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

James Maliszewski

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Aug 19, 2009
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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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Altorin

Jack of No Trades
May 16, 2008
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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.
 

Talvrae

The Purple Fairy
Dec 8, 2009
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James Maliszewski said:
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
 

Hurr Durr Derp

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Apr 8, 2009
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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.
 

aegios187

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Jun 17, 2007
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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.
 

Sylias

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Apr 20, 2009
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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.
 

PedroSteckecilo

Mexican Fugitive
Feb 7, 2008
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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.
 

AndreyC

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Mar 18, 2010
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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.
 

Xaryn Mar

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Sep 17, 2008
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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.
 

Namewithheld

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Apr 30, 2008
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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.
 

Talvrae

The Purple Fairy
Dec 8, 2009
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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...
 

bjj hero

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Feb 4, 2009
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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.
 

AndreyC

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Mar 18, 2010
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Talvrae said:
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 Random One

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May 29, 2008
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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.
 
Feb 13, 2008
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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

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Aug 19, 2009
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James Maliszewski said:
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.
 

Talvrae

The Purple Fairy
Dec 8, 2009
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The_root_of_all_evil said:
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
 

Jfswift

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Nov 2, 2009
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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.
 

kalt_13

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Sep 14, 2008
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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.
 

frans909

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Aug 10, 2008
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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.