Stop Thinking Stereotypes! Flexibility of D&D Next Character Generation

One of the great things about D&D Next is the way that character generation is shaping up. The challenge for the game designers is to convince gamers to break out of the stereotypes and find out for themselves just how flexible it is.

Characters in D&D Next don’t just have Race and Class. They have a Speciality and a Background too, and it’s all too easy to create a character where the Class, Speciality and Background follow a predictable and boring path. Fighters who are Knights with the Endurance Speciality are ten a penny. You can (and, frankly, should) do better than that.

Here’s Golden Rule One for character generation: Build for the character, not for the rules.

Golden Rule Two is: Having fun is worth more than having +1.

Optimised stereotypical characters have their place especially when you are learning how to role-play or just starting out with a new rules system, but by your third or fourth character if you’re still creating a Halfling Rogue with nothing to differentiate him from 1,001 Halfling Rogues that have gone before someone needs to shake you and say “Dude! Play a Halfling Rogue Priest!”.

This is me, shaking you.

For example, I recently ran a one-shot D&D Next session set in Orcwarts Academy For Gifted Youths, a D&D themed version of Hogwarts (complete with Bugbear caretaker and a jovial Beholder tutor), and provided pre-generated characters based on a certain popular Saturday morning TV show. The whole session was an unholy combination of Harry Potter, Scooby Doo and Call of Cthulhu. And it was awesome but that’s a tale for another time.

Anyhow. The characters. Each PC is a student at Orcwarts, and I interpreted Backgrounds as being their parent’s occupations, doubtless some of which had rubbed off on their children.

Symatt, one of the players, drew a rather excellent picture of the group. It’s well worth checking out!

For Scubidu I created a Halfling Fighter with the Protector fighting style (Scooby is more defensive, but will always step up aid his friends). I’ll admit I meta-gamed a little and gave him the Artisan (Weaponsmith) Background because that gives him a free Masterwork weapon, and that’s too good to pass up. As he’s a student of Orcwarts he has the Arcane Magic Specialty. He’s a fairly talentless spellcaster and his parent’s coins would perhaps have been better spent elsewhere. On the bright side, he’s a Fighter who can cast Burning Hands and Minor Illusion once per day, so it’s not all bad.

Frydd is the party’s heroic backbone. He is a Human Wizard Battle Mage whose Knight Background clearly shines through. His parents have taught him that chivalry and honour matters most, As he tends to rush in ahead of the rest of the party with little concern for personal safety (and consequently need saving by the rest of the team), I made him an Ambush Specialist because the game mechanics suit that image perfectly.

Shagi is an exchange student – a  Hill Dwarf Cleric of Pelor with (what else?) the Jester Background. As his Dexterity isn’t great (DEX 11), I made him a Skill Specialist to reflect his hours of training in Balance, Escape Artist, Perform and Tumble. A comic relief D&D character? Oh yes, but a darned useful one to have around at that.

To complement Frydd and provide close combat support where needed (yes, from a Wizard), Daf-Nie is a lithe High Elf Wizard Illusionist with the Minstrel Background and Finesse Weapon Specialty. She’s a Wizard armed with both a Rapier and a Whip. What’s not to love? Darn, I love that character.

Rounding out the party was Vel-Mah (in our playtests we actually had two – Mel-Mah is her evil twin), a Wood Elf Academic Wizard with the Sage Background and Investigator Specialty. Of all the characters this one was probably the most conforming to a stereotype, but making her a Wood Elf rather than High Elf (my reasoning was that she wears more rustic colours) helped break out of that.

Are they the most optimised PCs ever? No, and I’m happy about that because each one of them is a character in their own right, and that’s far more enjoyable than any number of cardboard cutouts with maxed out everything.

So here’s my challenge to you, gentle reader. Next time you create a character, whether it’s for D&D Next or any other RPG, break out of that stereotypical rut and create a character to be proud of. It might just be your best character yet.

Till next time!


9 Comments on “Stop Thinking Stereotypes! Flexibility of D&D Next Character Generation”

  1. Of course, isn’t the sign of a good system one where you can play out of the stereotype and within the stereotype if that is what you want?

  2. Sounds like fun! A self-serving question: I like the archetype of the rapier-wielding duelist, so the idea of a finesse weapon specialist is appealing to me. But alas, I am not seeing it in the playtest packet from Oct 29th. Can you point me toward it? Thanks!

    1. I used the Dual Wielder Specialty from the previous playtest pack, but said it included Proficiency in Finesse Weapons as well to balance it with the other Specialties in the current pack.

  3. One of my complaints about 4e was that it put so much power, and so many choices, in the hands of the players yet left the DM very little guidance on how to oversee the process of chargen. The result was a lot of optimization and munchkinism.

    What you’re advocating here Robin, is what should be spelled out in the rules for DMs. That is, give DMs tools to encourage creative use of the chargen options in Next. Examples, like theme templates (say a party of investigators) that encourage players to choose options for role-playing reasons as often as game-mechanical advantage reasons.

  4. A halfling rogue priest is not a character, it’s just an unusual mix of stats. The stats themselves are not the character.

    Imagine designing Stephen King’s epic character Roland Deschain in D&D. You could try to take feats and a mix of classes inspired by Roland’s actions in the Dark Tower books, or you could just play an optimized human ranger with a personality and history inspired by the gunslinger. Is the character stereotypical because your choice of feats/class/race are the same as 1001 other rangers? Not at all.

    You could also play a Sorcerer with a personality and history inspired by Roland. Or a Fighter. Or a Warlord. I suppose you would want to always have at least a decent Dexterity and Wisdom and a low Intelligence, so some classes are better than others, but even that doesn’t change much. Roland Deschain as a wizard would just be Roland but smart. It would still work.

  5. In my playtest, I am a veeery fat Charlatan Illusionist Wizard with Skill Focus (Bluff) and a Ghost Familiar (using Raven for sound mimicry, half HP but incorporeal) – Basically I run a ghost-busting service convincing many people that they have a haunted propoerty when it’s not true, using my familiar to haunt it for real, “solve” their “problem”, and GET PAID! XD
    It’s a blast, and the rest of the group is a crossbow-using Bounty Hunter Divine Magic Specialist Rogue that plays a Van Helsing-esque monster hunter, and then true vampires and werewolves, with custom race of course, with a sexy thief vampiress and a young farm-boy Nature cleric werewolf who is depressed about his nature, and who we use to “fake” monster attacks to get paid even more! XD
    More players are coming and they’re all pretty much against any stereotype. best D&D characters I ever seen, and this is just with incomplete testing rules. this is why I love D&D Next.

  6. One of my favorite characters is a katana wielding, leather armored reaper cleric with the skulker specialty and spy background. Stealth, necromancy, swords with high dex and wis = awesomely interesting.

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