D&D General Why I Love Rolling Up Characters

Iosue

Legend
So, funny thing. I was procastinating taking a break from a big translation job, and started putzing around with D&D Beyond, randomly rolling up characters (4d6-drop lowest, in order) just for the fun of it. Unbeknownst to me, but beknownst to many of you, just around then a big debate broke out in this thread about rolling up characters. Meanwhile, Reynard started a poll in this forum all about rolling up characters. And just last week, we had a hearty discussion about methods for rolling up characters in my Let's Read of 2nd Edition.

One thing I noticed in the OneD&D thread was a common question, asked in different ways and statements by people who did not like rolling, that was essentially,

"What makes a man turn to rolling up characters? Lust for gold? Power? Or where you just born with a heart of pure randomness?"

There were various answers to this question in the thread, but none that I felt spoke to me. Many defended rolling up characters from a practical aspect, or described the fun of playing a character with one or more low stats, but no one really made the aesthetic case for rolling. By which I mean, the reason people reject rolling up characters is largely aesthetic: they have an idea of what they want to play and dice rolling has a pretty good chance of marring that idea. Or they just don't like the idea of having a character tangibly weaker than other characters. In other words, rolling dice is not going to be fun for them. So how can it be fun for those who like it? The conclusion some people come to, it seems, is "They like high scores, and many will cheat/game the system/use house rules to get them."

Let me not deny that high scores play a part (though it may not be the part you think it is). But what I wanted to do is talk about all the other reasons I love rolling up characters, and how it is fun for me. I made it a + thread for a couple of reasons. For one, I don't want it to be a rehash of the OneD&D thread debate. But also, it is my hope that others who enjoy rolling up characters will talk about what they enjoy, and I really don't want those preferences interrogated. I offer this thread to the non-rolling folk not to convince or convert, but in the spirit of encouraging understanding. So, let's get to it.

1. Rolling up characters = D&D
This is not meant in a judgmental way, but to provide background. When I started playing, you rolled characters up in D&D. There were other systems out there that were based on point buy, or allocation of arrays. I played these and enjoyed them! I made dozens of GURPS characters in my teenage spare time. I loved WEG Star Wars! But within that historical context, D&D was the exemplar of games where you rolled your characters up. It's what I knew before I knew anything else. Ha, Iosue! So it is mere nostalgia that induces you to roll! (you might be saying.) Well, not really. I think of it more like...my accent. I picked it up in my youth, and it's stayed with me ever since. Even back then, when I'd play other systems, when I came back to rolling up a character in D&D, it felt like coming home.

I will admit that there is a cold, dark, reactionary corner of my heart that sees arrays and point-buy in D&D as being as weird and off-putting as mayonnaise on french fries. On the other hand, the warm, rational, and empathetic rest of my heart knows and understands that arrays and point-buy have been a part of D&D for 23 of its 49 years in this world, and so I begrudge no fellow player their enjoyment of these methods. I know that for them, point buy = D&D, or standard array = D&D, and I won't argue with that. But for me, part of the fun of D&D is rolling up a character.

2. Often, I have no idea what kind of character I'm going to make.
Some folks don't like rolling because they have an idea of the character they are going to make, and they don't want to fight the system to realize it. I'm the opposite. More often than not, I don't know what kind of character I'm going to make. I may have an idea of class, to fit in with a particular party, but I generally don't know much more than that. I like for the dice to tell me. I enjoy the process of "meeting" the character with each new dice roll. Which leads me to my next point.

3. The dice inspire me!
When I play Mario Kart, I play Mario. When I play Street Fighter, I play Ryu or Ken. When I play D&D, I play humans. Left to my own devices, I'll make an all-rounder, a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. Give me an array, and I'll mitigate my lowest score, even at the cost of a very high score!

So when I roll (especially in order), I get combinations that would never occur to me on my own. And these combinations whet my imagination. My longest running character, dutifully rolled up 3d6 in order as per Moldvay Basic at age 11, was a magic-user. With a STR of 12. Why would a magic-user have such a relatively high strength? Because his father is a minor noble, and expected him to become a knight. He underwent physical training as a youth, but abandoned it to pursue magic, leading to his father disowning him. Thus, now he was a magic-user adventurer.

One of the characters I rolled up on DDB was a Ranger. He's extremely wise (WIS 18, but I'd already made a cleric, so I chose ranger), and intelligent (INT 14). But he has a CHA of 9. Okay...why is he so unlikable? The thought bounced in my mind as I filled out the rest of the Character Builder. And then I got to choose a Tool Proficiency, and on the list was Cartographer's Tools. And suddenly I had an image in my head of a wilderness explorer, devoted only to his calling for mapmaking. He'd adventure to pay the bills, and fund his love of mapmaking. He doesn't like dealing with people, and he's not good at it. He's happiest when he's out there charting a coastline, or the edges of a forest, or the distances between roads and major landmarks.

This is the real sauce of rolling up characters, and one reason why I'd never want to lose ability scores and just keep the bonuses. Even the small differences give me new ideas about a character and his background.

4. High scores are nice, but not as nice as rolling high scores.
Inasmuch as high scores are involved in rolling up a character, it's not something I really think about. I don't roll because I want high scores, I roll because of the reasons given above. But. That said. It is a tremendous thrill to roll a high score. Especially together with friends. It will sound crazy, but I don't worry about big disparities between my character and another when we're rolling. It's a cooperative game, and (especially in B/X) a high score helps everybody! It's fun to roll together with the group, and exult in the high rolls, and groan at the low rolls. There is just a certain frisson that comes from seeing the dice go clackity-clackity and come up with three boxcars. Or even two 6s and a 5! I'd much rather see my friend hit that high score in person than to take my character sheet home and furtively roll over and over until I get high scores. And yeah, maybe if I was in a Con game where rolling was standard, I'd probably show up with my normally rolled character, who'd get overshadowed by the guys who secretly rerolled their ones or somesuch. But, I'll love my character for the ways the dice inspired me.

5. I love my rolled-up characters.
Finally, I want to push back on one particular thing, at least for me, personally. And that's the idea that you don't get attached to your rolled up characters. That it's all part of the game to see how far you can get with them before they die, and you roll up another one. I understand that some people like that, and that's great, but it's not why (or how) I roll. Nor am I any less attached to my rolled-up characters than those who thought hard about their character ideas ahead of time and built their character around that idea. As I hope I've made clear, the characters become "real" to me through the rolls, and I'm pretty attached to them by the time character generation is done. At that point they already have a personality and a background, a history. I just didn't build the character around that. It came to me from rolling the dice. And I sure as heck am not going to play fast and loose with them just because I can roll up another character quick.
 
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FitzTheRuke

Legend
I've been vocal in the other thread about not liking rolling (anymore) but aside from coming to a different ultimate conclusion than you have, I agree with very nearly everything you say above. I find that I CAN participate in a + thread on the subject, even if I ultimately have rejected the practice.

I DO like the quirkiness that can result from rolling (like my friend's character Calahan, a Wizard with a 17 STR and a 6 DEX.) It became part of his character that he was born with a club foot, but was otherwise a hulking fellow. Just a big dude. Didn't mean he didn't want to study wizardry!
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
If the system is built for it, I don't mind rolling chargen. However, D&D has often not been built for it. Though, I love it in games like Traveller. It is so fun seeing a character come to life in unexpected ways, but ways in which you have a little control over.
 

Iosue

Legend
If the system is built for it, I don't mind rolling chargen. However, D&D has often not been built for it. Though, I love it in games like Traveller. It is so fun seeing a character come to life in unexpected ways, but ways in which you have a little control over.
I think D&D is built well for it in most editions, unless you’re rolling 3d6 in order for AD&D, which 1e says you shouldn’t do.

But yes, absolutely, Traveller pushes many of the same buttons!
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
I think D&D is built well for it in most editions, unless you’re rolling 3d6 in order for AD&D, which 1e says you shouldn’t do.

But yes, absolutely, Traveller pushes many of the same buttons!
Well, I think it takes more than ability scores to make rolling interesting. For example, Traveller has career and life events that can really make interesting trajectories of a character. Some folks will not like this because they like to write extensive backstories for their characters, but ive always been in the "backstory about to be written in play" camp. I think the more open you are to random elements developing a character, the more likely you will be to accept rolling them up. System certainly matters in this aspect.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
If the system is built for it, I don't mind rolling chargen. However, D&D has often not been built for it. Though, I love it in games like Traveller. It is so fun seeing a character come to life in unexpected ways, but ways in which you have a little control over.
5E, in particular, is built around random stats as the assumed baseline.

Megatravwllwr might be the height of character generation in my book, though. All downhill fron there.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Well, I think it takes more than ability scores to make rolling interesting. For example, Traveller has career and life events that can really make interesting trajectories of a character. Some folks will not like this because they like to write extensive backstories for their characters, but ive always been in the "backstory about to be written in play" camp. I think the more open you are to random elements developing a character, the more likely you will be to accept rolling them up. System certainly matters in this aspect.
Two 5E books, Xanathar's Guide to Everything and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, have full life path rolling systems for background stories.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Two 5E books, Xanathar's Guide to Everything and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, have full life path rolling systems for background stories.
Nice. Ultimate Campaign did something similar for PF1. The bonus is you can still have random elements while not having to do random stats.
 

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
The latest OSE character I rolled (3d6 in order) has most ability scores in the 10 to 12 range with a single 13 in constitution meaning i only have a single + but also no -'s. I looked at it and thought "I can be anything". I've ended up making a magic-user since arcane magic is lacking in my group. He may not advance as quickly as my previous necromancer who had an intelligence of 17, but then that guy didn't advance at all after taking an arrow to the chest. Hoping that +1 Con will allow me to advance to level 2.

Part of what I love about rolling up characters is everyone who is around watching. My friend rolled an 18 for his first stat, later he rolled a 4 (slightly better than the 3 I thought he rolled). It's the ups and downs and then making the character that follows those stats. One of my other friends rolled an 18 intelligence, but he wanted to play a thief so that 18 became fuel to boost his dex at a 2:1 ratio.

It's actually surprising to see all of the 18s, I've a dwarf with an 18 strength, all of these were rolled fairly in front of others, and all of them got cheers from the other players.
 

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