be OK for an evening, but I'm not going to get invested in that character, and I'm not likely to have any particular desire to play it again.

I think that's the thing. I like to get invested in characters - in their personal stories and struggles. I'm more likely to do that if I design a character that I'm interested in rather than let the dice randomly assign me one.

5 comments:

Nick Novitski said...

I've been thinking about this, since I bought Houses of the Blooded for $5 yesterday. You have to roll on a table to see which houses each parent came from, and how many siblings you have, what their gender is, and what your order in the birth was. You have three points you can spend to shift these to nearby results. You could spend them to be an only child instead of having 2 older brothers, or to make one parent a Fox instead of an Elk. Anyway, after that, character creation is entirely driven by player choice.

The text says that this is a mechanical representation of not being able to choose your family. I'm not so sure. You can't choose your gender in real life either, but you definitely can in the game. Also, the game leaves you great big blanks when it comes to these family members, which you can fill in with wisdom rolls.

Anyway, it reminded me of creation in Artesia: Adventures in the Known World. Roll to see what culture you hail from. Roll to see where you were born. Roll to see if you have an unusual family situation. Roll to see which parent(s) it applies to. Roll to see what Social class your parents belonged too. Roll to see what professions they held. Roll (on several tables) to see what bloodlines they passed to their children. Roll to see how many siblings you have, and in what order, and of what gender. Roll to see your relations with them. Roll to see what star-sign you were born under, and whether its influence hangs light or strong on you. Roll to see whether and what omens preceded your birth. Roll to see whether and what events happened to you in childhood. I should mention that all of these factors combine to give your character's starting attributes.

Finally, when you've gotten to your character's sixteenth year, you can make a choice: Join one of your parents in their profession, or roll a test to try to join another of equal or lesser social class. Each year, accumulate money and experience as indicated by the class, which you can roll to change. Oh, and roll (on several tables) to see whether and what notable events occurred to you that year.

That's more of a system where you can't choose what, in "reality," cannot be chosen (except there still isn't a coin-flip for your character's gender, which feature I would totally like to see). Okay, it sounds almost parodic, but I've actually found it fun. I've totally done that Traveller-esque thing where you just make characters by yourself for fun.

I guess I think that there's some kind of balance to be struck. Presuming that every slice of the wheel has something of equal potential interest, spinning the wheel isn't a punishment: It's just a prod, a starting point, an outside element you are challenged to integrate into your design. It's like the ingredient on Iron Chef or the weekly challenge of any other similar reality show. They don't say "Okay, just do whatever and we'll pick who wins." They say "This week, you will be cooking with...PRAWNS! For Guy Fieri and Gary Busey! ALLEZ CUISINE!"

Houses forces one or two minor ingredients on you, but I personally would happily accept larger constraints on my freedom. Rolling an 7 for Charisma doesn't interest me, but rolling that I was born under the Dragon and survived an encounter with a ghost as a child, both of which reduce my appearance, but give me bonuses to my strength and will, and unlock a gift to see the unseen, totally does. I guess when I see enough details like that, a personality seems to emerge, and attachments form. He's been through so much already! I want to help him out, and see what he does next! Alternately, he's confusing or uninteresting, and I roll again, just like you're supposed to roll again with a bad set of stats or whatever.

jamused said...

I see random character generation as accomplishing two things: it serves as a prod to get me to play character types that are outside of my default set, and it gives the chance of ending up with a character that is genuinely notable (and memorable) in some particular respect in a way that's fair. If you have to roll for it, a character that has an 18 STR or DEX (or for that matter, a 3) stands out in a way that a point-buy system just doesn't accomplish. "What a surprise, another Elven archer with a DEX as high as the player an afford!" It's very similar to the way that a lucky roll in diced combat can be remembered many years later, while simply spending your 3 Plot Points to achieve the same effect is like Ho, hum, you played the game correctly.

That's not to say that I always want to generate characters randomly, or even that it's my preferred method, but I can definitely see the attraction and certainly put up with it if that's what the GM & players want.

szilard said...

I don't think you have to depend on dice for randomness and surprise. Other people have a constant ability to surprise me with their choices and actions. I'm playing in a Nobilis game now - which is all resource management - and I'm regularly caught off-guard by what others come up with...

jamused said...

Of course people can surprise you with what they choose to do. But I submit you'll hardly ever be surprised when somebody chooses to make their character extremely good at its defining shtick; in fact, you'd be more surprised if it were the other way around. I mean, wasn't your original point that the reason random generation was a deal-breaker for you was that if you left it up to the whim of the dice you might end up with a crappy character?

szilard said...

Sure. I'd thought you'd responded by saying you rely on randomness for surprises... and I was responding to that.

As far as crappy characters go, I might choose to play someone with a serious weakness... but, notable or no, I'd generally rather not get stuck with one against my will. When I roll dice I tend to hope they turn out well... and, as a result, I'll usually perceive a randomly generated PC with poor stats as a disappointment.