I just read an interesting post over at Pencils and Papers about Character Generation versus Character Building. P&P seems to take, or have taken in the past, a lot of time comparing modern games to the ideals of OSR gamers. OSR is the Old School Renaissance that’s budded up in the community recently with a, some say overly-nostalgic, preference for the games and systems of the 1970s. I would have to say that I am at least on the fringe of that group (notionally, at least), but my interest is mostly in taking mechanics from the past that have been discarded and re-integrating them into modern games. I don’t want to play D&D 2E, I want to play Pathfinder with hexmaps and random encounter tables.
But I digress. The post I referenced talks about old school “character generation” where you roll a few dice, pick a class, and you’re done. P&P says there’s a de-emphasis or discouragement for players to get too deep into the rules, ostensibly so they don’t limit what they believe are valid options in play. This is contrasted with Character Building, where the player is presented a cascade of rules and options to play with and customize their character. P&P talks about how he loves Character Building, how he fiddles with his character and plans out his next level ahead of time and writes up character sheets for the NPCs in his background. This is exactly what I do, and I have the same level of glee. But P&P concludes that Character Building is harmful to the hobby. It can be daunting to new players and it can really bog down the excitement of starting a new campaign (never mind just getting a group together at random for an afternoon of gaming). When I had my players build characters for my Expectations game I feel that I set out fairly rigid guidelines in order to help limit the overwhelming options they had to deal with — they had a Standard array of stats instead of rolling or point-buy and I had soft and hard requirements their characters had to satisfy (generally, be an exemplar of your Race and Class in some meaningful way). it still took them roughly a month to finally get me characters, and even then their sheets were incomplete in places. Granted, I don’t expect they were actually working on their characters for any significant portion of time, but that it took that long is ridiculous no matter how you excuse it.
There is a problem with Character Building, and like P&P no one I know (with maybe a few exceptions) enjoys the character creation process. That being said, I for one dislike the notion of character generation, even if it has the benefit of drastically cutting down the time necessary to create characters.
P&P talks about an imaginary system that makes equally balanced characters either through Generation or Building, to allow people like he and I to gleefully twiddle our characters while at the same time letting less-enthusiastic players generate a character 10 minutes before play. It’s not clear that such a system is possible, and P&P claims to be working on a stop-gap to use with Pathfinder. I haven’t checked to see if he’s gotten anywhere with that, but I like the idea of it.
I’ll take a note here and say that this is one of the things that I really like about some of the non-d20 games I’ve played. CAPES has a really quick, easy, and fun method of character generation, and it DOES work (in a sense) whether you generate a character with their templates or free-form (I’ve done both). Burning Empires uses a lifepath-style form of character creation, and while it doesn’t necessarily make it quicker or easier to generate a character, background details naturally flow out of it (something which isn’t true of most other systems).
For my purposes, I think I’ll start putting together “generation guidelines” for my players to help streamline choices. I think I’ll use his “X+INT skills at Level+3+attribute” idea (though, what happens if X+INT is bigger than the list of class skills?) and work on paring down Feat option. From my post on Massaging Feats I already plan on doing some pruning there. After that, you have issues like Stats, Class Features, Spell Lists, and Equipment that needs to be accounted for. I may take a page out of another RPG I played once (can’t remember which) and just bundle up packages, like “Necromancer Spell List” or “Tomb Raider Equipment.”
If anyone has thoughts on this or ideas on ways to help make Character Generation possible in modern D&D, let me know.