Apr 282015

My absolute favorite recreational hobby is playing pen-and-paper roleplaying games. I became hooked playing them way back in 1981 at the tender age of 11, with my first gaming experience being Star Frontiers from TSR. One feature of rpgs that I love is being able to craft a new and unique individual from just a mere handful of numbers, stats, and skills. My original gaming group played twice a week (Friday and Saturday nights), and we jumped from game to game. The consequence of that was that I rolled up a lot of characters. In fact, I loved rolling up characters so much that I didn’t care if I actually played them or not.

AD&D character sheet

Will your die rolls for Strength be high enough to create a fighter?

As most gaming systems back then featured random dice rolling, characters could vary wildly from one another. The blessing or curse of the dice gods may mean that you had to rethink how you were going to play a certain character. Many was the time that I wanted to create a fighter but rolling a pitiful strength and high intelligence meant I was now playing a wizard. I still fondly remember one AD&D campaign where we all rolled barbarians, and my intelligence of 8 was the highest of the group!

Yet for all the player-characters I made, my oldest friend, Chris, and I loved creating new characters that could be used as NPCs or as a backup character. After my gaming buddies all left my dad’s house (that’s where we normally gamed at), Chris and I would stay up for hours, creating new characters for a wide range of games: Star Trek, Chill, Call of Cthulhu, AD&D, Top Secret, Gangbusters, Paranoia, Villains and Vigilantes, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Traveller, Gamma World, and so on. We would come up with backgrounds and motivations for the characters, depending upon if they were going to be good or evil. We thought it was great that Traveller characters could actually die depending upon a die roll after you went through the hassle of rolling one up. Creating characters for the various superhero rpgs was fun as well as we tried to create the coolest, or weirdest, heroes and villains possible. Systems that allowed you create your character by spending points (Champions) allowed us a lot of options, but I do admit that there’s just something about the randomness of die rolling that makes creating characters unique as you’ll never know what you’re going to wind up with. A perfect example is Aces & Eights, the western rpg by Kenzerco. A friend of mine wanted to craft a deadly gunslinger, and he had plans to take over my campaign and rule over the local setting. One roll on the flaws table changed the direction of my campaign completely as he rolled loco. This meant that his character was crazy and had become a gunslinger after reading about their exploits in the dime novels of the day. My friend’s character was still incredibly deadly, but his perception on how he would run his character changed completely as poor Honest Jack Thompson was now certifiably insane.

I don’t get to roll up new characters as much as I used to do. My gaming group is a lot smaller, and we tend to focus on playing Rolemaster. That system is pretty intensive and requires quite a bit of time to create a character, and the version that we use allows you allocate points among the stats, which robs characters of their overall uniqueness. The same is true for a lot of rpgs today as players have a lot more options open to them when creating their tabletop alter-ego. The average character creation section of a rulebook today is far bigger than the average size of an entire rpg’s rulebook from thirty years ago. Still, it’s a lot of fun, and I think I have some ideas for some characters that need to be brought to life.

Traveller rpg

Chris and I created enough characters for Traveller that we could probably field our own mercenary army.

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