Friday, February 3, 2012

Random Character Race

When I ran my old AD&D games I didn't let anyone play halflings or elves.   I thought halflings were lame and only belonged in Tolkien settings and I didn't want to bother with them, and elves annoyed me because they were supposed to be ancient and have no souls.  However in actual play no one seemed to ever play either of these races much different than a human.  So for PCs I just had a bunch of different human races with slight stat modifications and cultures, and I kept the dwarves in - halflings didn't exist and elves were so unbalanced power wise that they were only ever monsters or NPCs.  Earlier on I let some people play a half-elf but later on I even cut that out and decided the races couldn't interbreed.  And even though I included both elves and halflings (with the caveat that 'halfling' is a term that could mean anything from gnome to goblin) in Beacon, I still am not eager to have people play them in my game.  Any Beacon setting source book I do will stress my distaste for the generic elf and halfling character more than the rulebook does, because in the end some people like playing them and I want people to play Beacon.  But still in the rules I included these generic fantasy races and tried to balance their powers against each other so that players didn't just pick 'the best' one all the time.  There is another way to do this however...
The first time I played DragonQuest I was surprised to see that players had to roll during character creation if they wanted to play anything except human.  I still think this is a great design because it means you can have races with clear advantages over others without having players always picking those races for flavour or to min/max their builds.  You had a 25% chance to be a dwarf but only a 6% chance to be a giant and a 4% chance to be a shapeshifter.  You would state the race you were trying for and roll percentile dice and if you didn't make it you couldn't play that race.  You could try for three races and if you missed them all then you had to play a human.  Those races granted some special benefits too, these races were a lot different mechanically because they didn't need to net balance out with humans.  Giants had huge strength bonuses, elves had some speed and magic bonuses and learned woodcraft skills 50% faster and all the races had modifiers to advancing their skills.  The bottom line is that if you managed to roll a shapechanger or giant (or even a dwarf) in DQ you will probably be playing it different than you would a human...  Character stats were also based on luck, but not in a traditional roll 3d6 sense, it was a point buy system but the number of points was based on a 2d10 'curve' averaging around 22 points. You could get 25 points if you rolled a 2 but only 19 if you rolled a 20.  It was all in all a neat system and it was an eyeopener for me coming from AD&D for sure.

I like this rolling for character race approach a lot because it would free me up to do some really different stuff with character races.  However I can see where people would not like it, especially if they want to play a specific kind of character instead of 'rolling up' a character and playing it.  Some people even express distaste with rolling stats and want everything to be point buy - Ça alors!  Point buy goes hand in hand with balance however and I'm not sure balance is the best road to take.  As long as I'm trying to keep Beacon D&D compatible I think I have to suffer some blandness in these areas.  And in the end I am pretty happy running a Beacon D&D style game and don't think I would enjoy running a game of DragonQuest as much (maybe have to try it sometime though...).  But I do like the random mechanics in character generation from a design perspective.  Maybe I should be considering some 'optional rules' to emulate some of these ideas from Dragon Quest.  There was even a roll for handedness in there somewhere that would be cool to use...   


  1. Dragonquest was the old-school d&d game I grew up playing. Boy did I love rolling for character race and everything else. It just feels natural to me for some reason. I have a lot more to say about this, but I'll save it for my own blog ;)

  2. This is a neat solution to a recurring problem. I might give it a spin one day. Thanks Todd.

  3. There was some discussion on making non-human races based on a low stat roll. Wish I would have bookmarked it. Basically you had to have like a twelve or less Strength to play a Halfling, an eleven or less Charisma for a Dwarf, etc. I, obviously, do not do it justice... but something to consider.