Friday, June 12, 2009

Schrodinger's Character

The flaw being discussed today is two-fold. First is the boring first session where people sit around for half an hour to an hour (or more) rolling their characters and generally being involved in their own little world. The second is the high likelihood that after spending this hour they die in the first five minutes of the first adventure.

To solve this problem I use "Schrodinger's Character", which is a type of point-buy character creation method.

The mechanic works by having the players choose a name and an archetype (" Samuel the Bumbling Scribe, Marcus the Green Soldier, Al'Sarek the Wandering Holy man").

Then start the game, just like that. Now this may raise some questions like "How do they interact with mechanics?", the simple response is that they roll first..apply mechanics second. This makes character creation part of the game and makes it almost certain that all PC's live through their first session.

How does this work in practice?

Sam is looking through an abandoned shack in the woods and finds a book. The GM declares that it is written in say "Elven". Sam declares that his character can read elven (and maybe creates back story to justify it, he's a scribe so it shouldn't be too hard) and so he reads the book. Elven thus is used as one of his starting skills. Note that starting skills are based upon your starting intelligence, so he has also declared he has an intelligence of AT LEAST one.

When Marc attacks an Orc he rolls a 14, the GM rolls the Orc's defense of a 15. If Marc declares this is a hit, he'll have to justify at least a +1 bonus to hit somehow (say choosing to have a high agility score). He'll also have to ensure that at the end of the night his total "to hit" modifier is at least +1.

This works for starting skills, starting items, starting stats, everything. At the end of the night any unused points are then assigned and the character is completed.

Why do it this way?

1.) Time:
Gaming is in my mind a social activity. Sitting in your own world working out numbers and trying to guess what you'll need in the coming hours isn't' very social, at least in my experience. It tends to be an hour of people flipping through books, occasionally eating something and staring intently at the slip of paper in front of them. This fixes that.

2.) Insta-Death
Everyone has seen this at least once. You sit down, you work out your character (After an hour) are ready to go..and fail an easy agility check, fall down a grassy slope and break your head open on some rocks. Other pathetic deaths like this occur, leading to either GM fiat (in which case why roll dice in the first game at all) or a serious case of either headesk or facepalm. This fixes this. You get to choose to survive the first adventure. This is the story of how you became an adventurer, not of all the thousands who came before you and didn't have just the right skills and items to succeed.

Options for normal point buy or randomly rolling a character still exist, but this is my preferred method, especially for a first game.


  1. Group character generation, where people bounce ideas off one another and talk about what they are doing, tends to be much more entertaining then solitary character creation and as a bonus tends to create better gaming; that said, I can see the good parts of your approach and have used a similar one.

  2. I am a firm believer in having a group template as well. That said, in any more "rules heavy" game there always seems to come a point where people start plugging away and tinkering with ideas for the mechanics, usually once the background and character history are already known.

    Again though, not everyone has every "flaw" I list so I doubt every idea will be useful, still I hope some are.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. I hopped on over from Gothridge Manor...

    I like the idea behind this, however unfortunately the system I use might be a bit unwieldy performing on-the-fly adjustments. However, the spirit of this can easily be used. And I might just do that!

  4. I just make sure that my first few adventures aren't life threatening. The enemies kidnap the PCs, or demand surrender, or fight to disarm and humiliate them (or maybe just rob them blind). Perhaps the city watch is within earshot and neither side can fight for too long, etc. Of course this doesn't always stop them from dying early, but it does reduce the chances quite a bit.

    The non-combat encounters involve a lot of puzzle solving or spying, and the magical traps or cursed magic items they find either paralyzes or puts them to sleep, or makes them forget things, etc, etc.

    This was my reaction forever ago when the first few characters just up and died on the first adventure. It's a nice buffer to get people into the campaign, and it also doesn't waste character creation time.

    I like your method, though, and will certainly use it for NPCs I have to make on the fly.