Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Praise of Random Character Generation

I’ve always loved random character generation. I loved the idea in Traveller (which I promise, I will actually run again one fine day), I love it when I dare to roll 4d6 (drop lowest) in straight order in D&D or a d20 game, and I’m betting I’ll love it in ICONS.

This past weekend, our gaming circle rolled up characters for the old Tri-Tac classic, Stalking The Night Fantastic. We used not only the tables in Night Fantastic, but our GM ported and modified background tables from products such as Beyond the Supernatural and the Epic RPG. What ensued was a group character generation session that was a lot of fun, not least of because there was an anticipation of what the next character element would be, and how it would work into this continuously evolving character concept. Life deals us a varied hand, and I think working those lower cards into a character give it a little bit of depth and believability that may otherwise be missing.

To me, there’s something very exciting and creative in melding together these disparate elements. You’re given these ingredients and are asked to make a meal out of them. What’s always fascinating to me is how you could give two separate gamers the same number of randomly-generated qualities, and get two completely different qualities out of them.

Now, granted, there are people who want the character they want, and cursed be any sort of randomness. I know I’ve made my share of custom character “builds” over the years. And I think (as one of my gamer amigos put it this weekend) “guided random character generation” is more my style—use the random elements, but still have player input on the finished product, rather than true complete randomness. But there’s something refreshing of letting chance determine a life’s path now and again.

Stay out of this, Two-Face.


A.L. said...

I'm generally more of a fan of point buy, I like making the character I want to play for things a lot. that being said, random generation can be a whole lot of fun especially as a creative endeavor to help with making characters.

One of the GMs around here just recently started a Dark Heresy game where we did totally random character generation. Even appearance, gender, and other minor things were done with the random tables. The only bit of reprieve given? 150XP, of which you could spend 25 XP out of for a reroll on something. People who didn't reroll, got the XP.

The results have been quite interesting, now with an arbiter group consisting of 3 Arbitrators, 1 Adepta Sororitas, 1 Tech Priest, and 1 Cleric. 2 of the characters are mind wipes, 2 are Scholla Progenium, 1 Hiver and 1 Noble.

I don't think you'd ever end up with a group like that with 'paid for' character creation.

Tommy Brownell said...

Dude...I even randomly roll my NPCs in Star Wars Saga. There's a fair bit of cool in random character generation.

mxyzplk said...

Me too. I've played more than enough characters designed exactly how I want over the years - I like the challenge of playing a "stranger."

You know, in 2e I enjoyed the Complete Bard's Handbook - it had copious tables for appearance, personality, and whatnot. I used it and kept and reconciled even seemingly contradictory results and it always resulted in characters that felt a lot more "real" than the others at the table.

It also helps stem the tide of the culture of min-maxing and entitlement in gaming.

da Trux said...

i've always preferred random tables, but i'm more than guilty for fudging rolls to NOT get results i didn't like ;)

I'm hoping to sommeday play Rolemaster just because the idea of so many random tables really sounds exciting.

I'm now running a Heroes Unlimited campaign (getting ready to, actually) and everyone's characters have been randomly rolled. It's going to be grand!