... now with 35% more arrogance!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Starter Sets and Chargen

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.


  1. Personally, I am with you here, but believe this to be a matter of taste and not essence. I suspect that "personality and speaking in character" is the core of roleplaying for some folks, and who am I to tell them differently?

    That said, give me some tools (weapons, spells, whatever) and an interesting environment to explore and interact with, and I am happy as a player.

    Also, welcome back.

    1. Somebody who knows better, that's who :p

      "... give me some tools (weapons, spells, whatever) and an interesting environment to explore and interact with, and I am happy as a player."

      Add to that a focus on associated mechanics on the players' side during sessions (dissociated's fine for the ref or between session stuff like advancement) and I'm swell as a swine

  2. I agree, though my reasoning's a little different; I've never cared much for the whole "you can just make things up" argument - shame that's the go-to when advocating rulings over additional rules. Character creation/generation is not, nor is it essential to, role-playing

    That said, it's traditionally been a pretty big part of D&D, which is what they're selling (in name, anyway) and practically vital to campaign play, another huge aspect of D&D. Granted, the latter isn't necessary for a starter set, but I'd be pretty miffed if they cut chargen and campaign play from the full game

  3. The problem might be what happens with someone who wants to play, just not play one of the pregens - you have a fighter and someone wants to play a ninja. Or a non-human. You also lose a lot of the "can I make this character work?" challenge that random chargen can provide.

  4. Replies
    1. That's got to be the wackiest thing anyone's ever posted in a comment on my blog.

  5. What you just described sounds very much like "Searchers of the Unknown"

    1. From what I recall, it's perfect proof that you don't need chargen to have a fun game.