Character Creation and Twists of Fate

I’ve been thinking about randomized character creation lately. It seems to me the most enjoyable part of that is ending up with something unexpected. I’m less interested in gambling on the character’s power level than I am in being given a handful of interesting traits an potential hooks.

After a bit of tinkering, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Start each character with a luck pool that can be spent on rerolls.
  • Roll up some “twists of fate” for the character. These can include background elements, talents, flaws, personality traits, special events, and so on. I’m probably start with 3 twists per character.
  • Players can spend luck to reroll any of these twists.
  • If the player isn’t satisfied with their rerolls, they can spend a little select a twist. I’d likely put a “once per character” limitation on this. That way if the player has a concept they really want follow they can push for it, but they’d still need to leave some element up to chance.

So the final results would be that if a character leaves their initial rolls as is, they get to go into play with a full pool of rerolls. On the other hand, if they want to pick and choose their traits, they have some leeway to do so, at the cost of having fewer rerolls during play. Hopefully that’s a good level of enticement toward leaving things to chance. I want to encourage players to stick with their rolls as those random traits can help the player explore new character concepts they might not normally go with. On the other hand, making the reward overly potent can penalize existing character concepts and encourage fudged dice rolls.

As for the twists themselves, I’m thinking of covering a wide range of traits, but building some flexibility into each one. For example, a species / racial twist might give you an advanced trait package if you pick that species or let you act as a hybrid if you pick a different one. I’d also like to have flaws a possible twists. However, to avoid the issue of randomly rolling a weaker character, I’d likely go with a Fate like approach and have flaws benefit the character after they’re turned against them.

Published in: on August 19, 2013 at 5:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Warrior Redux

Last time I talked about some features I’d like to see in a dungeon delver’s bag of tricks. Today I’m like to show how those feature might be fleshed out. I’ll start by using the classic “fighting man” as the base.

Warrior Features

Weapon Training

Being trained with a weapon should bring the character’s ability to use that weapon up to a certain baseline and allow their ability to scale up as needed. I’d actually like the level of training to determine the degree of effectiveness while the weapon chosen determined how it does so. For example, a dagger and a battle axe might be equally effective given proper training, each just has different qualities that shape how it performs.

Defensive Training

This feature should ensure a certain baseline of protection while scaling up much like weapon training does. Currently, I’m toying with the idea that basic armor provides a certain minimal level of protection, but the players can create more potent armors by layering qualities onto it. The catch is that each quality that increases protection normally comes with a set back. Defensive training can remove those set backs, giving the character a net increase in their protection.

I may do something similar to support light or unarmored fighting styles. This may simply be a matter of adding traits that grant a bonus when a certain armor quality isn’t in use and capping the maximum protection bonus.

Stunt Expertise

The warrior should get start with a limited number of stunt effects they’ve mastered, such as knocking and enemy back or leaving them open to a follow up attack. When using a weapon to directly or indirectly perform the stunt, the warrior should be to reduce the “difficulty markup” for performing the stunt. This mark up covers any difficulty increase / use penalties applied because the action involved in creating the stunt seem difficult. The idea being an expert in a stunt can make it happen in nearly any circumstances. For example, a knock back expert can drive back even something larger and stronger than themselves by playing their blows right and taking advantage of the target’s movements.

At higher levels this should expand to letting the warrior pull off even legendary stunts without penalty. This includes opening up new stunts effects to master, such as breaking the ground with strikes. It should also allow the warrior to ignore increasingly large difficulty mark ups as previously impossible tasks start to loose meaning.

Strike Styles

This feature lets the user add a rider to their weapon strikes, with a limit of one per attack. Their main purpose is to keep things interesting even on a miss, so each style should have a special miss effect or grant an effect regardless of whether the user hits. These styles may also grant the option of using alternate attributes for accuracy and/or damage.

One interesting possibility is “pack leader” style which gives an ally a free shot when the initial attack misses.

Focused Abilities

This feature grants abilities either extra actions or the ability to augment other actions. However, each character can only use one focused ability per round, and most only once per round. Their purpose is to help support a certain play style or tempo. Possibilities for a warrior include:

  • Change Up: Boost the users actions so long as they keep attempting new maneuvers.
  • Follow Up: Grants a boost when using certain stunts on targets already suffering from certain conditions.
  • Gambit: Grants an extra or boosted attack of the enemy takes certain specified actions.

Heroic Recovery

The character can use this ability when damage would defeat them or drop them to 0 hp. The character immediately regain hp equal to their maximum value. Once used, this ability is exhausted until the character rests.

Most other classes should get a similar feature, but with roughly half the hp recover traded for another secondary effect. We can then link all such abilities to a shared pool, such as “resolve”. This effectively gives warriors extra hp indirectly (~1/3rd extra) while making it so multi-class character must choose between warrior toughness or the special perks of their other classes’ special abilities.

These abilities may also consume “stamina” which only recover after a longer rest. This couple give the GM the ability to wear down the party over repeated encounter while keeping “15 minute workdays” at bay by limiting the stamina they can burn through in a given battle.

Published in: on April 24, 2012 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Against the Inevitable: Quick Draw Character Creation

Now that I’ve got a solid idea on how the game progresses, I want to take a step back and look at character creation. As I’ve mentioned, I’m leaning toward having quick start characters that are fleshed out during play. Here’s how I’m thinking of handling it.

Creating Characters

To create a character, just give them an identifier and a description. The identifier will usually be a name, but place holders like “the captain of the guard” or “the lady in red” work as well.

The description is just a few sentences that cover who the character is. This may also include what they do, what they look like, their species and nationality, and so on. During play this description can be treated like a background.

Backgrounds give the character a basic rating on ability checks. This rating should be “fair” if those with the background commonly perform that task, “poor” if they can perform the task, and “terrible” if the background suggests no ability to do the task. Some backgrounds will let characters do things most people can’t. Any such extraordinary ability checks should be rated no better than “poor”.

Behind the Scenes

The idea here is to make character creation extremely quick and easy while still having mechanical support for them. Backgrounds provide that support by giving characters ratings based on how closely the task matches what characters should be able to do.

I do have some concerns about having one player choosing an extremely versatile background like “demi-god” while another takes a more limited one like “diseased beggar”. However, this really just gives the character more opportunities to participate in a challenge (and potentially suffer the consequences). The “extraordinary ability” rule should help curb this further as the versatile character can try to do more things, but has a greater risk of failure when they do so. I may also add a rule that gives perks when a background is used against you to help the underdog backgrounds.

Note that this concern mainly deals with heroic backgrounds. Having an apparent power mismatch is fine between villains as they’re often portrayed at a wider range of power levels. A feeling of equality seems generally more important on the heroic side than the villainous one.

Wrap Up

This should give us a nice minimal basis for character creation. Next time I’ll be looking at “revelation” mechanics to help flesh out characters in play.

Published in: on December 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Delver’s Legacy: Aspects & Abilities

Here is an interesting little addition I thought up for the Delver’s Legacy project. Oddly enough I’ve noticed many interesting ideas pop up not when I’m actively trying to solve a problem, but when I’m just resting and letting my thoughts drift.

“Pick 3” Character Creation

To create a new character pick a race, class, and background for the character. Each of these aspects comes with a starter package. Copy anything listed in the starter package into the appropriate areas on your character sheet.

Extra Option – Random Aspects: When picking an aspect, you can chose to use dice or cards to pick the aspect at random. Each time you do this, the character’s luck increases by 1. Luck can be spent during play to cheat death and redo checks.

Most aspects will have an “ability ratings” entry in their starter package. Copy those ratings in the appropriate column for that aspect. Once you’ve filled all 3 columns, add up the total for each row and write it in the ability score column. Next, divide those scores by 3 (rounded down) and place that value in the ability bonus column.

Design Notes

All aspects should have an ability rating line. Background and classes will usually have equipment entries. Races will generally have very few features in the starter package. However, they will let the character gain additional features through later purchases. This should reduce how many features a new player has to memorize while also making it easier to balance out races.

Humans will probably have the ability to copy the ability rating of their class or background. There will likely also be backgrounds that mimic the scores of a race or class, as well as a background with randomized scores.

Behind the Scenes

As you may notice, I’ve been a big fan of fast character creation lately. While rolled ability scores are traditional, I feel the pick 3 approach is significantly faster. It also helps ensure characters start with abilities that match their class and lets us apply racial ability scores without breaking the standard score range.

The last point is pretty significant. If we want ability scores to add to checks, it’s a good idea to constrain the range. Otherwise, we’re back to the situation where one character automatically passes anything that challenges a character who didn’t pump that score.

Published in: on December 12, 2011 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rolling Up Characters in D&D

Sorry for the delay, folks. The company I was working at cut things down to a skeleton crew, so I’ve been busy with job hunt activities. Anyway, on to today’s topic.

Lately, the point buy approach to setting character’s ability score has been under heavy discussion on the forums. I’d like to take look at it’s counterpart, rolling ability scores as done in D&D.

The benefits of random score seem to be:

  • Unexpected Results: Having the dice decide your scores can help push the player toward character types they might not have tried on their own, potentially expanding their horizons.
  • Quick and Easy: Rolling and adding up 3 dice (or rolling 4 and dropping 1) is pretty quick and may be a faster operation than buying up stats out of a budget. The real time saver though is not having to make a decision and prioritize what goes where.
  • Jackpot: Occasional rolled results will give you a character that is outright better than expected. That “winning the character lottery” feeling can certainly be enjoyable.

On the other hand, rolling gives us the following drawbacks:

  • Lack of Control: Sometimes the player will have a certain character in mind. Not being able to make that character because the dice don’t cooperate is a nuisance to say the least.
  • Undesirable Combos.: Sometimes the dice will give you a character the player just isn’t interested in playing. For example, I really don’t like giving character’s low intelligence. I like to think tactically and having a character who can’t do that seems like it would be awkward. Other players may have similar scores or combination that just don’t work for them.
  • Low Scores: This one is the flipped side to “Jackpot”. Just like you can get better score than expect, sometimes you can do worse. Having someone with a similar score set but being outright better can get annoying and doesn’t really add much to a lot of player’s experience.
  • Bland Runs: Both low and high scores can provide useful points of characterization. Middle of the line scores don’t tend to inspire much either way. They can be useful for keeping a character from being overloaded with traits. However, you risk having a character no particularly high or low scores, which means fewer hooks to work with.

Suggested Fixes

First off, I’d like to point a suggestion made in the original rpg net thread. Essentially it boils down to rolling once on a master table to get a series of scores. This lets you customize the score combos so they’re all balance and there’s at least on stand out score. For there, you can use random rolls to determine which score gets assigned to which ability. Overall the methods is very solid and seems to work well. It does mean that you simply won’t see certain set of score though as you’re limited to what on the table.

If you want to stick a little closer to the classic rolling approach, try this:

  1. Pick an Ability: Decide on an ability score of your choice.
  2. Roll a Die: Roll a single die and assign the results to that score.
  3. Flip the Die: Take the inverted value of your roll. For most die, you can get this by simply picking it up and looking at the bottom face. The inverted roll should equal 7 minus the regular roll, so 1 is paired with 6, 2 with 5, and 3 with 4.
  4. Assign the Flipped Roll: Roll 1d6 to determine where the flipped roll goes. If the target ability score already has 3 rolls assigned to it, add it to the ability with the fewest rolls. If there’s more than one, the player can pick which one to use. If only one ability has less than 3 rolls assigned to it, you can skip rolling and just assign the flipped roll to that ability.
  5. Pick Next Ability: Repeat from the “Pick an Ability” step until all ability scores have 3 rolls. You can not pick an ability that already has 3 rolls assigned to it.
  6. Add up Rolls: Total the rolls for each ability to get that ability’s score.

This approach works out to slightly fewer rolls than the standard 3d6 method. It’s somewhat more complicated, but it does lead to all character having roughly equivalent score totals. It’s also got a few opportunities for the player to sway the results by picking where a values goes as abilities fill up. This can result in a bland run through, so you’ll probably want mechanics in place for players to tweak these results.

In any case, I’d strongly suggest making randomization something the player can opt into or out of as desired. If anything, I’d be inclined to give a small perk to randomly rolled character as an extra incentive. The perk should be limited use and scalable so I can give the full amount to completely random characters and less to those who opt for less randomness.

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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