What Is Important in a Character?

This could be considered my “Story and Game, part two” or not… it’s going to touch on those things but it’s mostly about character creation.

Two things.

1. A friend of mine just started a Scion game that I’m playing in.
2. I think I’ve been playing way too much of modern versions of D&D in recent years.

How these two things interact may not be immediately obvious (or maybe it is) but I kinda had a moment when I was making my character (A son of Odin). Other than running a little tiny bit of Vampire the Requiem, I haven’t played much White Wolf in years. There was a time when we played original Mage a LOT. I had skimmed Scion before but never given it a serious read through before attempting to make my character. So my initial concept was to make a Son of Sif who was a serious high-powered Event Planner. The kind of guy who gets calls from Senators asking him to plan parties at the Smithsonian on a week’s notice. That guy. He knows everyone, has a lot of resources, and can get stuff done.

Then I started looking for Backgrounds in the book… I remembered this — in WoD games you could buy backgrounds like Contacts, Allies, Resources… and none of that stuff is in here. So I bring this up during character creation and my GM says, “yep, don’t need it, you’re just assumed to have it — whatever it is.” And I’ll admit it, I’ve been playing so much Pathfinder and 4E D&D over the last three years, I had a moment of discomfort at the thought that everything on my character sheet wasn’t nailed down completely and buttoned up. It was an awkward feeling for me and I hated myself for it. I’ve never been that guy. I’ve never wanted to be that guy. (That sounds mean — it isn’t that there’s anything wrong with wanting to build that way, it’s just never been the kind of gaming I got the most out of. It’s why I quit 3.5 in 2006 and didn’t play D&D until 4E came out.)

I actually prefer characters and games to be somewhat abstract in defining what characters know and can do but here I was fretting over the lack of rules for my contacts in game. Awkward.

This experience started the wheels turning again about character creation. I’ve had to put my RPG project on the back burner the last two months due to life stuff (finally got a new job and grad school is calming down) and I have time to think about it again. I’m really excited to get back to work but it brought up questions again of “what exactly do you need in character creation?”

I think, if I narrow it down for myself, I need an answer to basic questions. That’s what I need at character creation. I need to know — for example — how physically strong my character is. But I’m not sure I want the game to determine how smart my character is…

I’m a big fan of character creation in Barbarians of Lemuria with simple stats, simple skills, careers, and a really simple advantages (boons) and disadvantages (flaws) mechanic. Savage Worlds is similar for me. I suppose that what I don’t want is a system that encourages (or practically requires) me to “build” my character the way I would a deck for a game of MtG or my army list for a wargame.

When it comes to gaming, Amber DRPG is my biggest influence and it hits all the bases for me — simple stats, powers are setting driven, special gear/creatures are a strangely mechanical subsystem, skills are “what you’ve done” and the rest is pure fluff. Overall, for me, it is successful but has limits rooted in the fact that it was meant to emulate Amber, and little else. I’m also fascinated by the idea of the attribute auction… the power that has to set a dynamic for a group before anything else is even done is mind-blowing.

Having played a good bit of Warhammer Fantasy, 2nd Ed. I also re-discovered the joy of randomly rolling stats but I’m not sure such a thing is necessary…

And in some instances, like Scion, I’m left with the feeling that the reason there are no rules for your wordly connections is primarily because they mean less and less as the game progresses.

But how to go about this is a tough thought. I remember reading FUDGE years ago and there was an example of character creation where the player wrote out the concept for their character and then the GM and player combed through that and assigned their trait levels from the available starting traits by discussing the write-up. It was a neat idea…

Okay, this turned into a brain dump and rambles a little… I’ll quit here but I welcome any comments on character creation… my inner monologue needs someone to talk to.

Thanks for reading.

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5 responses

  1. Odd – I just started in a D&D game where our DM told us to create 5 contacts. Just create them and describe them in as much detail as we wanted. The only rules was that were in keeping with our character concepts and his setting.

  2. I am lucky because I have had the pleasure and privilege of playing with noobs – a group of RPers (I am starting to draw away from the term RPGer because, ironically, that nonclementure no longer holds the meaning of role-playing as a given anymore) who enters into a game saying “I want to do X. Do I need to roll for that?” Not what do I roll? Or can I, or may I. No. “What must I do to do X?”

    Good-bye feats! So long skills! Don’t let the door hit you where God split you. And good riddance! Far from helpful suggestions, these things are rules. You cannot do the thing at the end of the tree without taking all these lead in parts climbing it.

    Moreover, noobs get it as far as I am concerned. Level 1 characters die easy. They are the raw recruits joining the veterans on the front lines: the guys the old grunts never ask for names and avoid social contact with. Cannon fodder. Why in tarnation do these guys NEED a backstory?

    RPGers talk about their story. RPers play their story. RPGers focus on tactics (after the RP of character novelization is done) mostly and RPers ask child-like simple questions like why did that attack happen? How did this come about? RPGers loot the story and the GM is a kind of petting zookeeper. RPers create the story and the GM is a world builder.

    When I used to play, and I rolled a 9 for a stat, I did not think I was under average “looking.” I wasn’t a wimp. I wasn’t clumsy. I wasn’t sickly. I wasn’t stopid. I wasn’t retarded. I wasn’t uncouth. I just had the disadvantage of having poor dice luck when I needed to use that particular ability. And I generally played my idealized self as the character too. Games offered so many play opportunities that I never got tired of being my own hero – fantasy role model.

    But all that goes out the window, it seems to me, when rules drum expectations into players minds. When a player starts to say “what do I need to do?” and “can I do?” rather than “I want to.”

    = = =
    My English 101 composition teacher told me that the antithesis of good writing is to write stuff popular today like “IMO.” So please excuse my English lessons if I offend anyone. I try hard not to but I cannot be focused on getting out my thoughts while I worry about everyone else’s perception of them at the same time. Please understand that everything I write applies to me and is my opinion – unless referenced otherwise. Verisimilar to how rules influence how we act and get perceived, and everyone needs an understanding audience/arbiter, no?

  3. I really want to run a game where character creation consists of nothing more than:
    “Tell me who you are and what you do. We’ll work out the details if and when they’re ever needed.”

    And then I want gameplay to consist of:
    “When you want your character to do something, just tell me what it is and we (you, me and sometimes the dice) will work out the outcome of your character’s attempted action.”

    Disregarding queries of feasibility and genre, questions of:
    “Can I do …?”
    Will be met with answers of:
    “Do you think your character should be able to do that?”

    1. Reminds me of the Heroquest (1st Edition) set up. Write up 100 words to describe your character and start underlining and double-underlining key items.

  4. I should also add that I too find it interesting that you had any longing for a more “buttoned-up” character sheet and description.

    But I can also see where any system that doesn’t provide for a given character-concept focus may mean you’ll find yourself playing a game that never actually lends itself (wihtout some serious work by the GM) to that character concept in play. Basically every game helps define what it’s about by how it highlights various aspects in the rules.

    I wonder if I’d feel the same when faced with the same situation.

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