Random and Collaborative Character Creation


Despite the Declaration of Independence, not all people are created equal. Some people are smart, some are dumb; some are strong, some are weak; some are charming, and some are just plain annoying. Under most systems of character creation, though, characters really are created equal. Everyone gets the same number of character points, or at least pretty close to it. Stupid characters can be correspondingly stronger, while charming characters may be correspondingly less tough. It all evens out.

Despite the Declaration of Independence, not all people are created equal. Some people are smart, some are dumb; some are strong, some are weak; some are charming, and some are just plain annoying. Under most systems of character creation, though, characters really are created equal. Everyone gets the same number of character points, or at least pretty close to it. Stupid characters can be correspondingly stronger, while charming characters may be correspondingly less tough. It all evens out.

Unfortunately, this isn't very realistic. Fortunately, there's random character creation.

Let's be clear: when I am talking about random character creation I mean the real thing. It used to be called Method One back before 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Roll dice for each attribute and assign the values to attributes, in order, as they are rolled. If your first roll is seven (and you are playing D&D) then your Strength is seven. No swapping that value to another stat if you wanted to play a fighter.

This is a method well supported by games like D&D or Call of Cthulhu, and it's easy to imagine ways to do it for games like Vampire or Shadowrun. The important characteristic of the system is that all of the basic facts about a character are determined randomly. A character may be quick and strong, or sickly and dumb, strong but sickly or dumb but wise. For players who enjoy games that accurately simulate the world, it can be extremely frustrating to have character creation make the assumption that all people are equally talented or skilled. This kind of random character creation encourages a more realistic spread of character types and makes our simulation-oriented player very happy.

However, not every player enjoys role-playing for the sake of simulation - and other kinds of players tend to hate random character creation. This isn't unreasonable! After all, random character creation forces the player to give up control of the one part of the game they have absolute control over. Players who value the game aspects of role-playing - making the most of the rules and structure of the game - hate it because they risk their ability to design their character to make good use of the rules. Players who value story hate it because it makes their construction of the story dependent on a roll of the dice. Really, though, both of these kinds of players have good reasons to appreciate random character creation, at least some of the time.

For players who enjoy the game-as-game, random character creation can prove a real challenge to their skills. After all, the process is not entirely random. Once the character's basics are determined, the player can start to make choices about what to do with these raw materials. A D&D player gets to choose their class and race. A Call of Cthulhu player gets to choose their occupation. A Vampire or Shadowrun character might get to choose their skills based on their random attributes.

The choices this kind of player makes, based on their randomly generated stats, can actually provide an interesting game-like challenge. The random aspect of creation forces the player to think differently, while the choices made after attributes are determined let the player shape their character. While a game-oriented player probably wouldn't want to do this for every game, it can be a great way to give them a problem to solve, and game-oriented players like solving problems.

Story-oriented players are a much harder nut to crack, but the benefits to them are even more powerful. They've been presented with a random collection of stats - but making a character out of that random collection of stats can actually make the story better, even if it seems like an arbitrary exercise.

The key? Getting players to work together. Random character creation fosters an environment for people to create characters that work together in interesting ways. First, random character creation can make difficult narrative problems for the group to solve - the problem of how to turn an odd collection of stats into a character. This gets the group talking about their characters, which is a necessary pre-requisite for collaboration. It also forces the players to be relatively unattached to their characters at first. Since a player can't have a character concept before character creation they can't get attached to that concept. This makes them more open to accepting the group's input, and much more open to going against their own tendencies and stereotypes when creating the character.

For this to be work, you as the gamemaster have to create an environment where players can effectively collaborate. First off, it never hurt to make your goals in this little project explicit. Tell the players that you expect them to talk over character creation with the group.

Second, because the players never really listen to you anyway, sit them all down in the same room to do the rolling and customizing parts of character creation. Once the rolling starts most players won't need to be told to talk, they will start discussing the high rolls, the low rolls, and the statistical strangeness that will crop up (like the player I recently had who rolled a ten - five out of eight times).

Third, encourage everyone to brainstorm about each character. Point out the strengths and weaknesses of the character concepts as the process occurs. How did such an unintelligent wanderer survive on the road for so long? Is this character really smart enough to be a professor? Let the group suggest solutions to people's character woes. Some people are bound to have stat collections that seem unplayable, or perhaps just impossible for a real person to have. Get the group to solve these problems.

Fourth, encourage people to think about the group as a whole and how all its members interact. The goal here is to create a fairly tight knit group of characters, which makes the gamemaster's job easier later on. The players should be flexible with their characters backgrounds so the whole group can hang together. Character groups will tend to form around the weakest characters, to explain how such a weak character is involved in the adventure at all. Encourage the impromptu creation of familial relationships or long term friendships, so long as they don't exclude the rest of the group. Try to be sure that each character is tightly tied to at least two other characters. If a character is not being tied to the group, feel free to create connections ex nihilo.

Following these guidelines, random character creation can actually be a powerful aid to creating good story - and not only does this keep story-oriented players happy, it can also be a great imaginative aid for the gamemaster.

Consider a Call of Cthulhu game I recently ran. After the dice rolling was done we had several strange attribute distributions. The strangest was a very low intelligence, very high willpower character whose player decided to make autistic. Obviously the autistic character could not be played without some support structure in the game, so two characters decided to be his family, his father and sister. Another player decided that their highly intelligent and well educated character should be a psychiatrist who treated both the autistic child and the (invented by the players) NPC mother of the family, who the players decided was mentally ill as well. A player with a strong, large and tough character wanted to play an Irish laborer of some kind, common in the 1920s setting. To tie his character into the family he made his character a groundskeeper, giving further definition to the family as they must be rich enough to afford such a luxury. The final player made her character a graduate student, of archeology at first, but later decided to be the psychiatrist's student. This character had no connection to the group except through the psychiatrist, so I, as gamemaster, created a romantic relationship between the graduate student and the daughter of the family.

This was good for the players, because their characters had interesting and rich relationships that were actually built into the characters from their very conception. Many players also played against type in a way they might not have ordinarily tried: one player who prefers intelligent females played the autistic male and had a blast, while another who likes secretive and untrustworthy characters played a hard-working and honest one. Without random character creation, they might not have stretched their abilities in this way.

But this was also a great experience for me as the gamemaster. I had to scrap my original plot, which was centered around the university, but the richness and originality of the player-generated ideas gave me an even better one - working with this highly dysfunctional group trapped and terrified in their own home. In the end, it was one of the best (and most frightening!) stories I've ever run, and a large part of that was due to the imagination the players displayed with their randomly-generated characters. With your players showing so much creativity and inventiveness, it's hard not to be inspired yourself.

So don't be afraid to introduce random collaborative character creation to a game! Your players may be leery, but most of them will enjoy it more than they'd think. It's probably best to introduce this technique when running a one-shot, but don't be afraid to base a long term campaign on it. Either way, you and your players will enjoy the challenge and the creativity it brings to your game.

Good thinking, although I prefer the White Wolf system for character generation, I can see the inherent benefits to the D20 character generation system. I have an attachment to both randomness and to fairness, although how would merits and flaws fit into the spectrum?

I am not at all wedded to the D20 system (I don't particularly like it actually!) I think randomness can be made to work in any system, with some minor rules additions.

For WW I would roll 2D10 for each Attribute, divide by 4 and round down. This produces a nice distribution: 5's are rare, 2's are most common. I'd then let people purchase Abilities, special powers (Disciplines, Spheres, whatever) as normal. Freebie points can be used to buy Merits and Flaws and to increase anything except an Attribute.


The system you describe is very interesting. I just see one problem, at least for D&D games. In the example, all the characters were very well known to each other, and some were even related. The problem I see is that, at least in my worlds, adventurers are pretty hard to come by in most places, and tend to not be liked by their families. This is because leaving to go adventuring is seen as deserting one's family. Having an entire family of adventurers would not only be extremely unlikely, but also unpleasant for some players, who have to start at or almost at middle age. In 1st level parties, this is a killer, and who ever heard of a 35-year-old 1st lv. fighter? I don't think so. So, in some systems, this idea could be a good way to start, but it just doesn't make sense in others (and isn't realism what random stats are all about?). By the way, most people I know hate the 3rd Edition point buy system. Like the article said, equal characters don't really make much sense.

While random character creation might spawn interesting character concepts from time to time, I'm usually set against it. Personally I'd feel forced to play something I don't want. (If you have creative players, they don't need to be "randomised" IMO, if they're not, you end result will probably still suck.) True, if players are stuck in a rut of always falling into the same stereotypes, it can help break the trend. And some types of games, i.e. the Call of Cthulhu you mentioned, are playable with almost any sort of character. But Call of Cthulhu is a Horror game without superpowers available to the characters (unlike Vampire or KULT), in fact, if you look at the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, the usual protagonist of a CoC story was a mundane person suddenly faced with life- or sanity-threatening events, and often a passive victim. Not someone who casually cuts the head off a Deep One with one stroke of his magic pocket knife and then loots the corpse.

But back to the point I am trying to make.

While random creation may be suitable to certain genres or campaigns, there are other games where it is not recommendable or even feasible, and for good reasons: In a genre where you play "heroes", adventurers, mercenaries or highly trained operatives, a character of substandard power or even a "Joe Genero" has no logical place and no survival chances. RPGs that come to mind are (A)D&D, Shadowrun, Conspiracy X, Milleniums End. The d20 D&D 3rd edition Player's Handbook even recommends scrapping a character if the attributes you rolled up are too low, below a certain threshold. Why? Because "average" people do not survive as adventurers. Average people in D&D are NPCs... peasants or craftsmen, nobles, guards. 2nd Edition AD&D even penalized characters with low stats by awarding extra XP percentage to those PCs with extraordinary attributes, as odd and unfair as that was. To paraphrase a sentence from a D&D supplement: "Average Joes don't become adventurers."

You mention "realism". Roleplaying is, first and foremost, a game. It has nothing to do with "realism", or we could play ourselves and be done with it.

While it is certainly true that the real world has all sorts of people, ask yourself, how many of them stand out? With random creation you run the risk of creating a group where some characters are "blessed by nature", strong, agile and smart, while the majority will be "average", and some will end up as the runt of the litter. Question aside if a player will be thrilled to be forced to play such a character with no good attributes or qualifications at all who depends on constant support by others (in your article you gave a good example how this can be overcome, but creating tight bonds between characters). Some might indeed see it as a challenge. (Heaven knows I had my share of characters with lots of disadvantages, but then I chose them.)

But if you run something like D&D, is is "realistic" to have a weak character stumble alongside talented spellcasters and hardened fighters and into mortal danger? There's a term for such characters in movies and novels, and it's: "sidekick". Or "damsel in distress". Or "comic relief". GURPS is a bit nicer and calls them "dependents". And their natural place is being an NPC.

A GM might decide to run, say, a non-generic Shadowrun campaign with PCs that are not shadowrunners but paramedics or accountants that got trapped in a city with lots of Insect Spirits and now have to survive on their wits. Or, if you randomly end up with a cybered-up mercenary and a bunch of street kids, you have to come up with a good scenario. Can be interesting. But you run the risk of the cybermerc either stealing the show or being reduced in power to adjust him to the street kids.

A GM might decide to ask his players if they're willing to run characters with large differences in power and ability; for example in GURPS (a point-based system without levels, with a point-buy character generation system) this might mean that the GM allocates different amounts of starting points. But the only games I know that have such a thing wired right into their world background are Ars Magica and GURPS Celtic Myth. In Ars Magica a few characters are build as mages, while others serve as their apprentices and retinue (cooks, bodyguards, etc, but mages are not allowed to have children, so no families); in fact, players often design and run one mage and several helpers at the same time, or the mundane population of a wizardly guildhouse is designed as a group effort as semi-NPCs, playable by any player who likes to run a non-mage for a session or two while his mage PC spends a few months in seclusion in his lab. But there's a clear case of co-dependency in Ars Magica: the mages could not run their guildhouse or survive travels without their helpers. Similar in Celtic Myth, where even a Celtic Hero with Fae Blood and mystic powers needs a squire. Here, the "lesser", weaker characters are far from useless or helpless.

Swashbuckler is another example of a game where an original character concept is far more important than how much boom you pack.

Don't get me wrong. If your players are ok with randomly rolled characters, especially in campaigns where power level is no big survival issue but where you strive for unexpected character concepts, great. But i'd rather have a planned power level difference, for story reasons, than leave everything to random chance. I have once been cursed with a thin-blooded neonate character in a Vampire:Masquerade group where everyone else played 8th generation old vampires with lots of political power. The GM neglected to tell me beforehand. So my little friendly neonate got mowed over, and was afterwards blamed for being such a "useless wuss character". It all depends...

Well, the main reason for "equal point level" for everyone in GURPS character creation is simple: ooc fairness. If the characters are all adults, and not vastly cross-genre (i.e. Modern meets Superheroes), no-one feels unfairly treated if one character is better at some things, because everyone can spend and arrange the points as he sees fit. Problems arise if PCs strongly differ in age. Children usually are NPC dependents.

However, if one player absolutely wants to play a child, point value should be reduced in my opinion, or you end up with supersmart kids with lots of advantages, since they cannot spend many points in skills, as GURPS limits the number of maximum points one can sink into skills depending on character age. Tthe physical and some mental stats of children under 16 and under 6 are likewise artificially reduced *after* you spend points for "realism" reasons, but the good thing is, the stats rise automatically when the character ages and becomes a teenager or an adult. But GURPS is not big on the random thing.

Wow, you've got alot to say Memehunter :) You bring up some very good objections, and, importantly, some types of groups and players who probably won't react will to this technique. However, there are some things in your post I'd like to address.

The whole realism arguement is only one part of what I'm saying. Some STs and players want their games to be realistic, some don't. If you aren't one of those who wants a realistic game, more power too you. But random character creation can still help your game in the other ways I describe: by getting players out of ruts, by sugesting unexpected stories, and by creating interesting gaming challenges for the players.

Also, don't confuse average with random, or with non-adventureous. If you want the characters to be better than average just throw in a modifier to all their stats (+2 or even +4 if you are playing D&D) But consider the longstanding tradition of average characters in fantasy. The archtypal fantasy story involves the average pesant discovering his destiny and saving the kingdom. Look at Frodo and Sam, heros of Lord of the Rings, for instance.

Now, if this is something you or your players are going to react violently against, please don't do it! If your group does not like large power diferentials or the players like to have complete control, then this is probably not the thing for you. But consider giving this a try for a one-shot. You never know, you might end up liking it.

Argh, paragraph three makes more sense if it starts with:

"Also, don't confuse random with average, or average with non-adventureous."

Memehunter said: "The GM neglected to tell me beforehand. So my little friendly neonate got mowed over, and was afterwards blamed for being such a "useless wuss character". It all depends..."

Well, sure. Hence the word "collaborative." The GM of that game sounds thoughtless at best and a jerk at worst.

This is an interesting article, but I agree with Memehunter that realism is where you find it. Random rolls are realistic? They can be, but they typically fit a bell curve. For myself, I prefer to find realism in the realm of combat, which is one place where abstract combat systems such as d20 and older ed.s of D&D let me down time and again. Incidentally, Memehunter, the bogus XP award for high stats goes back further than 2nd ed....

I appreciate the author's effort here. With good GMing and a solid group, this could be an interesting approach.

By and large, though, on any given Friday I'd rather have a solid GURPS group where I can choose every detail of my character and be what *I want* to be.

On the topic of almost complete "random" character creation for so-called realism purposes, don't look no further than the classic Traveller system. (Cyberpunk had some of that, too, in regard to character background history, but never to that mind-boggling ludicrous extent that old Traveller system had.) Let me demonstrate why I am so biased against this "realism" argument.

For those who had the fortune to have never sat through such a generation session, but have heard stories whispered around campfires: Yes, it's all true. Traveller was not content to merely roll the basic attribute stats randomly. Now, the old AD&D, it basically only *had* the six attributes stats as variables, and once you had deceided on the character class, everything else followed from that - simply copy down from the tables. There simply wasn't anything more to chose for your character, apart from haircolor.

But the old Traveller... oh. I vaguely remember, some years back, when a GM waved those old booklets at us and asked us if we wanted to give it a try. Not Megatraveller. The old, classic Traveller, if my memory does not deceive me. Now, that particular group was used to things like Vampire, Midgard, Call of Cthulhu. So the idea of just going with what the dice rolled up what greeted as a funny little experiment. There was a sort of choice what you wanted to play... in a way. Once you had rolled the physical and mental stats, there came the choice(!) what profession to pick from one one of six services. I picked the Space Forces, a friend of mine wanted a scout. So we started rolling on the tables for every four-year cycle, while the characters aged, to determine events that happened to them or skills they might pick up. It didn't exactly go well. The scout to be, who had through lucky rolls a strong education from the beginning, was denied the scout training and instead forced by fate and imperial bureaucracy to become a paper pusher. She rolled well for learning skills, managed to pick up merchant skills and degrees in Astrophysics and Engineering by the side, which raised her education stat to ridiculous heights. but still no piloting training. Every time she asked for a transferal away from the desk, it was either denied, or she was transferred to some other department. We kept joking that this character was so good at what she currently did that she'd never be allowed to become a scout ship pilot because her superiors wanted to keep her nailed to a desk. Hey, but at least you can look forward to a steep career in accountancy, buddy. The player was getting frustrated that his character's dream of going to the stars was denied to her as the years went by. On the up side, there was very little danger for her to die on the job.

Not so for my tough space marine. By lucky die rolls, he managed to enter the officer career path. Years went by and the military decorations just rained down on him, but every year when I tried to have him improve his skills or pick up new ones, he failed miserably. How did an idiot like him become officer? We deceided he must've connections in the army. General Howitzer went golfing with his dad, or something. What a jerk. And then, in the final year before retirement from the army, he died in a star ship crash. After two and a half hours of rolling dice, he DIED! ARG. That was "realism" taken to the extreme. Mood: irritated.

Meanwhile, the scout had actually managed to be transferred on to the right path and learned piloting, then left her smashing piloting career while she was in her thirties or fourties to become a Player Character, and from her retirement money bought her own little scout ship with refueling ability. She was able to repair it herself, too. Actually, the player could have kept rolling until the character was over sixty years old and... too old to work as a pilot. At which point she's have gone to the NPC bin, and the player could have started anew. Very strange system, we thought.

My friends placated me with a pizza and forced me to roll up another character, or rather, I asked the player of the scout to do the rolls for me while I sat clutching my pen and whimpering softly. He rolled up a creature that looked like the love child of the Incredible Hulk and a MENSA member. That is to say the new character was tough, dextrous and so strong that when he wanted to flex his muscles he first had to move some other muscles to make room. On top of that, he wasn't stupid or weak-willed. Stubbornly I insisted that he was going to join the army and become a space marine if it killed me. It had become a personal matter, a duel of wills, between me and the evil booklet. So this young strapping lad left his planet and joined the army. Why? I deceided he came from a water world with 1960s tech level. All they had was one measely space port, for those off-worlders who came to trade computers for edible jellyfishes and pearls. Nothing much to do there than work, go swimming to tone your body, drink yourself under the table (*) or marry a girl with good teeth and father more strapping little lads. No thanks. So, he was lured to leave the planet of his youth and join the Imperial Army. Somewhere where they didn't eat fish, preferably. A desert planet would be nice. ;-)

(*) [I even designed a high-percentage drink with an edible sweet jellyfish in it... the trick was to down the stuff before the jellyfish died of alcohol poisoning. So, if you had to order another jellyfish (one that was alive) it meant you were a wuss and not a Real Man. Real Men can feel the jellyfish still wriggling in their stomachs! Or you could order a bowl of sweet jellyfishes and tiny life squids as a snack while you watched the Waterpolo broadcast with your friends.]

We didn't manage to get the character into the officer career path, despite his many talents, so he became a groundpounder, a stormtrouper, a space marine with a BFG (Big Fucking Gun). Hardly a year went by without a high-risk assignment. Covert Ops, overthrowing a government on some backwater planet somewhere, two years later supporting the Counter-Revolution. He survived them all, while I was gnawing the table edge, a nervous wreck. He picked up weapon skills, Zero-G Fighting in vacc suits, hand to hand combat, demolition skills. He got medals (purple heart probably) but never any other military decorations or a promotion. We kept joking that he had taken part in so many secret military operations that had been deleted from all official files, that his letters of reference were mainly a joke. If he ever told any employer what he'd really done during his career, he'd have to kill him afterwards. And then.... retirement at 34. He became a bodyguard for a poncy noble (another PC) on a private space yacht afterwards, and learned etiquette and how to mix exotic drinks. Got himself shot by space pirates, and barely survived, but that is another story.

So, all in all, was it fun? Did it give the characters a background we would never have dreamt up by ourselves? Yes, in a way it did. Pity though that the actual campaign the GM gave us was less interesting all in all than rolling up the characters. On the up side, the PCs had plenty of time to study or invent new exotic zero-G drinks while yacht and scoutship made their way through the vastness of space in search for riches and adventures.

Would I do it again? I'm not sure. Certainly not on a regular basis. Roll-up-a-background tables can be fun. But I wouldn't want them to become standard in roleplaying. At least the Traveller characters still had some internal logic, what we rolled up was vague enough to be open to interpretation. If you look at Cyberpunk generation tables, you might end up with a character history, traits and flaws that make no sense together, if you follow it to the letter. (There was even a Knights of the Dinner table cartoon who spoofed that.)

So, randomly rolling basic attributes without preconceived notions on what you want to play can fire new unusual ideas (unless you play AD&D where low stats merely restrict your choice of class), but leaving all traits to the fate of the die roll to force a player to arrange himself with what he gets should be avoided IMO.

I agree with the point of the article, as i understand it, that random characters can be fun if done in colaboration with the group and GM. Personally, I don't like random generation most of the time as I can't roll stats, ever. As a GM I like the game to be fair to all the players and allow them the same amount of points, or whatever, for making characters. My friends and I all tend to create a concept well before we actually sit down to put that concept on paper and fit it into the game system. This creates realistic, to the genre, characters because we're not munchkin gamers. An example of this is a d20 deadlands game I ran where my girlfriend wanted to play a great big, hulking guy who was as dumb as a stump. I allowed this because it was a good concept. She gave herself two stats that were so low as to incur gruesome penalties, she also had an overly high Strength and Con but, get this, she wasn't a warrior and never once tried to actually hit anything.

So my point is I like a more stuctured, and thus fair to the players, method of character cration. Random can be fun if fit to the game concept invisioned by the GM.

Sorry for the massive posting above. :) To make a long point short: I do think Maastrictian's ideas have merit, but I strongly disagree with the idea that constructed characters are less "realistic" than randomly rolled ones. How do you define realistic?

What I take away from the article and discussion for myself is:

a) Random rolling can spawn new surprising ideas by forcing players to abandon long-held preferences and to come up with concepts that suit the stats rolled. However, I do believe it should be restricted to randomly rolling basic attributes or only some attributes of the player's choice (say, advantages, flaws, social standing or juicy bits from character history). That way, surprising twists can be introduced, especially flaws the player would never have taken by himself, while the filling out of details is left to the player. The character can still be constructed building on those "surprise revelations".

b) Letting players buil new characters together and by consent allows the creation of tighter knit character groups, where players can be comfortable playing a weaker or handicapped character without feeling superfluous or being accused of holding the other characters back. That way, inter-player fairness is maintained while allowing for characters of different ability levels.

c) This approach works well with games like Call of Cthulhu or Ars Magica, where story mood is more important than power, but may work less well in other genres or campaigns that depend on playing a group of trained and carefully chosen professionals and specialists (i.e. URPS Black Ops, Millleniums End, Conspiracy X), are heavy with heroic or strategic gaming (d20 D&D), or in general have a high combat quotient.

d) Characters who're not perfect can be more fun than streamlined min-maxed characters. ;-) If you have the right group. But, we knew that already.

e) As a GM take whatever approach works to break up repetitive patterns of play.

Personally, when GMing or playing in a game, I've never been in favor of random character generation. There are certain types of characters that a person enjoys and others they hate playing. A friend of mine, for instance, always plays the Paladin-type - whether is Legends of the 5 Rings or Vampire. He modifies the concept somewhat to fit the setting, but he just plain doesn't enjoy playing a character without a code of honor.

If, as a GM, you want to expand your players horizons and let them try new roleplaying experiences - make the characters for them! You should know them well enough, particularly if you've gamed with them before, to design the character around them. Why shackle your PCs to a character they didn't wanted to play through random chance when a bit of thought and preparation on your part could deliver a much more unique and enjoyable roleplaying experience?

Mark Harm - Marketing Director
Rampant Mouse Medieval Latex Weaponry

I prefer campaigns in which PC's are exceptional idividuals and need to stand out from the crowd in terms of power and abilities (not necessarily in attributes). But To some extent, this discussion is a bit irrelavant, in that much of a pc's power depends on his level and skills rather than his attributes.

However, to address the argument, I find that most players like to mould their attributes to some extent, and as long as you avoid the pitfalls of having characters which are too similar or too super endowed, then there is no harm in allowing the players some control.

I am not convinced by Maastricians suggested advantages of a purely random approach. There are plenty of other factors which individualise a character, race, alignment, age, background, class, skills, nationality, race, etc etc. Good players will always individualize their characters.

I agree with Memehunter on the subject of "realism."

There's already a limited amount of realism in playing a "fantasy" RPG anyway. I think many people play for that reason alone...

I do agree that giving the player no control over the stats would indeed be more challenging, and it can also introduce a player to a character type that was previously unappealing or unheard of. But it can also be frustrating.

Whenever my friends start a new game, I start thinking up different ideas for my character: skills, background, etc. But if the outcome of random stats didn't work well with my ideas would probably lessen my enthusiasm for the campaign.

I don't have much to contribute as far as the realism aspect of this article. However, I do enjoy playing low powered characters.

One of my favorite adventures as a player was with a group who were very tight knit. As a rule, I played fairly anti social misfits.

One of my favorites:
The chatic netural result of a forced liason between a human woman and a high leveled demon, who used all his shape shiting abilities to try to blend in with his party, eventually falling in love with and marrying a druid who served a lawful good diety. This being one of the most "normal" characters.

Back to my point, one of the best capaigns I ever had with this group was when I decided to be a character we dubbed "The Born Loser."

A basic run-down - no stats above average, all weapon and armor profenciencies would be taken instead as profenciencies in swimming, fishing and making tackle. Sharp edged weapons make him nervous to the point where he has an enhanced critical failure - a roll of 3 or less has him hurt himself for half of the weapons damage.

The story set-up - a bleeding and near death cleric of a diety called the Phoenix stumbles into a field looking for the Paladin of the Phoenix. What she finds is a teenager who spends all day smoking tobacco and fishing after taking care of his small farm. After spending all the money given to her by the church on a few bodyguards, they journey to the temple of the phoenix to find out what led her to that field.

We had many near death experiences from my character: 1. Tripping and falling into a fast running fountain while fighting a group of undead, causing all the players to dive in to rescue the "noble hero", and being swept into an underground stream. Really funny becuase the only thing he was competent at was swimming, and didn't want to wear armor, as opposed to his heavily armored and more focused on fighting feats "rescuers". 2. Lighting a match for a cigarrette in a room that "smells slightly of oil", he thought the smell was from the (air tight) globes of fire around the room. 3. Deciding to go fishing in a natural spring deep in the heart of the mountain while the rest of the party rested. Think of the dwarven stronghold scene in "The Fellowship of the Ring."

All the group I was with at that time loved my character to pieces, even though they were frequently mangled/burned/nearly drowned trying to get him into the chamber at the center of the Temple.

He did, of course, make it to become the Paladin of the Phoenix, but due to player and group demand, when he wasn't specifically serving the Phoenix, he reverted to his normal incompetant self.

Obviously, as I've sat here and rambled for a while, low leveled characters can be memorable and fun.

i need a montercombat to play.