Days of High Adventure: When Characters Were Born, Not Made

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Days of High Adventure: When Characters Were Born, Not Made

In the early days of tabletop RPGs, creating a character looked very different from how we know it today.

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I always played the character I was rolled, but I didn't like having my role determined for me before I started playing. My favorite method of generation was roll 6 3d6s, and assign how you like. That way, I could play the role I wanted, but probably have some deficient stats.

What some people might not realize is deficient stats HELP you play a more interesting character. They aid in roleplaying. If your character has 6 charisma, what does that mean? Well, mechanically it means that people don't like talking to him, but why? Is he very ugly? does he constantly stink of rotting milk? is he rude and obnoxious? Any of those things (and probably a slight mixture of all 3) tell you why he has low charisma.

To facilitate generating characters faster, when my friends and I were making new games every week, we used a "house special" setup, where characters could choose the stats 6,8,10,12,14,16.. Requiring them to pick a big deficit, and just allowing them to do it quickly.

James Maliszewski:

Still, for those of us who've played these games for three decades or more, it can be disappointing to see the older understanding of character disappear. I still prefer to roll up my characters randomly and run with them, seeing them live - or die - as a result of the choices I make. There are, at the start, no grand plans or extensive backstories, just some ability scores, a name, and a willingness to let the character tell me who he is as I use him to experience an imaginary world.

Sometimes, it's true, this approach yields few or unsatisfying results, but, when it works - and it often does - the resulting character is one I'd never have created through planning beforehand. He feels like someone real, or at least as real as you find in novels and movies. That's good enough for me; here's hoping I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Interesting... you must hate ShadowRun creation system then...
Personally i always hated when the game said to me what i should play instand of e choosing what i "want" to play

I used the same rule as altorin to generate character for DnD before i stop playing that game, and agree some deficient stat help had deep to the characters

My current main character, a Feral-born Assassin in Dark Heresy, is 100% rolled up. Or at least, he was when he was created. I spent my XP in a decidedly non-random way, but his generation was entirely random. I also love the big guy to bits.

Also, when I read the title of the article, I immediately thought of The Burning Wheel. Now there's a game where characters are really born, although not necessarily in the meaning of 'born' the article describes.

I personally like games where the stats can be statically assigned. Some examples, Vampire The Masequerade where you could do 7/5/3 points amongs the 3 stat categories, Cyperbunk, where the Gm would assign everyone a static pool of points and True 20 where you have 6 points that you can assign to 6 stats and can go negative in a stat to increase your point pool. That given with the other background tools available, Merits and Flaws, the Cyberpunk Lifepath system etc, it was easy to put a frame around a character. I really don't like just being stats on a piece of paper. I don't know too many GMs that like their player characters to be that way either.

I consider myself somewhat lucky to have been introduced to RPG's just before the "big change".
By which I mean that I generally played a few games in some of the older editions, just before our GM thought it would be "cool to try out that new rule book they have in stores now".

I generally like both versions.

I am obsessive and crazy enough to spend days if not weeks or months even with nothing but careful planning and adjusting a persona I find interesting and engaging to then put into a ruleset and go with it.
And I think that, as long as you don't try to break the game by creating a character that is completely unreasonable or unbalanced, this can be a good thing. It lets you create something and have it interact with other peoples creating.
You can almost compare this kind of play as a storytelling jazz jam with the GM as the beat to which the characters live ( or not )

But there is also a tremendous joy in just rolling a character up and see what he ( or she... if you roll, you got to go all the way ) might become.

Ever had an elven ranger who's afraid of the forrest at night, can't aim a bow but is really really good with a kitchen knife?

On the above mentioned metaphor this would be akin to getting handed an unknown instrument while being blindfolded. Sure you don't know how to play at first. But whatever the outcome is, it'll be sure to surprise you and everyone around you.

I prefer more organic systems like Burning Wheel, where you HAVE choice, but every choice that opens a new path can close off another one in subtle but significant ways.

Something interesting to note: the early eletronic RPGs (namely Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and others that really created the term "JRPG") were inspired by the classic Dungeon & Dragons tabletop RPGs In that eletronic RPGs, you couldn't really create your character. Just as D&D, you had to play with a pre-created character. And just as D&D, the "role playing" was merely choosing actions during combat and managing items and such. There was no deep psychological or moral choices like the ones introduced in the "Storyteller" system, which came a long time after.

It really pisses me off when I see people saying "JRPGs shouldn't be called RPGs, only Western Eletronic RPGs can be called RPGs", when it's clear that, historically, the Japanese RPGs followed pretty much what RPGs were by the time they were conceived. The difference is: the JRPGs just got that first impulse from tabletop RPGs, they didn't really follow the tabletop RPG evolution and transfered them to newer games like Western RPGs did. JRPG evolution ocurred completely independently from tabletop RPG evolution, hence why nowadays they're so different from each other.

Altough a little bit unrelated to the topic, I'm just saying that because I argued on the matter in the thread about BioWare's PR saying FFXIII is not an RPG. People fail to understand what RPGs or JRPGs really were by the time the terms were conceived. This article came in good time, to prove my point that "RPG" doesn't mean "character creation and deep interpretation" nor "moral choices". That's something present in most modern RPGs, but we can't say that's what justify the term because the very first RPGs didn't have really deep character creation or interpretation.

I actually like both the random (good old D&D) method as well as the "create" method of GURPS.
Both have their advantages. The random one is, as has been said above, that deficient stats can help create the character. An example could be my AD&D ranger with minimum stats in all the required ones and an Intelligence of 6, not the brightest ranger there is.
The GURPS method gives you complete control (within the point limit for the game) of how your character should be, which can result in quite an attachment to the character from the beginning whereas the random method usually builds the attachment over time.

I personally am not a fan of randomized creation...though actually, I am a fan of randomized creation.

That is, a good system should be flexible enough to have both.

At least, that's my POV.

Andrey... you forget that in the old DnD you could play the character, you could interpret give him a personallity as you wish, that wasnt dice generated.... JRPG never allowed that in any way... selecting actions in combat and inventory menagement dont make a RPG... If it was the case Bioshock would be a RPG, adventure games would be RPG...

I quite liked how the older system gave you stuff you would never have chosen if you were creating a charecter with full control.

Like my Cleric with a low charisma. How do you explain that? As a follower of the thunder gods he gave everyone small static shocks when ever he shook hands, passed over an item, etc.

This meant he couldn't turn undead for toffee though. I put this down to him being freaked out by dead bodies.

Talvrae:
Andrey... you forget that in the old DnD you could play the character, you could interpret give him a personallity as you wish, that wasnt dice generated.... JRPG never allowed that in any way... selecting actions in combat and inventory menagement dont make a RPG... If it was the case Bioshock would be a RPG, adventure games would be RPG...

It didn't, but it was the closest to an RPG that an eletronic game could get by the time, thus they gained the denomination "japanese eletronic RPG". It is not the SAME THING as a tabltop RPG, it just took the basic ideas, setting, combat based more on thinking than on skill... it took elements from tabletop RPGs. Of course it will be limited when compared to their tabletop counterparts when it comes to interpretation, but that's how eletronic videogames were, really. They were minimalistic. Action games didn't really have a lot of action, they just had as much action as they could possibly put in a videogame with the technology they had.

After that, every game that tried to mimic the first examples of JRPGs adding new things were called "JRPGs" as well. That means the correct meaning of the term JRPG is more about "being heavily inspired by other JRPGs" than anything else.

BioShock is not an RPG on the historical meaning of RPG, because it doesn't fit the western definition of RPGs AND it is not japanese nor heavily inspired by JRPGs. BioShock could only be an RPG by the strictly literal meaning of "RPG" (role playing game), as you roleplay "Jack" in the game. But that's absurd, we all know it isn't an RPG. "Role playing game" is absolutely vague and has no sense if you don't understand the term historically. That's why the meaning the term has gained over time is more important than any other.

The one thing I find the strangest in this old-timey way of character generation is that you could end up with (say) a Barbarian with the strenght of an anthritic grandpa. That makes no sense, why would a guy who can't even lift a broadsword properly even become a barbarian in the first place? (Oh, okay, one might come up with a reason, but I bet guys like this existed a lot in the early fantasy worlds.) Random stat generation is okay as long as you can at least allocate them to the stats you'd like the most. Or if it at least nudges them in the right direction, giving bonuses to the flat roll.

Traveller also had that fun part where sometimes you'd die during character creation.

But for sheer character creation, nothing beats Rolemaster where experienced players still take 2 hours to develop a level 1 character.

Said game also had Critical Miss tables for Giving Birth as well...and, oh god, do you NEVER want to hear the results.

James Maliszewski:
Although the 1974 version of D&D is probably unique in making the referee rather than the player the creator of characters

It isn't. Paranoia uses that mechanism to this very day. For good reason, because in Paranoia the emphasis is on player character conflict -- so it helps if the referee can design the characters in such a way that they have built-in reasons to want to get rid of each other.

The_root_of_all_evil:
Traveller also had that fun part where sometimes you'd die during character creation.

But for sheer character creation, nothing beats Rolemaster where experienced players still take 2 hours to develop a level 1 character.

Said game also had Critical Miss tables for Giving Birth as well...and, oh god, do you NEVER want to hear the results.

Would be curious to see more about all that.... And i do want to hear the result lol...

But so far my favorite creation sytem is ShadowRun 4th edition

You aren't alone here. Sometimes I like a more, "realistic" character, throwing caution to the wind and just playing with the stats I roll. I tried this a few years ago with a dm running a modified verison of DnD first edition. I rolled dice, recorded the stats and left them alone. I chose a rogue for my starting class and my highest stat was charisma. My dm kept urging me to move my stats around but I didn't care, I just wanted to play. About the only real control I allowed myself was the choice of starting equipment, stuff you could buy in a store during this era. All in all he was the best character i've had by far. The stats were all pretty average or slightly above average with exception of my 3 hp. I survived several games like this mostly by using skills and gear I had and caution.

My group has always rolled up the required amount of stats but assigned them to the attributes as we liked, no idea if any system does it that way, I've never looked its just the way we've always done it. I love having at least 1 really low stat, make things interesting to try and get around the problem.

The good old days of being stuck with a fighter with 15 strength, or a cleric with "only" 16 wisdom. A trick that surfaced quite soon was, with a mediocre diceroll, you would pick a character with several high prerequisites, such as a paladin (who at least needed charisma of 17 in AD&D). Then you would just assign your lowest roll to that ability and automatically get it beefed to 17. It wasn't in the book, but it was a rule pretty soon.

The thing is, having low scores, and enforcing you to stay with them (it had to be some total sum of X, where I forget X, but anyway, some low scores could get you there easily) even though your abilities were low. That encourages smart thinking and role playing, instead of just having characters that were "ability machines", like the fighter who smashes and unbalances everything because he has strength 18/00.

Well... this "make yourself" and "stats hell" is one of the reasons nearly all RPGs (on PCs or consoles) suck major balls. After all RP stands for Role Playing and this includes dealing with troubles and challenges without having "superman" as your character to begin with. But that has been done because majority of PC players are simply put dumb-asses which can't be bothered to play real games (aka games with depth and "characters"). Funny fact is that I know non-FPS games where you actual get role playing feeling while I know no RPG which has real role playing going on. So the general motto should be "less stats, more role play". Maybe the day will come I'll witness a real RP(G) which actually deserves the name.

I get the character being 'made' into a character through a series of choices.
But I simply don't want a wizard with 12 intelligence.

The Random One:
The one thing I find the strangest in this old-timey way of character generation is that you could end up with (say) a Barbarian with the strenght of an anthritic grandpa. That makes no sense, why would a guy who can't even lift a broadsword properly even become a barbarian in the first place? (Oh, okay, one might come up with a reason, but I bet guys like this existed a lot in the early fantasy worlds.) Random stat generation is okay as long as you can at least allocate them to the stats you'd like the most. Or if it at least nudges them in the right direction, giving bonuses to the flat roll.

Most of the games that use random stat generation actually encourage you to pick your class after you have your stats, not before. The idea is that the stats are the base abities of the character, and then you need to choose the role that fits them. Of course, this kind of generation doesn't work when you're in a situation where the players already know what they want to play to begin with.

Most of the game I've played recently, and the ones I've run, have actually had the game master doing the bulk of the character generation (with some high-level input from the players). When I ran a scenario in the Dragon Age RPG like this, I had the players roll their random stats via email, filled in their sheets for them. Some of them ended up with a slightly worse set of stats than others, but since I knew the rules, I was able to make sure that even with their weaknesses they were still effective. Then everyone gets their character sheets, along with a brief description of what they are, when they start to play.

It may remove the personal involvement a bit from ground up creation, but it sure saves a lot of time with people trying to figure out all the rules, min-max, or pre-plan their characters before they even start playing.

Denamic:
I get the character being 'made' into a character through a series of choices.
But I simply don't want a wizard with 12 intelligence.

Missed opportunity. What about a first level wizard who ACTS like he has 3 spells a day, instead of just one.

As someone who has never played a table-top RPG, one of the most confounding and intimidating aspects of starting play is the notion of creating a character, because I have no clue what half of the attributes mean, let alone which I should be emphasizing over others. The idea of a chance-determined character sheet is very appealing and seems more game-like. I might well be biased since reading this column as well as 'Check for Traps' is the most education on table-top gaming I've ever had. For instance, I also think the idea of a simulation game sounds more appealing than a cinematic game. If I want a heroic, cinematic game experience, I can always load a good video game and get that. Table-top gaming seems much more unique as an immersible simulation experience. But I honestly wouldn't know shit about either type of playing style.

300lb. Samoan:
As someone who has never played a table-top RPG, one of the most confounding and intimidating aspects of starting play is the notion of creating a character, because I have no clue what half of the attributes mean, let alone which I should be emphasizing over others. The idea of a chance-determined character sheet is very appealing and seems more game-like. I might well be biased since reading this column is the most education on table-top gaming I've ever had. For instance, I also think the idea of a simulation game sounds more appealing than a cinematic game. If I want a heroic, cinematic game experience, I can always load a good video game and get that. Table-top gaming seems much more unique as an immersible simulation experience.

The biggest problem with modern games is that all the stats and abilities are too intimidating. With the first edition of AD&D, none of that mattered. Everything was clear. You took the players handbook home for 2 days and you had a pretty good idea of what your character could and couldn't do. 2nd edition was worse and 3rd edition was just mental. Attack of opportunity anyone?

I hate randomly generated characters. When you have a character whose lowest stat is 13 in the same group as a character whose highest stat is 12, it's just imbalanced. I prefer a system where you choose your stats like WoD, Exalted, BESM, Hero, etc.

frans909:

300lb. Samoan:
As someone who has never played a table-top RPG, one of the most confounding and intimidating aspects of starting play is the notion of creating a character, because I have no clue what half of the attributes mean, let alone which I should be emphasizing over others. The idea of a chance-determined character sheet is very appealing and seems more game-like. I might well be biased since reading this column is the most education on table-top gaming I've ever had. For instance, I also think the idea of a simulation game sounds more appealing than a cinematic game. If I want a heroic, cinematic game experience, I can always load a good video game and get that. Table-top gaming seems much more unique as an immersible simulation experience.

The biggest problem with modern games is that all the stats and abilities are too intimidating. With the first edition of AD&D, none of that mattered. Everything was clear. You took the players handbook home for 2 days and you had a pretty good idea of what your character could and couldn't do. 2nd edition was worse and 3rd edition was just mental. Attack of opportunity anyone?

Depends on the system. The new world of darkness is a lot more easy to understand than the old one. Before, attributes where pretty arbitrary (strength, dex, stamina for physical attributes; charisma, manipulation and apearance for social attributes (apearance also count as a physical attribute sometimes for things like metamorphosis); intelligence, wits and perception for mental attributes). In the new system, there is still 3 kinds of attributes (physical, mental and social) but they each have a strength, finesse and resistance aspect. So, an intelligent character whould have lots of mental strenght, a quick thinking character has lots of mental finesse, a stubborn character would have lots of mental and social resistance, etc.

Well, I used to do stuff like this on my own accord when I played in Neverwinter Night online RP servers (A DnD game btw) I would often flesh out the character AFTER making them andthey became popular among my fellow players. My main character by the end of my run was a powerful and deadly villain and assassin. He started off as a stubborn warrior from the east and became practically a comic book super villian.
Also for RP, having your roles picked beforehand can be fine, since you in real life dont choose how your body starts, but can affect how it changes. I certainly would have created myself much different irl if I could, but I guess I am more interesting since I did not.

frans909:

Denamic:
I get the character being 'made' into a character through a series of choices.
But I simply don't want a wizard with 12 intelligence.

Missed opportunity. What about a first level wizard who ACTS like he has 3 spells a day, instead of just one.

Or maybe a thief who really, really always wanted to be a wizard, but just wasn't smart enough. Is s/he bitter now? Envious? Still hoping? Depressed? Glad in the end? A million directions to go in--it's all about the spin.

0over0:

frans909:

Denamic:
I get the character being 'made' into a character through a series of choices.
But I simply don't want a wizard with 12 intelligence.

Missed opportunity. What about a first level wizard who ACTS like he has 3 spells a day, instead of just one.

Or maybe a thief who really, really always wanted to be a wizard, but just wasn't smart enough. Is s/he bitter now? Envious? Still hoping? Depressed? Glad in the end? A million directions to go in--it's all about the spin.

I've had a character with 4 Dexterity before. (he was blind) Still great fun to play.

Altorin:
I always played the character I was rolled, but I didn't like having my role determined for me before I started playing. My favorite method of generation was roll 6 3d6s, and assign how you like. That way, I could play the role I wanted, but probably have some deficient stats.

What some people might not realize is deficient stats HELP you play a more interesting character. They aid in roleplaying. If your character has 6 charisma, what does that mean? Well, mechanically it means that people don't like talking to him, but why? Is he very ugly? does he constantly stink of rotting milk? is he rude and obnoxious? Any of those things (and probably a slight mixture of all 3) tell you why he has low charisma.

To facilitate generating characters faster, when my friends and I were making new games every week, we used a "house special" setup, where characters could choose the stats 6,8,10,12,14,16.. Requiring them to pick a big deficit, and just allowing them to do it quickly.

I agree with this. Not a big RPG player myself but last time I played thats what I did. I ended up with a mentally retarded Bugbear.

Considering his low Int I played him as a loyal food obsessed person, that would go into a rage each time he was hungry :)

Altorin:
I always played the character I was rolled, but I didn't like having my role determined for me before I started playing. My favorite method of generation was roll 6 3d6s, and assign how you like. That way, I could play the role I wanted, but probably have some deficient stats.

I often work with this method as well. I've seen 4d6 and remove the lowest dice as well, which has still created some deficient stats (managed to roll a 2, 2, 1, 1 once >_>) but for the most part it's 3d6 and assign as you like. Some days you'll get lucky and get 15+ in all stats. Some days...really not. Adds an interesting twist to some games when your character is almost lame because their strength stat is so low.

Hm, I might just roll up a character, old school style in a new school game. Reading some of the examples given here, they could be really interesting.

I sometimes encounter a divide between players of the newer games when it comes to rolling 4d6, discard lowest or point-buy. I like the rolling aspect, not knowing what you can get but I know some people who would rather tailor their character to fit their ideas like a glove.

I've always preferred random character generation.

Because otherwise I get bored and fall into stereotypes.

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