What do the open playtest for D&D Next and the recently released Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game have in common? Both of them expect you to play them with pre-generated characters. Now my group has a natural aversion to playing pre-generated characters. I think there are a lot of gamers who think like my group. My group thinks they are imaginative, and good role-players and they are correct. Most of them think that pre-generated characters will stifle their personal input, creativity, and role-playing. I am not sure if they are right or wrong but I think there are advantages and disadvantages to using pre-generated characters, and that is what we are going to discuss today.
When it comes to pre-generated characters I must admit I have never been a huge fan of playing something somebody else created. This is funny, because I play the game and somebody else created it. That is taking the idea to the extreme but it does have some merit. In the case of the open playtest for D&D Next, the playtest at this phase is attempting to gather information on specific mechanics and that is why the pre-gens are provided and expected to be used by the players. I read a lot of forum posts and message board posts from fans who were unhappy with not having character generation rules. So it isn’t just some of the players in my group it is some gamers in general who want to play their own creations. By the way, be calm your character generation rules for D&D Next will be out shortly.
It seemed that there were unhappy gamers with the lack of more extensive character generation rules for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game. Iwrote a review of the game and conducted an interview with Cam Banks, Lead Design when the game released so I had a lot of feedback and did my reading on the boards. Lots of people will agree that Spider-Man is a classic character. Then why do most gamers not want to play Spider-Man but a character of their own creation worked into the storyline of the Civil War or Infinity Gauntlet? Playing an established character could help players who have a harder time finding what their character is about, and how to role-play. Even the greenest of players can say “Hulk Smash” at the appropriate time.
It may be too much of a challenge for a group of role-players who believe in doing things well to accurately portray already established characters like Human Torch and Thing. It could be that players have an appreciation for the source material but a lack of enthusiasm about furthering the adventures of those pre-established characters. Instead creating their own character and inserting them into a pre-established setting seems to generate and keep more interest. I think a lot of this is because of the respect for canon that a lot of us as fans of geekdom seem to possess. When we are playing a character we feel restrained from making them are own and instead feel like we are being second-rate mimics.
I think it is clear that the optimizer will not be at all satisfied with pre-gens. When I first showed the Hero System to my current group a decade ago, my optimizer player loved the system but laughed at the simplicity of the pre-gen heroes and villains. (We later found out that simplicity is a good thing in the Hero System most of the time) The optimizer will see a lot of pre-gen builds and not feel satisfied with the way the characters resources have been used. Sometimes they will be right. I once played in an amazing D20 Call of Cthulhu game with a pre-gen character. My character had Dexterity of 4 and the Tumble Skill. I guess that way I would hurt myself less from my clumsiness or didn’t bang my head when I fell out of my wheelchair. Like I said, fortunately the game was so outstanding creepy I completely forgot about my character sheet and only about my character.
It seems that in the earlier days of rpgs there was a lot of randomness to character creation. The randomness would test creativity but could also lead to some builds which were just senseless. The original Marvel Super Heroes Role-playing Game by TSR had this sort of randomness available in character creation. You could choose to ignore it. We don’t have to ignore it we can use it as a test of our role-playing skill and creativity. A random generator creates characters but keeps them in certain guidelines that are not the most advantageous, maximized, or optimized. Can we as players accept a character that we randomly generated for ourselves?
Margaret Weis Productions released a random datafile generator for their Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game a short time ago. Will a tool like this help players overcome the lack of character generation rules? Can players deal with the randomness and that one character may be a bit “tougher” or have better range than their character? I might use this character generator to start my next super hero game. If I can get my players to agree. Rpgs are a cooperative storytelling game after all.
As a Gamemaster I have often wished I could just hand out pregen characters that I knew were perfect, in my mind, for the game I wanted to run. I would worry about alienating my players from the game by limiting their contributions to the story so I would never hand out characters for anything more than a one-shot. Do random generators help players accept that they didn't pick every aspect of their character? I would like to hear what your group does with pregens and what you have to say about playing them. Until Next Time, Roll Hard!
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