So why can’t my Dwarf Ride a Bear again?
Some of my most obvious answers:
Because you're level 1
Because you don't have the animal empathy or animal handling, or anything like that.
Because you don't have ride animal (Bear)
Because bear would eat you.
Your Druid buddy over there, the one giving you stink eye, would kill you in your sleep and release the bear.
Because our campaign is set in the Darksun setting and there are no bears.
why do I ask, here we go...
I am working on stream lining the character creation and just the basic, “lets get started playing” parts of my shards of Thimbral game. I start thinking about the flexibility of narrative games vs the stricter more traditional forms of Role playing games.
I don’t want to project flexibility as better than traditional games. In fact I feel having a very open character creation in an RPG necessitates all kinds of other processes that a more traditional game builds in.
Here is what I mean: If you take most old school games, if three players all make “fighters” they are generally going to be balanced to each other and have a similar role to fill in the game. the meta elements of personality, Alignment, and back ground, might be vastly different. In AD&D however a first level fighter holding a broad sword is numbers wise not vastly different than a first level fighter holding a pole-arm.
This is good for AD&D and other OSR style games like it. What does this do for the game? It assures most low level characters are balanced to each other and to the world as it is presented by the game. I know if I go by the books my first level fighter is going to have a hard time with an Orc, and a pretty easy time with a giant Rat. I also know most other first level characters will have the same effectiveness.
This built in balancing creates a consistency in the game world. My level one fighter trying to fight a level fifteen fighter would be akin to me trying to beat Roger Federer at tennis. (hint: that isn’t gonna happen...ever) Everyone knows this so players tend to try and not to bite off more then they can chew and I as a DM know that it would be brutally unfair to railroad them in to having to try. A DM will (should) know this.
This is all set up during initial character creation. From the word go the level system , the classes, the races, the available weapon /non-weapon proficiency, in later version feats, and then daily -encounter- once a game powers are all structured to keep things consistent.
This is also true of many point by systems, though in truth I find players tend to learn ways to job those systems as they become more familiar with them. (Big Point Buy games are a subject for another post)
With a more free form narrative game the GM looses that cohesiveness unless the game provides some other tools to provide it.
Relating this to my game:
In Shards of Thimbral a player can sit down and make any character they want.
If left unattended a GM could easily end up presented with a player character that fires calamari out of a steam powered cannon and has a live octopus for a shield. In the right game I would say “FANTASTIC!” I don’t see that game happening all that often.
The Shards of Thimbral has one thing used to rope in is the “Character with a cannon in his chest,” syndrome (as we call it round our table.) That one thing is the other players.
I write repeatedly in the game that character generation should happen at a table (virtual or otherwise) with the whole group firing ideas at each other and coming up with interesting characters. The more interaction and sharing the better.
This as a design decision. It is not just because I think it’s more fun that way (it is) but I feel that it is the best way to replace the built in stop gaps of older systems, in a more free form game. Everyone creating characters together is peer pressure by design. If the whole group is buying into a game concept it is rare player who would go out of their make a character complete counter to that.
“yeah lets all create members of the Legio decima Gemina as we campaign crossed Gaul!”
“Sorry guys I’m sticking with this concept of a guy who has a squid for a shield and a cannon in his chest, cause I think it’s dope.”
I am not saying this guy does not exist, I’m sure he does, but that's an issue the GM and the player can talk out. (Best of luck Mr. Gm, gods-speed to you brave sir)
In the Shards of Thimbral play test 1 the players had made their characters separately with out a great deal of discussion. Now these guys have played together aloft of over the years, so they kind of know what to expect from each other. Their characters are both cool and fit the setting but that was more of a function of them both having read the setting material and knowing what direction the both normally go in. With that said one character did have a shot gun in his description as well as a vehicle that don’t fit so well and if we had been at the table he may have gone in a different direction. We had a great game, but I think it showed that you can end up with divergent visions of what a game setting is if the players are not together when they make characters.
The second Play test both players who didn't know each other as well game wise, sat and made characters together, and there was allot more intertwining of their starting location , how they know each other and what was going on. Even if the shard they started on and the aesthetic of the game they played didn't fit my vision of Shards of Thimbral exactly, it was a shared vision which made it work all that much better while we played.
The point of all this is that with a free form character creation there has to be stopgaps to keep things from going to far out. (unless that's your thing, if so have at it.) For my game I think the best stop gap is having the players work together to create characters.
I know that in the real world folks will get a game, make a character, and show up to play ready to go, but in the design of my game that would be skipping a major step.
My question is this, is this to restrictive in a real world time sense?
Is it too much to ask / expect?
What do you folks think?
thank you for reading.
questions, comments, and shenanigans welcome.