CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Let the Dice Fall Where They May

Having played many different RPGs, I’ve seen hundreds of character generation methods; Point distribution systems like World of Darkness, thematically appropriate systems like using a deck of cards in Deadlands, and of course the old school D&D method of rolling some six-sided dice and generating your character. In all honesty, they basically boil down to two general themes equal distribution – everyone starts with the same points whether its point buy or a dot distribution – or random generation.

Now there are pros and cons to even distribution and random generation. Point buy gives you the ability to tailor your character exactly as you like and it starts everyone off on a pretty equal playing field. Random generation, I think, makes you think outside the box when building your character and since people aren’t created equal the variance of character strength gives play a grittier, more real feeling.

Personally, I’ll use either system. However, when I’m GMing for a new group, I’ll almost always use point buy, most especially if the players are new. You don’t want to try to introduce a new player to the joys of gaming only to have their first impression be that they got the short end of the stick. Speaking for myself, I really love the challenge of making a character based off of disparate pieces of randomly generated information. To me one system isn’t truly better than the other, although I know many have strong opinions one way or another. For the rest of this article though I want to talk about why I love the random generation method and some ways to modify it, making it a little less random so that players don’t feel left out.

One of the main reasons I enjoy creating random characters is it forces me to think outside the box. I’m a writer and I love to create, but sometimes even I get into ruts. I also have a type of character that I gravitate towards: I play skill monkeys and finesse fighters. I can’t help but max Dex and Int, it’s just my nature. But that means I don’t get to explore all the other varied classes that games like Pathfinder have. When I do straight down the line random rolls and I get the 16 Str, 14 Con and a middling to low Dex and Int – well now I’ve gotta really build something new and force myself to play outside my comfort zone.

The other reason I enjoy random character generation is the challenge of creation. If you’ve seen my random generated backgrounds – which are on hiatus now but you can see here as to how I go about them – you know I’ve come up with some pretty interesting stuff. If you haven’t, here are two of my favorites: Bartok Forgetoil the Houndof Dranngvit and Horguk the Sieger. I randomly rolled stats, a race, used the background generator, and then picked a class based on what the random results indicated their lives should be like. Suffice to say I would play the hell out of either of these characters or any of the ones I’ve generated to date.

“But Simon,” you say, “I don’t want one player to feel like he’s too much better or worse than another.” Yes that is a huge concern among groups. No one likes being the weaker character and everyone envies the guy who has 18s in everything. You can mitigate this a bit By filtering their choices to balance the party. The 3.5 Player’s Handbook says to never let a player keep a set of stats where the total ability bonuses are less than +3. 

For the record +3 is usually around a 10pt buy. If you want to narrow the playing field while keeping the group within a 15 to 20ish point buy, have them reroll until they get between a +4 total and a +6 total. The last method is to take what they rolled and add or subtract one point from a stat until they meet the point buy you want to use, this way they get random stats but adjust them to be more even.

There are other ways to produce randomness. I participated in thought exercise today where I was given a race, class, and deity and had to write up a character for it. I got an Orc Arcanist who worships Alseta, for whom I’ve done a write-up here (link the one door opens article). With this method you get to place your stats using point buy as you see fit, but you still need to think outside the box with weird combinations. For the record I made a feral arcanist using both the unlettered and school savant archetype. The turtle is Alseta’s sacred animal, so he has a turtle familiar that he uses as a spell book like a witch.

There are, of course, a million other ways to inject a little randomness in your character – but randomness is not for every player or every group. If you could introduce some kind of randomness, would you? Do you prefer the even playing field of point buy? Voice your opinion on the matter and let us know.


  1. In 5E, you could always randomly distribute the standard array. Everyone gets the same stats but they don't get to choose what the excel at. Of course, I had all of my new players roll.

  2. I've never been fond of the standard array. ot in 3.5, not in 4e, not in pathfinder. It just seemed so lackluster. I'll be honest as much as I love random rolling myself, I usually do point buy when I'm running.