One of the great things about D&D Next is the way that character generation is shaping up. The challenge for the game designers is to convince gamers to break out of the stereotypes and find out for themselves just how flexible it is.
Characters in D&D Next don’t just have Race and Class. They have a Speciality and a Background too, and it’s all too easy to create a character where the Class, Speciality and Background follow a predictable and boring path. Fighters who are Knights with the Endurance Speciality are ten a penny. You can (and, frankly, should) do better than that.
Here’s Golden Rule One for character generation: Build for the character, not for the rules.
Golden Rule Two is: Having fun is worth more than having +1.
Optimised stereotypical characters have their place especially when you are learning how to role-play or just starting out with a new rules system, but by your third or fourth character if you’re still creating a Halfling Rogue with nothing to differentiate him from 1,001 Halfling Rogues that have gone before someone needs to shake you and say “Dude! Play a Halfling Rogue Priest!”.
This is me, shaking you.
For example, I recently ran a one-shot D&D Next session set in Orcwarts Academy For Gifted Youths, a D&D themed version of Hogwarts (complete with Bugbear caretaker and a jovial Beholder tutor), and provided pre-generated characters based on a certain popular Saturday morning TV show. The whole session was an unholy combination of Harry Potter, Scooby Doo and Call of Cthulhu. And it was awesome but that’s a tale for another time.
Anyhow. The characters. Each PC is a student at Orcwarts, and I interpreted Backgrounds as being their parent’s occupations, doubtless some of which had rubbed off on their children.
Symatt, one of the players, drew a rather excellent picture of the group. It’s well worth checking out!
For Scubidu I created a Halfling Fighter with the Protector fighting style (Scooby is more defensive, but will always step up aid his friends). I’ll admit I meta-gamed a little and gave him the Artisan (Weaponsmith) Background because that gives him a free Masterwork weapon, and that’s too good to pass up. As he’s a student of Orcwarts he has the Arcane Magic Specialty. He’s a fairly talentless spellcaster and his parent’s coins would perhaps have been better spent elsewhere. On the bright side, he’s a Fighter who can cast Burning Hands and Minor Illusion once per day, so it’s not all bad.
Frydd is the party’s heroic backbone. He is a Human Wizard Battle Mage whose Knight Background clearly shines through. His parents have taught him that chivalry and honour matters most, As he tends to rush in ahead of the rest of the party with little concern for personal safety (and consequently need saving by the rest of the team), I made him an Ambush Specialist because the game mechanics suit that image perfectly.
Shagi is an exchange student – a Hill Dwarf Cleric of Pelor with (what else?) the Jester Background. As his Dexterity isn’t great (DEX 11), I made him a Skill Specialist to reflect his hours of training in Balance, Escape Artist, Perform and Tumble. A comic relief D&D character? Oh yes, but a darned useful one to have around at that.
To complement Frydd and provide close combat support where needed (yes, from a Wizard), Daf-Nie is a lithe High Elf Wizard Illusionist with the Minstrel Background and Finesse Weapon Specialty. She’s a Wizard armed with both a Rapier and a Whip. What’s not to love? Darn, I love that character.
Rounding out the party was Vel-Mah (in our playtests we actually had two – Mel-Mah is her evil twin), a Wood Elf Academic Wizard with the Sage Background and Investigator Specialty. Of all the characters this one was probably the most conforming to a stereotype, but making her a Wood Elf rather than High Elf (my reasoning was that she wears more rustic colours) helped break out of that.
Are they the most optimised PCs ever? No, and I’m happy about that because each one of them is a character in their own right, and that’s far more enjoyable than any number of cardboard cutouts with maxed out everything.
So here’s my challenge to you, gentle reader. Next time you create a character, whether it’s for D&D Next or any other RPG, break out of that stereotypical rut and create a character to be proud of. It might just be your best character yet.
Till next time!