Jun 032013

This post comes on the back of a conversation I recently had with my better half about what you should take from a character sheet, and how that changes with experience. Since an awful lot of this hobby is based on a random number generator, the numbers are usually pretty damned important, but I am always happier looking at the story behind the numbers. When I started gaming, most things that happened to my character, that I instigated, began with pretty much the same sentence, “can I roll *blank* to do something”. Instead of thinking about what I should be able to do, and allowing the GM to set up an obstacle, I put everything down to the roll of a dice.


Just, wow…

As time passed, this lessened somewhat, but I was still very reliant on the numbers and the dice. I would bemoan bad results as if I was somehow owed success because I had a high score in an ability. These days, I try to think about things differently. Thinking ahead to what I’m about to write, this may very well come across as a touch pretentious, and maybe even a bit big headed; as if I know what makes a good gamer. This isn’t true in any way shape or form, as I know a bunch of people who would hate to game with me. Instead, think of it as some advice to gamers just getting into the hobby who want to look beyond the numbers, or just a quick bit of insight into the type of role playing I enjoy myself, and also enjoy seeing in others.

Firstly, the numbers are far from the be all and end all. They don’t make the character who it is, all they do is provide a basis for a roll and give you a vague idea about where they fall on a scale of competence. As an example, I have seen players come up with an absolutely amazing idea in game to solve a tricky problem. And just as they’re explaining it, have looked sad for a moment, and said, “Actually, my character is nowhere near clever enough to have come up with that idea, never mind”. I mean, what the hell? The score the character has in the intellect stat is there for the GM to help with random number decisions, and for you to role play when it’s needed. It shouldn’t be there to hinder. If you’re determined to stick to the role playing of an idiot – firstly, don’t buy down your intelligence if you’re actually quite clever; you’re just making it hard on yourself – then just put it down to a moment of rare insight, and once you tell people the plan, leave it to them to put it into action. Your moment has passed, and you can go back to sharpening your sword/brass checking your weapon. Just don’t keep hamstringing yourself because of a number on a sheet.

Oh, and worth remembering that all of these numbers can be modified by the way you act in character and the way you respond to a situation. Taking combat as the best example of dice rolling over role playing, there is still a mountain of options open to you that aren’t covered by the rules, or dictated by the numbers. From my own experience of playing in a very tactically minded group rocking some D&D 3.5, there were a couple of us who did more than work out ranges, attacks of opportunity, and getting a better bonus for surrounding our enemies. Since we were in darkness at the start of the fight, but I knew roughly where the bad guys were, I stopped thinking like Shorty, and instead like a slightly unhinged viking. I dropped the tip of my sword onto the stone floor, and dragged it along as I charged in roughly the right direction, trusting that the sparks would give me enough light to get a half accurate swing, and maybe even keep the rest of the group aware of where I had gone.

There’s no skill for it, no numbers to use and no real way for a random number generator to make a difference, but I gave it a shot anyway. It may not have drastically altered the flow of the combat – or even the result – but it was a fun thing to do as it just came off the back of me playing the character. And it looked pretty cool too, let me tell you!

This has turned into a longer post than I had originally planned, so I will continue it tomorrow, rather than bury all my readers in an avalanche of text. If you have any thoughts on what has been talked about so far, please feel free to share them below.

  2 Responses to “When the numbers become more than numbers. Part I”

  1. What you’re essentially describing here is the conflict between obeying the numbers and playing the character.

    I’m with you in this respect, playing the character is more important; we should not sacrifice roleplay to the numbers, because that’s just a bit, I don’t know wooden.

    Where I’ve had a great deal of success is exploiting this conflict for character development, or as you say, providing a guide to the intuition of a character. I’ve played a lot less in recent years, concentrating on running games and developing my system, but in the recent campaign I’ve engaged as a player and not understanding entirely the consequences of the numbers, (new system to me), I have found that my urge is to make the numbers fit the character as she is conceived; so if she is developing, (perhaps because of the RP or perhaps because I better understand how to express the concept of the character), I have found that I want to shape the numbers to how I roleplay her. This “traffic” in concept goes both ways, I use the numbers as a guide to remember what I described her as in the first place, and how she should be conceptually.

    Conceptually is the key word; conceptually she is, for example, physically weak, with a few caveats, and as such I obey that description with the numbers and her behaviour, but that doesn’t stop me, as the player, having the idea that she should try and do something strong every now and again, and we roll for this, (usually after a description that is essentially telling my GM if I have thought about it or I am just “going for it”), and sometimes this pays off for the character, and mostly it does not.

    Key here is that we have a great GM with the confidence and know how to say sometimes, during that discussion, “Yes, go ahead; that’s a great description, it’s all good, let’s just check that something random didn’t make you fluff it…” We have some great times.


    The flip side of this is that in my system, everything is based around the character description, the numbers; and I try and keep the numbers down. I have carefully worked out a fairly normalising system, which allows great success and great failure. The key thing THERE is that I sometimes run very large groups, (15 and more), and on those occasions I have urged everyone to apply the rules and roll, as well as the roles, exactly, strictly.

    This works because the flexibility of the system is in the imagination, (Um, crude example, can you drive a car? Then you can probably drive a speedboat but not a ship, be flexible about using your skills), and in the trust of the players, sometimes i set a group as monsters for another group and leave them to it while I see to the a third, they have fun… there is a little argument about the rules. Why? because they know that everything is a description in numbers of their characters, and that it’s not set in stone, they know what is fair. If in doubt, apply the rules, when the rules are stupid, ignore them and don’t break rule 7.


    Am I making a particular point? No. I’m with you; don’t hobble yourself for the numbers.

  2. I think you have to consider what the purpose of the numbers are: to facilitate the most important capabilities of your character in an objective way that everyone can agree on. Things that are marginally useful or rarely occur don’t get numbers because a GM can subjectively decree how it should happen.

    In fact, when I look at a new system, I almost always look at the character sheet in the back of the book first because I can see in one page what things are important in the system: the things that are worth giving the character numbers for.

Leave a Reply