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Randomness during character creation - such as for example rolling for your base stats - is a very old concept in RPGs and has been around for quite a while.

But while I personally like the idea quite a bit, I never quite figured out why such a thing was introduced in the first place... Most RPGs allow for a huge number of individual characters to be created, thus I don't see a need for randomness additionally increasing the variety. On the other hand players with bad rolls might feel disadvantaged. So is it just that the authors liked to gamble with their character stats?

I am wondering..

  • What was the first RPG to use randomness during character creation?
  • Why was this mechanism introduced?
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Depends on how you define 'roleplaying game'. For example, as described in Playing at the World p. 438-439, the pre-D&D Hyborian wargame run by Tony Bath had a random personality creation method for the player characters, which would put it around 1968-1973. But that was played by post and was an outgrowth of the Diplomacy variant campaigns.

On the other hand, around that same time Dave Arneson's Blackmoor also had character personalities that may have been randomly selected during creation, possibly via 2d6. One surviving character sheet lists Brains, Credibility, Looks, Sex, Strength, Courage, and Horsemanship, among other stats. By the time the original version of D&D was published in 1974, these had been condensed down to the six abilities we know today, determined via 3d6. (PatW, p. 369)

In both cases it was probably a development from the wargaming that originally inspired the games.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In other words, RPGs didn't introduce this, they inherited it as an obvious-at-the-time successful design pattern. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 15 '15 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there any link to this surviving character sheet? I'm interested in seeing it. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jul 16 '15 at 1:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ This video has one of the Blackmoor character sheets at #7, plus a bunch of other early artifacts: youtu.be/_EVQsIETO_A \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Jul 16 '15 at 3:18
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Which? OD&D

Dungeons and Dragons - widely regarded as the first roleplaying game - in 1974 used 3d6 in order to generate statistics for PCs in its original (and many subsequent) incarnation.

I leave out pre-D&D games because they are largely war games, including Gygax's Chainmail. Same with unpublished games available only to the referee's group like Blackmoor.

Why

Why is not a question I can adequately answer here. A couple of points, however include:

  • In early games, there would have been only a few classes with little in-class differentiation. Randomized generation especially of stats was on of the ways to make characters unique.
  • Growing out of the wargaming community, early games were largely simulationist and random distribution of attributes is a simulation of the variances in natural skills and potentials.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 The importance of variability is often overlooked. Variability in rolls grants (1) uncertainty; and (2) the possibility of extreme values; either or both of these may be desirable or undesirable. See my answer to the question of why one would roll hit points. \$\endgroup\$ – Lexible Aug 7 '15 at 17:17

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