Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Gating Player Options

I know that many RPG players think that restricting character choices is somehow the fantasy equivalent of joining ISIS, but I really have gotten a lot of mileage from restricting either race or class in my games.

Consider The Lord of the Rings. All of the initial PCs were halflings. Then when they got to the next village, the GM added a new race/class option with human ranger and Aragorn joined the party. By the time they got through the introductory adventure and got to the Council of Elrond, all the "good race" options were on the table. Suddenly, additional players could choose dwarves, elves, magic-users, etc. 

This formula created a special feeling. It created a sense of small-town folk exploring a larger world.

I argue to maintain this sort of feeling, the GM should consider restricting options that are outside of a core collection of themed races/classes. The GM might make additional character options available based on the story choices made in the game.

  • In a game about dwarves reclaiming their lost homeland, all players must begin by playing dwarves. If they make an alliance with the deep gnomes, a new avenue of character options opens up. 
  • In a game set in a low-magic world, no magic-using classes are initially on the table. Once a PC finds a mysterious tome, however, cross-classing into wizard becomes available. 
A few games follow this formula de facto: both The One Ring RPG and Beyond the Wall have a small selection of character options in the core book. This sets a very specific tone. If the GM chooses to add supplementary material, it feels supplementary.

Of course, this can be done even with D&D 5E. Players shouldn't show up at the table expecting to use every Unearthed Arcana class, every optional rule, or every race from Volo's. If you want unusual races like gnomes or tieflings to actually feel unusual, take those off of the table until a story point unlocks them.

Ultimately, the fewer mechanical aspects that players can use to define their character, the more story-based aspects a player will have to use to make their character feel unique.

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