Batgirl's Guide to Character Creation
A Dragon Age RPG Mechanics Rant
Some people are smart, some are dumb; some are strong, some are weak; some are charming, and some are just plain annoying. Under mmany "modern" systems of character creation, though, characters are created equal. Everyone gets the same number of character points, or at least pretty close to it. Stupid characters can be correspondingly stronger, while charming characters may be correspondingly less tough. It all evens out.
Unfortunately, this isn't very realistic. Fortunately, there's random character creation.
Let's be clear: when I am talking about random character creation I mean the real thing. It used to be the deafult method of "older" game systems and was called Method One back before 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Roll dice for each attribute and assign the values to attributes, in order, as they are rolled. If your first roll is seven (and you are playing DARPG) then your Strength is -1. Older systems like D&D had a "No Swapping" rule, but DARPG is leinent and lets you tweak the values of two stats if you want to.
The important characteristic of the DARPG system is that all of the basic facts about a character are determined randomly. A character may be quick and strong, or sickly and dumb, strong but sickly or dumb but wise. For players who enjoy games that accurately simulate the world, it can be extremely frustrating to have character creation make the assumption that all people are equally talented or skilled. This kind of random character creation encourages a more realistic spread of character types and makes our players who enjoy vareity very happy.
However, other kinds of players tend to hate random character creation. This isn't unreasonable! After all, random character creation forces the player to give up control of the one part of the game they have absolute control over. Players who value the game aspects of role-playing - making the most of the rules and structure of the game - hate it because they risk their ability to design their character to make good use of the rules. Players who value story hate it because it makes their construction of the story dependent on a roll of the dice. Really, though, both of these kinds of players have good reasons to appreciate random character creation, at least some of the time.
For players who enjoy the game-as-game, random character creation can prove a real challenge to their skills. After all, the process is not entirely random. Once the character's basics are determined, the player can start to make choices about what to do with these raw materials. Every DARPG player gets to choose their class, background and race.
The choices this kind of player makes, based on their randomly generated stats, can actually provide an interesting mini-game-like challenge. The random aspect of creation forces the player to think differently, while the choices made after attributes are determined let the player shape their character. While a game-oriented player probably wouldn't want to do this for every game, it can be a great way to give them a problem to solve, and game-oriented players like solving problems.
Narrative-oriented players are a much harder nut to crack, but the benefits to them are even more powerful. They've been presented with a random collection of stats - but making a character out of that random collection of stats can actually make the story better, even if it seems like an arbitrary exercise.
The key? Getting players to work together. Random character creation fosters an environment for people to create characters that work together in interesting ways. First, random character creation can make difficult narrative problems for the group to solve - the problem of how to turn an odd collection of stats into a character. This gets the group talking about their characters, which is a necessary pre-requisite for collaboration. It also forces the players to be relatively unattached to their characters at first. Since a player can't have a character concept before character creation they can't get attached to that concept. This makes them more open to accepting the group's input, and much more open to going against their own tendencies and stereotypes when creating the character.
For this to be work, you as the gamemaster have to create an environment where players can effectively collaborate. First off, it never hurt to make your goals in this little project explicit. Tell the players that you expect them to talk over character creation with the group.
Second, because the players never really listen to you anyway, sit them all down in the same room to do the rolling and customizing parts of character creation. Once the rolling starts most players won't need to be told to talk, they will start discussing the high rolls, the low rolls, and the statistical strangeness that will crop up (like the player I recently had who rolled a ten - five out of eight times).
Third, encourage everyone to brainstorm about each character. Point out the strengths and weaknesses of the character concepts as the process occurs. How did such an unintelligent wanderer survive on the road for so long? Is this character really smart enough to be a professor? Let the group suggest solutions to people's character woes. Some people are bound to have stat collections that seem unplayable, or perhaps just impossible for a real person to have. Get the group to solve these problems.
Fourth, encourage people to think about the group as a whole and how all its members interact. The goal here is to create a fairly tight knit group of characters, which makes the gamemaster's job easier later on. The players should be flexible with their characters backgrounds so the whole group can hang together. Character groups will tend to form around the weakest characters, to explain how such a weak character is involved in the adventure at all. Encourage the impromptu creation of familial relationships or long term friendships, so long as they don't exclude the rest of the group. Try to be sure that each character is tightly tied to at least two other characters.
Following these guidelines, random character creation can actually be a powerful aid to creating good story - and not only does this keep story-oriented players happy, it can also be a great imaginative aid for the gamemaster.
So don't be afraid to introduce random collaborative character creation to a game! Your players may be leery, but most of them will enjoy it more than they'd think. It's probably best to introduce this technique when running a one-shot, but don't be afraid to base a long term campaign on it. Either way, you and your players will enjoy the challenge and the creativity it brings to your game.