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Chargen: Who needs it?

Started by chronoplasm, February 05, 2010, 11:46:29 PM

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This post on got me thinking...

Do rpgs really need lots of rules for character creation? I guess it depends on what the rpg is and what it's supposed to do.

Asking myself that question has led me to a thought:

Let's say you are designing a game where the characters are all average people. They aren't trained in combat, they don't have any magic, and their skills aren't really relevant to the sorts of situations this game thrusts them into. Do they really need ability scores? Do they really need to note feats/powers/traits on their character sheets?
What if all the player characters function in exactly the same way? They are only differentiated from each other through role playing.
Would players feel that such a game is somehow incomplete?

Eero Tuovinen

Games like this exist and they have their audiences, so I guess the answer to the last question is no. Of course there will be players who don't like that sort of game due to whatever reasons, but nothing is liked by everybody.

There was a thread at Story Games about this just now, too... this. It includes examples of just such games.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Callan S.

Hold on, that's three things - no chargen AND everyones stats are average AND you don't have stats at all?

Lack of chargen doesn't mean player characters can't have stats and they can't be set above an average.
Philosopher Gamer


  One thing to consider. Chargen is a game you can play when the group is not together.
  In fact, I love making characters.
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

Callan S.

Just an anechdote, but I've noticed all my friends like making characters too. Me - I find it boring and not fun at all. I sometimes wonder if people who enjoy making character enjoy it because of the gameyness in it (crossbred with the imaginative level), but think you can't have that in actual play cause it'll be boardgame like or something.
Philosopher Gamer


  Well, for me, it is a couple of things.
1) It tells you what to expect from the mechanics
2) It informs you about the norms of PCs
3) It gives you a chance to review some of the rules and subsystems in some kind of context (think of spell casters in more trad games)
4) And it is something to do in between sessions.
  I find that the more complex a system is, the more I want to make characters for that system.
  Also, I don't generally make characters for games, unless I am in an actual campaign.

  So, for instance, for ditv, I think I only made 1 or 2 characters. For D&D4, I think I ended up making something like 20 for the 2 campaigns I played in.
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

Warrior Monk

Yeah, it's just a different game design. No chargen makes it good for rules-lite systems. I tried once succesfully for a game where character specialization came later with character improvement through roleplaying. Chargen would be then like creating a character in the middle of a campaign. Now, it fits more a gamist design than a narrative one, though.

I also helped somebody on the forum with a combat game where players all started like soldier A, B, C, etc and only got personality and abilities when they survived the first encounter.


Perhaps there is more to chargen than just listing abilities and powers?  Maybe the characters have resources or families or interests or religions?  I think chargen just provides the hooks that the player has to work with to access the imaginary world created during play.  It's only partially about the "character."  It's mostly giving the player tools to use to introduce creative elements in the game.  It doesn't matter at all if the characters are superheroes or toddlers, the PLAYERS ought to have some way of affecting what happens in the game and if each player has a different way to do this, then these differences are recorded on a "character sheet." 

So instead of "chargen" it's perhaps really "player resource gen."  At least this is my understanding from my limited background playing mostly D&D.

You certainly could have an RPG with no chargen, but then every player would have exactly the same tools to add imaginary content to the game.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it ought to be recognized I'd think.


All games have CharGen. Here's what I'm thinking:

1. Some games have obvious character generation, where players sit around and make decisions for a span of time before the adventure begins.

2. Other games have hidden character generation, where the persona of the character develops through play. This can be simple like coming up with a style or philosophy or template for the character, or this can be complex like having the GM secretly determine class/stats/skills/etc for the player based on how the character acts during the session.

An example of #2 can be found in an AD&D session I ran years ago where characters began as 0-level characters with no predetermined class. As a character tried things (fighting, pickpocketing, and so on) he would roll for success. As that character tried things, I made notes of what he did and what he succeeded at, and after the session was done I handed out character sheets for the campaign. I don't think that the players intentionally tried things just to get a certain class, since I didn't tell them that this was my plan, but the end result was that CharGen happened through play.

Either way, there is some element of CharGen occuring and it has to integrate with the style of the RPG.
Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * DFRPG * ADRP
I'm mosty responsible for S&W WhiteBox
OD&D Player since 1975