Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Basic Set with Character Generation

This is something of a cross-post from a discussion at ENWorld. Once again there's been a discussion of "how to simplify the new player experience" that usually turns into calls to use pre-generated PCs, or templates or stock packages, etc. I rather strongly disagree with that, and here's why:

A lot of the addictive goodness in D&D comes from playing your own, personalized, unique character. The new player experience simply must have that element. The way they pick a character really has to be the same core process that the rest of us use, so they can cleanly interface with the rest of the rules after they play the first time.

To me, that means that the core process itself has to get whittled down. After a lot of thought, I have a campaign that does this:
- 4 core races
- 4 core classes
- No skill points (see Unearthed Arcana)
- Only class bonus feats (i.e., none at 1st level)
- Spontaneous divine casters (see Unearthed Arcana)
- Fixed starting spell lists for spellcasters (in 3 flavors)

Therefore, 1st-level character generation looks like this, for all players:
- Roll abilities & arrange
- Pick race & class, roll hit points
- Spellcasters choose starting faction (spellbook)
- Buy equipment (from one-page basic list)

I think that's easy enough for first-time players, but it's not any different for expert players in my campaign. If you want expanded options, those are all pushed to higher levels: new spell selections, fighter feats start at 2nd level, etc. If you have expert players and that's not enough for them, start them at higher level, to whatever point the number of options match their taste.

A really important thing to remember is that D&D's hugest growth came in the 1978-1984 era when they had the "Basic Blue Set", limited to levels 1-3, and was intended to directly connect with the larger AD&D ruleset that was coming out at the same time. For some reason, TSR/WOTC has avoided that ever since, and IMO it's the biggest ongoing mistake the company ever made.

To recap: Player choices are great; just push some of the choices to higher levels. Start new players at first level, and expert players at higher levels if so desired. 3E has too many of the choices front-loaded at first level.


  1. Fascinating. Just a couple of days ago, while thinking about how I could simplify D&D 3.5 for play with my girlfriend, I've come to the same conclusions like you... spontaneous divine casters, fixed spell lists, reduced number of core races and classes, no skill points.
    I'd gladly pay money for something like this...

    Cheers, Marcus

  2. Hey, Marcus! Send me an email and I'd be glad to send you the documents I've worked up on that system (assumes use of a PHB, but still). I'd actually love to hear some feedback on someone else playing that way. Email is: delta at superdan dot net

  3. I know this is an old post, but I wanted to comment on something.

    WotC, back in 2004/2005, released these 'fast play' and 'basic D&D' sets. Now they had pregen characters, but they also made it very easy with a subset of skills and feats and spells. It was an 'intro' as well, intended to get people to move to the PHB, and I am still using it as the basis of play for my 1 to 3rd level characters.