Intro to Schemes and Emerging Characters

Welcome in, folks. I’ve put a quick little summary of what I’m planning for this site below. If you want to get right to the topic, skip down to the next section.

The big reason I’ve set up this site is to share and explore game design ideas. I’ll mainly focus on tabletop roleplaying games here, though I may hit on other games from time to time. Some of the posts here will be about system I’m working on while others are general ideas I haven’t figured out what to do with yet. Feel free to use these ideas if you like. Just let me know if you plan on using any of these ideas for big projects. Not only is it gratifying, but it could be a very welcome opportunity to collaborate on a project.

I’m kicking things off with a simple concept that’s seen suprisingly little use so far.

Game Ingredient: Emergent Characters

In most game’s I’ve seen character are created in detail before play begins. What if we let the player determine character abilities on the fly? You’d probably want a resource to keep the player from choosing to excell at everything. The player would be given plenty of opportunities in play to determine what things are and aren’t important for that character. Here’s a sample scenario from the original thread at

J: “Alright, who wants to go first?”
C: “I’ll go. I think I’ve got a good idea on how I want to start.”
J: “Go ahead.”
C: “Alright, it’s in an old monastery. Stone halls, gargoyles on the roof and all that. Anyway, a couple of robed figures are walking down a hall. After they pass, another guy in robes slips out of a side passage to a nearby door. Bits of lightning dance from his fingers across the doors lock.”
M: “So that’s your guy?”
C: “Yep.”
J: “Is opening the door supposed to be a challenge?”
C: “Yeah, it sounds like a good first test for the character and I’d like to start building up some points.”
J: “Alright, it sounds like you’re adding a unique ability by picking the lock with magic. Are you ready to spend one of your edges to back that up?”
C: “Yeah, it’s a pretty cool ability and I like having him be a sneaky guy.”

Obviously this is harder to do with some systems than others. You’d need a set of guideline that allow quick trait creation on the fly. Anything that fine tunes the mechanics of how a trait works should either be added over time or during down time. It’s got it’s own challenges but the ability for characters to be defined by what happens has a definate appeal. It also ties in nicely to how characters seem to develop in fiction. Unless we get an info dump early on, most of what we learn about the character comes from what we see them do or how they interact with others.

That’s it for the starter. If anyone has seem this done in another game or has some ideas on how to handle this let me know. I’m planning on looking at that grand-daddy of rpgs, D&D, in Tuesday’s post. See you then.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 3:29 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey.

    “You’d probably want a resource to keep the player from choosing to excell at everything. ”

    Why? I can think of a few reasons, but I’d be interested to hear yours.

    If traits just describe skills, does everyone have to have the same amount of expertise? Or if I wanted to a lucky housewife, and you wanted to play a hyper-skilled soldier from the future, could they fit in the same game?

    There’s a LOT of games that do some similar stuff. For starters, Universalis is a GMless game where players spend dice in various arenas – characters, environment, themes. Fate (and how it’s implemented in Spirit of the Century, Disapora and Awesome Adventures) allows for design-in-play characters.

    The Shadow of Yesterday has a lot of design-in-play, and allows players to swap out motivations and beliefs for others as their character bounces from being a pacifist to wanting revenge, say.

    • Mainly it’s that if there are no control mechanisms for competence there’s no reason for a player not to max out any trait they want. At that point you’re probably better just making a single competence trait and having it apply to everything. That works in some games, but others assume a certain degree of variety in character skill levels.

      I’ll have to take a closer look at those systems. I don’t recall seeing that in the original Fate, but I can look closer at the variants you mentioned.

      • Well, I know one of the recommendations for Fate is to have aspects be allocated in play. It’s a pretty safe way to develop a character, actually, because it lets the player respond to the plot as it emerges.

        I like the response, btw. Maybe what you actually need to design is incompetences? =)

        I’m that ‘Broin’ guy from RPGnet, btw. I’ve subscribed to your blog – good luck with the design. 🙂

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