RPG Character Generation and New Players.

I was reading this Blog Post, and this sentence caught by attention:

“I was 90% sure…..This group of four would sit down to learn 5e D&D, make new characters, and run out of time before even rolling a single die outside of character creation.”

To be sure, I am completely unknowledgeable about current RPG rule systems, but I was always under the impression that Rolemaster, beyond it’s reputation for charts and deadliness, was also notorious for it’s lengthy chargen. So I was surprised to hear that these later editions of D&D and 5e specifically were seen as a cumbersome process.

I’ve always find the process of making a character, using flexible rules, was enjoyable and it was certainly the appeal of Rolemaster when I was first introduced in the 80s. But in the context of introducing new players to a game system, the blogger made a salient point:

“When your friends agree to sit down to a game of D&D, they want to *play* D&D, not learn rules or have to make dozens of choices they don’t really understand. That’s nerd shit. They want to start having these thrilling adventures, funny moments, and participate in the experiences that they hear you rave about. Or maybe see in video or hear about on podcasts.”

In other words, immerse new players into the game experience quickly without the minutia of game rules or technicalities. I had the chance to introduce D&D players to a high level Rolemaster adventure recently. By supplying them with pre-made characters, solid backgrounds and ran the adventure as more “high fantasy” than the typical Rolemaster grittiness, I was able to shepherd them through the first 3 chapters. While they were lost a bit on the some of the game systems intricacies, I leaned into the world building aspects of Shadow World. Either way, they had a great time and experienced a game system they might never have tried.

Perhaps Rolemaster will never be the “rules light” system that seem to be in vogue today, but it doesn’t seem to be an outlier any more with the more dense rules introduced in D&D. Is this the right take on this?

4 Replies to “RPG Character Generation and New Players.”

  1. I’ve been going through some newer systems (Witcher, Cyberpunk RED, and so on), and while they might not use quite as many dice their character system is almost as convoluted as what you’d find in RM of any version. By the time you get done wading through the various occupations/professions/lifeways/whatever, you’re hip-deep in rules and might have forgotten where you started or what kind of character you wanted to play. And Harn’s character creation uses almost as many dice rolls as RM (maybe more, actually, depending on which options you use). And the systems that are pretty dice-light (Modern War, Ghost Ops, and so on) produce characters that are so similar it’s almost not worth bothering with creation.

    Calling some of these systems “rules lite” is a misnomer in my view. They tend to make up for it with tons of tables and charts. Cyberpunk RED, for example, opens with a nifty flowchart that reminded me of my early programming days. The most basic character styles have 8 steps while the more advanced has six. Either way you’re jumping through about 66 pages of rules to find what you need, moving through a ton of tables that tell you what your personality is, how you dress, and so on. And then they dump in templates for some defined classes (or Lifepaths as they call them), each with its own flowchart(!) you have to roll on to work through. Is this somehow easier than RMU? Oh, and if you use the more advanced character style they push you right into stat and skill purchase.

    RMU isn’t an outlier compared to this. It just looks different, and allows far more options which might make some people nervous if they’re used to being pushed into computer game characters.

  2. I find that, for players that have learned only one system so far, there’s a tendency to believe a system is more complex than it is simply because they don’t know it yet, not because it is inherently complex. We played D&D from it’s first publications through AD&D 2nd Ed before moving to RM completely (we’d been using elements of it in AD&D 2nd Ed from it’s days of being a ‘add-on’ to other systems). After many years we had someone want to run D&D 3.5. I took a look at it and just wasn’t interested for two main reasons: 1) It was different enough that I was going to have to relearn a lot. 2) It seemed like the areas where it had become more detailed were moving in the direction of RM-like mechanics anyhow. If I had been an inexperienced gamer I might have said ‘That’s too complex!’ rather than realizing I simply knew D&D 2nd Ed and RM well as a result of many years of use… and now I had to learn a new system that I want to understand at the same level, which just isn’t realistic. It would take some time and effort.

    RM had always tended to attract a certain type of RPG user though and that’s typically veterans who want all the detail that RM provides. Our groups, effectively, spend a ‘Session 0’ creating our characters. However our games tend to last for a very long time (real time). A very short campaign would be six months and some have lasted for years. As a result, we want a character tailored to exactly what we had in mind. So the character creation in RM doesn’t bother us. But I can see character creation for one-shot games being a big turnoff to even veteran RM users.

    Using pre-generated is a good idea for situations like new players to the group or conventions. For players who have been part of the group for a while, but haven’t played RM and are intimidated by the character creation process, I’d likely just ask them what they want and built a character for them to start off with. Ideally, for future games, they’d get the ‘bug’ and want to create their own PC after seeing how customized things can get.

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