There is, of course, a lot of discussion about various D&D 5th edition revelations. I’m not going to address this directly, first of all because it’s not yet relevant to me, and second because I’ve only been getting third-hand information. Maybe some other day? But something popped up in one of the endless battles – excuse me, I mean “forum discussions” – that I thought about commenting on.
Does a starter set (or beginner set, or basic set, whatever you want to call it) need character generation rules? Is the act of making your own, unique character core to the game?
I, a confirmed old-school player, am going to take the somewhat controversial stance of saying: Character generation rules are completely superfluous to role-playing and can be dropped without ill effect.
Consider the exteme case: a D&D boxed set with no character generation rules and no pregens, not even any ability scores. Everyone is a fighter with a 10 in every stat. All you do is pick a name and pick or uy equipment, then roll a d6 for your hit points. Heck, let’s limit the boxed set to a couple equipment packages for different backgrounds: knight, viking, archer/hunter, assassin. Eventually, someone is going to say, “Can I have a crossbow instead of a longbow? Can I be a dwarf with an axe?” or something similar. The DM can wing it or download a free resource on handling variants; either way, it’s not that hard, and the absence of actual chargen rules in the starter box is not going to stop players, even complete newbies who have never heard of role-playing before, from eventually asking for something different. The only thing that might stop them is a rule in the booklet that says “do not add new character types.”
And as you play, even with only one character type differentiated only by equipment, players will act differently. Some will be gung-ho, some will be cautious. Some will be trying to figure out how to use magical effects encountered. And even if they don’t, so what? If everyone plays their character like “me, but as a fantasy warrior” without imagining a different backstory or goals, it’s still role-playing… because the essence of an RPG is not speaking in character or mechanical differentiation of characters from each other, it’s figuring out what to do in the fantasy world through the medium of your character, using what your character is carrying or could conceivably accomplish.
Playing a personality and speaking in character is icing, not the cake itself.