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Every day there are questions on this site from people who are planning out level 1-XX of their character's stats without any randomness at all, just mixing whatever numbers they want, and skills and class progression before even playing a single session.

  • What happened to rolling dice for stats?
    • is this no longer common in modern RPGs?
    • If so why not?
    • Why do people plan out their class progression, without even knowing if suitable trainers, or events will happen to lead them this way?
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closed as primarily opinion-based by Jadasc, doppelgreener, BESW, KRyan, Chuck Dee Sep 14 '14 at 2:19

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like an invitation to discussion, rather than a problem we can help you solve. As Stack Exchange is strictly a Q&A site, a forum would be a better venue for this discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Sep 14 '14 at 1:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this might be a legitimate question, about the evolution of the hobby, and will treat it as such. I think I can find citable sources for this. \$\endgroup\$ – Lyndon White Sep 14 '14 at 1:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW I am with Lyndon, this is a legit "History of Gaming" question \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 12 '17 at 4:20
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Ok there are a number of factors, in what you are seeing.

Sampling Bias

One is sampling bias. You have been looking at threads. Your sample is not all RPG players, only those who choose to talk about it on the internet. You have also likely looked only at systems you are interested in/have heard of. It is not a representative sample. Further, since this is just a general impression, rather than a intentional collected figures analysed with statistics, you are vulnerable to a number of subconscious human perception faults like confirmation bias.

People online can only enjoy theoretical Char-Op with concrete numbers

A reason so much of this shows up online is: Theoretical CharOp is Fun. People enjoy optimising characters with no intent to play them. Things like Pun-Pun, The Omniscificer, The Omnicaster, were never intended for play -- they were mental exercises. It is fun to build characters, and play with numbers. Even if you are not doing the extremes of cheese, building say "the best character that can buff my friends without actual magic" is a fun way to spend a afternoon -- even if you never play it. But to do this building, and to have this fun, there needs to be an assumption of non-randomness. This explains alot of cases where class progression is assumed.

Design Change

There is a actual tendency in many RPGs to take randomness out of the character creation/levelling process. For several reasons:

  • Rolled stats are fair, when everyone does it, but not balanced.
    • The guy who rolls excellently for stats, will just be plain better than others.
  • It doesn't let you build the character you want (depending on implementation)
    • In some systems, this can be extreme, like the guy who's concept was "burly dumb, but honest warrior", who rolls really well for everything, might end up more a better lier than the conman.
    • Sure he doesn't have to use it, but it will be there on his sheet forever. He might feel the need to explain when he got so good at lying -- that is going to change his backstory.
    • Some would argue you should build the concept after the stats, but if the player had a concept they are excited about lined up, why not let them play it?
  • The play who rolls really poorly, is going to have a bad start to the game.
    • It is not fun, it leaves a bad taste of "Everything would be different if I had just rolled better"
    • Not a great way to start a game.
  • Bad or Good luck on stats affects you more now than at any other point.
    • If rolling well on a stat gives you +4 to all rolls made using it, then this is the same as always getting lucky on every roll that uses it.
    • Dramatic failing a Roll to climb might make you fall once, dramatic failing to roll that determines your skill level at climbing means you will never manage to climb. (Depending on the system this might be rectifiable, in more or less time.).

Similarly, for class progression. It is about putting the agency in Player's hands. When it comes to class progression, if the players can let the GM know that "my long term goal for this character is to have him become a dude who is all about becoming friends with ghosts." at the start of the campaign, and the GM thinks this concept is cool, then he knows to put a NPC who can teach the players about ghosts in the campaign.

While this is becoming more common [citation needed], it is by no means ubiquitous across game systems or play groups.

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Randomly rolling dice to determine stats, and requiring training to use XP to level up, are rules in some editions of D&D but not in others.

Specifically, these were done away with or made optional as of 2nd edition AD&D. Gamers who started playing some form of D&D published within the last 25 years therefore don't consider training for levels normal, as you do; many have never even heard of the idea. With the advent of 3rd edition D&D the "standard array" became much more common in determining stats, and as such gamers who began playing within the last 14 years might not consider rolling to be the default.

Further, the game has changed. What's relevant to AD&D campaigns can't be assumed to be relevant to campaigns of other editions (different games, really), let alone be assumed the default.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, thanks. I had never heard of the "standard array" until reading this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Sparr May 12 '16 at 0:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sparr This is why we can't have nice things. Theory crafting has replaced role playing. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 12 '17 at 4:19
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Assumptions about how a PC fits into the fantasy world have changed over time. In D&D 4E, a level 1 PC is already beyond most of their society. In 3.5 (and Pathfinder) a level 1 PC is heroic, but might be outclassed by other heroes. Although I've never played D&D second edition, I have a handbook that seems to suggests low level PCs aren't exceptional.

Expectations about stats and progression changed as the PC became more exceptional. If the PC is beyond normal even at level 1, it isn't reasonable to expect them to train with relatively mundane NPCs. New abilities are learned throughout the adventure by experience.

Rolling stats sometimes makes it difficult to guarantee players a heroic character. Stat arrays are usually built with the idea that every character is above average.

Additionally, some of these changes coincide with the rise of wide-scale organized play. Stat arrays put every PC on the same ground, stat-wise. Requiring trainers for skills is impractical for something like D&D Encounters or Pathfinder Society, where adventures are entirely episodic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A level 1 PC in early D&D can do things like washing dishes or sweeping floors without much of any chance of failure. A mean DM might make them make a Dex check with some bonuses. In 3.X the skill system combined with an 'routine' DC of 10 means that level 1 PCs are likely to fail at basic household chores only slightly less often than they succeed. It's true than more modern PCs are described as more exceptional, but that's only because more modern NPCs are so inept that if you look to closely they are unlikely to survive. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Nov 15 '14 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer It's not about the PC's it's about the players. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 12 '17 at 4:21

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