Last week I brought up the topic of Player Characters and the choices (or lack of) they have in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. During my world building process, I made the players roll random dice for where they were born. As a consequence of that roll, a new roll would determine what race they were born as. This limited the player’s choice on what race they could play as, but still allowed them to choose class and other in game abilities.
With that in mind, I began this campaign with a military theme. I had each player roll up four characters to create their own “squad”. That way, if they didn’t like one of their randomly rolled races, they could choose another of their squad to play as. It was a chaotic mess, but we had fun with it. To be expected though, some of the players wanted to play with some of the new, interesting races that became available as new material was released.
Campaigns came and went and new material always kept coming out. The player options were numerous. Character creation began to take whole sessions as the players went through all the options to find what they really wanted to try. The problem then became something else. The more options that became possible, the less chance the cohesiveness of your campaign world became probable. Everything was so different and unique, that nothing was. The wondrous of the fantastic becomes the mundane of generalization.
How much choice is too much choice? As any experienced dungeon master can tell you, running a game at low levels is easier and smoother. You’re able to track little details that give flavor and background to the setting and the characters. Combat runs quickly and the outcomes are more exciting due to the unknown of random variance. As the game progresses and the characters advance, they have way more options to choose from. Their personalities are set and they have their own goals that may be tough to gel with the original story the game was presenting. Mostly though, combat takes much longer as players take time to decide what option to use among a long list of them. The monsters also get more complicated to run and have many abilities that can bog down the flow of the battle. At high levels, the most common exclamation I hear is, “no wait! My character would’ve done that instead!” As they realize they overlooked a certain ability on their character sheet.
This minor dilemma is not only relevant to the gaming table. How many choices do we have today for entertainment? How many platforms have shows running multiple seasons? How many films get made each year? How many books are there to choose from? On and on this goes. There is no wonder why so many You Tube review sites have popped up over the last few years. People want help to decide what to read next.
But wait! If we decide to listen to reviewers to figure out what we want to read next, aren’t we then limiting our choices to what said reviewers have read? Ah, therein lies the rub. The same applies to character choice in a game. It all comes down to a balance that each individual will have to find for themselves. Which isn’t easy. When you choose one thing, do you get that pit in your stomach that you’re missing out on something else?
Living peaceably with our choices is definitely a balance to strive for.