Session Lessons: Character Creation has Too Many Mechanical Details

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This is my first impression from Dungeon Mastering a group of eight players through character creation.  We went through each stage of character creation in order, in a circle around the table, so that everybody could be a part of everybody else's creation process.  First everyone picked a race, then a class, and so on.

On the one hand, the detail and variety of possible characters was nice, even given that it's still a bare-bones system.  The combination of race, class, background and specialty captured the spirit of both single-class focus and multi-classing synergy better than I think previous editions did.

But on the other hand -- the practical hand -- I think that each 1st-level PC has too many details in each layer.   There are too many different mechanics for some of the newer players, and sometimes even the older players.  For example, expertise dice are a neat idea, but are they really necessary, especially when they complicate what is traditionally the simplest and easiest-to-play class?  Play gets bogged down because the players don't understand all of their options.

To be fair, some people grasped everything very quickly and easily.  But about half of my eight players were pretty confused by an overabundance of mechanics at first level.

You could start characters at Level 0 and remove their expertise dice and level 1 spells... otherwise I am not really sure how the designers can fix this problem.



Looking at how some DMs guide new players, it seems like they gloss over all the mechanics until an opportunity comes up to use them. Have you ever tried "Write this down and we will worry about what it does later"

I agree with NicolBolas.  You can't really get much simpler without completely removing all choice.  The lesson here is: know your players.

For example, if you have a player who gets confused at even the most basic of choices (such as the two different maneuvers available to a Level 1 Fighter), don't even give the choice.  Just give them a +1d4 to damage, and say that it is a Fighter bonus.  Once they grasp that, give them access to the second maneuver.
OP not to sound insulting but Next legitmately has one of the simplest and rules lightest character creation process I have seen in years.

If you had problems with this amount of detail you are not suited for DMing, have you even seen systems like Traveler, Eclipse Phase or Exalted? They all have easily 5-10 times as much work for starting characters.
I don't know, I think a case could be made for fewer options at first level. More abilities could kick in at level two. Specialty feats, for instance - at least as they are in the latest packet. (If they were still "Themes" then I'd want them at first level as they help define the character.) It's a different way of looking at Level 1, but maybe 2nd level would be more exciting if it was the first time you picked a feat or even a specialty or scheme.

Alternatively, there could be optional quick-start rules for Level 0 (I'm sure this has been done somewhere) that limit options to your basic choices of Race, Class and Background, without schemes or other options within them, and only have level 0 spells, +1 for attack bonuses, etc. Kind of like what NicolBolas describes - no reason why designers can't include rules for it.
It wasn't so much the complexity as the variety of different mechanics that had to be understood for every class.  Yes, some of my players were being a bit lazy about it, but the truth is that we just aren't all number-crunchers and math strategists.
I did it with 5 people who had never played D&D before.

Everything you say is correct, although they mostly complained about the character sheet in the end. I sorta like making "specialty" a level 2 thing, because the N00bs definitely didn't get it, but as someone more seasoned I'd be a little eager to get there. It might also mess with a lot of math.

I think optional rules for level 0 characters are not a bad solution. Same HP and everything, just simpler. "learners mode" type stuff when it comes to maneuvers and spells. I imagne it wouldn't be hard to do even if such things weren't in the book, but guidlines (especially for wizards and such) would make bringing COMPLETELY new players in smoothly. Especially older ones who maybe like this current trend board games or video game RPGs, but aren't that interested in spending a few hours reading books before they get to play a game. Most games are learned by just playing them, but choosing abilities is frustrating with no compass to guide what they mean.

That said, everyone got really excited about their backgrounds. Even the cook.
A few guidelines for using the internet: 1. Mentally add "In my opinion" to the end of basically anything someone else says. Of course it's their opinion, they don't need to let you know. You're pretty smart. 2. Assume everyone means everything in the best manner they could mean it. Save yourself some stress and give people the benefit of the doubt. We'll all be happier if we type less emoticons. 3. Don't try to read people's minds. Sometimes people mean exactly what they say. You probably don't know them any better than they know themselves. 4. Let grammar slide. If you understood what they meant, you're good. It's better for your health. 5. Breath. It's just a dumb game.
I don't know, I think a case could be made for fewer options at first level. More abilities could kick in at level two. Specialty feats, for instance - at least as they are in the latest packet. (If they were still "Themes" then I'd want them at first level as they help define the character.) It's a different way of looking at Level 1, but maybe 2nd level would be more exciting if it was the first time you picked a feat or even a specialty or scheme.


I kind of like that idea.  At first level you gain your background skills and trait, and your first specialty feat at 2nd.  Then at every even level you gain a feat and at every odd level you gain a round of skill advancement.  The only exception would be the levels divisible by 4 (4, 8, 12, etc.), which grant the +1 bonus to two ability scores).  It eliminates dead levels that way too, which is nice, while keeping the same number of feats as in the current playtest.

Or another idea would be, as an optional rule, we could have players create their characters with Class/Race at first level and save background for 2nd level and specialty for 3rd level (easing them into the mechanics a bit), though since such things are kind of defining what your character is/does, some would certainly see that as awkward at the very least.  Still, it could be an option for those that want to use it.  You would be behind one level's worth of Skill Advancement and feat though.
I am going to jump on board with the Specialty @ Level 2 movement here.  In considering what specialty means, what it adds, and the specificity it brings to a character, level 2 really works well.  It sort of reflects an apprenticeship period where the character is learning what it does best, what suits it most, and how it's adventuring personality is developing.

As for the overwhelming process of creating characters that hits some people... I put a little onus on the DM  there.  You need to have a decent grasp of the game rules to make it so much easier on the players.  The reason for this is because you can eliminate mechanics and get right to the heart of the character - the role.  Armed with knowledge, a DM only has to ask the player one simple thing:  "What do you want to play?"  

Don't ask them for specifics, just generalities. 

"Want to play a weapon weilding combatant? A champion of a god? A clever thief or nasty thug? A spell invoking mage?"

Then you break it down a little further each time.

"So, Fighter it is!  Do you see yourself a a protector who guards others from harm with weapon and shield, a brutal combatant who lashes away with fury, an archer who strikes foes down with deadly ranged accuracy, or a ..." etc.

When you make it about the role, the imagination, the rest comes easy.  All you are doing, as a DM, after that is filling in the numbers... but the majority is done for you by the player's vision of what their character should be.

Even with Veteran players who know all the rules and are completely comfortable with character creation are started that way by me.  I want characters to be thought of as personalities... as more than the numbers on their character sheets first... and the best way to promote that is by getting players to think about the character as a "person" first, then letting the die roles and rules fill in the details after that.

I am going to jump on board with the Specialty @ Level 2 movement here.  In considering what specialty means, what it adds, and the specificity it brings to a character, level 2 really works well.  It sort of reflects an apprenticeship period where the character is learning what it does best, what suits it most, and how it's adventuring personality is developing.

As for the overwhelming process of creating characters that hits some people... I put a little onus on the DM  there.  You need to have a decent grasp of the game rules to make it so much easier on the players.  The reason for this is because you can eliminate mechanics and get right to the heart of the character - the role.  Armed with knowledge, a DM only has to ask the player one simple thing:  "What do you want to play?"  

Don't ask them for specifics, just generalities. 

"Want to play a weapon weilding combatant? A champion of a god? A clever thief or nasty thug? A spell invoking mage?"

Then you break it down a little further each time.

"So, Fighter it is!  Do you see yourself a a protector who guards others from harm with weapon and shield, a brutal combatant who lashes away with fury, an archer who strikes foes down with deadly ranged accuracy, or a ..." etc.

When you make it about the role, the imagination, the rest comes easy.  All you are doing, as a DM, after that is filling in the numbers... but the majority is done for you by the player's vision of what their character should be.

Even with Veteran players who know all the rules and are completely comfortable with character creation are started that way by me.  I want characters to be thought of as personalities... as more than the numbers on their character sheets first... and the best way to promote that is by getting players to think about the character as a "person" first, then letting the die roles and rules fill in the details after that.



I totally agree in theory, but sadly in my experience with completely new players. Most say, "I don't know" or "I don't care" if I ask them what type of character they want to make, because not everyone is like me and fantasized about that sort of crap as a kid.

This time around, reading a bit of the fluff and flavor to people seemed to help and backgrounds really engaged people. For example, two players really liked the idea of halflings' culture, but their "lucky" mechanic really intrigued them too.
Meanwhile, another guy would just roll his eyes at the fluff and wanted to just know how to play. He named his character Elfman1986 BTW.

Reading through the backgrounds really engaged people though. I've always had trouble getting people to engage on the RP side of things when it comes to skills and stats and stuff. I was kinda bummed they changed the specialty packages to be less flavorful.
A few guidelines for using the internet: 1. Mentally add "In my opinion" to the end of basically anything someone else says. Of course it's their opinion, they don't need to let you know. You're pretty smart. 2. Assume everyone means everything in the best manner they could mean it. Save yourself some stress and give people the benefit of the doubt. We'll all be happier if we type less emoticons. 3. Don't try to read people's minds. Sometimes people mean exactly what they say. You probably don't know them any better than they know themselves. 4. Let grammar slide. If you understood what they meant, you're good. It's better for your health. 5. Breath. It's just a dumb game.
I've only ran a game for one new player, the other two were decades experienced players.  The new player, my gf, had never played an rpg before.  Character creation to her was a breeze.  She loved the Backgrounds as an elegant, simple means, to understand her characters, well, background.  She played a fighter in my one group and a wizard in the other. The fighter was easy to understand but the spells caused her some confusion.  

The experienced players made characters in about ten minutes and loved the variations you could achieve out of the system.

@OP: is part of the issue that you were running a game for eight people?  And that you did character creation there and then instead of people making characters beforehand?  I neither could nor would run a game for more than four. 
Daybreaker, I ran the first couple of Playtest with 8 Players.  Big advice here is your encounters will need to be strengthened, especially if you are running the Games provided.  Had same problem with character creation, players wanted details but they got lost in the rules trying to understand everything from the start with out reading.  These players some of them 30 year vets with the game.  

I do remember the early years where a game was running and players were engaged with dealing with thugs and theaves in a city setting and other people came into the room watching and listening to the adventure.  They became envolved telling the players to do this and don't tell them that.  I opened the game up to the observers rolled abilities made them fighters gave them basic equipment and they rolled hit points, and they were in the game.  No maneuvers they just rolled dice and said what they were trying to do.

Back then if you didn't make your own adventure, most of the pre made games were made for a party of 5 to 10 players also.  The Playtest is more designed for 2 to 5.  Games might slow down some if some of the players don't get envolved, (watch out for table talk when this happens) or if there are not enough monsters some of the players will get bored if not threatened.  Keep them engaged, on the ropes, and beef up the encounters.  

I have actually moved our playtest game night and use a select few of newer players using encounter build and making my own adventures.  

But as far as what has been posted here thus far about slowing down Character Creation:  

Player Character sheets were so open that the less organized players had trouble figuring out where they wrote things.

I picked up the thing on less is more when the players became unsure of Maneuvers I threw them out for the spirit of the moment.  I asked them to tell me what they wanted to do and use which ever expert dice level their characters were.  So know the basic options for those dice, classes and have some knowledge of spells.

Older players didn't like advantage or disadvantage, said the variables between dice were too great.  Example, two player rogue and fighter faced Dragonshield Kobolds, 10 rolls (3 rounds) before these players hit their foe, one roll a natural 20 the other dice 4, these players got bumed but the Kobold if hit was an instant kill.  They prefer + or - to their rolls.  This is subject for another place.   2 Players 12 die rolls 3 rounds at disadvantage to hit foe that is a lot of die rolls for 2 players.  Still can't believe they rolled so bad even with a Natural 20 Disadvantage auto miss?  House Rules now maybe?
heh.  Yeah, I have had the occasional player who didn't come close to engaging in RP.  That usually resolved itself, though, for a couple of reasons.

1) It's my game, as a DM.  Players honestly have two choices when it comes to names: Give their character something that contributes to the group and can be used in roleplay or realize that I will treat their character with the same respect their name of Sir Suckethme deserves.

2) Because roleplay is rewarded, group play encouraged and benefited from, and fun doesn't come at the expense of the game, everyone, even those new to roleplay or not interested in it initially, find themselves wanting to be a part of the world, so they start to open up to roleplay (80% of the time) or they move on to something else (20%).

Truth of the matter is, the 20% who don't stay the group is better off without.  I can certainly keep those friendships and do other activities with them, but players who really aren't interested in roleplaying to the point of being disruptive and distracting tend to bring the enjoyment down for everyone.

As a DM, it's important to remember that the "fun" of any one individual shouldn't come at the expense of everyone else, especially yourself as the caretaker of the campaign.
I picked up the thing on less is more when the players became unsure of Maneuvers I threw them out for the spirit of the moment.  I asked them to tell me what they wanted to do and use which ever expert dice level their characters were.  So know the basic options for those dice, classes and have some knowledge of spells.

Older players didn't like advantage or disadvantage, said the variables between dice were too great.  Example, two player rogue and fighter faced Dragonshield Kobolds, 10 rolls (3 rounds) before these players hit their foe, one roll a natural 20 the other dice 4, these players got bumed but the Kobold if hit was an instant kill.  They prefer + or - to their rolls.  This is subject for another place.   2 Players 12 die rolls 3 rounds at disadvantage to hit foe that is a lot of die rolls for 2 players.  Still can't believe they rolled so bad even with a Natural 20 Disadvantage auto miss?  House Rules now maybe?

Expetise dice are so simple, it's hard not to imagine them being easy to use.  Once a round, you either add an extra 1d4 damage or save it for another maneuver based on your style (parry, etc).  Anyone who can eventually figure out when to use a d8 for their bow or a d6 for their short sword can figure out how to use a d4 for expertise.

Advantage and disadvantage only really work, I agree, when used sparingly.  The Kobold Dragonshield is poorly designed at the moment for lack of one key ingredient: it shouldn't be useable on any creature that has Shield Block as a trait.  In other words, 4 KDs shouldn't be able to protect each other... otherwise, a DM should avoid having more than one Kobold Dragonshield in any one encounter.

Alone or if ruled as I would (no Shield Block on another creature with Shield Block), it puts the onus on having that "protector" taken down first to avoid the disadvantage.  It works great as such.  Without it, then a handful of KDs would be a nightmare as they all continually impose disadvantage on each adjacent attacks.
I really like the idea of specialties kicking in at level 2. Not only does it tone down the number of things to do at creation, but also gives you a chance to play your character and develop a style which your specialty would reflect. I do however feel that background should still be at level 1, since it is your, well, background.

As for players who have difficulty at creation - I just asked the 2 players in my group who had no D&D / roleplay, etc. experience what they wanted to play, and named off the races and classes available. They both said, I want to be a dwarf with big weapon and beat on people. So we ended up with 2 dwarf slayers, but one was a thug with a maul and the other a bounty hunter with a greataxe who worked for outlaws rather than the law (brothers in crime). We went with different specialties as well, one being a magic user (before they messed that one up) and the other taking the toughness feat. Then I just said, on your turn you can deal extra damage or save your die for something else, I'll let you know when the situation arises. It worked out really well for us.

As far as engaging players in RP, part of being the DM is knowing what your players like and how to catch their interest. Obviously these two guys liked to bash and killing was on their mind, they had no RP experience, so you have to draw them in with something in line with their interests - killing whatever the DM throws at them. So after their first encounter when they find out they were set up and this was supposed end with them dead at the hands of a rival, of course they wanted to kill the SOB. This is where the RP entered based on what they like to do (smash and cleave) - they want to kill the guy, but first they need to find him, then when they find him they realize there is more at play than a simple set up.. now they are hooked and starting to think about their characters and have even started to add details to their backgrounds and character concepts to fit in with the story.
Thanks for the advice, everyone.

I agree with the 'specialties at 2nd level' idea, especially.  I might even move specialties to 3rd.