Fun alternative character creation systems
Dungeons and Dragons is the game system I am most familiar with in terms of character creation. I wrote earlier about some of the methods you can use to build a character, and the D&D genre has a pretty consistent style. You build your characters steps by step, making choices for everything from attributes, race, class and starting features like background. There are alternatives you can use, such different options on rolling for attributes. However, it’s ultimately a very deterministic style where you are in the driver’s seat.
This is great, especially if you have a specific character in mind or certain abilities you know you want to use. However, there are other options out there in the role-paying game genre. Here are a few of the more interesting options, some that specialize in taking away choice with the all-powerful, fun, and quirky roll of the die. Consider giving these systems a chance, or play with adding some of these components into your game for more randomness.
1. DCC level 0 characters – rise of the mooks
Dungeon Crawl Classics has a pretty awesome system for creating characters, which you can certainly import over to other gaming systems. You see, in DCC you are a nobody. You’re just a collection of random rolls for your basic stats. No bonuses, no special modifiers. Heck, even your profession is random. If you’ve ever wanted to play the hero rising from nothing, or from a pig farmer, then this is creation system for you!
The goal is to get you into the game as quickly as possible. It’s not about your back story, because your story is that of a medieval serf that decided to break out of their meager existence by doing something really stupid. It’s a lot like the lives of the random villagers in Witcher 3. Except, some of them decide that harvesting grain is a boring chore, so they decide to explore the nearby, haunted crypt.
Of course, Sir Geralt of Rivia finds their corpses later on as he clears out the monsters. Turns out, a bunch of stupid locals thought they could take care of the problem themselves and never returned. They should have hired a professional.
Life is harsh for a level 0 starter character, so you roll up a bunch of nobodies rather than just one. That way, one of them might make it out alive, which earns them the right to become level 1 and gain a few meager starting abilities, such as a class! It’s a great way to play rag to riches without ever losing the feeling that adventuring is a dangerous, dirty affair.
2. Traveller and character creation as a game
I’ve created dozens of Traveller characters in their far future, science fiction setting . It’s addictive, perhaps the most additive character creation system in gaming. Now, if I could only get some folks together to actually play the game! Fortunately, the creation rules are a game system in of themselves.
Similar to DCC, you start as a lank slate defined entirely by random number rolls. No bonuses, so you can end of with some extremes in abilities. Super smart and super weak, no problem. Strongest man in the universe, check. Smart, check. Education, not a single day. All pretty standard so far, but you don’t get to rush into class choices at this point. Instead, you decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.
That’s right, it’s like being 18 again and considering what college you want to go to… and then writing acceptance applications. Depending on your roll, you might make it into your dream school – West Point or Harvard? Whoops, you flubbed that entrance exam. Well, I guess I’ll just enlist into the Marines instead. Whoops, I flubbed that roll. Turns out I’m not tall enough for the Marines. Hey Army, can I join up? Really, that’s awesome, just sign here, right?
Phew, I made it. Even better, the army gave be some basic skills that will carry on to the rest of my career: shooting 1 and boot shining 5. Now, I get to see what I do in my first tour of duty. Great roll means a nice easy assignment. Heck, I might even get promoted… never-mind, not with that roll. Well, I guess I’ll stay in for another tour. I don’t have any great plans at 22 and the re-enlistment roll is very easy.
Oh come one! What do you mean force reductions? Seriously, I’m kicked out after one your? What am I going to do with boot shining 5? Well, I guess I’ll look for a job on the fringe with some traveler crew. I hear there is a guy who rolled constantly high, the dick. Nice career, high rank, tons of money, great skills and shares into his own ship. Good. For. You.
That’s Traveller in a nutshell, an awesome experience in rolling through a full life during character creation. The fun starts once you muster out, whether that’s at 22 or at 50. Then you take combine all of those choices, rolls, outcomes, experiences and skills to form a cohesive character. Or, as cohesive as possible when you consider how many changes most of our lives entail.
3. Numenera and the reign of the uber character
I’d be remiss if I don’t mention the opposite approach to random rules. D&D already emphasizes that your character is unique, or at least more special than the run of the mill characters in the world. However, you’re still just a regular person, usually starting at level 1 and not ready to take on the immortal gods of the multi-verse.
Full disclaimer, I’ve only read through some of the Numenera rules. What I found is quite unique in that you have almost complete freedom to interact with your character and the environment. What do I mean by this? I’m tired of elves, dwarves and humans. I mean, it’s been a good run guys, but you are a bit stale. I want to make a purple human with eyes on stalks and eight thumbs. I’m descended from Lord Purplethumb, an alien invader that fell in love with a beautiful human. They made the ugliest baby ever, me!
Attributes, bah, that’s too much math. Instead, I get to choose some focus areas for my character. In this I choose charming, because I my stalk eyes are hypnotic and oooh so sexy. And from player reviews, it works! So, give it a try if you to focus on the role-playing without endless choices and rolls. You mind find it liberating.
Until next time, where I’ll did into some alternative mass combat rules for D&D 5e. Now where are those dice? It’s time to roll some Traveller characters.