Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 23, 2011
Making your own character(s): For some, this is essential to the RPG experience. For others – like me – it’s no big deal. For some, it’s daunting and a reason to avoid playing RPGs altogether.
I remember tournaments back in the glory days of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons where players were assigned pre-generated characters. Or other times when a pre-gen might be in order. Then, as now in CRPGs, there was something more satisfying about making your own character from scratch, giving him or her a unique name, and calling them your own. Back then, I had binders full of characters for various RPG systems – some only played once or twice, some deceased, and even a few that were created for one reason or another but never played.
One character that I’d created but never played ended up getting “loaned” to another player. She hadn’t had time to create a character of the appropriate level for a game, so I handed the sheet to her. She became a regular in the campaign, and the character became her own – and one of her favorites. I didn’t miss the character too much. I ended up marrying that player, so I kept the character in the family or something.
I’ve played and enjoyed a lot of CRPGs where I little or no say in what character I played, and often little control over their progression as they increased in levels. I’ve played CRPGs where I had full control over their stats (even to the point of being able to enter any values I wanted to “import” my D&D character into the game) from the get-go, and even “had” to create an entire party of characters from scratch. Let me tell you, I almost didn’t get started playing Icewind Dale 2 because I was having so much fun making characters!
I don’t really consider one style superior to the other, or gauge the “RPG-ness” of a game based upon whether it gives me a pre-generated character and background or not. With a pregen, the game can do some nifty things with story that are much harder to do when the player’s character is a blank slate. There are some tricks to give you a little benefit of both worlds, like how Knights of the Old Republic gave you a back-story you didn’t know about, or how Dragon Age: Origins gave you a selection of possible backgrounds. Or – well, Planescape: Torment. Almost any RPG at least hints at some background you are expected to drop your character concept into. For some reason, you’ve answered the kings’ summons or something. You figure out why.
And, like my wife’s pregen, there’s no reason you can’t take the character concept and make it your own. Okay, yeah, maybe in some jRPGs it gets a little heavy handed, with your character only given the choice between saying something acerbic or nothing at all, and so forth. But while somewhat constrained, my version of Geralt in The Witcher games is different – and may have different adventures – than yours (or the one in the books, which I have never read). I’m still playing a role.
None of this means that CRPGs with player-generated characters must be weak on storyline, or that players can’t be just as enthralled with a game where they are playing the same character as everybody else. Both scratch the RPG itch for me just fine.
Though if I can get a request through, game dev dudes (indie and mainstream) – I’d like more party-based RPGs. Especially the kind where you roll your own characters, though I’m cool either way. Those kinds of RPGs seem to be in shortest supply in these days of action-RPGs where you play a solo character plus NPC henchmen. Or pets. Playing Knights of the Chalice, or going back to play some older party-based games like the Might & Magic series (not to mention all the Frayed Knights testing) has really reminded me how fun that is. It’s more of a party with a party, right?
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