[OSR D&D] Chargen and World-Sketching – first contacts with imagined worlds

I’ve started up a thread on Dragonsfoot to collate my dislocated thoughts about the world/setting I’m brewing up, since the weekly blog post isn’t really the right format to document the rhizome of a process that’s involved. While I could set up a side blog housing set pages I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort to do so for a process that’s been stalled for a few weeks now. I hope that presenting my thoughts in writing may purge them from the actively-processing bits of my brain and let me think about some other aspects of ‘world’. Apparently this is an autistic thing – the tendency to persist on and repeat particular behaviours or patterns of thought, like an obsessive-compulsive vulture over a particularly attractive carcass.

Another thing which puts me off hosting this stuff on the blog is that it currently exists in a very rough and ready ‘fantasy encyclopaedia’ form, not fully crystallised into gameables nor expressed indirectly within a narrative, and the declaration of opposition to the fantasy encyclopaedia has been made often enough within these halls that it should need no explanation.

In efforts to avoid this ponderous clomp of a format I’m hoping to focus all of my ideas down to the point where they can be expressed implicitly but entirely through the options available to players. It starts with expressing them as the encyclopaedia entries that emerge from my thinking but this exists under the hood and there it will remain. This has the benefit of encouraging me to think about where players can engage with the world through asking questions and making choices rather than wading through required reading, and it’s becoming obvious to me that the place to start is character creation. That is, after all, where players first begin to encounter and explore the world, the first exertion of their agency within it, and so every choice made or random factor incorporated should be significant – both in shaping the player’s character and in illustrating the broader world in which that character is embedded.

Lest it be thought that I’m talking out of my arse here, consider PrinceOfNothing’s comment on the last post:

Characterisation is (or has become, since those halcyon wh40k book reading days) important to me because it is the primary tool by which we get to see the fantasy world and a lot of it is viewed in the context of how it interacts with the characters. If we don’t care about the characters it is hard to get invested in the story and consequently I find I can admire the work for its interesting ideas, splendid prose or interesting plot without ever actually liking it. The Lovecraft effect if you will.

Stock fantasy is to me a much greater crime then going overly grimdark because stock characters don’t act like believable human beings(though I guess if you are emulating ancient mythology and your prose supports it well you can get away with that very easily like Moorcock). I like moral ambiguity but I loathe grimdarkness for the very same reason as I dislike stock characters.

With all this in mind I think it’s time to essay forth a demonstration. What – if anything – can we tell about the following world from its character options? Assume a baseline of Original D&D in which level 8 clerics and level 9 fighters may establish a domain.

    Three dice, six times, arrange to taste.
    If all stats are 9 or less, automatically Goblin.
    Otherwise, choice of Human, Elf, Half-Elf, Half-Orc.
    – Humans have the option of Fighter, Cleric or Thief and may not advance beyond level 10.
    – Elves are Fighter/Wizards. At each level they choose whether to advance as a Fighter or a Wizard and swap experience charts accordingly. They may not level beyond 6 in Fighter or 8 in Wizard (for a total of 14).
    – Half-Elves exist but effectively choose whether they want to operate as Human or Elf in mechanical terms. Their halfbreed status is dealt with through roleplay.
    – Half-Orcs default to Fighter and may not advance beyond level 6.
    – Goblins default to Thief and may not advance beyond level 4. (Goblins may receive some additional rules for funsies.)
    These exist and are earned through a combination of roleplaying and assignation of stats. A Fighter, Cleric or Thief with a 17+ score in Int, Wis or Cha may at some point dual-class into Paladin, Druid or Assassin once they’ve roleplayed for a few levels and convinced me of their merit. Players whose characters lack that 17+ may approach the Host External and form a bargain – a chart has been prepared for the side-effects of such. Either way – this class change will necessitate a shift in the priorities of play and should not be done lightly.

Incidentally, the conceiving of the above was aided and abetted by the excellent lightweight AD&D character sheets produced by Tony DiTerlizzi. Bags of character and without the abundance of detail that so often bogs these things down. His halfling almost makes me want to tolerate the malodorous runts but not nearly as much as his goblin art made me want to mock this up: GOBLIN