Inspired by my previous post about character building in AD&D and 4E, I made a Google spreadsheet tracking how many decisions it takes to create a character in three different editions. Since the number varies depending on character type, I chose to focus on the human cleric I was making as a pregenerated character for my Anonycon AD&D and 4E games. I didn’t include choices like a characters’ name which have no mechanical effect on the game, and didn’t consider decisions about equipping a character.
To make a 1st level cleric in OD&D, you make decisions about your class (3 options), race (4 options), alignment (3 options), and languages spoken (no specific options given beyond “all other creatures and monsters which can speak have their own language”), for a total of 4 choices from among 10 options.
In AD&D, that same 1st level cleric requires 7 choices: class, race, gender (which has mechanical effects in AD&D, unlike any other edition), alignment, languages, and spells (1 because AD&D clerics have a spell at 1st level, and 2 more because this cleric has bonus spells from 18 Wisdom). Counting each multiclass possibility as a separate option, these selections are made from among 60 unique options (you choose 3 times from among the same set of 12 spells; this counts as a dozen unique options, not 36.) I didn’t include deity both because it has no mechanical effects and because the AD&D PHB says nothing about this choice for clerics or any other class, as far as I can tell!
In 4E, you make 23 separate decisions in the course of building a 1st level cleric: class; race; alignment; languages; class build; deity; point buy decisions for Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma; four trained skills; two feats; a bonus ritual; three at-will powers, one encounter, and one daily. If you’re just using the 4E PHB , you make these selections from among approximately 165 different options.
To make my 4E cleric I used the Character Builder, which includes all currently published material for 4E, and made a total of 27 decisions from among 780 options to choose from. It might be interesting to make a similar comparison against all AD&D material, including the roll-swap decisions from the DMG Appendix P and the non-weapon proficiencies from Unearthed Arcana. My suspicion would be that this would probably bring up the number of choices into the 4E range, but provide nowhere near as many options to select from.
The differences between editions are reduced when making a higher-level character is the focus of comparison. In OD&D, creating a 10th level cleric requires a total of 19 more selections (picking spells) from among 36 unique options. In AD&D, it’s 27 decisions from among 106 options. In 4E, it’s 34 choices from among 193 new options. (Note, too, that these choices will stay more or less fixed, while the older-edition clerics could re-choose their spells each day).
What are these data good for?
One thing we can do is to quantify the oft-repeated maxim that in 4E, making a fighter is like making a spellcaster in older editions. In AD&D, making a fighter of any level only requires five choices (as long as you’re rolling stats in order and not using non-weapon proficiencies). We can now say definitively that making a first-level fighter in 4E requires about as many choices as it’d take to build a 8th level cleric in AD&D.
More generally, this confirms my intuition that 4E character creation requires making many more decisions and considering more options than in previous editions. It also allows us to make conceptually dodgy but numerically-supported statements like “one character creation choice in OD&D is worth six in 4E” (if we accept the premise that, as with randomness, making fewer decisions gives each one a proportionally greater significance) or “4E’s character creation process is seventy-eight times deeper than OD&D’s” (if we accept that the fundamental unit of a game’s depth is the number of meaningful options it presents to the players).