I am running a Pendragon game (set on Mars...it's a long story), and got to thinking about the lengthy process of character generation in that system. It takes ages to make a character, certainly in comparison to D&D. There are a lot of choices, a lot of numbers to think about, and a lot of rolls to make. It can easily take an hour.
I don't mind this process. There are horses for courses. Short, speedy character generation works for D&D and similar, because characters are commensurately throwaway and individualistic. D&D characters tend to be men with no names, who appear from the aether as a set of dice rolls. They develop personalities through play, but they are not really part of any social milieu. When they die, it's no biggie. You roll up a new one. The system supports, and implicitly expects, this.
Lengthy, involved character generation works for Pendragon, because the expectations of the game are different. Characters are part of extended social networks. They have families, homes, roles to play in the community. They are not aimless Cugel-esque rogues. They have to do things like looking for wives and punishing criminals.
It's not something that I've particularly considered before, although it's obvious when you think about it, but the longer and more detailed the character generation process for a game is, the more you would expect players to try to avoid character death in the early game. Partly this is because a long, detailed progress involves you in the character more. But mostly I think it's just a function of length. If it takes you an hour to sit down and make up a character, you are going to be much more careful about what happens to the character than if it only takes you 5 minutes - again, with the qualification that it is in the early stages of a game. (Of course, the death of a level 15 D&D character who you've been playing for over a year is going to be a horrible prospect for other reasons.)
It's hard to separate tone from length, of course, and there are so many other variables. Does starting off play with a main character and backup make you less cautious - almost like a moral hazard? What about the role of hit points (perhaps the most important variable)? And what about how enjoyable character generation is? Where the process is more enjoyable, do people mind their character dying less, and thus act more incautiously on a subconscious level?
Where the process is more enjoyable, do people mind their character dying less, and thus act more incautiously on a subconscious level?ReplyDelete
Good eye on that last mate. Personally I'm quite happy to spend table time genning a fresh character in something like Trav, CP2020, or other systems where stats+emergent character background are part-and-parcel of the generation mini-game. This makes me happier to 'expend' a character than during games where chargen is a chore in itself.
Speaking personally, I don't tend to think of the KAP chargen process as being long and involved (4 stats, scatter skill points, delineate passions and traits, roll for family 'knack'). But then I remember that the cultural origin, family history and family tree/clan army sections exist... :)
Yeah, it takes longer than you think, especially when you get to family history. I love the idea, though: it achieves what many GMs want when they create a detailed history for their setting (getting the players to know about it) while avoiding the main pitfall (boring infodump).Delete
I don't agree. It is almost a policed cliche in the osr to say that D&D characters are throwaway as if everyone must play D&D the same dumb way.ReplyDelete
Die rolling is an insignificant part of character creation. While the actual die rolling may take 5 mins in AD&D the players in my campaigns take a lot longer thinking about their characters before we begin and we usually meet up midweek in a pub when we need to integrate new characters into the setting.
I like pendragon but I am confident that the elaborate procedure for stamping out characters from the Pendragon template does not produce characters more dear to players than more thoughtful methods easily accommodated by AD&D.
Strictly following the procedure of character generation, Pendragon integrates the characters into the established setting and creates personalities for them, whereas AD&D doesn't.Delete
Obviously, neither will make you like your character more, it is just that you don't expect your character dies in a conflict 15 minutes into the very first session (because it took you four times as much just to make that character). And the only way you can avoid death is playing cautiously.
While I do agree that length of character creation does make some players more cautious, my experience is that this doesn’t hold for most players.ReplyDelete
For a lot of players I know, character creation itself is fun. The longer it takes, the longer they get to enjoy that part of the fun. It's not uncommon for them to retire a character early because they went ahead and made a second character and are ready to give it a try.They are more likely to take risks if death means they get to go back to the lengthy character creation process they enjoy.
(This can hold for both lengthy character generation—like Traveller—or lengthy character builds—like GURPS. Although it may be different players in each case.)
And—for me—survival through cautious play rather than a character build in a game like D&D is one of the things I enjoy. If I played risky and my one-of-many character that survived did so only by chance, I wouldn’t be having fun. My D&D characters aren’t precious, but my character’s survival is a measure of the effectiveness of my decisions, which is how I’m “keeping score”.
Creating characters *is* fun. That's one of the reasons why, I think, the D&D 3.5 approach of infinite splatbooks and customisation was so seductive.Delete
I have read a similar premise before, somewhere. I think things depend on the group, how into game theory they might be, if they keep up with RPG discussion. D&D can be played so many different ways.ReplyDelete
Perhaps, someone, should come up with a checklist of topics that a game master should fill out and hand to the players before they start. Are they going to face instant death situations. Should they have a backup character handy.
Didn't Jeff Rients or somebody come up with a list of DM badges for that purpose? Not sure. I don't usually suggest a backup character to my players, but my players have suggested backup characters in my games in the past - which is perhaps a reflection of my GMing style...Delete
Kent, I am confident that you are Horse_ebooks.ReplyDelete
Thanks. An insult is preferable to no response in my book.Delete
I can't agree. I've seen people play OD&D cautiously and D&D4E recklessly. The nature of the game is at least as important as character generation time. I might say players hate having their characters die more in games with lengthy generation time, but that doesn't mean they play cautiously.ReplyDelete
Yes - and in something like OD&D, the realisation that the quick character generation is part and parcel of the lethality of the game has led some players - in my experience - to be ultra cautious, while when playing a game with a very involved character creation system there is the [unsaid] presumption that with this much effort expended, the characters cannot be allowed to die.Delete
It's hard to separate out the variables, yes.Delete
I don't think it necessarily effects how reckless characters act, but it sure as hell should influence how deadly designers make a system.ReplyDelete
Twice now in my Delta Green game I've had my character die so I rolled up another one and kept on playing in the same session. If I couldn't do that Delta Green would suck.
If you have a system in which a character has a reasonable chance of getting killed by one action (as is sure as hell the case when using the Delta Green weapons rules) you've gotta make character creation be fast.
Good point. As I said to JD below, you could make some sort of pejorative "coherence" based assessment of games which have a deadly system but lengthy character gen process, or vice versa.Delete
Ah, but Pendragon is perhaps not the best example. Character death is frequent and expected in that system, at which point Sir Diealot is replaced by his son. As I recall, Junior Diealot is more or less the same character with some minor tweaks, the D&D equivalent of rubbing out the name of one's dwarf fighter and re-using the character sheet, except that in Pendragon it's accounted for as part of the stated gameplay assumptions.ReplyDelete
In general though, your point is -- as ever -- a good one.
I would say it's an OOC reason to be worried about character death, and therefore to be avoided.ReplyDelete
I don't disagree necessarily, but I think OOC factors are to some degree unavoidable in this kind of thing - whether that is ideal or not.Delete
OK. Well, sometimes it's helpful to clarify what the ideal is, even if it can never be fully attained.Delete
I definitely agree with your theorem that ease of character generation is a contributing factor.
My general feeling is that a character takes roughly the same time to build regardless of system. It's just that some systems do more of it in play and some do more before play begins. An Old School D&D character, being the results of 6-10 die rolls and a few choices based on those rolls, is incomplete at first level. Only once play begins do they really start to develop. They'll grow mechanically by leveling up, they'll gain dimension as they are confronted with new circumstances that they must adapt to, and they'll gain history as they make it (either the player making up backstory, or play creating events).ReplyDelete
Yes, and I've said as much in the past (see comments below!).Delete
If my Pendragon guy dies, he dies, but if I have to rebuild his 4 mechs from scratch all at once I will kill you and your entire family.ReplyDelete
I'll try to spare your Sumpter. At least in the first session.Delete
I've been a lifelong d&d type 2 player, and character creation can take a similar amount of time, especially to the rookie. Player death was a clear and present danger, but we worked hard to avoid it. Grand charges only took place once the enemy was thoroughly reconnoitered, or if the situation was truly desperate.ReplyDelete
It was also understood that the DM was not out to murder us and would attempt to guide us toward things that we could handle. However, if we insisted on attack the pit fiend, then by all means.
I guess because I never played any earlier editions of D&D, I never experienced "The Grinder" wherein characters are rolled and demise with reckless abandon. A lot of thought went into every character we rolled, even the ones rolled up on the blood stain of a newly dead hero.
AD&D 2nd edition really ramped up the detail in character gen, particularly with kits and the Skills & Powers book. I mostly played that edition growing up too.Delete
I'm going to say that while your initial premise ain't bad, in practice I find I tend to agree with the guy who said it just doesn't translate. Perhaps it SHOULD...but then, some games are designed to be wahoo, and then simply fail because the wahoo PCs get killed and it takes a fuck-long time to create a new one (Shadowrun, I'm looking at YOU).ReplyDelete
The issue is one of design meshing with player expectations. B/X D&D has one of the fastest chargen processes I've come across, and I still find players playing ultra-cautious. A lot of BRP games have extensive chargen systems (1st edition Stormbringer is more fiddly than Pendragon), but then wipe out PCs with a quickness, no matter HOW cautious you try to be (1st edition Stormbringer again). And for some games that's fine, for others, no.
I like to look at James Bond 007 as a good example of a chargen system that's VERY involved for good reason...your character is supposed to last a looong time (like Bond). It's very hard to die, and thematically inappropriate. As such, you want a well developed character because you're going to be spending so much time in it. That's a nicely designed game. Any system that has a "realistic, lethal" combat system and an expectation of lots of fights (like D&D) better damn well have a simple chargen system or you're playing with fire (DragonQuest take notice). Players have EXPECTATIONS of what they're going to be getting out of games...and what usually happens isn't that they turn cautious, it's that they get disappointed.
In my experience.
Yes. You could get all Ron Edwards about it, in fact, and say that a game in which the character generation process is not appropriately lengthy or short for the type of game concerned is "incoherent", or some other adjective.Delete
In my experience the more complicated character generation is, the less deadly the game will be. Are Pendragon characters as likely to die as level 1 D&D characters? If not, players are probably going to be less cautious in Pendragon, not more.ReplyDelete
Sure, there is that too. As I said, it is hard to separate the different variables.Delete
“You really, absolutely, definitely, indisputably do not need a detailed character background before play begins. In fact, all you really need is a name, a class, stats, and some equipment, and you're good to go - because within five minutes of the game beginning you will without fail find your character beginning to take on a personality of his own. This strange and almost mystical emergence of character through play is one of the best things about the hobby, and it amazes me that people have been so determined, for decades, to kill that concept.”ReplyDelete
Monsters and Manuals Blog, 21 October 2011
That reads really nicely. I have my moments, don't I?Delete
Noisms here is an idea.ReplyDelete
Why don't you indicate somewhere in your posts whether you are talking to yourself in public (I have no interest in those posts) or whether your post is intended to generate discussion.
Noisms, are you sniffing zak's balls again after I told you not to, you rascal?ReplyDelete
Your contents are too simple to read and easy to understand.ReplyDelete
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