AD&D: Character Gen, Roll20 Style

So, we’re currently on a hiatus from our fortnightly Neverwinter Nights campaign, and in the meantime I’ve volunteered to run a VOIP game in the gap. We settled on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition for a system, because all the participants had access to the rules and I was feeling rather nostalgic about it at the time, AD&D 2E being the first full-blooded RPG I ever played, and yesterday we had our character generation session.

VOIP gaming has been booming lately, and there’s now several platforms that cater to it. Whilst the obvious utility of it is to let old gaming buddies who no longer live in close proximity to each other to game together (as in our case – I’m in London and the players are in Oxford), at the same time I think it’s hit the point where it’s become an enjoyable medium for gaming in its own right rather than a second-best choice you pick if you can’t do face-to-face gaming. Several reasonably high-profile old school D&D bloggers like Zak S. of Playing D&D With Porn Stars or Jeff Rients for instance, seem to manage plenty of face-to-face actual play, but have also been active in developing the active and bustling scene of gamers running sessions in Google+ Hangouts through their roles in promoting things like like ConstantCon and FLAILSNAILS.

One happy consequence of people being more interested in running tabletop games online is that there are some really nice platforms to support it these days. Roll20 is the end result of a successful Kickstarter project – it’s a very easy to use virtual tabletop setup which works in any modern web browser and includes voice support as standard, and manages to do a really good job of on the one hand having a very simple and intuitive interface and on the other hand giving you a lot of tools to tinker with. (It’s also nicely system neutral.)

We didn’t use many of the map-based features this time around, but we found that the voice chat and dicerolling features work fine (though in a fit of silliness with the 3D dicerolling system I discovered that my broswer window will crash if I throw dozens of dice onto the table – oops). I’d heard that some people have had problems with TokBox but we found that after a little fiddliness early on it worked fine – the biggest issue is the lack of a push-to-talk button, but you can mute yourself with a click of the mouse so you can simulate one yourself easily enough (the main thing is to make sure everyone is using headphones so you don’t get a lot of feedback). The video setup works nicely with ManyCam, which I intend to use to display NPC portraits to indicate when I am speaking as an NPC, and one of various mood-based DM portraits for when I am speaking as DM. There’s Treguard, the Dungeon Master from Knightmare, for when I am being even-handed and letting the PCs dig their own grave:

“Oooh! Nasty!

There’s Dungeon Master from the D&D cartoon for when I’m feeling generous:

“Let me give you some completely contradictory and pointless advice on how to get home, despite having the power to zap you back there whenever I like.”

And of course there’s the Futurama rendition of Gary Gygax for when I’m getting all 1st Edition on their asses:

“It’s a…” rolls “…pleasure to meet you!”

As far as the actual character generation went, the players decided that they liked the idea of having random character generation but wanted a bit of insurance against rolling really unfortunate stats, so I went with a mashup of Method I and Method II character generation – rolling 3D6 twice for each stat in order and picking the best roll in each time. Statistical analysis that others have done (note that they use the 1E stat-rolling methods there so the numbering is a bit different from the 2E numbering) have shown that 3D6 twice, pick highest roll has nearly the same average as 4D6 drop lowest but a tighter standard deviation, meaning that whilst very low scores are deeply uncommon very high scores are still a delicious rarity. This seems reasonable to me, since TSR-era D&D tends not to put as high a premium on having high stats. Indeed, only one player character in the group has a score of 18 in anything, but at the same time I don’t think any of the PCs are especially crippled.

The random rolling also meant we had a fairly random distribution of character classes; as it turned out, nobody qualified to be a bard or a ranger or a paladin or anything fancy like that, and nobody was particularly dextrous, so the party ended up comprised of two human fighters, a dwarven cleric and a human mage. (I requested that the players limit the number of demi-human PCs because I want the game to have a fairly human focus.) The fighter/fighter/cleric/mage breakdown makes the party particularly old school in a way, since the original D&D set didn’t have thieves, but it does give me a responsibility to be somewhat sensible when it comes to traps because the players have nobody who can detect traps on a whim; since the 2nd edition rules state that your movement rate decreases massively when you are in a dungeon or other potentially trap-filled environment because you are assumed to be carefully examining everything as you proceed, I think it’s fair to assume looking out for traps is a part of that, so I will make sure to include sufficient visual and other clues to the players to suggest that a trap may be present provided they pay attention (though if players choose to stick their heads into dark holes surrounded by bloodstains then there’s only so far I can go to protect them…). If a thief shows up in the party later then their Find Traps skill can be used to a) get more direct warnings from me that a trap is present and b) work out precisely what the trap does, whilst Remove Traps would allow them to dismantle traps painlessly and quietly without having to go through any sort of trial-and-error process. I’ll probably spend a little time browsing some OD&D blogs to get pointers on how other people have handled the thief-less game.

Oh, and another little houserule I’m using is that weapon proficiences are out but fighters can buy weapon specialisations at around the same speed as they’d be able to under the weapon proficiency rules (2 at first level, and an additional one every six levels), and both fighters have chosen to specialise in different varieties of polearm. Gary would be so proud.

Stuff I learned from the character gen session:

  • My Method I/II stat-rolling mashup seems to be a nice compromise between insulting players from getting a run of crappy stats but at the same time ensuring that characters with very high stats continue to be a rarity.
  • Secondary Skills – a holdover from 1E which was rather glossed over in the 2E Player’s Handbook in favour of the non-weapon proficiency system, but which I’ve opted to use instead because NWPs are kind of a backdoor to working in a skills system to TSR-era D&D, which I don’t think is a good fit – are actually really good at helping players turn their bunch of random rolls into a distinctive character background. We effectively used the Secondary Skill roll to have a guess at the sort of social background people’s PCs came from, which worked quite well – Shim’s family were clearly frontiersmen of some sort because they taught him to fish and trap animals and prepare and sell furs, Dan came from a family of shipwrights so his fighter probably hails from the docks, which nudged him into deciding to play a city watchman, and so on. One player rolled “no useful secondary skill” but made the best of it by deciding that meant his wizard was  a wealthy layabout whose family were able to pay for tuition at the college of wizardry.
  • The Complete [Class Name]’s Handbook series, at least for the core four, was obsessed with making sure each class had at least one “Amazon” kit available to it. You can run an all-Amazon campaign if you want to. (Well, obviously this was always an option. But TSR were happy to underline the point by providing game-mechanical support for it.)
  • Drawing dicks on the map in Roll20 is funny even if you’re the DM.

One thought on “AD&D: Character Gen, Roll20 Style

  1. Pingback: Traveller: Why Can’t More Character Creation Processes Be Like This? « Refereeing and Reflection

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