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Author Topic: Character generation thoughts. (long)  (Read 3671 times)
Anthony
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Posts: 16


« on: November 05, 2002, 03:31:39 AM »

Forgive me if this rambles a bit, it is a topic I've been thinking about for quite some time and because of that I've got quite a bit I want to mention

A while back I came up with the basics for a system that really like.  The rules are quite simple, give the characters quite a bit of say in how the game plays, and it all works on one simple system.

But I'm not here to discus the system.  Really.  It is just that I have this system.  And I like it.  But character generation had me really stumped. The players had attributes, which were raw potential, and traits, which were skills.  But, taking a cue from Fudge and OTE, I didn't want which attributes there were to be set in advance, and I didn't want traits to come from a list.  I've always found that having a few attribute choices made some character types rather difficult to create within the rules given, and because of that generally those characters weren't made.  So I wanted players to come up with their own attributes, not even with a set number of attributes total.  So maybe one character might have the attributes BadAss (high), Thinking (low), and Looking Good (low) and be a big heavily scared bruiser type while another character might have Wealthy (high), Social Connections (high), Education (high), Attention Span (low), and Intelligence (low) and be a well educated, but not so bright dilettante.  But as I said, this made character creation a nightmare and, after thinking "well, hell, I should just let the players make up something and hope they don't try to pervert my trust too much" I gave up cause that seemed like a bit of a cop-out and after a while I forgot about it and moved on.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago when I came across a Dunjon and through that The Forge.  Got me thinking about my old system and maybe the problem was I was thinking too much in how I'd always played games in the past.  Yah, so NOW I'm actually getting to the point I want to discuss.  All that rest was introduction.

1.  Why make the players create the characters before the game starts?

Actually I've not done this in the past.  I've played games where characters are point based and they get a certain amount of points (sometimes all of them) to create the character in play.  I actually really like this, mostly cause I think it gives more interesting, better thought out characters in the long run.  At least it does for my characters.  I've often had the case where I have to radically rethink my character early on in the game in order to keep things flowing nicely (or make my character really work at all) and because of that half of what's on the sheet no longer really fits.

2.  Why have limits on what the character's abilities are?

Yes, I'd thought of this before and decided it was a cop-out, but why had I thought that?  Generally I've found most games don't let me really make the character I want to play.  Either I can't buy all those cool little skills I want to because even if they are just a bit here or there they add up, or just the basic idea I have is deemed "too powerful" for what starting characters are supposed to be, or the dice rolls aren't what would work, or
something.  The thing is it is very rare that I end up making the character I envisioned in the first place because I can't do it with the rules given. And yet it isn't like I'm envisioning the "I do everything amazingly well" type character creation rules are designed for in first place.

While I'm not really sure about the whole GNS theory, I never really thought of different styles of play beyond gamism and everything else.  What I have always (well for the past several years) wanted out of a game which I suppose would be considered narrativist.  Actually what I want is something with a smooth flowing story, and I've found the best way to do that is give some control over to the players.  Sadly I've clashed with some of my gaming groups because of this (in fact the last group I was in I left after I got told "stop doing that you are metagaming" because I made my character do something that would obviously get the story rolling again after we had been sidetracked by players being so "in character" that NOTHING was happening except 2 players bickering over and over.) probably because the games I played (and obviously some gamers) didn't work well with this ideal.  So I really do find the idea that a good system can support a story (yah I know story is almost a bad word around here, but I like it so oh well) driven game, and even support player's ability to influence the story and plot beyond in character actions to be an eye opener.

So back to character generation.  Why not combine both ideas about how to generate a character?  The player start by describing their characters BRIEFLY to the group and they all get a blank sheet of paper, which they write their name on and nothing else.  Start play.  As the game goes on, when the player needs an attribute or a trait they say "I'm using attribute X to do this, it has value Y" and baring the GM saying "NO, that doesn't fit" they write it on the character sheet and play goes on.  But why no limits? Well, it isn't because limits would be hard (and they would, that was
the problem in the first case yah?) but because I don't see what they gain for play.  If there are no limits the player will feel the freedom to add to the story and game by bringing in new details, new locals, new npcs at a moment's notice, and it encourages them to make interesting diverse characters.

Ok, yah there is something limits do.  The encourage the player to work within boundaries that add drama and interest to a story. After all the problem with superman is that he just does everything so well.  Yah, I can just expect the players to be good ones and not break stuff.  And I can give the GM the power to say no (in fact I need that anyway) but, isn't it already agreed that using rules to encourage good behavior is a Good Thing? So how to reward players that use less than stellar abilities, and use what they already have to solve problems?

For the first, I'm pretty stumped.  For the second I have a few ideas but I really don't like them.  The best one I have is that if the player already has the ability on his sheet he gets more say on what actually occurs after he bounces those dice.  (I may have already mentioned that the system I have gives the player a bit more say in what goes on than in most games.) Honestly though, I'm a bit worried that "let the player describe their success is, while an amazingly cool idea, one that is becoming THE way to add player interaction to the story and there are actually lots of
other ways out there that aren't being explored as much.  And the truth is I like new systems and ideas.  Hell if I didn't why create a new game?

Do does my long ramble make any sense?  Does anyone have any ideas?  I haven't seen much about character creation on this board, and the games I've seen from the people on here, while filled with cool ideas (mostly the free ones to be fair, I never would have thought I'd end up at a point where a 10 dollar purchase was actually something I had to worry about but a long time unemployed will do that to ya) don't really touch on using character creation as a way of emphasizing a style of play.  Well kickers in Sorcerer do, but that is a different thing.

Ok, enough from me for now,

Anthony
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szilard
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« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2002, 08:35:12 AM »

Quote
1. Why make the players create the characters before the game starts


Because tradition dictates it... or whatever.

In the game I am working on, some stats will be set before play, but characters will be specified in play rather than fully generated before it.

I've often played games in which I forgot to give my character a skill in pre-game chargen that he really would have... under a specification system, that isn't a problem.

~szilard
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2002, 08:41:43 AM »

Here is, IMO, the key part.
Quote from: StumpBoy
Ok, yah there is something limits do.  The encourage the player to work within boundaries that add drama and interest to a story. After all the problem with superman is that he just does everything so well.  Yah, I can just expect the players to be good ones and not break stuff.  And I can give the GM the power to say no (in fact I need that anyway) but, isn't it already agreed that using rules to encourage good behavior is a Good Thing? So how to reward players that use less than stellar abilities, and use what they already have to solve problems?

This is a great question, and you have hit the nail on the head. All RPG "Rules" on CharGen are all about limiting what a character is. The question is how to define these limits so that they are not about limiting Power, but about limiting characters to a subset of interesting characters.

Quote
The best one I have is that if the player already has the ability on his sheet he gets more say on what actually occurs after he bounces those dice.  (I may have already mentioned that the system I have gives the player a bit more say in what goes on than in most games.) Honestly though, I'm a bit worried that "let the player describe their success is, while an amazingly cool idea, one that is becoming THE way to add player interaction to the story and there are actually lots of other ways out there that aren't being explored as much.  And the truth is I like new systems and ideas.  Hell if I didn't why create a new game?
True, player control of narration is one way that people are using left and right. But there are only two basic options: Some player control, or no control. Once you've decided to allow some control, what makes your game different from other games with some control is exactly what they have control over. This can vary wildly. And this often relates to the mechanics. If you can find a way to limit control in such a way as it uniquely represents the mechanics, then you'll have something original.

In a "Freeform Tabletop" game, or one with no "mechanics" this is never a problem. The only "Rule" in the game is to be nice to the other players. And, as such, making overpowered characters is just wrong. When it's done, people snigger behind the player's back. Because it takes no skill to do (as opposed to complicated TT games where using Chargen to create powerful charcters can be a challenge itself). So, using that principle, just make it too easy to make powerful characters.

Or, rather, shift all focus away from power to other matters. A method used a lot these days is to simply go back to the D&D method of Chinese Menu selection. Take 1 Class, 1 Race, and the stuff that goes along, and Viola, character. Not that I'm suggesting that model precisely. But in Sorcerer, you have only ten points to split between three traits, then you pick descriptors, then you select a demon. There's no combination that's particularly more powerful, and you're not really given a choice about anything related to power. Other than the demon, where you are encouraged to take a powerful demon so it can off you more easily when the time comes. All characters end up interesting, because players are told to select things that bring interest to the character given the premise of play. Follow that sort of model and you can't go wrong.

Quote
and the games I've seen from the people on here, while filled with cool ideas ... don't really touch on using character creation as a way of emphasizing a style of play.
Ooch! I was thinking of including my Synthesis game as an example of a point based game that did this. Well, maybe you haven't seen it. The idea is, however, that you have several different sorts of Traits to buy, and they are organized so that it should be evident what a player needs to take to make a "complete" character. In doing so, there is less thought about power (though that's not discounted entirely), and more about how to make the character cool within the limits that define him. And if a character shorts a category, then that says as much about the character as anything else. At least that was my goal for the system (playtest will tell).

A better example is Dunjon, but you've already noted that one.

Mike
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Bankuei
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« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2002, 09:34:43 AM »

Some observations on that-

Character generation rules tend to do two things; For some games they are a matter of balance within the realms of effectiveness and gamism.  Second, chargen rules don't just limit characters, but focus players and the type of play expected.

For example, no matter what you play in D&D, all of the classes are expected to be "adventure ready".  There is no "Mr. Burns" ala the Simpsons class.  

In games that do not provide that focus, I've often found that characters become dull, and many players find their characters becoming more like each other and not individualized.  This is not to say classes are the best way to go, but to say that its very important that chargen rules focus players towards interesting characters who fit the setting and maintain their individuality.

I find that usually the problem comes about when players are unclear about who their character is and what they're capable of.  While its certainly cool to have develop as you go characters, the players need to know what fits with a given story and the group.  If you're playing Call of Cthulu type games and someone busts out with Hulk level strength, its just not going to work.  Of course, that person might not know what scale is what, and may have, in fact simply wanted weightlifter strength.  

Regardless of how you choose to handle chargen, do make sure that you emphasize individuality and protagonism, and make sure the players are clear with their own character concept and understand their character's abilities.

Chris
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2002, 10:04:09 AM »

Hey Anthony,

It's not free, but in my mind, the indie game to read for creation of character through play is http://dragonslayergames.com/games/id21.htm">EPICS, by J. Scott Pittman. Players create sketchy characters and define them further through the assertions they make about them in play. The assertions earn Survival Point awards, which are a metagame resource used for favorably influencing die rolls and avoiding wounds.

Paul
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szilard
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« Reply #5 on: November 05, 2002, 10:08:35 AM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
Hey Anthony,

It's not free, but in my mind, the indie game to read for creation of character through play is http://dragonslayergames.com/games/id21.htm">EPICS, by J. Scott Pittman. Players create sketchy characters and define them further through the assertions they make about them in play. The assertions earn Survival Point awards, which are a metagame resource used for favorably influencing die rolls and avoiding wounds.

Paul


Interesting. Sounds a bit like what I'm working on. I'll have to check it out...

~szilard
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: November 05, 2002, 10:16:01 AM »

Hi there,

I'll start by saying that was a great opening post. I don't have much more to do than nod.

One game worth checking out for comparison is Hero Wars, in which one may choose any of three character creation options, and it's perfectly OK for different players in the same group to use any of them.

1) Classical: follow the rules for distributing competence across skills and abilities. This isn't point-based, but it's pretty formal. You get to choose three general terms ("keywords") and those provide you with a bevy of abilities each; you get to make up five as well; you get to distribute some expertise across all of these as you see fit. No min-maxing is possible (won't go into the details here).

2) Arty: write a 50-word paragraph without lists describing your character, then extract general terms ("keywords") from it, as well as any other abilities that pop up. You end up with something that resembles #1 almost to a T, just through a different method.

[note: in Hero Wars, anything is an ability, including relationships, personality traits, etc, etc]

3) Improv: name a couple of general descriptors (called "keywords" in Hero Wars), and simply add the others as play proceeds. You have the same parameters as the other options; e.g., one ability can be at "5-Mastery," so when something comes up that you really like, just say, "My guy's 5-mastery is at *this*" and it's established. Once you hit the rough equivalent of #1, then proceed normally after that.

Best,
Ron
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Andrew Martin
Member

Posts: 785


« Reply #7 on: November 05, 2002, 01:29:11 PM »

Quote from: StumpBoy

1.  Why make the players create the characters before the game starts?
2.  Why have limits on what the character's abilities are?


I really think you should have a look at Zak's Shadows game. I think it could be a revelation to you. It's here: http://harlekin-maus.com/games/shadows/shadows.html .
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Andrew Martin
Anthony
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Posts: 16


« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2002, 05:24:25 PM »

Wow thanks, you're responses have actually helped quite a bit.

I think what I'm coming to realize is, I am trying to approach the problem from the wrong direction.  I'm more interested in how the character generation process influences gameplay than how the system does.  With that in mind, rather than trying to come up with an interesting way to create character within my system I'm going to throw out the system, and start with generation.  After I come up with a way to create characters I'm then going to think about how I can work the system around that.

Goal

Explore character generation as a method of giving the players some level of narrative control.

Personal Requirements

Character generation is trivial at start of play.  I still really like the idea of starting with nothing but a name, for all the reasons I talked about before and then some.

Character limits are encouraged through the rules, but not mandated.  I've talked about this before but I have another reason too.  Niches allow the quiet player a better chance to participate.  If you let everyone do everything the loudmouth will get even more of a share of the game than he does already.  (And yes this has been a serious problem in games I've played before.)

Characters are unique.  I've seen plenty of systems where the way the deal with the problem is just make character generation almost non existent.  I want to explore something different.

Character traits (if they even exist) should be freeform.  No lists to choose from.  Let the player write down what feels good for that character.

The final system should be clean.  Simple.  One resolution mechanic.  Rules that can be explained quickly and easily.  The system should be new role player friendly too.

Yah, that seems like the basics.  Shame because I really like my resolution system.  Maybe I'll use it someplace else.  Or I'll share it with you guys and someone can take it and run with it.

Anthony
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: November 05, 2002, 07:17:37 PM »

Hi Anthony,

Actually, "around here," we tend to consider character generation to be part of "system." At least I do. To me, "system" means character generation, event resolution, reward and punishment mechanisms, and pretty much anything that contributes to "things changing" in the imaginary events of the game. It might even include standards for talking during the game, if it's explicit or very clearly implied in the text.

No big deal, and I'm not correcting you or anything. But I hope that clarifies my post a bit.

Best,
Ron
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