D&D 5E The "Sealed Envelope" Character Campaign. Would you play?

Sometime I did back in AD&D, and of course requires player buy-in, but I wondered if people (in general) might be willing to give this a try:

A dozen (or more) pre-generated PC concepts are made and placed in sealed envelopes. Each concept will include race, ability scores, backgrounds, along with alignment and personality traits.

Each player gets to choose two envelopes to open and review the concepts inside. You MUST play one or the other. You cannot change your race or your background, etc. Ability scores can be adjusted only by reducing a score two points to increase a different score one point.

You then choose your class, starting equipment, etc. as normal.

If your character dies, by default your new character is based on your second envelop selection, using the same rules, but will enter the game at the same level as your deceased character.

If both characters die, you can make a sidekick character to continue playing or may leave the game as a player. If envelopes remain, you can choose a third as well, if your first two PCs are deceased. You may continue to come to view how the game unfolds if you wish, of course!

So, the question: would you play in such a campaign?

There is a challenge here, of course, and I expect players who "only want to play what I want to play" will say "no". I also understand for many people playing time is limited, so having that view is not by default a bad one (no judgement here!).

As I opened with, I have run such games in AD&D with a lot of success, but with modern views I am not certain how well received it would be.
of course as I read this my thoughts changed...

I started imagining you doing full pregens, but then you had us choose class and equipment... I'm not sure. I would be down for full pregen though... but I don't know if I want to put the work into class equipment and such for a character half made
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I would consider it if I knew and trusted the GM, both as far as competence to make characters and run the game; or if it was an entirely new game and this was how the GM wanted to teach it (and the second case is kinda dodgy, since making characters is part of how I learn game systems). If neither of those applies, the answer is no.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
In general, yes. I would be okay with a pre-gen character. I'm assuming all the gaming practices that I'm used to with my group still apply.

I would prefer it with a few minor tweaks.

First, it wasn't explicitly discussed in the OP, but the group is allowed to discuss their character draws before picking which one to play. Let everyone all talk about what was drawn, what they like, and how to properly build the party.

Second, I would either have it be "draw three" or institute a "redraw" rule if the two characters drawn are too similar. If the pool is large enough, I assume it's possible to draw two characters that provide little choice between the two. That just doesn't fit the premise.

Third, I would change this:


Instead, all un-chosen characters go back in the pile, and players pull two or three fresh draws when they start a new character. It defeats the purpose of random pre-gen to have a specific character waiting in the wings.
I like the idea, but with Deset Gled's caveats.

I'm also not on board with the Personality Traits being pre-chosen, at least for a full campaign. For a short one (up to a few months), sure.
 
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Thanks to all for responses! I'll expound a bit since people have asked: why? what is gained? why not complete pre-gens?

  • First, the "why?"
Fate. Chance. Plain and simple. None of us choose who we are, who are (biological) parents were, and so forth. We each were born with an innate measure of ability in STR, DEX, etc. as well. Now, we can certain work to change our measure of ability to a point, which is why I included the drop 2 points to raise 1 point elsewhere. This shows the work a person can do to become strong, quicker, smarter, and so forth. With ASIs later on you could continue to improve which ever ability you wanted, of course.

I liked the idea posed above about making it random, which I have also done before, and even allowing the players to roll up the races and ability scores, etc. would be ok.

  • Next, "what is gained?" A couple things, IMO.
1. A sense of playing something outside of the box, which might or might not be the case depending on the random selection you pick. You at least have a bit of sense of ownership in that you have two selections and can choose between those two.

2. Making something great out of something when you have little control over what you start with.

With 5E, for instance, the ONLY thing typically left to chance IME is starting gold--and even that is often either "choose starting equipment based on class" or "you get maximum gold, don't bother rolling." Now, I know a lot of people DO roll ability scores instead of using point-buy or the standard array, but even then very few stick to the old "roll in order" mentality. So, even if you roll, YOU still choose what your strong and weak points are.

  • Also, people asked "why not complete pre-gens?"
Well, I felt forcing the choice of class, which IMO should be determined by the PC during the course of their "lives", would be too much. I think most of us (hopefully) got to choose our profession, right? And I would imagine most of us choose careers/paths that we felt would benefit us the most, we would enjoy the most, or whatever.

In summary, the idea was not so much about pre-gen characters who might fit the adventure/campaign/whatever. It is more about NOT having the choices for your PC you don't, yourself, have in real life. TBH, I debated a LOT about backgrounds and whether those would be pre-determined or allowing the PC to choose, but IMO race and ability scores are things we have little control over.

As I said in the OP, I know for many players it is about playing something you really WANT to play, and idea you've had of your own, and for many of us with (very) limited play time, I can understand why this might not have any appeal.

  • Finally, how long would this last/run?
Who knows? If people enjoy it, it might run the entire campaign. If not, I would stop and let players make their own PC as usual. 🤷‍♂️
yeah after more details pass... I was thinking there would be some cool hidden thing in here, this is just 'cause random realism' doesn't mean much to me
 


The bolded is, I think, the whole point: the idea is that instead of going into char-gen with a character concept already built in your head, you go in with a blank slate and then adapt to whatever the envelope (or dice-rolling) gives you.
As something that principally affects the players and barely affects the DM, shouldn’t that come from the players?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
First, the "why?"
Fate. Chance. Plain and simple. None of us choose who we are, who are (biological) parents were, and so forth.

"Because it is realistic," is a weak sell in a game with dragons and flumphs and stuff.

  • Next, "what is gained?" A couple things, IMO.
1. A sense of playing something outside of the box, which might or might not be the case depending on the random selection you pick. You at least have a bit of sense of ownership in that you have two selections and can choose between those two.

There are so many ways to get "outside the box" that are less of a hassle, though.

2. Making something great out of something when you have little control over what you start with.
With 5E, for instance, the ONLY thing typically left to chance IME is starting gold--and even that is often either "choose starting equipment based on class" or "you get maximum gold, don't bother rolling."

This sounds like the "Fate. Chance." line above. So, repeating yourself a bit.

Edit to add: So, to be clear - I am not arguing against doing this. I just feel the conceit of getting half-a-character that I have to finish isn't really valuable.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
oh man... and I would screw with them and put weird stuff in... like "Vampire... no not the dymphr a full Vampire" or "Wereelephant" or "Gold Dragon" just to see what they did
That's a great idea, lol. I just need to be prepared for when they immediately call my bluff. Even a freshly hatched Gold Dragon is pretty powerful. But then again, it would be up to me how they advanced...
 


Speaking for myself only, I wouldn’t say this is a minimal impact thing for the GM.

If your group has enough players firmly entrenched in certain roles, they become a bit of an open book for you. If- taking my above-mentioned group as an example- you know one guy will always play the sniper and the other the wizard, their reactions to certain things will be fairly predictable.
Fair enough, though that does describe a very particular case where the players would be unwilling to accept the premise of the campaign in the first place.
 

yeah after more details pass... I was thinking there would be some cool hidden thing in here, this is just 'cause random realism' doesn't mean much to me
In light of the additional details provided by the OP, I am also of this opinion. I’m not into randomness for it’s own sake.

One thing that might be interesting would be pre-gens that you would not be able to make using the standard rules, like a wizard with their hand cut-off who cannot cast somatic spells, or a fighter-type character that can polymorph at will into a wolf, or a character that starts with a custom magical item.
 
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One thing that might be interesting would be pre-gens that you would not be able to make using the standard rules, like a wizard with their hand cut-off who cannot cast somatic spells, or a fighter-type character that can polymorph at will into a wolf, or a character that starts with a custom magical item.
yeah making mixed classes that can cast spells from 2 lists, or a fighter with evison or something
 


Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Fair enough, though that does describe a very particular case where the players would be unwilling to accept the premise of the campaign in the first place.
Amusingly, even though they are quite thoroughly sticks in the mud as far as PC designs go, they’re both relatively willing to try new campaigns and games. (Systems, not so much.)

Even the most hidebound of us can surprise at times!
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
"3d6, in order, no rerolls" for attribute generation.
Tangent: last did that as a player in a 2Ed Player’s Option campaign in response to another player’s whining (during ChaGen) that my cleric was “Superman” compared to his. Just kept on about it. Tore up my character sheet in his face, and rolled up a new PC with Str15, Dex15, Con13, Int11, Wis8, Cha6, made him into a thuggish NE Thief using just the PHB.

Oddly, had a blast, and the character was quite memorable. The whiner’s character managed to get himself exiled from the country mid-adventure, functionally killing the campaign.

(A few months later, I ran “Superman” in another campaign that had players from that same group. He got taken out early on by a skeleton with a 2Hd sword. Having seen both in play, the crossover players were quite puzzled by the fuss our mutual friend had made.)
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
"Because it is realistic," is a weak sell in a game with dragons and flumphs and stuff.
For some, certainly, for many it is a strong sell. Many posters here clamor about adding realism to their games, only to have such responses tossed back at them. 🤷‍♂️

There are so many ways to get "outside the box" that are less of a hassle, though.
I don't really see this as a "hassle" in any way, shape, or form. YMMV, of course!

Edit to add: So, to be clear - I am not arguing against doing this. I just feel the conceit of getting half-a-character that I have to finish isn't really valuable.
No worries, and thanks for your input!

But, let me put it to you this way: your life is JUST like this. You are getting a half-character all the time, and life is waiting for you to finish it (or maybe death is waiting... depending on your point of view--I'm an optimist in general, so yeah, I'll go with "life").
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
One thing that might be interesting would be pre-gens that you would not be able to make using the standard rules, like a wizard with their hand cut-off who cannot cast somatic spells, or a fighter-type character that can polymorph at will into a wolf, or a character that starts with a custom magical item.
Yea, I like this. Stick a fairly fleshed out CR1 humanoid (maybe 3 hit die or so) with some funky special abilities into each of the envelopes, and then let the player choose what class to continue their advancement.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Tangent: last did that as a player in a 2Ed Player’s Option campaign in response to another player’s whining (during ChaGen) that my cleric was “Superman” compared to his. Just kept on about it. Tore up my character sheet in his face, and rolled up a new PC with Str15, Dex15, Con13, Int11, Wis8, Cha6, made him into a thuggish NE Thief using just the PHB.

Oddly, had a blast, and the character was quite memorable. The whiner’s character managed to get himself exiled from the country mid-adventure, functionally killing the campaign.

(A few months later, I ran “Superman” in another campaign that had players from that same group. He got taken out early on by a skeleton with a 2Hd sword. Having seen both in play, the crossover players were quite puzzled by the fuss our mutual friend had made.)
I think if a player has "stat envy", it's a good chance that there are larger issues at hand. I've played in lots of games where I was statistically weaker than other party members, and it's a little frustrating, but that's what you have to accept when you roll stats.

The way I see it, if the group wants to roll their ability scores, then you can either accept fate, refuse to play, or ask if you can use point buy or some other system to make sure you have a "good enough" character. Mind you, since this was an AD&D game, I'm really confused, because you almost always need an 18 before ability scores really matter.

Oooh, a 16! I got +1 damage, guys! C'mon, really?
 

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