My four-year-old son has a saying: “You get what you get / And you don’t throw a fit.”
He brought it home from daycare. His teachers say that he didn’t learn it from them, so I can only assume that another kid in his classroom picked it up from parents who’re wiser than my wife and I. It’s a great saying.
I try to avoid reading forums like RPG.net. I imagine that a certain segment of said forum is currently soiling itself with distaste for the new Dragon Age RPG‘s ability generation method, which boils down to randomly rolling 3d6 for the game’s main abilities. Its single deviation is that you’re allowed to swap two of your rolls once you’ve generated all eight. Rob Donoghue has written intelligently about this on his blog; make sure you continue reading down into the comments if the topic interests you.
My local gaming group has been playing Dragon Age for a little over a month, now. I’ve had the rules since August, when I started helping Chris Pramas develop material for the game. Set 1 was essentially locked down when I signed on; I’ve been working on downstream products.
On the day we created characters, one of my players (Hi, Kevin!) pointed out that RPG designers pretty roundly rejected totally random characteristic generation, oh, about 15 years ago, and were phasing it out well before then. Others were more sanguine about the idea that unexpected characteristics sometimes provide interesting roleplaying opportunities—your proverbial grain of sand giving rise to your proverbial pearl.
I definitely appreciate the benefits of both build systems and random systems. Random generation gives you fast character creation, and unexpected results that can provide rewarding opportunities, the kind of creative limitation that often leads to really great stuff. But randomness can also completely hose you in critical gameplay situations. A character who’s bad at combat in a deadly game is often screwed from the get-go. Build systems can be fun mini-games of their own, and there’s no doubt that they let you get excited and make just the character you want.
Each approach’s basic benefits and drawbacks aside, I think the characteristic generation system in Dragon Age is exactly correct for the game that it is. The basic premise of Dragon Age—the roleplaying game if not the computer game—is that you make moral choices that matter. But the choices apply inside the setting, not outside it. In Thedas, you’re dealt a hand—and sometimes it’s a crappy one, where all the options are bad—and you make choices about how you’re going to play it out. What are you willing to give up? What are you going to champion even if it literally kills you? Which of two horrible options are you most okay with?
Put another way, the Dragon Age world isn’t a “point-build” setting, and so Dragon Age characters aren’t point-build heroes.
You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.