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DM Dispatches #1 – Rolling New Characters Adds Character

Written by Darkwarren - Published on February 18, 2013

DM Dispatches #1
DM Dispatches is a weekly column that shares stories and reflections from Darkwarren’s experience dungeon mastering his weekly group’s Rise of the Runelords campaign that started in January 2013. The intention is that other DM’s and players can learn from his experiences as well as enter into discussion and add their two coppers as well.

"Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net"

“Rolling New Characters Adds Character”
New campaign, new characters… a pattern every roleplayer is familiar with. I don’t know about you, but when I was in middle school, I used to have the most fun creating new characters. There were times when I had no specific campaign or adventure in mind, I would just roll stat’s and create a character. A lot of that same excitement still hits me every time my group starts a new campaign.

When we decided, over a discussion brief hiatus over Christmas and New Year’s, to start Paizo’s Rise of the Runelords and that I would be behind the screen, my inbox was flooded with character concepts and requests for rolling stats and attributes almost immediately. I told my fellow players to come up with concepts, talk to the other players about which role they wished to fill in the party, and how their characters knew each other and were connected to the town of Sandpoint. As the character histories and roles began to flow I tried to link them with NPC’s presented in the book, offering particular players hooks for their characters. “But what about the stat’s?” they asked.

I asked everyone to wait until we were all present at the table before we rolled for stat’s. There were only a few minor grumblings (which leads me to believe that perhaps some of them were grumbling louder – just not in my inbox). So, if they needed to plan everything out I invited them to use the elite array as placeholders. Also, if they were disappointed with their rolls they could use that as the default. This seemed to appease the fore-planners.

When we actually got around the table and everyone rolled their 4d6 and then dropped the lowest, one player at a time, it really ramped up the energy. Guys began chanting before every roll and cheering for their fellow players to roll high.

On a personal note, my older sons (5 and almost 3 respectively) came down to witness that part of the session. When some of the players invited my sons to roll for them, with all the chanting and cheering, it really made it a special session. The next day my eldest asked me if he could roll up a character.

Riding the energetic wave brought about by the session at that point, I then invited them all to roll randomly for other things: starting money, height, and weight. A few of the characters no longer have that classic hero-look: a female half-orc cleric (who the player originally described as towering over the others in contrast to her bookish nature) is of relatively short stature, and a male Varisian sorcerer who has now declared his personal struggle against the sin of sloth because he came out a little pudgier than his player had envisioned.

Most of the players embraced it. They changed the appearances of their characters, and some of them modified their backgrounds to fit the new stat’s, heights, and weights. But there is always that one guy. The one guy who’s rolls weren’t stellar. We can talk about those rolls next column. But that same player chose to play an Aasimar (angel-touched) and so I asked him to roll for random celestial traits.

In the end I feel that the use of all the dice to randomly generate stat’s and other characteristics was a positive experience. Just enough tension and drama as everyone looked on led to a great way to lead off a new campaign. While not all the characters knew each other at the start of the campaign, all of the players were cheering each other on and that’s a “Rule 0 win” in my book.

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Written by Darkwarren

Matt W., aka Darkwarren, has been roleplaying ever since his older brother introduced him to the red box set when he was 7 years old. Since then he has game-mastered SSDC’s Battleords of the Twenty-third Century, WEG’s Shadowrun and Star Wars, and of course Dungeons & Dragons in a variety of forms. At thirty-four years old he takes turns on both sides of the screen with the group that he helped found in 2000 when 3.0 hit the stands and has met every week fairly regularly ever since. Currently they have been running a variety of the Paizo Adventure Path scenarios, so that’s his wheelhouse. He was almost famous when two of his adventures were green-lighted for possible publication right before Paizo relinquished the rights to publish Dungeon magazine.

Matt also has years if experience in improvisational comedy, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is currently working and studying to attain a master’s degree in theology, to enhance his career as a religious studies teacher. Lastly, his greatest passion is his family, especially the three sons and dog that he shares with his wife in upstate New York.

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8 Responses to “DM Dispatches #1 – Rolling New Characters Adds Character”
  1. Mica says:

    We game because it is fun for us to game.
    We game together because we are social
    creatures by nature. You found a way to
    create a Team from individuals before the
    story began in earnest. A stellar Win; well

  2. Darkwarren says:

    Thanks, Mica.

    In full disclosure, this a group who has playing weekly for more than a decade. So we were already a “team”.

    But this energy in character creation had not happened in a while because we’ve either used point buy or done it via e-mail and Internet dice servers.

  3. Kitsap Charles says:

    The last time I was in a 3.5 campaign, the DM used a modified point-buy system. We started with 10’s in every stat, had a base of 22 build points (with an adjusted point purchase scheme), and then could choose to roll 3d6 for bonus build points or to “take 10” on that roll if we didn’t trust our dice. It wasn’t quite as exciting as your party’s experience, but we were all hanging on each others’ rolls nonetheless.

  4. Caddoko says:

    Before I say anything I’d like to note that I’m very glad to see the updates rolling out again.

    This was a cool article, I’ve never had my players roll for their appearances or wait to roll their stats but it sounds like it really gets the game off on the right foot. I’ll definitely try this sometime.

  5. Darkwarren says:

    K.C. (do you mind if I call you “K.C.”?),

    In our group we’ve been talking about randomness vs. non-randomness – it’ll show up again in a future column when I relate rolling hit points at 2nd level.

    Ultimately it’s about control. Some gamers like the control of a point buy, others revel in the fickleness of chance.

    Caddoko, glad we could oblige and thanks for the feedback.

    There are other games that take the random generation of characters to an even further extreme. One of my favorites, Battlelords of the 23rd Century has all sorts of random hair and eye colors as well as the “Fickle Finger of Fate” tables that allow one to roll any number of modifiers and character hooks. It uses a d100 and then they updated via race and role as well so there are lots of possibilities.

    My group also discussed the old school original way to generate stat’s: roll 3d6 in order and play the dice how they fall. Some feel that this method is too restrictive while others see this as a possible challenge to roleplay.

    Which one are you folks?

  6. FullovStars says:

    Similar to KC’s group, after years of rolling for stats our game evolved towards a 10 in each stat and then you have a set amount of points to spread around with more points gained as you advance in levels. It just takes out the emotional ride of having uber characters and waste of paper failures that always seem to land on the same players for some reason :-) Nothing worse than setting off into a world of adventure unhappy with your character (especially if the uber character player is ribbing you relentlessly)

  7. Waffledragon says:

    Pfft, I love my Uber character! He’s the OH$%!# button for our other characters. It’s rather fun being a squirrel-spellslinger riding on a platypus.

    I REALLY like your idea for public character creation. It sounds pretty fun and entertaining, especially for our reclusive players.

    One thing we need to actually incorporate into our games, is character backgrounds. Mostly because we tend to lean towards the Kick-In-The-Door style of play, but I’ve been craving some real roleplaying at the game table. Perhaps you could post something related to creating backgrounds, or even for introducing/incorporating roleplay at the table in an entertaining way?

  8. Darkwarren says:

    Waffledragon, as always you gotta play what the group wants to play. So talk to your fellow gamers – see how they feel about it.

    To get things started in regards to background and roleplaying I used to write a column here at dungeonmastering.com called “What’s My Motivation?” Check out the one on Alignment here:


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