Monday 3 June 2013

Char Gen is Super Boring

Ramble time!
One Choice. That's all my players get at char gen.

Admittedly for most of them this is the first tabletop rpg they've ever played, so that's all they need.
But it's also all I'd want if I was rolling a new character.

Choices at character generation are really fucking boring in general, and completely overwhelming to the newcomer.
They've heard things about this game, filtered down through pop culture and geek references. You roll funny shaped dice! You pretend to be an elf! People wear funny hats when they play it! You play as a dungeon or possibly as a dragon!

Whatever the actual system is, they come to the session and their thought process goes something like "oh god look at all these people I hope they like me" and then probably "I sure hope I'm not bad at this game I don't want to screw up and have them laugh at me".
And then you give them a sheet covered in arcane symbols and notations and boxes and terminology and they go "oh shit this is really complicated I'm gonna fail".

This is where it splits.

You could just say "Look at these classes, pick one that sounds rad. Then I'll get you to roll some dice so we can write down some numbers on your sheet and we'll get going!"
And then if they ask "but how do I know what I can do?" you tell them "Pretty much anything you can do in real life!" and then you're off and running and the newbie is experiencing DnD and having fun and insulting the dice and all that jazz!

Or you could say "Look at these classes, pick one that sounds rad. Then look at these races, pick one that sounds rad, but be careful because some classes are better on certain races. Then take these six numbers and put them in places that complement the kind of guy you want to play as. Then look at this feat list and pick one of fifty options. Then decide which of these skills you want to be good at, although you're already good at some of them because of those six numbers you assigned earlier so you might want to be good at those ones."
And then if they ask "but how do I know what I can do?" you give them yet another mouthful of terminology.
And they're really scared because look at all these numbers. And everyone knows that if something has lots of numbers you can be bad at it.

Plus if you spend a lot of time on the character sheet it makes it seem like the sheet itself is important. Which a fairly important distinction.
4e was pretty balls to run because people used their sheets for everything from skills to attack powers, and so if they were posed with a challenge they'd all look down at their sheets to see what the best way of overcoming the challenge with one of the numbers they had.
My current OSR mashup-thing game is really fun to run because the sheets are only really used to record the stuff they've picked up over time. If they're posed with a challenge they think about it and ask me for descriptions and stuff. This challenges my own improvising skills and creates situations and locations that I never anticipated. Then when they've decided on the plan of action, that's when the sheet comes into play.

And stats? Give me random stats over point buy any day. Point buy is only useful if you've got a balance fetish, and a balance fetish leads to a million rules, each more boring than the last.

Case in point - the spell Command.

Here's the LotFP version:
When a Cleric casts this spell, he may give the
subject a single word command, which it obeys
to the best of its ability. The single word must
make sense as a single command, such as
approach, drop, fall, flee, halt, surrender, sleep,
etc. Although a target could be instructed to die,
this will only make the target take on a coma
tose state for a single round. Note that the
caster must be able to speak the language of the
target. Any intended target who has more than
5 levels or hit dice or an Intelligence of over 12
is entitled to a saving throw. This spell is
ineffective against undead
Here's the Pathfinder version:
You give the subject a single command, which it obeys to the best of its ability at its earliest opportunity. You may select from the following options.
Approach: On its turn, the subject moves toward you as quickly and directly as possible for 1 round. The creature may do nothing but move during its turn, and it provokes attacks of opportunity for this movement as normal.
Drop: On its turn, the subject drops whatever it is holding. It can't pick up any dropped item until its next turn.
Fall: On its turn, the subject falls to the ground and remains prone for 1 round. It may act normally while prone but takes any appropriate penalties.
Flee: On its turn, the subject moves away from you as quickly as possible for 1 round. It may do nothing but move during its turn, and it provokes attacks of opportunity for this movement as normal.
Halt: The subject stands in place for 1 round. It may not take any actions but is not considered helpless.
If the subject can't carry out your command on its next turn, the spell automatically fails.
I love shit that can be exploited cleverly by a player, which is why I love the LotFP version of Command. One word, obeyed to the letter. But! It has to be a single word that encompasses the entirety of the player's intention so they can use some sweet sweet vocabulary skills to great effect.
By contrast, Pathfinder's version is the most fucking boring spell I've ever seen in my life. Pick one of five utterly boring balanced words of mild utility. Urgh.

But anyway I'm not sure where I was going with that one. Swinging back on topic, char gen choices are way boring. I'd prefer a character to be special based on what they've done and how they act in the game, not special because they took Two Handed Fighting over Improved Crotch Grab at level 3.

For myself, I don't even like having a proper character concept in mind when I'm making a character. Hell, nobody ever ends up sticking to their original concept anyway.

So if it's a game I've never tried before just roll me up some random stats, give me a different class to everybody else so as not to step on any toes, and we'll see what happens.

That'd be awesome.


  1. Totally agree rules light D&D is so much more newbie friendly. The problem I find is many veteran players or those coming from a WOW background feel they 'need' the dials that char op allow.

    Its a dilemma.

    1. 4e's great for people who are transitioning from WoW or other computer games to tabletop rpg's.

      It's really scary to act in character in front of people you don't know very well, so being able to hide behind a wall of powers and numbers is a great boon!
      I find of course that it's the DM who sets the tone.
      If you do a funny voice and act in character for the players, they'll do the same to you.
      If you constantly break the fourth wall and make jokes about the game, they'll do the same to you.

  2. You might like "Crumbling Epoch."

    1. Oh mad, this looks great!
      I'll set my phasers to cannibalise.

  3. My son ran a 4e game for a while... but it was WAY too slow and crunchy. In a six hour game, we MIGHT have been able to deal with 2 small encounters. I started an OD&D game for him and his friends, and added a zero-level component (DCC) and almost all of them love the smaller ruleset. For chargen, they had to pick alignment, choose a name, and roll on a random background table I modified from the DCC tables. No stats were generated, not even hit points, until they needed them.

    1. You've really got to work hard to get past 4e's detailed tactical combat focus.

      I ran it badly, because I was new and reading all these OSR blogs and applying the knowledge to a system which just doesn't work that way.

      Making the transition to OSR systems made everything work great, though!