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I have been noticing a trend in gamers, as I have said before, that their skills at strategy and tactics aren’t too damned bad, but their skills at actual roleplaying are so damnably lackluster that one can easily overlook how well they do at numbers.  I mean it; they are so pitiful at staying in character and helping to construct the story that it sets my teeth on edge.  Most times they don’t even try.

I came to the realization that a lot of it has to do with all of their games based around “building” a character from the ground up, instead of “growing” a character by putting together various elements.  The seeds of this capability are sown in the tradition of randomly-generated characters.  That’s right, characters grown around random characteristics that the dice dictate when figuring out what the player will play.

In the first editions of Dungeons & Dragons (including Advanced Dungeons & Dragons), you rolled three six-sided dice, and put the results down in order for your character’s statistics.  If you were lucky, your DM would let you get away with murder by switching a number or two.  Other than that, you were stuck.  You learned to work with the numbers fate handed you, and it actually taught you how to make a solid character out of an assortment of numbers.

Erick Wujcik, cofounder of Palladium Games, based out of Michigan, wrote the following as the lead-in to every roleplaying game he wrote for Palladium, explaining the superiority of random character generation:

RANDOM CHARACTER GENERATION: A Rationalization

Some readers will be surprised to discover that there is a “point system” for creating the animal characters in this book. There is a good reason for it; we want to make sure that every player could create an animal character to suit themselves. Which, if you think about it, is really not all that different from the way things are handled in Heroes Unlimited. After all, Bionic and Robotic characters also build themselves. But this game, just like Heroes Unlimited (and most other Palladium games), is based on random character generation.

There’s a fair amount of controversy in the roleplaying game community about character generation. Chiefly, some players complain that it is not as much fun or as challenging to roll up characters off a table as it is to ‘create’ the characters.

There is some validity to the argument. Regardless of our personal opinions on the subject you are free to do what you will with the game. If you are a game master, then simply let the players create their characters according to your own preferences. If you are a player, then lobby your game master for whatever changes you feel will make for the most playable game. However, here are a few good reasons to retain the random character generation system:

1. Excellent players can role-play ANYTHING; granted, the play-testers that I and the other folks of Palladium have at their disposal are superb. An excellent player can play any character, and sees a weak character as a challenge, not a liability.  When running my own campaigns, I frequently deprive characters of all their various powers and possessions. It is when the character is in the direst of straits that fantastic role-playing comes about.

Let’s look at one example. Recently a pair of players in fantasy game were captured by enemies. They managed to escape, but they found themselves lost in a strange desert with nothing but a piece of wire. The roleplaying went on for several weeks, alternating between the lost survivors dodging armoured hunters and straining to get water, shelter and food in hostile land. It was an intensely interesting role-playing adventure.

2. Another advantage of random character generation is the convenience that it provides to the game master. Instead of laboriously ‘constructing’ every new villain and N.P.C., the game master can just ‘roll-up’ the new encounters. This makes scenario design and quick response to player actions much easier.

3. Finally, let’s not forget that random rolls reflect real life. Even in the ‘perfect’ lives of fantasy characters there is no control over their origins. Super characters are usually created by accident or by forces over which the character has little or no control.

Now, take a good look at those three points made at the end of his short rant.  Points one and three are the important ones, especially point one.  A good roleplayer comes not from what super powers you have, or what rules you can exploit, but rather what kind of adversity you can overcome, both in the game and behind the character sheet.

For those that have never looked over a Palladium RPG, the character creation process entails a lot of die-rolling and table-referencing in order to make a character.  It does take a bit of time to accomplish, but in the end you are left with a very developed and three-dimensional character with an impressive array of skills and abilities, whether it is the Nightbane RPG, Rifts, TMNT and Other Strangeness, or any of their RPGs.

So if you want to know how to up your game, how to be a more solid, true roleplayer that can impress the other players at the table, I suggest you give random character creation a try.  Put away the point-buy systems and their convenience for fair play in organized, shared games, and try your hand at a character you haven’t been able to fully min-max to hell and back.

It builds character!

What do you think?

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2 Comments

  1. In a home campaign, random generation is pretty much the way to go. In shared world, or Living campaigns, it was discovered early on that, left to their own devices, gamers will cheat like all get out. I think the best example of that was convention games which allowed dice rolling for stats had numerous folks show up with all maximum stats. Heck, I’ve caught a kid at COSCon using cheater dice (the d20 had two 20’s and no 1). And it wasn’t this kid’s first trip to COSCon either.
    Also, with the shared world games, you typically get 4, or maybe 5, hours to complete a module. In a home campaign, if the game goes late because we spent three hours in the tavern trying to seduce the bar maid, or getting in arm wrestling contests, then you continue on the next time the group gets together.
    I think part of the problem is that convnetion slots are fairly restrictive in length. So while bringing a new person to a con is a great way to introduce them to a lot of systems at once, it also emphasizes the get done quickly mentality.
    Plus, for a lot of these younger folks, video games are their first intro to rpgs. And they’re typically races to finish and get xp to get newer cooler abilities.
    All that said, I still like folks who have efective characters. Not min-maxed, but being legitamately good at being an adventurer. Oh it’s cute that you’re a barmaid, and only have a frying pan, at first level. After that, pick up the gear and skills to survive so you don’t get me killed by your impocetence, and defend it by calling it “roleplaying”.
    I’d keep going, but trying to read black letters on a dark grey background is completely sucktastic.

  2. Have you seen the Dungeon Crawl Classics beta document that’s out BTW? It looks pretty farkin’ interesting man.


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