Saturday, September 11, 2010

"She picked someone to be... she picked somewhere to be from...."

One's a 3e character sheet, the other is IRS 1040-EZ.

Is character generation a barrier to potential new players?

When I first heard a description of the new D&D Essentials character generation rules, I was... taken aback. Essentially, you go through a choose-your-own-adventure type scenario, and  each choice you make impacts your character.

"So they turned it into a quiz from a teen girls' magazine," Kitty says.

"Yeah. Or a Livejournal 'What Hogwarts House would you be in?' type of thing. 'What is your favorite animal? A: Snakes, B: Ravens...'"

But then, last weekend, I walked a couple friends through creating their first characters. In any role-playing game ever. It took the entire evening, even using 3e's "quick start" packages, after which everyone was too tired to actually play a game.

Now, a certain kind of player takes to chargen immediately. I'm one - I love it, I could make characters all day. A player in my online campaign is another - despite being completely new to RPGs, she created two characters without my help (or prompting), wrote up short back stories and personality descriptions, and drew "sketches" that look better than a lot of what I call finished art.

On the other hand, Kitty has made 3.25 characters - two complete, two about 75% so. She finds the process laborious and taxing, and tends to prefer handling them in spurts; abilities scores in one go, maybe skills and feats in another, rounding things out with equipment. Things were quicker for her on the night in question, but she's also playing a giant talking raven with no material possessions because she's a fucking giant raven.

Now, it's not that I don't believe fun was had... but definitely had to maintain a self- (and game-) deprecating tone for the evening to make it clear I understood what I was asking of them. Teaching D&D to someone whose only context is board games of the Parker Brothers variety is like teaching Bridge to a kid who's only ever played Uno. "Well... there are cards, but there's a lot more of them with higher numbers... and there is math involved." Comparisons to tax forms were made, and the length of time it takes to play a game of Monopoly (I contend I can run a good dungeon faster than Monopoly between adults who want to win).

It left me wondering if Wizards of the Coast isn't on to something. I don't think just handing out pregen characters is a solution, because that sense of authorship is a big part of what will, in the long run, pull you into this game. But a simplified, actually game-like way of chargen? It might work.

Also... holy shit, did they really package this thing up with the 1980s Red Box art? This is, for the uninitiated, what D&D looked like at the height of its popular success. This is what a Whole Lot of people remember playing in their preteens, before their parents came home from church one Sunday and took it away, or the person they were trying to get in the pants of made fun of them for having it. Now, apparently, this slick new impostor will be sitting in motherfucking Target. They will see it advertised on Hulu while watching House.

That's just... smart. A super-simplified, almost board game-like version of D&D, in the most nostalgic packaging possible, in a department store. No buying three separate hardcovers, no tracking down a hobby shop to sell you polyhedral dice, it's all in there.

This is still evil. In the end, that's not D&D in there. It bears no relation to Arneson's and Gygax's child - it's a bastard of a bastard of a bastard. Given a lobotomy. And a fake birth certificate. They're just selling a new game using the established branding.

But if the forgery is good enough - and it looks like it is - and the lobotomy was precise and efficient (meaning: the rules are well-done), they may have... just maybe maybe may have... found a way to respark popular interest in our ever dwindling hobby. They will have created a true gateway drug.

Absolutely fiendish. But if it's successful and gets people playing RPGs that wouldn't have? What do I give a shit if not the game I grew up with.


  1. I rofled at the comparison between the character sheet and the IRS module

  2. haha I came hear to say the same thing. nice juxtapositioning. :D

  3. But now that we have characters...