Gimme Back My Chargen! (Wait, What?)

So The GM Who Gets Us Into Everything is going to be running us a D&D Next playtest on Wednesday. Fair enough, and hey, I might even find something I react strongly enough to to make breaking system neutrality worth it. I look at the sample characters, I look at the basic rules, and the first thing I have to do is figure out….

…what, no chargen? At all? Just pick from one of five D&D cliché possibilities and go?

All right. From my own experiences in system design, I can understand this; you don’t want to give the whole thing away from the get-go, otherwise nobody will actually buy anything. And given my legendary dislike of character generation, you’d think this would be a bonus and I’d be celebrating being able to just get started. Pick the lesser of five annoyances and run with it, what’s not to like?

To judge from the fact that trying to hack these sample characters into something a bit more interesting has taken priority over tonight’s originally scheduled post-blogging entertainment, not to mention nearly taking priority over tonight’s previously scheduled blog posting, I think it’s safe to say that as far as I’m concerned, there’s something. I don’t think I’ve been bugged this much by the absence of something since I realized that San Jose State University’s library science program app process didn’t require me to write an essay.

How did that happen? It’s not like this is the first time I’ve been handed a set of pregen characters and asked to pick one. Heck, I spent several months playing a character who’d been entirely prebuilt by my GM, full build and a little bit of history. I’ve never resented it quite this much, though.

I think what bugs me is that we aren’t even getting to pretend to have any sort of choice in the matter—every group is testing this with an assortment of four of the same five characters. One choice per class (unless you’re dealing with clerics), complete with race, background, theme, and they’re not even particularly unusual choices. In both of the other cases, there wasn’t much choice, but they were designed specifically for us; even in the one where I was given one specific character and no option to change, the character had been designed with me in mind, and I’d had a (very) small amount of input. I don’t know if it would be much of an improvement if there were two flavors for each class, but it might help a bit—and certainly I wouldn’t spend as much time wondering what they hope to accomplish.

Ah, well. I have a day off; I may as well challenge myself with it.


  1. Jan says:

    Come on. Why do you think this is so bad? Sure, you don’t get your very ordinal character. But how do you think WotC will be able to gather concentrated feedback on certain mechanics if everybody us playing some random character who most probably will not even be using the mechanic to be tested? You Erik get your character creation rules during late summer, I think. For now you can concentrate on turning undead, healing, cantrips at will and other stuff. Would you rather not have a Playtest with a concept behind it?

  2. Ravyn says:

    I should’ve made it clearer that I intended to look at the effect of the lack of options (what do you know, there really is something that can make me want to spend several hours trying to put a character together!) rather than whether said lack of options was a good idea. Silly article got away from me.

    I think this could have been avoided just by offering two options, maybe three, per character class (even just changing up the races a little, so you could have an elf or human or halfling rogue, instead of just having a halfling, and leaving the rest identical), as they did with the cleric; there’s a large difference between “a bunch of people trying different things” and “one in four playtest groups is going to be 100% identical”. Illusion of choice: it is a good thing.

    Or to put it simply, some of us have a lot less fun when there’s no element of choice really. If I’m going to postpone a game I actually enjoy to do some other company’s playtesting, requiring me to jump through several extra hoops in the process, I at least want to make sure I’m something approximating amused. It’s a bit hard when nothing in the test is anything I’d be all that interested in playing.

  3. migo says:

    Mearls’ latest article suggests you can play around with it by adding a second theme to the fighter. Presumably you could also swap backgrounds without too much of a hitch.

  4. Ravyn says:

    That’s about what I was thinking. Had been toying with the idea of seeing if I could swap the races of the wizard and the rogue (the boyfriend wanted to take a turn as a caster and thought the halfling’s concealment-by-bigger-person was pretty cool, and I just love the image of a Sage-Backgrounded elf rogue who just couldn’t quite get the hang of the actual spellcasting and instead spent most of her time swiping other people’s books for a night so she could read them without having to light up the doorknob or something in order to prove she could gain entrance), but looking over some of the posts on how the characters were set up and how they include racial adjustments and so on, I’m not sure I could actually swap anything more than the backgrounds with the information I have now. Pity.

    I do give them credit for not assigning names and genders to the pregens, though; I think if that’d been the case I might’ve found myself wanting to throw something.

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