Randomness in character creation

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Randomness in character creation

Postby ClawCarver » Mon Aug 01, 2016 1:39 pm

A recent thread in the Hobby Shop Dungeon facebook group contained a discussion of randomness in chargen. Essentially the OP contrasted point buy systems with dice rolling for attributes and asked, "If you like rolling stats randomly, how would you feel about other aspects of your character - race, class, etc. - being generated randomly too?"

Without getting bogged down in pro- or anti-point buy arguments, let's concentrate here on the random factor. What, if any, aspects of player characters would you be happy to determine via the oracular power of dice?

Of course I realise it depends on the game and the Referee's vision of his or her campaign. Early editions of the Stormbringer RPG call for rolls on random tables for Nationality (effectively "race") and Class. No matter what your initial attribute rolls, you might end up playing a Melnibonean sorcerer, a merchant from the Island of Purple Towns, or a beggar from Nadsokor afflicted with missing limbs, hemophilia, etc. Your skill levels are largely determined by your Class. You have very little choice in the matter. The dice decide. Creating a character is fast and fun and full of surprises, some pleasant, some less so.

Many years ago, when I started converting Skyrealms of Jorune to a BRP/D100-style system, I used Stormbringer as a model. I made a table to determine a character's species. I based the probabilities on the Jorune encounter tables. You roll for your character's species first, then roll different combinations of dice for stats depending on the species you rolled. I let players pick their occupation (i.e., class), though. See here for more details.

When I'm running Stonehell Dungeon using B/X D&D, I always allow my players to roll for random headgear. (Heck, I don't allow them; they insist.) Just a bit of fun at first, but one consequence I've noticed is that it takes some of the the sting out of losing a character when the player knows they're soon going to be getting some kind of fancy new hat!

In my Ruins of Ebidoria campaign, I have a "Birth Gifts" table based on the random Character Gifts tables in the old AD&D 2e historical sourcebooks (the Vikings and Celts ones, anyway). Players don't have to roll on it, but if they choose to do so they must abide by the result. Some results are good (high status, good luck, elf or troll ancestry with associated stat bonuses, second sight, etc.) and a few are bad (low status, ill luck, ugly).

So, what else? Background? Equipment? Does anyone make players roll for their race? Class? Gender? (I'm thinking of Jeff Rients's Cascosa chargen supplement now.) Alignment? Mutations? Psionics?
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Re: Randomness in character creation

Postby merias » Mon Aug 01, 2016 5:13 pm

I love using randomly generated characters, my WB generator is purely BtB, but adding in backgrounds or quirks would be nice (maybe I'll do that). When I run WB games and someone needs a quick character, I send them to the generator. I don't understand player fear of rolling randomly and getting an 'unplayable character' - to my mind there is no such thing. Quirks and low stats can be embraced and played for what they are. If I'm not using randomly generated characters, I provide stats and starting gold for the players (so at least that much is random and not fudged), but they can do the rest.

For backgrounds, I like the Zenopus Archives OD&D and Holmes backgrounds sheet. I think the last time I used it I let the players choose from the list, but random would be fine too.
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Re: Randomness in character creation

Postby Bastable » Thu Aug 04, 2016 6:17 am

That random headgear idea sounds great!!
Be excellent to each other !!
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Re: Randomness in character creation

Postby ClawCarver » Mon Aug 08, 2016 12:58 pm

merias wrote:When I run WB games and someone needs a quick character, I send them to the generator.


I like that generator a lot. It's fast and fun. However, on the rare occasions I get to play a character, I like to roll those 3d6 in order. I suspect most of my players feel the same. (Although I think they'd be OK with pregenerated PCs, random or otherwise, for a one-shot game.) I'm curious; do you use the random PC generator in face-to-face games at the table, or just for remote/online games?

merias wrote:For backgrounds, I like the Zenopus Archives OD&D and Holmes backgrounds sheet. I think the last time I used it I let the players choose from the list, but random would be fine too.


I'd seen that before but forgotten about it, so thanks for the reminder. It could easily be tweaked to fit a specific campaign, and would be a great way to add flavour.

Bastable wrote:That random headgear idea sounds great!!


It's brilliant. This might sound daft, but it's probably my single favourite thing the OSR has produced. It's certainly the thing that gets used the most in my games, and it provides endless amusement. We don't always recall the names of the retainers and other NPCs who have come and gone (and died) over the years, but we remember their headgear. ("Wait, was that the dwarf wearing the natty three-tiered black ziggurat with a silver holy symbol hanging from a tassel?") Yeah, I give NPCs random hats too.
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Re: Randomness in character creation

Postby Bravesteel » Fri Sep 09, 2016 10:52 pm

merias wrote:For backgrounds, I like the Zenopus Archives OD&D and Holmes backgrounds sheet. I think the last time I used it I let the players choose from the list, but random would be fine too.


Definitely adding this to my campaign, when it starts, as this easily adds a little bit of flavor to each individual character without going overboard.
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