Friday 6 March 2009

What Tolstoy Had to Say About Player Characters

At the beginning of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy famously remarked that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I think that is one of the most profound statements about human nature that I've ever read. But we're not here to talk about human nature; we're here to talk about role playing games. Luckily, Tolstoy also indirectly summed up, with this pithy statement, how I feel about my player characters. Powerful characters are all alike; every crappy character is crappy in his own way.

And that is why I like crappy (i.e. Intelligence of 3, 1 Hit Point at first level, or whatever) characters. They're just more flavourful that way.


  1. Great quote! I like my crappy characters. :) Builds character, you might say. ;)

  2. Yeah, I only got that far into "Anna Karenina" too. ;)

    I've long thought that playing a crappy character successfully (" win" - if that's not a misnomer) is one of the rites of passage for roleplayers.

    Winning with an ubermensch is easy; winning against the odds takes skill and dedication.

  3. Zach: Heh. Exactly.

    Chris: Aside from that, though, I genuinely become more attached to crappy characters. I think it's to do with a sense of paternalism, or something.

  4. From my personal experience running games I found that usualy crappy characters tend to outlive the ubber ones.

    Go figure.

  5. I love crappy characters too. I am finally getting a chance to play, which is awesome! I role my characters up with 3d6 in order and just let that dictate what I play. I think that I rolled really well! Nothing over 14, but nothing under 10 either, so not bad. Clearly above average, but compared to the other characters, who all rolled their stats with 5d6 rerolling 1s and 2s, he is so well balanced that he is boring.

    I had his family all these fabulous classes, everybody is rangers and bladsingers, and he just lacks that kind of skill so nobody expects anything greater then being a farmer out of him.

    What is really funny is that when it came to rolling hit points, we all rolled terribly. How terribly? Between the 5 of us, if you add all of our hp it equals 8 whole hp.

    Now THAT is true bravery there, is it not?

  6. edsan: It's that paternalism thing. You want the crappy character to do well because you feel protective towards him, and that makes you invest more energy into preserving him. Also, DMs hate super-characters. That could be a factor. ;)

    Ripper X: That most certainly is true bravery. One hit kills!