Thursday, October 11, 2012

Extended Random Character Generation

One of the oversimplified differences between playing Old School or New School style D&D as I've seen the issue laid out is that Old School character generation is quick and random because Old School gaming revels in the disposability of characters and the beautiful surprises of the dice while New School character generation is lengthy and almost completely controlled by the player because New School gaming revels in details and preparing the character to fit the game.

These are generalizations of course, but actually pretty helpful ones, so long as we remember the limits of generalizations and don't fall into the trap of a false dichotomy. Most OSR referees, so far as I can tell, emphasize very quick, random character generation, with a few recent posts about using algorithms to determine class and random rolling to determine equipment, and I don't think anyone argues that creating a 3.5 character is a short, choice-less process.

The thing I'd like to point out with this post, though, is that random character generation doesn't have to be a quick affair. One could, instead, significantly lengthen character generation with the use of numerous random tables that can be found in gaming products from the 70's and early 80's.

For example, let's say I'm rolling up a Human Magic-User. Using tables from multiple books, I could determine...

[AD&D DMG (there may be more charts I haven't read yet)]

...that my character is 36 years old (Age Category: Mature) and will live to be 137 years old if allowed to die a natural death.

...that my character is "competent" at Sleep and Charm spells, but vulnerable to dragon's fire, is six feet tall, weighs 172 pounds, has roan-colored hair, hazel-colored eyes, a birthmark that looks like a bird, Caucasian skin pigmentation, is double-jointed, and is obese (-1 to Con and Dex).

...that my character has three siblings and grew up in a rural, inland setting, where he was apprenticed to a Hosler (fine horseman, +3 with all riding beasts) and to a Riverman (excellent swimmer, +1 to Strength, +1 to Constitution).

...and that my character carries four yarpick thorn javelins among his possessions (though he probably can't use them).

Like many in the OSR, I enjoy tables to roll on, like these, and I've incorporated many of these into my game. One wrinkle with so many tables to roll on, though, is that character generation is not as trivial and quick as it is in your favorite flavor of D&D, as written, with perhaps some modifications to make it go even more quickly.

I think that actually fits my gaming style, though. I don't run a game where PCs drop like flies in a DCC character funnel (though I've certainly enjoyed playing in such games), so it's OK if players invest a little more into their characters, even if that investment is simply rolling the dice ten more times. On the other hand, PCs absolutely do die in my games, so it's good that each PC isn't the product of a week's worth of free time.

What about you? Would you be interested in using these charts in your games, or do they take too much time and create too much background details for your taste, or even perhaps take too much control over the characters from the players?