Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Two Page Character Basics: False and Forced Choices

These two pages really go together; one gives the basics of an approach to character creation, the other follows it through with some of the basic stats for each character class. After that there is one page for each class detailing the special powers they get.

One click makes you larger, one click makes you small...

Some comments on the design here. I take a "cut the crap" approach to the relationship between ability scores and character class. If you don't take the obvious incentives in Original, Basic and Advanced D&D to put your highest abilities into the class' prime requisites - the experience bonuses, the stats helping with class powers - you must be making some kind of point. The kind of point that no player I have ever known, ever wanted to make.

So why not just require it?

Making a fighter with average Strength so he can have high Wisdom is a false choice. It's the illusion of an option because it's completely suboptimal, and can only lead to regret once the player understands the game system. By turning the false choice into a forced choice by the rules, mental capacity is freed up to make other, more meaningful choices.

(Other meaningless choices in old school D&D and the neo-clones who won't let its design choices go: duff seldom-useful spells that have to be memorized beforehand ... weapons with no reason to use ...)

After all, characters can still be quirky on their secondary stats, because I only allow the one switch necessary to bring you into the class of your choice. If you roll 9 strength, 15 intelligence and 13 wisdom and you want to play a fighter, he'll still be either smarter or wiser than your average grunt.

Another thing. Turning Constitution into Confidence keeps the abbreviation in line with Original Standard D&D, and lines up with my previous arguments about changing the CON stat and treating character hit points as morale. I'm pretty pleased with this move. It even feels right in its old school location next to Charisma, instead of feeling out of place as a physical stat most akin to Strength.

Another other thing: Dwarf and Elf "class" to let you know, this is race-as-class territory.

This may not be the most modular of the handouts, but it's necessary for a complete game and it lays down the background for some of the assumptions and choices in the more portable stuff coming up.


  1. Very nice! While I did not make the same choices as you did, I have also been thinking about how to make character generation easier

    Your version is both simpler and more attractive.

  2. These pages are good at communicating what kind of D&D you mean to play.

  3. @Lasgunpacker: I actually like your page. It fits on one page (because you're not committed to 18 point font), steps the player clearly through character generation in your campaign, and has a very quirky charm to it.

  4. I'd never seen CON as Confidence before, but after reading your post on the matter, I'm sold. These one-page sheets (and the new CON philosophy) are definitely going to influence the next campaign I start up!

  5. Does there not being a CHA-based class not offend your sensibilities a little bit? It has always offended mine in some way. I'd like to one day reskin the elf to make it CHA-based, so you could have a nice neat symmetry: Fighter = STR, Thief = DEX, Cleric = WIS, Magic User = INT, Dwarf = CON, Elf = CHA. (I hate halflings.)

  6. If Dwarves are going to be the CON class, I'd consider making it Courage rather than Confidence. Dwarves are stereotypically dour and pessimistic rather than confident, but are brave.

  7. @noisms: Funny enough, my previous system has CHA as prime stat for elves and militants (paladin/clerics). But it's a little less forced of a choice in that version. I guess I was seeing all kinds of classes able to be "face men," not just elves. Bards are the most logical but least liked of the CHA options, too.

  8. @Roger: Thanks, I am currently working on a matching character sheet, and eventually a whole "players guide" with about 18 pages of information about the setting, spells, equipment etc.

  9. @Anarchist: Yeah, I see what you mean. But the CON-vergence is too sweet to let go! I mean, I can produce other modular pages in the series without forcing the user to subscribe to my wacky basic stat ideas, if I use the abbreviation.

  10. If CONstitution>>CONfidence, and hit points for player-characters are no longer 'heart/health' but 'courage/willpower' then zero hit points is no longer axiomatically a death sentence.

    You can go for a system where 0 hit points means the character is 'vanquished', and unless the rest of the party pulls it together the enemy decides whether the vanquished one is killed, captured, left for dead, or prepared for a fate worse than death.

    You could even let the character keep fighting after they reach 0 hp, maybe with a penalty or consequence.

  11. It's stupid to force character class choice based on best attribute, since after all, it'll be one of the first house rules demanded of the GM by any players.

    Heroic literature and gaming history is full of warriors who were more dextrous than strong, clerics who were more perceptive than wise, and thieves who were more strong than agile. If the example character were a fighter, perhaps he's the wise old armsmaster of a castle somewhere, a bit beaten-up and limping, but still able.

    Your "false choice" is my "chance to show imagination." And like putting in the weapon speed or weapon vs AC in AD&D, it's senseless to put in rules you know almost nobody will use.

  12. Oh, and if you change CON to confidence, you have to change charisma. Can you imagine someone who is unconfident but charismatic? Confident but utterly without charisma?

    1. When I was in high school I was charismatic but utterly lacking confidence: girls liked me, but I couldn't believe they did.

  13. @Kyle: Hm, might be better to leave the highest stat as a suggestion if only to give the perception of freedom. I guess here I'm catering to a mix of very new and very system-experienced players but not considering people who might want to make a non-minmaxing statement. As for confidence ... it's more short for "inner confidence in the face of personal danger." Plenty of commanding figures around who prefer to let others face death. And brave introverts.

  14. @noisms I actually like the lack of a cha-based class. The fact that not everything "lines up" makes the system feel more organic and less artificial to me. The kind of schematization that requires that there be a class that "uses" cha is the same kind of schematization that requires you to have exactly 6 classes, even if you have a really cool idea. I think that the rules should always serve the imagination, not the other way around.

  15. I'm very much in favor of CON -> Confidence. To me HP has always represented how best to get out of dodge rather than the Health Points they devolved into in popular mediums.

    With regards to HP as Morale, in the past I created a few abilities that essentially did Morale damage and had my players test them out. The feedback was overwhelmingly negative yet they couldn't decide whether it was because of the execution (say Morale damage vs Weapon damage) or simply the concept in general.

    I've abandoned the notion since then but if you have any experience with similar abilities I'd certainly like to hear them.