Solo Adventures and Learning to Play a Character


September 13, 2010 by Sarah Darkmagic

Last month I suggested I would focus on selecting skills and feats but I actually want to take a bit of a detour. Since then the new Dungeons & Dragons basic set, also known as the Red Box, came out and, along with it, a different way to build a character. Those of you who know about the original Red Box, the Metzner basic set, also know that that box came with a solo adventure to use for character generation and the newest version is no different.

One of the problems with the normal character generation process is that the player is often asked to translate mechanics into flavor and vice-versa in a way that isn’t obvious or organic. The character builder asks me to pick things grouped together and in an order that is easier for the programmer rather than in a way that makes sense as I think about and develop a character. For instance, it asks me to narrow down my class and build long before it shows me what those choices mean in terms of powers available. Yet, if I’m a newer player trying to play a character, I’m likely to care a lot more about the flavor of individual attack powers than I am about which particular build I’m playing.

So how does the solo adventure change things when it comes to character generation? For one thing, it firmly grounds the character build choices within the framework of a story. It asks you to think of a character in your mind. The adventure then presents you with a clear event, gives you a few options, and asks you to pick which one best describes what your character would do. What this change in emphasis does is meld the process of playing the game and playing your character into one package, something that can be difficult for some new players of the game.

It does this by hiding most of the mechanics until after you’ve made your choices. For instance, at one point the wizard may choose to go after a group of goblins. He may use stone blood, which is described as transforming the goblins by “hardening their blood”, or freezing burst, a “spell that creates a magical eruption of cold and ice.” What’s not important here are the exact attack modifiers or even that they attack different defenses. Instead, the adventure asks you to picture which type of attack your character would like to use. Besides, the mechanical differences between the powers in relation to the targets is something your character isn’t likely to know until after he attacks and notices that goblins are a bit better at dodging than they are at resisting the effects of transformations.

So what should you do if you don’t have the Red Box or the type of character you want to play isn’t covered by the limited selection? My suggestion would be to pick some relatively small number of classes you might want to play. Pull out the flavor of the builds and powers that appeal to you and create a list.

Next look over the information your DM gives you and come up with a few decision points or vignettes your character might encounter during his or her life. In your head, play through these scenarios and note the important decision points. Does she rush into the heat of battle? Does she prefer to provide support from afar, not wishing to risk getting his robes dirty? Does she see her fallen compatriots and wish she could help them directly? The answers to questions like these should guide you in your group role and class choices.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a class, decide on her race. Again, think of the flavor you want. Do you want to be from the forest or the city or the mountains? Do you want to be from a people with a long history, and memories to match, or does a shorter life span, with its pros and cons, appeal to you more? If it’s important to you, look at the racial bonuses to make sure they line up with the class.

Continue with the same character-based approach for the other elements of your character: feats, skills, powers, etc. For some players, focusing on flavor instead of crunch during character generation might be just what they need to make the jump from playing a game to playing a character.

So what do you think about this approach to character generation? Are you concerned it will end in characters too weak to compete? Or do you prefer to play the game more than a character? Let your thoughts be known in the comments section below.

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4 thoughts on “Solo Adventures and Learning to Play a Character

  1. Milly says:

    My current character was built mechanically – as a result, I’ve struggled with my DM to think of reasons why she would have those specialisations, as it they didn’t really go with the quick background I whipped up to keep him happy at the start of the game. However, playing with the character builder, I’ve done something similar to this.

    The character I made probably wasn’t the strongest ranger, but she definitely wasn’t weak. And I had a much clearer idea of how she’d interact with people and make decisions, so I’m going to do that next time I have to make a character for a campaign. While some characters may end up weaker using this method, I think that it then falls to the player to play smart and the DM to accomodate them – if that player prefers roleplay to powergaming, then they should still be able to have fun.

  2. So maybe I’m full of so much doo-doo, but I just can’t imagine having fun in a game where I pick hyper-optimization over fluff, background, and flavor. All that yapping about “Yeah, but you could have had an additional +3 blah blah blah,” I just don’t get it. Honestly, I’d rather picture my character as a person than a series of numbers and plusses.

    You power gamers, get off my lawn!

    I love the idea of a solo adventure to build a character, and appreciate your description of it. Thanks!

  3. Mark says:

    I am a new DM who is mostly trying to find players from friends who have never played D&D. Has any one thought about expanding the solo character creation scenario to a group character creation scenario. So instead of a wagon being attacked its a caravan, then after characters were created move straight into the adventure provided in Red box. My sense was that it would grow too complicated, with me as DM flipping back and forth through the book as each player made their choices. Although if the pace could be kept up, it seems like it could be a fun way to introduce the game to a group and create a party that new players might be invested in.

    • It could get complicated. I think it would be interesting to do something that wasn’t combat to build the party, but I haven’t tried anything like that at my table yet. Then maybe provide a heavily description based combat encounter to determine combat styles and pick powers. I wouldn’t use the red box one as is because there is so much page turning, but you might be able to rework it or make your own script to use instead.

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