Wednesday, July 18, 2012

3d6 in Order: Advice on Creating AD&D Characters

Lest ye think AD&D is too hard ass about creating player characters, let's take a look at Gary's advice in the DMG about this very subject.

"As AD&D is an ongoing game of fantasy adventuring, it is important to allow participants to generate a viable character of the race and profession which he or she desires.While it is possible to generate some fairly playable characters by rolling 3d6, there is an often an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one due to the quirks of the dice. Furthermore, these rather marginal characters tend to have short life expectancy--which tends to discourage new players, as does having to make do with some character of a race and/or class which he or she really can't or won't identify with. Character generation then, is a serious matter, and it is recommended that the following systems be used."

And thus was introduced to the gaming world four alternative methods of generating player ability scores. And note that the phrase is "it is recommended that the following systems be used." This was an expected change DMs were being asked to implement for the enjoyment of the player and the good of the game. It simply worked better to do it this way. This was a major change in the old 3d6 in order approach that had held sway for some time.

Oddly, an assumption of many old school players, or those coming to the old school way of doing things for the first time, is that 3d6 in order is the only way to do things truly old school. I suppose this was the only real presentation previous to AD&D for craeting attributes: 3d6 for each ability score recorded in order. But Gary had recognized the wisdom in allowing characters a chance to play the kind of PC they were interested in playing. True 0e and B/X play RAW was 3d6 in order.

But is that really "old school"? Old school has a bit of a reputation as being hard ass on any given rule decision. But this is an illusion and a myth. D&D is deadly period. A survey of online discussion on what is the deadliest RPG brings up many names, Paranoia, Call of Cthulhu et al. But common consensus for sheer number of players dropped over the life of play: D&D takes the day without question. Let's face it D&D is a game of combat with PCs with not many hit points-even at higher levels. It is a deadly game. That, for one, contributes to the illusion that old school is hard ass.

This deadly aspect of play doesn't entirely go away in 3e either--it's still a pretty deadly game, just not as quite as pre 3e. But is the game really "unfair" or slighted against the player? Clearly not. Not if one heeds Gary's words. In this same section Gary explains that creating the PC's idea, history, personae and the like is in the hands of the creativity of the player. You get in mind the type of PC you want to play and you run with it. Don't let dice get in the way. In fact, the advice is NOT to have PCs use the NPC personae generation tables later in the book. Such things should not be randomly determined, but rather imagined by the player. Unless, he adds, the player really wants some aspect randomly determined for him. This is a divergence of some games that have endless random determination tables for player backgrounds, social class, history, quirks, flaws, familial ties etc etc. Gary had in mind that such PC depth would be determined by the player herself. This "lifepath" concept was actually introduced by other early games like Traveller and Harn--but was not designed to be an integral part of the D&D char gen concept.

Note also that in Gary's quote above, he says that when trying to generate a set of suitable ability scores for the type of player you want to play "there is often an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one". What this implies to me is that Gary is not averse to throwing away a set of scores that aren't satisfactory and starting over. While this is seemingly not a problem in his eyes, he recommends better attribute generation systems. So how many times have we (I) told players "Nope sorry, that's what you rolled--you have to stick with it."? Well, not all the time for me, but a few. Thinking I was being the bastion of defense for true old school playing, I was in reality creating discouragement and disappointment among my players. Gary preferred we avoid this.

He did not however, drop random generation. Note that all methods elucidated in this section are still random methods. For some reason he felt this was important. He did not create a point allocation system, or a redistribution system where you sacrifice a point or two here to raise a score there. At least not in the DMG. The idea is to allow greater possibility in character creation while retaining a somewhat random approach. The implication for this being that players should be allowed to play the kind of PC they wanted while still randomly generating attribute scores.

The interesting thing is that we all know, due to race and class restrictions, some combinations were simply not possible. An Elvish Paladin simply didn't exist. And nowhere does Gary say ignoring those rules was acceptable. Though we all know many DMs did so with nary a thought. They also removed level restrictions. I'll admit I'm not an avid fan of race-class-level restrictions--but I haven't really formed a well reasoned opinion on that matter. Perhaps I'll address that in the future. Gary actually has much to say about it--always in defense of the concept of racial limitations.

The take away today is that AD&D is designed to allow players to play the type of character they want within what was allowed by the system. And attribute generation methods were not to stand in the way of fulfilling the desire of character concept. Something Gary hinted at time and time again is that the DM, not the dice, was the master of the game. Especially in his famous quote "DMs only roll the dice for the sound they make." And this, friends, is an enlightening reminder for me.