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Monday, January 4, 2021

Speeding Up Five-Sentence Character Creation

As I said in my earlier post about Justin Alexander’s Character Creation in 5 Sentences, I think it could be sped up by skipping ability rolls until they are called for. I know some people think you need the scores in advance to know how to play the character (Are they strong? Smart? Clumsy?) But we’re talking about getting people at the table right now. These are people with no OD&D experience, possibly no roleplaying experience. The most important thing for them to know is how to interact with the fantasy world through a character, without worrying about rules. They can think about how to roleplay different kinds of characters later, as they are slowly introduced to each concept during actual play.

In the same vein, I think we can speed things up even more by simplifying equipment rules. Justin’s blog post covers very thorough equipment kits, but I think that’s too daunting. Justin’s first sugestion, just telling a new player “This is what you have”, was more in the right direction. Characters should have:

  • Basic Gear: backpack, rations, waterskin, torches, rope, one spare large sack, two spare small sacks, a dagger
  • Basic Cash: 2d6 x 10 gold coins
  • Fighters Only: leather armor, a sword, and either a shield or a second weapon
  • Magic-Users Only: a spell-book and starting spells, 6d6 extra gold

You will notice that this only gives players two options: Fighter or Magic-User. It also gives them narrow choices for weapons and armor. This is based on my philosophy that you give players, especially new players, limited options, but then freely allow them to choose something else.

If you give a player, again especially a new player, a whole bunch of class, race, and equipment options, they will get bogged down in all the possible choices. If, on the other hand, you give them no choice or a very limited choice, if they don’t like that, they will ask “Can’t I be a bard or thief? Or an elf? Can’t I have a battle ax instead of a sword?”

When presented with no options, their imagination runs wild with other possibilities.

So, I’d revise the five sentences to:

  1. Are you a Fighter or a Magic-User?
  2. What’s your character’s name?
  3. “Here’s the most basic equipment. Your gold coins can be spent on gear or supplies when you are in a town. For just this session, if you think of some simple equipment you’d like, you can spend the money and we’ll assume you bought it before the adventure. Also, if you want to upgrade your armor to chain or plate, you can spend money for that now. Are you good for now?”

We skip everything else, for now.

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  1. I like how you're thinking. Now, playing a Magic-User is a big turn-off for new players who discover that they can use one weak spell once in the whole first session. Why not avoid that by just restricting them to fighters? Just give a name and a kit and go. That's not unlike some of the old Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. You just get an Adventurer with fixed gear and go. One step: a name. What do you think of that?

  2. I've used this method when introducing large numbers of middle schoolers to D&D.
    Dispensing with ability scores was a revelation.