Random vs Non-Random Char-Gen

Lofgeornost

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Rather than continuing this discussion in the “RPGs: Hall of Shame” thread, I’ve started this new one. It really doesn’t fit in the ‘hall of shame’ since IMO both random and non-random character generation can work perfectly fine, and preference for one or the other is largely a matter of taste.

In that other thread, I opined that requiring random character-generation had become less usual these days and P Paragon quite reasonably challenged me on the issue. That made me wonder and since I had some free time last weekend I looked over some of the games that I own to see how they handled this: 61 games before I ran out of steam, all of them dating to 2000 or later. They are by no means a random or representative sample of all the RPGs out there, since some kinds of games don’t interest me enough to acquire them. So there are relatively few SF games, no supers games, and no PbtA games in the list. On the other hand, I took some pains to sample a variety of kinds of games from my collection and to avoid ones that were largely different editions of each other (so, for instance, I included Mythras but not Mongoose Runequest II). I’ve included the set of games I evaluated below, though I’ve spoilered the list for length.

In my unscientific sample (and looking at the core book only and RAW):
  • Some 18 games require some random element to create a character. Most of these games fall into the OSR or retro-clone category (DCC, ASSH, LotFP, etc.) though not all. Of the 18, 4 include only one significant random element—for instance, Worlds Without Number and the free D6 system from West End Games both mandate rolling for initial hit or body points, but otherwise don’t require any randomness (and the D6 system in fact does not even offer it as an option).
  • Another 12 games include randomization in character generation, but allow players to avoid it if they wish to do so.
  • Finally, 26 games rely entirely on player decisions to generate characters, with no random elements.
  • There were also 5 games that proved ‘edge cases.’ All of them mandate that players roll dice for at least part of their starting cash or possessions, but otherwise they have no required random elements. Usually the money rolled for is in addition to a base package of equipment that characters get automatically. One of the 5 games, Romance of the Perilous Land, otherwise offers players their choice of random or non-random generation, and the other 4 employed only non-random methods (save for possessions). So figuring these 5 games in, the numbers become 18 games with required random procedures, 13 which offer a choice of random or not, and 30 that have non-random generation only.
My own takeaway from all this is that games which provide a choice of random or non-random methods for creating characters are actually less common than I thought. Further, systems with no significant random elements are, I suspect, more common nowadays than those which require players to use random methods. My guess is that if my list included supers games, it would skew even more in the direction of non-random generation than it already does. The list also does not include many of the 'narrative style' games which tend towards non-random generation.

Some other things occur to me, but this is a long post already so I'll leave them for later.

Requires Random Elements:
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, 2nd ed. (2017)
Blood & Bronze (2016)
Castles & Crusades (2006)
D6 System, Space & Fantasy (2004)—only body points; otherwise not random
Dee Sanction (2021)—only for ‘favours of the angels’; otherwise can use random or not
Dungeon Crawl Classics (2012)
King Arthur Pendragon, 5.2 ed (2019)
Labyrinth Lord-Free (2008)
Lamentations of the Flame Princess-Free (2013).
Mythras, 3rd Revision (2018)
Nightmares Underneath-Free (2016)
Roma Imperious (Iridium System, 2004)
Swords & Wizardry Complete (2012)
Through Sunken Lands (2020)
Traveller-Mongoose, 1st ed. (2008). Oddly, this is not because of the lifepath system, for which there is a point-buy alternative, but because basic statistics are rolled randomly.
Worlds Without Number-Free (2021)—only hit points; otherwise can use random or not
Würm (2017)—only starting bravery/generosity + age (which has no effect); otherwise not random
Victorious (2016)

Allows Choice of Random or non-Random Generation:
Artesia: Adventures in the Known World (Fuzion, 2005)
Dungeons & Dragons, 5th ed.-Free Basic Version (2015)
Dying Earth (2001)
Lex Arcana (2019)
The One Ring (2014)
OpenQuest, 3rd ed.-SRD (2022)
Paleomythic (2019)
Reign Enchiridion (2010)
Song of Ice & Fire, G.o.T. ed. (2012)
Star Trek Adventures (2017)
A Thousand Suns (2011)
Travelers on a Red Road (2019)

Essentially Choice of Random or non-Random, Except for Required Roll for Extra Cash:
Romance of the Perilous Land (2019)

Entirely Non-Random
Action Core System (2002)
Agon (2006)
All for One: Regime Diabolique (Ubiquity, 2010)
Ars Magica, 5th ed (2004)
Barbarians of Lemuria-Free (2008?)
Burning Wheel, Revised ed. (2005)
Cavaliers of Mars (2018)
The Dark Eye (2016)
Deryni Adventure Game (Fudge, 2005)
Fate Accelerated Edition (2013)
Fulminata: Armed with Lightning, 2nd ed. (2001)
GURPS Vorkosigan Saga, 4th ed-Lite (2009)
Hillfolk (Drama System, 2013)
Honor + Intrigue (2004)
John Carter of Mars (2018)
Keltia (2012)
Mythic Russia (Heroquest, 2006)
Never Going Home (2020)
Night’s Black Agents (Gumshoe, 2012)
PDQ # (2008); the free system for Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies
Qin: The Warring States (2005)
Symbaroum (2019)
Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne (Tri-Stat, 2005)
Savage Worlds Deluxe (2015)
Winter of the World (OneDice, 2017)
Witchcraft (Unisystem, 2000)

Non-Random, Except for a Roll for Starting Possessions:
Forbidden Lands (2019)—the roll is only for extra cash beyond the basic package of possessions
Jackals (2021)—the roll is only for extra cash beyond the basic package of possessions
Under the Moons of Zoon (2011) —the roll is only for extra cash beyond a basic package
Witch Hunter: The Invisible World, 1st ed. (2007)—must roll for cash used to buy essential possessions
 

thebigh

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I'll repeat what I said in the other thread. Point-buy IMO is superior to random.

With purely rolled characters you always get a big difference in ability between the people who rolled well and the people who rolled badly. For the unlucky players, it is not much fun being Blop the Potato Peasant among a party of capable adventurers. Neither is it necessarily fun, if you rolled well, to be a shining demigod in a party of average joes- unless you have a serious case of main character syndrome. And the GM needs to do extra work to balance encounters for a party with a wide range of abilities. It's just suckitude all round.

I suppose more old-school games where life is cheap, scenarios brutal, and narrative comparatively less important, rolling for stats makes more sense.
 

finarvyn

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I agree with thebigh. For the first few decades of my RPG experience I was a solid supporter of randomness in character creation, but my position has changed. Too many times a few lucky or unlucky dice rolls have caused players to like/dislike their characters, or to feel superior/inferior to others at the table. I don't see where this has any value any more. I let my players design what they want to play instead of what the dice make them play.

Back in the early days, when it took 5 minutes or less to create a character, disposable characters were fine and random was okay because they might not live lone anyway. Modern RPGs seem to put a lot more emphasis on options and so it takes a lot longer to make the character, and so players are much more invested in their characters, and so they might as well get more say in what they get to play.
 

Bunch

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I'll repeat what I said in the other thread. Point-buy IMO is superior to random.

With purely rolled characters you always get a big difference in ability between the people who rolled well and the people who rolled badly. For the unlucky players, it is not much fun being Blop the Potato Peasant among a party of capable adventurers. Neither is it necessarily fun, if you rolled well, to be a shining demigod in a party of average joes- unless you have a serious case of main character syndrome. And the GM needs to do extra work to balance encounters for a party with a wide range of abilities. It's just suckitude all round.

I suppose more old-school games where life is cheap, scenarios brutal, and narrative comparatively less important, rolling for stats makes more sense.
And in early old school I think the advantage to high stats was not significant long term. I'm thinking OD&D/Basic. The bonuses helped but money was a bigger decider of effectiveness. Better armor, weapons, magic items. Stats had a smaller impact so wider margins weren't as bad.
 

Bunch

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I actually prefer random. I'm here to play and not so much here to prep. Give me a sheet ready to go and game on. My investable time is mostly at the table so I like games now that make fast chargen with almost fixed advancement.
 

Silverlion

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I think of the games I own there is an even split between 'random', 'not random' and 'random with fixed elements' the latter usually has story based life paths which may or may not impact final character stats.
 

sharps54

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I am ok with both methods, if the point buy isn’t too in-depth. Barbarians of Lemuria is a good spot for me. I do not enjoy the character optimization mini game.
Given my preference I prefer random generation as I don’t have to play a mini game I don’t enjoy. In systems like Boot Hill bad rolls are offset with bonuses to keep characters playable even if you roll poorly and I like the challenge of playing what I rolled.

That said I am told some new games I don’t own, I believe Warhammer Fantasy 4E is one of them, offer a compromise where you can choose either but give suitable bonuses for taking the random results. That sounds like a great compromise to me.
 

sharps54

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I should add I do like random life paths such as Cyberpunk 2020, I didn’t mind the amount of work it took to build a character there with point buy so maybe that’s a better upper limit of complexity for me as opposed to BoL.
 

VisionStorm

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I'll repeat what I said in the other thread. Point-buy IMO is superior to random.

With purely rolled characters you always get a big difference in ability between the people who rolled well and the people who rolled badly. For the unlucky players, it is not much fun being Blop the Potato Peasant among a party of capable adventurers. Neither is it necessarily fun, if you rolled well, to be a shining demigod in a party of average joes- unless you have a serious case of main character syndrome. And the GM needs to do extra work to balance encounters for a party with a wide range of abilities. It's just suckitude all round.

I suppose more old-school games where life is cheap, scenarios brutal, and narrative comparatively less important, rolling for stats makes more sense.

I pretty much agree with this, at least for the most part (random generation can be good, if used to determine character elements like skills, professions and stuff, if you're stuck and out of ideas).

I used to experience a LOT of disparity playing D&D since I started out in the hobby, with wildly disparate characters in terms of ability--some of them having multiple scores of 16+, while others have none and a bunch of below average scores. I've gotten into arguments with people (mostly online) about how "realistic" this is, but IMO despite significantly disparities in levels of ability existing between people in real life I don't think this is realistic at all, because the disparities in the game tend to be greater (at least in my estimation) to what actually exists in real life, and also fixed in stone. Once you roll crap stats during character creation, you will have crap stats FOREVER. And even in later editions of the game, where characters get some points as they advance in level, characters who start out better will always be better, cuz they all get the same points. It isn't like in point-buy systems where the potential for improving your character later on in disparate ways is a possibility.

Just earlier today I was watching this story I got on a random YouTube ad about this kid who suffered a head injury and developed learning disabilities as a child, but at 18 years old developed these learning techniques in the process of trying to turn that around and ended up giving out seminars and working with movie stars, teaching them how to read movie scrips faster and improve their memory and such. This guy would simply NOT exist in D&D--despite it being a FANTASY game--and he would have remained an Int 8 or so character his entire life cuz he suffered a head injury as a kid. Yet in real life he's clearly above average if not high Int now, cuz unlike D&D, people in real life can actually improve and are not stuck with their crap stats for all eternity. This is how ridiculous random stat generation is, at least the way it's handled in D&D.

I'm also of the mindset that powerful characters should be earned, not handed because you got lucky during character creation. Your character could have almost any conceivable ability you want, as long as 1) it exists and is possible to develop in the game world, and 2) you "pay" for it, somehow. Random generation is fine as long as you get the same as everyone else regardless, and the random element is just to select stuff. But extra abilities and high stats should be earned and developed through in-game effort. Not handed to you because you rolled high during character creation.
 

Brock Savage

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I generally prefer point buy but B/X happens to be a notable exception. I don't think many people are aware that players can adjust their ability scores in B/X to qualify for desired classes and, as others have noted, ability scores don't matter nearly as much as they do in later editions.
 

RandallS

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I agree with thebigh. For the first few decades of my RPG experience I was a solid supporter of randomness in character creation, but my position has changed. Too many times a few lucky or unlucky dice rolls have caused players to like/dislike their characters, or to feel superior/inferior to others at the table. I don't see where this has any value any more. I let my players design what they want to play instead of what the dice make them play.

The value I see is speed of character creation and ease of character creation. I have little interest in games where character creation takes longer than 15 or 20 minutes or that requires a lot of system knowledge (let alone system mastery) on the part of the player to create a competent character. I also have little patience for point buy, generally because it is almost impossible to do point buy in a manner that actually works as "advertised" -- creating characters of about equal power level regardless of the player's system knowledge or interest/lack of interest in optimization.

However, that said, I have recently discovered a game that is does not have any randomness in character creation yet seems fast in practice and doesn't require much advance reading, math, advance planning, etc.: Tiny Dungeon 2e. From a recent post on my blog, here's a quick description of Tiny Dungeon 2e's character creation system:

Characters are defined by traits which do things like provide advantage or special abilities. Creating characters is relatively easy although more choice (and therefore system knowledge) is required than in TSR D&D. First, the player selects a heritage (human, elf, dwarf, etc.) which provides starting hit points and a trait. For example, the Dwarf heritage provides 8 hit points and the Dark Vision trait which allows seeing in total darkness. Then you select three traits from the trait list. There are only 4 pages of traits, each with a few sentences explaining the trait so this is not as bad as it sounds; although having new players helped by an experienced player will speed this part of character creation up. Next you select one of the three weapon groups to be proficient in and one weapon from that group you have mastered. (Using a weapon from a group you are not proficient with gives disadvantage, while using a weapon you’d mastered gives advantage). Then you come up with a mundane family trade – what you learned about as a child: another source of possible advantage. Finally you decide on a belief: a simple statement of something that drives the character. An example belief: "My home is in my backpack."

The dwarf I mentioned might come out as: Stoneface: Dwarf, 8 hit points. Traits: Dark Vision, Armor Master, Cleave, Trapmaster. Heavy weapons proficiency (Great Axe mastered). Family trade: weaponsmith. Belief: "A big sharp axe beats fancy words." Like all Tiny Dungeon 2e characters, Stoneface starts with 10 GP and an adventurer's kit (aka standard supplies).

No randomness, but character generation is fast enough and simple enough that I actually like the system. I created Stoneface for this post. It took about 5 minutes. Of course, I had already read the 4 pages of traits and their descriptions so I had a good idea of what was available before I started.
 

ffilz

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I have played/run very few of the newer games with quick point buy/build. Dogs in the Vinyard is one exception. Burning Wheel is more involved, but seems like a reasonable tradeoff between build time and producing an interesting character that works well in the system. I am so over Hero and GURPS style character building. As I have commented before, too complex a build system can result in just as much character "power" spread as random. Bushido has mostly build (with random social status and starting wealth) but the system seems to discourage much variety in attributes between characters of the same type so the primary build in in choosing skills.

After so much pain from having poor random characters I thought character build was the solution. But now I'm back to preferring random generation. But I allow re-rolls or rolling up several characters and picking the most interesting. Sure, super characters can result, but for the first two years of my Gloranthan RuneQuest campaign, the PC who actually had the most impact on the campaign had the worst attributes (it was actually rolled with 3d6 straight down the line while later characters were rolled 4d6k3). Sure the super-elf was an order of magnitude more powerful than the other PCs (and we eventually ran the player off in part for lording over the other players), but the elf didn't have the influence the other PC did.
 

SavAce

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I think there are many decent character generation variants in both random and non-random flavors, and to declare one type as superior to the other either means you've only seen bad examples of one of them, or you are over-generalizing what players care about. I'll chat over a few games to further lay out my thoughts:

Marvel Super Heroes: The ol' TSR Marvel Super Heroes has 3-ish methods for getting a character with stats.
1.) Modeling: Describe the character you want. Work with the GM and stat him up. There is no point buy, there is no random, there is no "balance". People just work with the GM to stat up characters they would enjoy playing. While people talk about point buy giving people the characters they want, really, can anything beat this method? You literally describe what you want, with nothing to box you in except for the fact you are playing with other people and the GM needs to find your character agreeable.
2.) Pre-gens: There are books full of stats of almost every character in the Marvel Universe. Maybe you want to play one of them? If so, bam! Work done.
3.) Random Roll: It is important to note that across the 3 TSR editions, a player is never told to consistently roll a character randomly in every aspect. The random rolls are presented as something akin to Planet/System Generation in Traveller, as tools to generate ideas, guidelines. You can roll your Origin or choose it. You can roll for power categories and choose the particular power in the category, or you can roll the specific power. Same with Talents. I personally am not too much of a fan of "Rely on Random for everything possible" as a generation method in this game, especially if the Ultimate Powers book is included (as it is full of wacky, weird stuff). Still, using the random method can be fun for generating ideas. You roll what you are comfortable with, and you are presented with some raw material. From that raw material you try to assemble a cool, sensible character, and it leads you to places you may not have thought of on your own. That is the fun of a good random generation method.

None of the character generation methods in Marvel Super Heroes is "balanced." The game doesn't care about that (and for the most part, I don't either, at least in this game.)

Traveller: Traveller is sometimes touted as a random character generation kind of system and people will mock its "death in character creation" aspect in the original edition. It is actually pretty rare to find a completely random character generation RPG I've found. Usually you can chose a class, or equipment, and so on. Traveller is kind of a life-path style character creation system. You get to choose which branch or career you try to qualify for. Depending on edition, you get to choose which tables to roll on within the career. You can choose if you want to go for another term. It doesn't provide any guarantees of anything, but you get to guide the character to some extent through a career, and then you are left with... not a character exactly, but a prompt. What do these life events, skills and age represent? There also nothing here that is about "balanced", because Traveller (and for the most part, I) don't care about it. Also, like early D&D, there often isn't a ton of difference between characters really.

When I think of point buy vs. random generation and what plusses they have, I think something like:
1.) Point Buy: What is something interesting and fun I can create within the confines of the points granted?
2.) Random: It's like an improv prompt, "You're a working class Irish meat packer. Lights, camera, action! Go!"

Basically, if your enjoyment from RPing requires you to have a character you specifically made or chose, or else you might not like the concept, or you fear your character will not be powerful enough, and your enjoyment of a game comes from being at a certain relative or absolute level of power, you should not play an RPG with a random character generation system. If your enjoyment from RPing doesn't have so much to do with either of those things, then random character generation can be fun, or being randomly handed a character from a list of pre-gens, etc.

None of this is to say I don't think there are good and bad versions of these systems. Like, I don't think the random attributes (and sometimes random starting cash) in many D&Ds provides much to work with in cobbling a character out of those numbers. I think Life Path style systems tend to generate more interesting prompts to build a character idea out of. Also, while I may be coming across a bit as "Real Role Players play characters, Phonies whine about Balance!" I do think different RPGs need to accommodate some type of balance more than others. Like, you can't character optimize Risus, really, and while it is basically a very light point buy, even if your abilities were rolled on a big table of wacky abilities... I don't think it suffer for it, per se. It's not a game about balance. There is no real "game" to it in the way like... Heavy Gear gear combat, or late D&D or The Fantasy Trip have. In Street Fighter, the game is basically in 2 parts: 1.) You go on goofy pulp adventures (using the original WoD rules system), and I mostly don't think it would matter much if that part was made random, and 2.) You beat people up in martial arts tournaments. This is an entertaining stand-alone game, independent of the RP, and it requires balance to make it most entertaining.

WotC D&D especially has character classes with lists of powers that strongly center around combat encounters. I think the modern D&D combat encounter is a bad game that isn't a lot of fun, and would rather play a dedicated minis combat game or a video game, but I can see how it needs something like balance in that activity if playing D&D means you may spend 2-3 hours a session engaged in that activity in most sessions.

Anyways, yeah, I see that there are a variety of concerns people mention when it comes to chargen systems:
1.) I want to be able to play a character I have in my head! - Seems modeling is best for this, with some kind of point buy being next, random last. There are also people who enjoy "Give me a character, and watch what I do with it!"
2.) I want character balance so my character isn't worthless in play - I think different RPGs require "balance" in different degrees depending on how they are structured. RPGs that involve a lot of time spent fighting, so much that you might say the game is largely about that, should probably aim for some kind of balance in that aspect. Outside of that, what is meant by balance, and how much different players care about it all vary I think.
 

VisionStorm

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The value I see is speed of character creation and ease of character creation. I have little interest in games where character creation takes longer than 15 or 20 minutes or that requires a lot of system knowledge (let alone system mastery) on the part of the player to create a competent character. I also have little patience for point buy, generally because it is almost impossible to do point buy in a manner that actually works as "advertised" -- creating characters of about equal power level regardless of the player's system knowledge or interest/lack of interest in optimization.

The highlighted part is rarely the case for any game with customization options, regardless of how character creation or advancement is handled. D&D 3e in particular is notorious for requiring a lot of system mastery to build the most competent characters, and that's level-based progression with random stats during character creation. But in point-buy games at least everyone gets the same points to mess up their character during creation.

The issue with point-buy games is pointless math and extended character creation due to different ability costs and often handing you a bunch of points and making you build your character 100% from scratch. But in reality, most characters tend to fall into certain common archetypes in order to be competent at something, like warrior-types, scouts/rogues, diplomats, healers, etc., and point buy games almost never give you enough points to get beyond a certain number of abilities. So they should just make you pick templates as a basic starting point to build your character upon, and make you pick your starting stats based on simple priorities with preset scores (like X primary abilities, Y secondary and everything else is "average" by default), then maybe give you one or two selections for extra stuff, plus the option of picking disadvantages or lowering your stats for extra points.

They should also include random options for template/profession selection or even picking your stat priorities for players that feel stuck or want to see what comes up at random. Otherwise it just leads to analysis paralysis and people wasting too much time calculating their point costs and what not, only to end up with a basic "warrior-type" character with a few extras anyways, which is what point-buy games generally give you enough points to build anyways.

I also think that all abilities should cost basically the same--just try to make them more or less equally powerful (to the extend that's possible), and simply break up more powerful abilities into multiple selections, similar to "feats" in D&D. Even skills and attributes should be handled that way, with attribute increases giving you like +1 to stat, and skills giving you multiple skill selections per pick. That's something I've been trying in a system I've been working on, but it's still in the works.
 

sharps54

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I just think you can overcome bad stats in some systems. We played a 6-8 month long game of DCC where my wizard started the game with stats of STR 8, AGI 8, STA 12, PER 11, INT 16, LUC 12. By fifth level he was dishing out way more damage in most rounds than his compadres and often winning fights single handed. Not the worst character I’ve rolled and played, I had a poor slob that died in the first round of the first combat against a giant scorpion during a OSE Barrowmaze game, but low stats aren’t always the death curse many say they are.
 

Voros

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I get the idea behind random generation but in practice it usually just sucks for the majority of players who want more say about their character.
 

sharps54

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I get the idea behind random generation but in practice it usually just sucks for the majority of players who want more say about their character.
I only speak for myself, I like the challenge but appreciate not everyone does. You notice some of my favorite games, like Barbarians of Lemuria and Risus, allow the player full control of molding the exact character they want to play. I’m not a bad/wrong fun guy but I do tend to express my personal preferences as a player on topics like this. As a GM it doesn’t matter to me although I often defer to RAW, if point buy or player choice is an option in what we agreed to play I’m all for it.
 

Gringnr

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As with so many things, this depends on the game for me. I do appreciate random chargen for sending me off in directions I might not have considered myself. And, as has been mentioned, it can be pretty quick and easy. I certainly don't mind point-buy or array systems, but some of the former are so damn long and involved that the juice isn't worth the squeeze. The Fantasy Trip and some FUDGE variants are point-buy systems I can get behind. Golden Heroes is an example of ransom chargen that is fast and engaging.
 

Sable Wyvern

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With purely rolled characters you always get a big difference in ability between the people who rolled well and the people who rolled badly.
I have no problem with people who don't like random generation, but I do have a problem with people painting random as objectively inferior, case closed, end of story; or who make quantifiably false statements like the one above, which presuposes a lot of things that may not be true.

Taking OD&D (with no supplements) as a starting point, the stats you roll are almost entirely irrelevant to the character's capabiities. You may get XP bonuses or penalties based on your roll, but these have almost no practical effect (you may occasionally level up one session before or after another character of the same class with a different XP bonus value).

I've seen about 20 actual characters (ie, ones made to actually be used as PCs in a game) made using a slightly modified version of Mongoose Traveller 1E lifepath system. Quite a few did not turn out the way the player envisioned, but the ones that failed the majority of their rolls and kept getting kicked out of or failing to enter particular careers were often the ones the players became most attached to by the end of the process, and they all emerged competent at something. There is simply no way those characters with their quirks and backstory would have been made using a pure point buy system.

In my current ACKS game, players roll five sets of stats, two are discarded, one is the starting character, and the next two are for backups. Go through three characters and start again with a set of five. There are absolutely players who would prefer to be choosing their own stats, but there are also players who enjoy the fact that the rolls are influencing their class choices, resulting in them playing characters they otherwise might not.

Edit: I was skimming this thread when I should have been working, and going back, I think I was uncharitable in my reading of thebigh thebigh's post, that I quoted. They were clearly just stating an opinion, and not making objective statements about anything.
 
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ZDL

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I'll repeat what I said in the other thread. Point-buy IMO is superior to random.

Personally I enjoy the choice.

Sometimes I have a character in mind designed to fit the setting/group/whatever and random characters are a burden here:
  • We could really use a healer.
  • How about a moralizing preacher who will only heal those who abide by his deity's restrictions?
  • That could work. I can already see her having conflicts with my rakish thief!
  • ... Damn. I rolled a Wisdom of 3.
  • ... <badword>

On the other hand sometimes I want to mix it up. I want to play something different. Something I haven't played before. Maybe I'm in a rut. Maybe I'm feeling uncreative at the moment and want a kick to the head in the imagination department. In such circumstances random characters really suit me well. So to me an ideal system gives me the choice of random or design.

And note: design. Not "point-buy" necessarily. Point-buy tends to have systemic issues that make me wince. Like how, say, being a noble in a pseudo-middle ages setting automatically makes you weaker, slower, dumber, etc. than someone who isn't a noble (assuming nobility is a point-bought trait). Broader looks at designs include things like so-called "life path" systems or "package buy" systems or the like.
 

Simlasa

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I generally prefer random for a few reasons...
It's partially tied to the style of game I like, where combat is dangerous and death is easy to come by. That asks for a relatively quick means of character generation.
It's one of the things that keeps me from loving GURPS... it's so obssessed with pixelbitching the point cost and balance of everything, that, despite defaulting to plausible levels of danger it has loooong convoluted chargen to anyone not deeply versed in it. I wish there was an alternate GURPS chargen... some semi-random Traveller-esque life-path that let me gamble to get more/better skills.

I also think 'character' has more to do with how you play your PC, rather than what its stats are. Like, power in Traveller comes more from resources/connections/knowledge than anything mechanical. You make your character what it is through your actions in-game, more than in chargen.
Same for BRP, even though it has some degree of point-buy. You build your character through play.

Random chargen is more of a process of discovery, IMO, where I am given a set of facts and then get to discern the character within them... kind of like those Traveller planet codes. It's the sort of challenge I enjoy, vs. trying to hammer out 'Mr. Perfect'. Imperfect characters are always more interesting to me, in whatever medium.
 

Voros

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I don't see point buy as slower than random chargen. Lots of point buy games have fast to relatively fast chargen.
 

Simlasa

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I don't see point buy as slower than random chargen. Lots of point buy games have fast to relatively fast chargen.
I'm sure there are some fast ones... like I don't think BRP/Mythras take too long.
But generally speaking, I think random tends to be quick... and the games I think of as particularly slow chargen are all point-buy.
 

Gringnr

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I don't see point buy as slower than random chargen. Lots of point buy games have fast to relatively fast chargen.
Exactly. And there are some random systems that take WAY too long.
 

PolarBlues

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I don't like random character generation as a straighjacket. Forcing people to play characters they don't want to play makes no sense at all to me.
I love random character generation as a way to stimulate my creativity, encourage me to try something different and not worry about striking a balance between abilites that are useful and abilities that are fun or incharacter.

I don't mind if the GM provides pre-generated characters or just uses templates from the rulebook, as long as the pregen only covers abilites, not personality; that''s my job. And I just,hate, hate, hate any character generation system that feel like filing in my tax return.

My favourite character generation method is sitting with the ICONS character generation application and just keep clicking "New" until somthing comes up that speaks to me. It's rarely the strongest character.

Character generation applications are also the GM's best friend, which is another big point in favour of the random approach.
 
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EmperorNorton

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I generally prefer things like point buy, BUT random can work well if the game is built around random chargen.

I actually really like the random character generation in the 4e D&D based version of Gamma World.

Honestly it is less about "point buy vs random" and more about how the surrounding game is built around it.
 

finarvyn

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I love random character generation as a way to stimulate my creativity, encourage me to try something different and not worry about striking a balance between abilities that are useful and abilities that are fun or in character.
You've hit on one of the biggest selling points to random, and much of what I liked about it for my first couple of decades.

In a 5E character I think about what I want to play and then build that character. When I first play the character there is an elaborate background and it's almost like starting a series with book #2.

In an OD&D character I see the numbers and that starts me thinking about character potential, which becomes character actual through play. Those characters often turn out to be surprises, and a low stat (while never desired) often produces the interesting spark that makes this character special and memorable years later. You may always remember that high-strength, low-constitution character who dealt a lot of damage, then had to run away because he had no hit points. You would never design him.
 

Bunch

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I generally prefer things like point buy, BUT random can work well if the game is built around random chargen.

I actually really like the random character generation in the 4e D&D based version of Gamma World.

Honestly it is less about "point buy vs random" and more about how the surrounding game is built around it.
Dammit! Who told you you could bring reason and thought into and internet argument!
 

ffilz

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I don't like random character generation as a straitjacket. Forcing people to play characters they don't want to play makes no sense at all to me.
I love random character generation as a way to stimulate my creativity, encourage me to try something different and not worry about striking a balance between abilities that are useful and abilities that are fun or in character.
Yes, not forcing someone to play a character they don't like is important. That's why I allow flexibility in random generation, offering rolling up several characters and choosing, allowing swapping attributes, and various other fixes.

Also yes, removing the need to attempt to point balance abilities or force players to choose between a cool sounding ability and a more optimal ability are very strong points in favor of random generation.
I don't mind if the GM provides pre-generated characters or just uses templates from the rulebook, as long as the pregen only covers abilities, not personality; that''s my job. And I just,hate, hate, hate any character generation system that feel like filing in my tax return.
Yea, character generator programs can help with this for some systems where there isn't an overwhelming set of choices but lots of figuring.
My favourite character generation method is sitting with the ICONS character generation application and just keep clicking "New" until something comes up that speaks to me. It's rarely the strongest character.

Character generation applications are also the GM's best friend, which is another big point in favour of the random approach.
A random generator where you can click until you get something appealing is very nice. Great for the GM too. For the Classic Traveller online generator, I even automated the generating a character until you get some specific thing.

And then that brings me to another factor. A lot of the pain of random generation comes from games like D&D where the ONLY random stuff is attributes and hit points. Allowing people to roll until they get the perfect attributes is a bit too easy. Rolling a Traveller character until you get something appealing is much less likely to result in an uber character because there is a decent list of skills on top of the attributes. The only problem I saw was that originally the Classic Traveller character generator was broken for certain "hunting", on mustering out, it would take the allowed 3 cash benefit rolls FIRST. So a Scout with a ship was AT LEAST 4 terms, and actually most likely 7 terms. When I fixed it, you see a lot more 3-4 term Scouts with a ship and even the occasional 1 term Scout with a ship. Adding the automated "hunt" also makes it easier to encourage a player to take the first character that has a ship (or whatever else you are hunting for). As a GM I can use the hunt option to generate an NPC that has, say Computer-3 (or better). With a richer generation like Traveller it's also more reasonable to allow a player to swap out a single skill without creating uber characters. I never had this happen, but if a player said "I really like this character, I was just really hoping to be a Pilot not a Navigator," I would allow it.
 

Gabriel

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I prefer build to random generation. It's not even a contest, and that ties into what developed early on as my core philosophy of gaming. You should be able to play the character you want to play. To me, any character generation structure should make every effort to facilitate that. Build methods facilitate it more effectively than random methods.

Random has it's place, but for my style random generation is more of a vestigial organ with occasional use than a core functionality.
 

JAMUMU

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As an almost-forever GM, if I get a chance to play and the system uses random generation, I love the surprise and the weight it takes off coming up with a concept. I also enjoy life path games like Traveller and WFRP.

My players almost universally prefer points-buy or pick'n'mix/character modelling, and that means I'm happy enough with those methods. When we play DCC though, characters are made as per the random rules.

One thing I do like are engines like Burning Wheel and Sentinels of the Multiverse, which are basically just point-buy games but obfuscated behind life-path style systems.
 

Lundgren

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As a player, I want to play a character that interest me. So my "I don't like pre-gen character" is actually just a shorthand of "I don't like 99% of all pre-gens I've seen, but if you do have something that actually interest me, then we can talk." A 100% random roll system is also very unlikely to create something I'm interested in playing, but it's not impossible.

Point buy or mixed have a higher chance of making it possible to make something I want to play. I've never been in a position of playing in a "modeling/design" game where the there's no care about any point cost, but I've heard about it and offered that option to a few groups but they wanted to go point buy instead.

The Traveller game I'm running, I used a modified version of MgT2 where (among some other things) they had five tokens that could be used for getting extra dice to a roll (advantage style, pick the best dices) or rerolls. So they could make sure the stuff that were important to what they had in mind turned out that way, while getting interesting surprises elsewhere. We had talked about each concept beforehand in session 0 (or rather multiple session zeroes), but the chargen was done with me together with each player. So when the character was created, we had interpreted the values and fleshed out the backstory together.

Personally, even if I can stat out a Star Wars D6 character in less than five minutes, I still would need hours (or days) to make a SW D6 character I would like to play. The rest would be spent on creating a background and the name. :smile:
 

ffilz

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As a player, I want to play a character that interest me. So my "I don't like pre-gen character" is actually just a shorthand of "I don't like 99% of all pre-gens I've seen, but if you do have something that actually interest me, then we can talk." A 100% random roll system is also very unlikely to create something I'm interested in playing, but it's not impossible.

Point buy or mixed have a higher chance of making it possible to make something I want to play. I've never been in a position of playing in a "modeling/design" game where the there's no care about any point cost, but I've heard about it and offered that option to a few groups but they wanted to go point buy instead.

The Traveller game I'm running, I used a modified version of MgT2 where (among some other things) they had five tokens that could be used for getting extra dice to a roll (advantage style, pick the best dices) or rerolls. So they could make sure the stuff that were important to what they had in mind turned out that way, while getting interesting surprises elsewhere. We had talked about each concept beforehand in session 0 (or rather multiple session zeroes), but the chargen was done with me together with each player. So when the character was created, we had interpreted the values and fleshed out the backstory together.

Personally, even if I can stat out a Star Wars D6 character in less than five minutes, I still would need hours (or days) to make a SW D6 character I would like to play. The rest would be spent on creating a background and the name. :smile:
How many of those who prefer character building to random generation also like extensive back story? I could see those going hand in hand while random generation goes hand in hand with playing to find out.
 

sharps54

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I can speak from the random generation side, I much prefer to develop the backstory as the game progresses. I do not like having to make an extensive backstories. “Ex Army Scout against the Comanche turned buffalo hunter” is about as in-depth as I personally like to start with when I’m a player. Heck, I don’t even like coming up with a name and much prefer to do that last, the whole “start with a name and a sketch of your character” concept is not my cup of tea.
 

Lundgren

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How many of those who prefer character building to random generation also like extensive back story? I could see those going hand in hand while random generation goes hand in hand with playing to find out.
Not a clue. I can't run a game for the "play to find out" crowd, so my pool of anecdotes is severely biased. Some randomness combined with choices and some control have worked for us, but full randomness would most likely fall very flat.

I also think "play to find out" probably work a lot better with GM's that have a planned adventure, as the finding out can be used to give motivation to work toward the goal of the adventure. While extensive backstory most likely work better with character driven sandboxy campaigns. The former would most likely not have any momentum into the sandbox, and the later would most likely clash with the GM's planed adventure.
 

Bunch

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As a player, I want to play a character that interest me. So my "I don't like pre-gen character" is actually just a shorthand of "I don't like 99% of all pre-gens I've seen, but if you do have something that actually interest me, then we can talk." A 100% random roll system is also very unlikely to create something I'm interested in playing, but it's not impossible.

Point buy or mixed have a higher chance of making it possible to make something I want to play. I've never been in a position of playing in a "modeling/design" game where the there's no care about any point cost, but I've heard about it and offered that option to a few groups but they wanted to go point buy instead.

The Traveller game I'm running, I used a modified version of MgT2 where (among some other things) they had five tokens that could be used for getting extra dice to a roll (advantage style, pick the best dices) or rerolls. So they could make sure the stuff that were important to what they had in mind turned out that way, while getting interesting surprises elsewhere. We had talked about each concept beforehand in session 0 (or rather multiple session zeroes), but the chargen was done with me together with each player. So when the character was created, we had interpreted the values and fleshed out the backstory together.

Personally, even if I can stat out a Star Wars D6 character in less than five minutes, I still would need hours (or days) to make a SW D6 character I would like to play. The rest would be spent on creating a background and the name. :smile:
I can see merging the two. Take a random chargen tool and require it to have certain skills or classes or attributes. ffilz ffilz has a Traveller chargen that you can set to discard all results without Travellers Aid Society or without a ship. That kind of combines the desire for a general type with the desire for quick randomish chargen.
 
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