Friday, December 14, 2012

The Dice Are Not Puppet Masters

Where it comes to rolling up a new player, I appreciate players who have been in my world and are not coming fresh from someone else's campaign. I have a LOT of home rules ... the entire character generator, to start ... and it is easier if I have a player who at the start simply writes down what I tell them, and saves the questions until later.

I am not opposed to questions. The session as I run it tends to be a continuous process of mastering question after question hurled from 8 to 10 people (the big offline campaign I run). I think a player is entitled to know what everything on their character sheet means, obviously. I only mean that during the creation process, there's a hell of a lot of information, and I need specific decisions in order to generate that information. Decisions like, are you male or female? Do you want to be a cleric? If so, what religion would you like to be?

The majority of players seemd to believe that the scores determine what class they'll play. I get that if you don't have the scores, you can't play a paladin or a monk. That makes sense. But if you roll a 17, a 16 and a 15, you can be any class in the game (this is assuming, I'm afraid, that you're entitled to arrange your stats; if you can't arrange your stats, well, your DM is a sadistic prick and you should find someone better to be around).

So where is the hang-up?

I want the gentle reader to try a genuine experiment. Imagine that you are on the verge of rolling your first dice to determine your first ability statistic. Before you roll those dice ... decide then and there what class you're going to play. Have it fixed in your mind. Have it set in concrete, surrounded by a vault and dropped in the bottom of the deepest underwater trench of your mind. If it is something where you are unlikely to get the minimums, such as a monk, have a second choice and sink that in concrete also. Now roll the dice, and do NOT change your mind.

If you roll four 17s out of the blue, still hold fast to your original ideal. Though you may have wanted a bard, and now you have the scores for a monk, PLAY a bard! Don't make it multi-classed. And see if you've 'wasted' your stats on that character that did not need those minimums.

I can tell you from a lot of experience, those stats won't be a waste. No matter where you put them, no matter what character you run, the stats will serve you well or badly, depending on how good they are. Which means - wait for it - the dice don't determine what character you should play!

If you had in your mind to play a fighter before you rolled, there are reasons for that which do not change simply because you got lucky. You wanted to play a fighter. If you see those four 17s and decide to play something else, you're enslaving yourself to the dice - and more specifically, to someone else's ideal of what you should play based on what you roll. Try to parse that together. For the next forty runnings - if its a good long campaign - you're playing the class you didn't want to play because the dice were "too good" for the class you wanted.

You do know how stupid this is, right?

If you have in your mind the class you want to play before you arrive at the game - and you force the dice to fit your ideal, instead of the other way around - ALL the decisions about your character can be made in advance. You can think clearly and ahead of time what weapons you want. You can structure your equipment list far in advance, even writing it down so that when the time comes to actually create the character, you're looking for prices and not ideas.

See, I'm convinced that a lot of mistakes about character creation get made at the table because players have to make up their mind on a dime. The dice say, play this; they rush the process in their heads in order to play this; and thus they don't know what weapons they want, they're not clear on armor - and when the game actually starts, they haven't got any character goals in mind. Obviously! Until twenty minutes ago, they didn't even know they were going to be a thief!

The game savvy people out there will say at this point, "Pshaw, I can play any character." Well, yes, so can I. I can also shove any food like product in my mouth, walk in any random direction from my front door and buy any one of a dozen sofas for my living room. I'm ABLE to do those things ... but I don't decide to do them with 30 seconds notice, out of the blue. Hell, even as I'm making my way to where sofas are for sale, I'm thinking, "I'd rather get a green one."

But players slot themselves into playing a particular class with just that much notice ... because you CAN'T decide what class you'll be until you see the dice! It's practically de rigueur.

It seems to me that if you really are game savvy, you'd have stopped letting the die tell you what to do.


  1. That's how I came into your campaign.
    I saw a significant lack of arcane and wanted to play an arcanist.

    (To be honest, I really wanted to play a conjurer or transmuter, but those were not options at all)

    I decided I wanted to play with a lean towards utility. I wanted to have thrown weapons so I could always pitch in, and I wanted to be a social fellow as your social system was sounding intriguing.

    Eventually I decided a hat was important (As I had hunted down a picture) and it went from there...

    I haven't cemented what I want for a minion however...

  2. I was actually discussing with a friend the other day. My opinion was that part of the fun of the randomness and so on is that it gives the player the opportunity to demonstrate their skill by making lemonade out of whatever lemons the dice give them.

  3. So what you're saying is, rather than be prepared to play a very complex game well, it is much better to be grab ass about doing things the very last moment, because it's an "opportunity" and it proves your "skill."

    I see. Did you see the last post about instant wit and now its the ruination of the game?

  4. Just actually came across this situation today actually. After a fun experiment with a different system, we were starting anew and that meant character creation.

    The fun part is, everyone was picking classes and what they wanted to play before a single die for stats was rolled by everyone. The only things the stat rolling during creation did was help guide them to what specialization or path their original idea was aiming at.

    In all, a rather fun little thing to see it happen and then read it.

  5. @Douglas Wall - Anymore, that's how I am. I wouldn't mind taking something totally random and challenging myself to roleplay whatever I came up with.


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