You Don’t Need to Roll a Character to Start Playing

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This evening I attended a social gathering. My sister has just turned 14, and I had dinner with her and the rest of our family. It proceeded as family gatherings often do, which is to say that it wasn’t an experience I’d share on a gaming blog. Late in the evening, though, my sister commented that she’d like to join me in playing D&D someday.

“Want to play now?” I asked.

By happenstance, I had a set of 7 dice with me, and I always try to keep pens and paper handy regardless of where I am. I had everything I needed to run a game, and it was a perfect opportunity to try out an experiment I’ve been wanting to attempt for awhile. The experiment is simple: using whatever tools are on hand at the time, introduce a group of new players to gaming by making up a game on the spot.

The three siblings sitting nearest to me were all interested, so I wrote out the six basic stats on three pieces of paper. I told them all to roll 3d6 for their stats, in order, to roll 2d8 for their HP, and to write down one thing their character was good at. From there I figured everything could be handled by d20 checks against their stats, until I encountered a situation where they needed something deeper.

The process proved to be a little awkward. Not because any of my players had difficulty understanding my instructions, but because we only had a single six sider to share, and three people each needed to roll it 18 times. It wasn’t a quick process, and unfortunately the players weren’t even able to explore the first room of the dungeon before the rest of the dinner party agreed that it was time to leave.

I was disappointed. I could see their eyes lighting up as they just barely started to engage with the game world. My experiment was succeeding, I was creating fun out of nothing but experience-tempered improvisation. I didn’t have much to ruminate on, but I was at least encouraged that it was worth trying this again.

It wasn’t until the drive home that I realized I had wasted a lot of the game’s time. I asked the players to roll stats, and it took a good 8 minutes to get everybody’s rolling taken care of. And in the small amount we played, we never actually used those stats. It’s not hard to imagine that we could have gone 15 minutes or an hour, or even several hours without actually needing every single character to use every single one of their ability scores.

Instead, what I could have done is simply given each of them a piece of paper, and told them to write down one thing they were good at. Once that was done, I could have just started the damn game.

If in the first room there was a large rock, and one of the players wanted to lift it, then I could have told them to roll 3d6, record that as their strength, then roll a d20 against that strength score. The stats still exist, they just exist in a state of quantum flux until they are actualized by rolling a check.

Something I’ll try next time for sure.

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4 thoughts on “You Don’t Need to Roll a Character to Start Playing”

  1. This is wonderful! I am doing something similar whenever I have dice and time to kill, and I love it. Now to make role players out of everyone I meet…

  2. Sounds like it would be a blast! Sort of reminds me of an old friend’s game Warrior’s Road, wherein you decide who/what your character is and, off the cuff, do a sort of mixed roleplaying storytelling thing with the DM.

    He gets to decide what happens based on the effective description of your actions etc., and throws challenges your way. All in all it’s a biased system that didn’t work well, but it DID introduce me nicely to making things up on the fly in an RP game, which has served me well in the years since then!

    The idea of stats being in flux until a roll actualizes them is cool, too. I may try this with my current gaming group as well. I think I want to try using a d6 system for it.. 1d6 for each stat, rolled with 1/2/3d6 depending on how I think they described something. 1d6 for something like “I hit it.”, 2d6 for “I swing my blade at the goblin’s skull!” and 3d6 for something amazing, like “I’d like to run up to the goblin and dive into a slide, knocking his feet out from under him. While he’s falling, I’ll reverse the momentum on my sword and drive it up through his chin and into his brain!” or something entertaining like that. Add in some minor bonuses for items/circumstance (+1 through +3 I guess?) and it’s deep enough for most things as long as I can ad hoc..

    It might work! >.>

  3. I love the idea of Quantum Flux Gaming. It sounds like it gives the players a bit more room to create their characters as they play: it has the potential to give the players and dungeon masters more room to be creative with their roleplaying. It’s also an awesome way to create an infection-vector for roleplaying in general.

    Well Done, I LOVE this!!

  4. I really like the idea of character details being undecided until they come up, but not for knowing what your stats are because that info impacts the choices you make while playing.

    A character with a 9 DEX and 16 WIS wouldn’t try to walk a tightrope and a player who knows that’s what they’ve got probably wouldn’t either; but if you don’t know what your stats are until you’ve already declared your action then you’re not making your choices with all the pertinent info.

    For a pickup game, why not just have everyone roll 6d6, then add 10 to each roll? That will give you a possible spread between 11 and 16. Or roll 1d6 and have that plus 10 be your STR, then just count up for the rest. (Ex: Rolled a 5 so STR = 15, DEX = 16, CON = 11, INT = 12 and so on until all the stats are filled.)

    Either would give you a functional (semi-)randomized set of numbers, cut rolling time, and still allow your players to have a basis for judging what their characters can and can’t safely do.

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