Why Lengthy Character Creation is Detrimental to Gaming

Inspired in part by this post at Word of Stelios.


Just one reason not to play 3e or Pathfinder.

I’ve made no bones about my preference for B/X and lighter systems. I’ll admit, I used to enjoy 3e, but nowadays, it’s something I would only play if I did not really have a choice.

While I understand that there are people who genuinely enjoy all of the twinking and min-maxing and character engineering involved in 3e and its clones, I now strongly feel that it is potentially ruinous to the game, the DM, and players.

In games like B/X or DCC, you’re typically looking at a range of 2-5 minute character creation for experienced players to 15-20 minute character creation for someone’s first ever time playing D&D. Not everyone wants pre-gens, and people are more likely to feel a connection with a character they themselves rolled up, but in that case, Char-gen only eats up a few minutes of gaming time. On the other hand, even software assisted, character creation for games in the 3e family can take a VERY long time.

One constraint this puts on the group is a barrier to new players; unless you have spare characters lying around, it’s harder to bring a new person, especially one new to gaming, into the group simply because of the time it would take to create a character of their very own.

People who have invested a ton of time into a perfectly crafted twinked out character are going to be more likely to be attached to it in a bad way. You’ve spent possibly hours on this special vampiric-angel-werekitty snowflake, and you’ll be damned if anything happens to xir! The character-build centric aspect of the game means you’re more likely to have players who are focused on their character rather than the party or the game or, in some cases, even having fun. It also creates additional burdens on the DM.

DMs will feel the need to tailor their game around these lovingly hand-crafted characters, nerf things and pull punches for a couple of reasons. While one, of course, is avoiding hurting the feelings of someone who spent so much time on their character, another is a simple matter of time – do you really want to have to either pause the game or have a player drop out for an hour or more while they optimize their feat trees, allocate skill points, and note all of the class and race advantages of having paws, three tails, horns, elf-ears and bird feet? No, of course not!

And at that point, you’re not really playing a game. You’re having people roll dice until you arbitrarily decide to move the story forward, either slowing or speeding up the narrative pace to suit what the players are doing. If a DM isn’t nerfing things, though, lengthy char gen makes rage-quitting after losing a character almost understandable, because who wants to go through all of that again before rejoining play?

Another problem with super-complex character builds a game that’s death-free? It doesn’t give players a chance to really explore new things in the system and in the game’s world.

Killing characters will make your game better and can make it more fun for everyone. But it only works if making a new character isn’t an arduous chore.

The first character death is always the hardest; “Damn!” they’ll think, “I just lost the game, I suck, this sucks!” That’s why it should happen early on; treat it as a normal ‘fact-of-life’ part of the game and an opportunity to try something new. Once players see character death as a chance to experiment with both class and roleplaying, they’ll not only be less likely to hold character death personally against a DM, they might even look forward to it! It’ll mean more cool and risky heroics, more big-damn heroic sacrifices, and more awesome ‘round-the-campfire’ stories of ‘that awesome guy who died in a crazy way’.


11 responses to “Why Lengthy Character Creation is Detrimental to Gaming

  1. I despise complex character creation. I ran a Pathfinder game a few years ago and even using HeroLab making characters was a pain. It also holds me back from being a harsh DM because the last thing I want to do is have to reroll characters mid game.

    Shadowrun is one of my favorite game settings but I can’t stand running it. The character creation is complex and boring. I takes up forever. If I ever get a group together I’m going to stick to minimalist games, or quick roll d6, buy gear, and play type stuff.

  2. I think it was Dungeon Crawling Classics that made you roll something like 5 or 6 quick and random and level-0 characters per player under the (correct) assumption that most of them would die in the first adventure. The lucky ones would level up to first level characters. Curiously, people got quite attached to the surviving characters. The best of both words, I would think.

    • Yes. It’s called the Character Funnel. And it works wonderfully. The number of characters you roll up depends on the number of players in the group. 5 or 6 is for small groups. 3 or 4 is about right for a group of 3 or 4 players, depending on their skill.

      It’s amazing to watch the players grow attached to their 0-level nobodies.

  3. Reminds me of something I saw in a fiction-writing book: “Do not describe who your character IS; describe what your character DOES.” I think it applies to RPGs as well, in that telling about your character via lengthy background is a static state, while showing what your character is doing during play is dynamic. And a rule system can encourage players to go one way or the other when generating RPG characters.

  4. I think that’s a problem with systems that only allow customization during character creation, rather than systems that allow for open ended character growth after creation. Most of what I have seen of later generation D&D falls into the first category.

  5. Pingback: So… How Long Should Character Generation Last? – The Word of Stelios

  6. It also slows the combat portion of the game way down as every player looks for the optimal path and selection on each. and. every. turn. They’ve got a full afternoon invested in the character before the first “roll for initiative” and so even a preliminary four kobolds and a cloud of dust fight to work out the kinks of the combat system turns into an analytical paralytical grind.

    No thank you.

    • Yes. One of the awful things about playing 5e was everyone looking up their free actions and special attacks to figure out what part of their combat package they wanted to use each time their initiative came up.

      Best combat package? “Roll to hit; add your STR bonus and Magic Weapon bonus.”

  7. Pingback: What’s Your Worst Character Creation Experience? – The Word of Stelios

  8. Pingback: Is Your Character Part of the Campaign Concept and Theme? – The Word of Stelios

  9. Pingback: First Round of 5E | The Mixed GM

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