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Author Topic: Character Creation placement  (Read 2166 times)
Jared A. Sorensen
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« on: January 20, 2002, 05:32:29 PM »

Just a revelation I had while driving home from Maine today.

Much of the discussion about placement in RPGs seems to revolve around the whole "setting, then rules" or "rules, then setting" debate. While this is probably important (a little, anyway), I thought of something that's appears to be universal among RPGs -- putting character creation before the rules.

Now, I do it too. But it dawned on me that maybe I do it because, well, why would you do it any other way? I mean, that's how it's done in every other game, right?

(Yeah, I said this, believe it or not.)

So it got me to thinking. Why is it this way? And in the end, it doesn't make a lot of sense. You THINK you're telling the player, "Here, build a character, then we'll explain how it all works" but what you're really saying is, "Here, build a mechanical representation of the character you want to play, then we'll show you how the mechanics work."

It's kinda like having someone pick out a car for a race and then saying, "Oh by the way...it's an off-road, 4-day rally." when they've selected a sleek Formula 1 racer.

Any validity to this or am I just insane (still)?
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
Logan
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2002, 06:33:44 PM »

..
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2002, 07:09:36 PM »

A friend of mine thinks along these lines, that character creation should come first.  His reasoning is this is a good way to jump into the rules to see how everyithing works.  Apparently, by his way of thinking, that first character you roll up (using the term 'roll' loosely) probably won't ever be played, but by rolling up a character, you get a better feel for how the game works.

Personally, I'm not so sure character creation should be at the begining or not of a RPG.  This is probably one of those, it will go where it should, calls which will vary from game to game.

Of course, my friend is a little hard-nosed about this rather stupid point.  He considers D&D3e well-written simply because it starts off with the character creation cheat sheet, while Orkworld, Little Fears and Sorcerer are all sub-par because they put the character creation rules deeper into the book.

I swear.  I hang with idiots.
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2002, 08:00:05 PM »

Quote from: Logan

Since you're asking about it, have you done the Big Experiment yet? Have you written a game with The Rules first?


I think I may with InSpectres 2.0. I wanna load it up with lots and lots of stuff to make the game as easy to run/play as possible. That means explaining the basic die rolling rules up front, then agent creation, then the bells n' whistles, then the whole "play structure" thing.

I also want to have a big glossary of terms, all three of the die rolling charts on a single page, helpful stuff on the char. sheet and a bona-fide "How to Run/Play" insert that goes through all the things that happens in the game, from char. creation examples all the way to end-of-mission payment.
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2002, 08:48:10 PM »

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
So it got me to thinking. Why is it this way?

I thought it was habit.  After seeing many of the arguments for, against, and other, I could only come to one conclusion.  I wanted to put all of them first.  I think I came up with something of a solution for this.

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Any validity to this or am I just insane (still)?

Not insane, quite the opposite; you're beyond sane, you're super-sane.

Okay, all humor aside, I believe it is one of the most important issues around here.  It's actual design.  It has a lot to do with editorial identity and how your readers will come to know you.

Fang Langford

(I'm gonna learn a sense of humor if it kills me, dammit.)
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Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2002, 09:06:26 PM »

Hey, that's kinda cool.

I spoke with Mearls about this a week or so ago and we talked about how games should help you play them (or something like that, maybe more coherent). That is, a step-by-step how to do it section, first really simple and general, then later, more specific and with all the bells and whistles.

It definitely flows better...from "what the game is about" to "how to play it" vs. "what the game is about" to "making a character."

And hey! No setting or combat section so I don't have those to worry about!
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
Adam
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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2002, 10:45:54 PM »

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen

I spoke with Mearls about this a week or so ago and we talked about how games should help you play them (or something like that, maybe more coherent). That is, a step-by-step how to do it section, first really simple and general, then later, more specific and with all the bells and whistles.
Shadowrun does this, sort of: There's the world background, then a short [15 page] Game Concepts chapter that explains the various dice tests, modifiers, dice pools, information about the attributes, and info about the various metahumans, with references to future chapters for more detailed info.

Then it goes into chargen, and then Skills, Combat, and the whole rest of it.

I personally prefer this approach - games that throw you right into character creation *cough*d&d3*cough* always leave me feeling lost.

[Do I lose Indy Cred for not referring to some ultra-unknown online game that does things the same way? ;) ]
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Jason L Blair
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« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2002, 01:32:11 AM »

Quote from: Adam

[Do I lose Indy Cred for not referring to some ultra-unknown online game that does things the same way? ;) ]


Yep. Please hand in your ID badge and complementary cupholder on your way out. ;)

But, seriously, this topic has given me a lot to think about. I'm currently prepping ideas for a new game (whodathunkit?) and I really like the idea of going over the rules prior to character creation.

One problem I see is that rules tend to refer to character stats. And I think putting them up front gets you familiar with the singular self and then you can get into how they move/work/play/etc in the world.
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Jason L Blair
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Adam
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« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2002, 04:42:16 AM »

Quote from: Key20Jason
Yep. Please hand in your ID badge and complementary cupholder on your way out. ;)

Is there a Key20 preferred way of me discarding Little Fears? :P

Quote from: Key20Jason
One problem I see is that rules tend to refer to character stats.

I don't know if I'm following you here; is this a problem with chargen before rules or rules before chargen?

To make things clear, I don't believe that putting all the rules before character generation is a good idea [character generation as the last chapter of a RPG? Novel!], but putting the basic gist of the mechanics and how things all work together is a good design choice, IMO.

I would suggest explaining character stats in broad strokes in the intro chapter - "Strength, obviously, refers to a characters physical prowess, how much she can lift, carry, and how much raw muscle power she has to put behind a punch. It does not cover body size or endurance." - and save the detailed explanation - "A character with a strength stat of 3 can realistically lift 50-100lbs, carry 25-50lbs for an extended period of time, and do 12 hit points of damage with an unarmed attack" - for the later appropriate chapter [Whether that chapter is chargen or not is something I'm not willing to get into with the headache I have :)]
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Jason L Blair
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« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2002, 04:56:28 AM »

Quote from: Adam

Quote from: Key20Jason
Yep. Please hand in your ID badge and complementary cupholder on your way out. ;)

Is there a Key20 preferred way of me discarding Little Fears? :P


Wrapped in bacon and left at the altar of Nefaro, the Sun God.

Quote from: Adam

Quote from: Key20Jason
One problem I see is that rules tend to refer to character stats.

I don't know if I'm following you here; is this a problem with chargen before rules or rules before chargen?


If chargen follows rules. When I write rules, I tend to say things like "This stat + this amount of die does this" or "Add this skill to this stat and pray to Ra" etc. And if the reader hasn't been given the skinny on what those stats are, it might be difficult to piece together. Even if you define those stats, I would think you would have to reference them again during character creation. Which isn't a condemnation, just an observation. In RPG books, redundancy is often a good thing.

Another thing to throw in is this: I don't think not knowing how stats apply will really hinder character creation -- for most games anyway. I say this because ranges and limits and whatnot are usually expressed. So, as long as the system isn't uberwonky (ie -- designed by me), then knowing your character is really strong and can really dole out the ol' punishment with a "Fisty Goodness of +19" is usually good enough. Normally, enough info is given during chargen to allow a player to realize where in the cosmic spectrum their character lies.

Anyway... aside from all this, as far as the argument (q.v.) is concerned I think the designer should do whatever works best for the game. On one side, you are working from small to large (chargen [person or group] to rules [world]) and on the other, you're working from large to small (rules [world] to chargen [person or group]) and in the middle, you are throwing everything together not necessarily willy-nilly but certainly not in a strict, divisive manner.
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Jason L Blair
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Joe Murphy (Broin)
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Posts: 178


« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2002, 05:15:19 AM »

Quote from: Key20Jason


But, seriously, this topic has given me a lot to think about. I'm currently prepping ideas for a new game (whodathunkit?) and I really like the idea of going over the rules prior to character creation.

One problem I see is that rules tend to refer to character stats. And I think putting them up front gets you familiar with the singular self and then you can get into how they move/work/play/etc in the world.


Hola. :)

If one can summarise some of the effects of rules very succinctly in the chargen chapter, such that players know that 'Strength 11' is average, or 'Strength 15' is the equivalent of Batman, that's possibly more useful to new players than explaining *all* the rules before they generate a character.

Now if the game is simple (idle thought: are there any hella complex Narrativist games?), you could probably expect the player to absorb a little bit more.

When I buy a game, I personally tend to read a bit of the setting/premise, skip ahead to character generation, skip back to read more setting/premise, and then eventually work my way through the system. When I'm done getting a feel for the system,. I'll generate a few test characters. I don't read from front to back. Possibly that's because games tend to be badly organised, and because so many games are Sim, and I'm Narrativist at heart. The combat rules are inevitably the last to be read (by me) in a Sim game.

And don't forget that RPG books are also reference books. As I usually GM, I often need to be able to summarise bits of the game. It's useful to have the chargen section contain everything there is about chargen, or to have a glossary, or an few different kinds of index.

Joe.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2002, 08:37:27 AM »

It  all depends on the game, as I said.  I can't see putting Character Creation in front in The Wheel being a priority.  I have it in front anyway, but there is little to creating a character as far as the rules go.  If I ever make any of those specific versions of the Wheel (I'm going to refer to the generic version as "Non-commital" rather than Generic or Universal) I may reorganize things.

And I have a notion, tell me how true it is.

RPG books are not reference books, as everyone keeps saying.
They are How-To books.

D&D is set up, mostly, like a reference manual.  WHen you need a particular rule, you look it up and use it.  Much like a dictionary, thesaurus or encyclopedia.

But an RPG should be a How-To book like a Time-Life book on plumbing. As in How To Play This Game, How to use this setting, How to handle certain situations which are bloody likely to come up.

Maybe we should look up some material on how to write how to books?

It seems to me, and this is just knee-jerk stuff, that a decent how-to book has careful explanation, step by step if possible, of any proceedures.  Illustrated, if possible.  (This applied to cabinet building ot laying pipe.  RPG illustrations usually come in the example of play form)

Above all, they should be easily understood  (misunderstanding is the enemy) and concise.  If the author wanders off on tangents, the reader gets frustrated.

Which is probably why character creation appears in the front of most books, and probably should for most games these days.  It's like that section in front of Practical Cabinetry where the tools necessary are explained and described.  You're going to need a hammer while you're building a cabinet.  Better make sure you have one and you know how to use it.  Be familiar with your tools.

Of course, what tools you have will, hopefully, vary somewhat from game to game.

I am I off base on this?
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Adam
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« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2002, 09:02:20 AM »

Funny; I felt that D&D3 was much more a how-to book, at least the character generation chapters [and badly organized to boot, but I've belaboured this point before], whereas most RPGs are less of a how-to and more of a reference book.

I think there's a place for both types of books - I don't think 'experienced' gamers need the how-to books as much as they need good solid references, while how-to books certainly could serve as a good introduction to the hobby for newer participants. . .
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2002, 09:06:55 AM »

Hi Jack,

I think you're absolutely correct about the How-To concept. Of course, you probably knew I'd agree given all my yapping about the Music Metaphor (RPGs as instruments). It makes sense to me to think of them both as instrument and how-to manual in one package, and the organization of them might do well to follow the latter.

Now we have the interesting question, how well does a given how-to manual actually work? There are plenty of them, and I imagine - can't say for sure, don't know - that there are at least a few different ways to organize them. I wonder which might be best for RPGs, or rather, for a given RPG?

Best,
Ron
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RobMuadib
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« Reply #14 on: January 23, 2002, 02:28:07 PM »

I like the description of RPGs as How-To books, as it very much matches the current outline of my design. My book currently is setup up to start with some lameish game fiction written by me illustrating the kewl features of the meta-universe behind the game. Then it has three main Game Concepts Chapters.

First is Game Concepts: The Million Worlds - In which the meta-universe is described and the meta-physics of how the worlds are related via the Tenets, describing lots of Capitalized Terms like the Alam Al-Mithral, and the Wunschtraumacht and other cool things in the universe mythos. Here, the how-to is how to understand the nature of the games meta-universe,
one facet of the meta-system that is the game.

Second, is Game Concepts: The Company And The Production - In which I present how-to stuff on my vision of how the game is to be played. Specifically the players make The Company, much like a small theatre company whom all take part in the staging of their Productions. Productions being the Chronicles they stage. (the how-to being ideas of shared creation & meta-design, troupe style play, etc.)

Third is Game Concepts: Rules system - (this being the one that I actually have finished in a usable form.) Here, in this rather meaty section I describe how to use the rules of the game, as presented in the six core ideas Traits, Comparison Tests, Ratings Tests, Outcome Tests, Hero Points, and The GaugePoint/Value System.

Currently this document is 37 pages. It turns out my mechanic is very complex, being performed in the three main stages, with plenty of switches and dials included to alter results towards a particular "Reality",
as well as facillitate detailed modeling in action resolution.

I realized that initially I made this section rather rigorous, providing the players a firm foundation in the mechanics and how they work. I have copious examples. However, one of my friends reviewed and mentioned the density of it, so to facillitate learning it easier, I have added callout boxes to each section, with a single sentence highlighting the main idea to be learned. One of the assumptions/requirements of the game is that the players more or less master the system.

This is doubly so since there is no classic Player GM divide, different players taking on the role of Rules Guide, Chronicle Guide, Meta-Character Guide, etc. I have a few parts to finish on it, but when It is done I plan to post it for feedback.


Now, it is only after these three very much How-To parts of the book, do I present the rest of the game, starting with the Design Architecture, consisting first of the Character Creation system, and then the Setting/Culture/Metability/Tech creation systems.

These sections are much more of a Reference. Being specifications of costs and procedures using the rules and concepts already learnt. I also call them reference because you don't need to KNOW them to play, you merely need to reference them to create the elements for play.

anyway I thought I would take the opportunity to somewhat contribute to the thread, mostly talk about my game, and inflate my posts stat.
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Rob Muadib --  Kwisatz Haderach Of Wild Muse Games
kwisatzhaderach@wildmusegames.com --   
"But How Can This Be? For He Is the Kwisatz Haderach!" --Alyia - Dune (The Movie - 1980)
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