Keep it simple

Tuesday nights have been very very successful.  We’ve got anywhere from 25-30 gamers showing up each week, and games range from Star Trek (CODA) to a Superworld/CoC mash-up to Microlite 74.  The Star Trek game is mine – it’s set in 2270, and uses some interesting fan stuff and some material from Mike Ford and Diane Duane’s novels.  Having read through the rules, the CODA system struck me as “classic Traveller meets d20” – which may be a fair comparison – or not.  We’ll see.

But character creation took FOREVER. Yes, I probably could’ve dealt with it better by generating some NPCs beforehand. The fact of the matter remains that in comparison to Mike Berkey’s Where No Man Has Gone Before, the CODA system takes a long time to produce a character.  I’ve taken advantage of some online resources to make it easier, and I like the general process and the sorts of characters which are produced, but there is definitely room for improvement. One complicating factor is the desire for characters to be experienced before starting play; another was the idea of every player having two characters – one for the bridge crew, another for the landing party.

From this experience, I derived the following observation: long drawn-out character generation processes favor premature character investment by players. If you take a long time to generate a character – say more than a half-hour – then there is more encouragement to build up a back-story for the character.  It also leads to a greater expectation that the character is somehow “meaningful” and deserving of special attention by other players and the referee.  From the perspective of Tuesday Night Open Gaming, this makes it difficult for new players to join in.  From an OSR perspective, this is definitely problematic. I tend to interpret OSR games as not privileging player-characters over non-player characters, and the characters themselves are not superhuman or heroic, but develop over time from more mundane circumstances.  If you have a complex, involved and fiddly character generation system, that gets a little harder, as the players end up investing a lot of time into character creation, and begin to expect a pay-back in-game for the long, involved process.

4 thoughts on “Keep it simple

  1. "long drawn-out character generation processes favor premature character investment by players."

    I'm surprised that you've only just noticed this, Victor. It was the key element in my desire to return to "old school" games.

    Long character generation leads to character investment leads to not wanting to take real risks. And that, combined with a desire to actually play something resembling an adventure game leads directly to railroading both of the players and the GM in an effort to spin a worthwhile story without crushing expectations (to say nothing of having to break for an hour while characters are generated).

    I'm guessing the Prof's character generation was not as long winded as that which saw daylight in Adventures on Tekumel? It's a wonderful system for making a character to put on a shelf, but not for risking down a catacomb or some Ssu hell-hole.

  2. No, I had noticed it before, but the combination of an open gaming night and an emphasis on Old School games brought it into particularly sharp focus. The notion of premature character investment can lead to a variety of later problems, including the idea that character death should be taken personally by the player, which in turn fosters an unhealthy sense of adversarial play between the player and the referee, which then leads to the notion that the world (or setting) is something to "beat" rather than something to experience. There's more there, but that's a start. I definitely agree with you about risk avoidance and subsequent railroading.

    Phil usually had us roll some dice – it was often just the stat generation from EPT with some of the social determination material from S&G. If you wanted to do more you could, but not that Phil was going to pay much attention to it. ­čśë

  3. There's also an issue that when the character generation process is long-winded, then the character sheets are going to be more complicated and difficult to follow. If the character stats/abilities/whatever is too complex you can be constrained to playing the statistics instead of being free to role-play the _character_.

    Having said that I've enjoyed creating characters in some terribly complex generation rules (Space Opera and MERP spring to mind from dim-and-distant memory) but I've ended up treating that as a mini-game in itself rather than part of a game; it's probably no coincidence that these are games that I've never ended up actually _playing_!

  4. Yup. Much agreement. One of the few games I enjoyed that way was and has been Classic Traveller. I've whiled away many an afternoon rolling up characters just to see what I could get. Mind you, I also ended up with some pretty interesting NPCs as a result.

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