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Author Topic: Lifepath design system?  (Read 6617 times)

Posts: 139

« on: June 18, 2006, 12:51:44 AM »

I like Lifepath systems.  I happen to like systems which have a consistent logic to them and which help guide character development.  I think a properly designed lifepath system gives enough leeway to not caricaturize all PC's, and yet still give enough enforcement of the background premises to make the character believable.  If you want that kid from the streets who grew up to go to a prestigious University or become a TV celebrity....you can do it, it's just gonna cost you more.

But a major problem with lifepath systems to me isn't so much that they railroad a character into "classes" (I think that's a false assumption), but rather that they are extremely tied into the world background itself.  In other words, the lifepath is a direct extension of the game setting, and in particular what background you come from within that game setting.  For example, in a real world context, a person growing up in the United States is going to have different likelihoods (ie costs or probabilities) of certain educational and career paths (not to mention childhood events and primary education).  Even hobby skills will be different.

Therefore lifepath systems are difficult to implement effectively for a Universal RPG.  But I've been trying to come up with a "cookbook" so to speak that will help a GM design a Lifepath system.

There are two components to the Lifepath system:  The character's Background and the Faction he comes from.

Character Background in turn is made up so far of 2 elements for certain, and a couple I'm debating on.  Social Class and Wealth are the two I'm definitely including, and Race, Religion, and Ideology are ones I'm considering.

The Faction a character comes from is very important, because it not only works in conjunction with the Character Background, it  defines the very Character Background possibilities.  Thus, Background + Faction determines what choices are available on the lifepath.  The Lifepath can not assume a socially, civically, religiously or racially free society.  In fact, perhaps the most basic choice a player must make for his character is in which faction (my term for the society in game terms) the character was raised in.

So now I have to basically build not just a character, but a society as well.  But I don't mind, because as a potentially Universal System, I want rules to help the GM design the game background as well as the people that populate it.  In fact, I can not envision how you can separate the two.  Character concept is greatly influenced by the world in which the character lives.

I was wondering if people could add to the list of factors of a society that are relevant to how a character can be developed on a lifepath system?

Technology- Obviously technology determines what kinds of jobs, schools, industries, etc are available
Freedom- an abstract quality representing freedom of choice.  Maybe some societies will require a draft or some other forced civil servitude
--Slave: society has slavery
--Caste: society has a hereditary caste system
--Meritocracy: you earn your place in society
--Authoritarian/Police State: Big brother is watching you and decides what you are going to do
Tolerance- Whereas Freedom can prohibit options or make some choices mandatory, Tolerance just makes things more or less difficult to get into
--Religious: are people of minority religions denied or restricted from certain positions
--Racial/Ethnic: are ethnic minority groups denied access or have a harder time gaining certain path options?
--Ideological: Is there a "commisar" or "party official" to keep you in line?  Not sure how this affects lifepath options though
Prosperity- How wealthy overall is the society?  A 1st world nation will have more opportunities and easier entry requirements than 3rd world nations

Here's a few I was toying with, but I don't know how applicable they are:
Government/Law- What kind of government does the society have?  It seems like this can be merged with Freedom...
Military- Is the society pacifistic or have restrictions placed on it by other nations?
Economics- What kind of economic system does the society have?  Some industries might be government regulated thus requiring that option to have the character be a part of the government

Posts: 22

« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2006, 01:38:18 AM »

Hi, I've been struggling with lifepaths myself... Some random thoughts:

First most of your examples seem to fall into 2 categories so you don't have (IMHO) to go in so much detail, especially if the goal is to have a "cookbook" giving guidelines:

Are some lifepaths restricted and if so why ?

Mandatory military/civil service, family/social duties, religious obligations (pilgrimage)...

Social Class
What are the social classes present in the gameworld:
_Poor, middle-class, rich, the Party/The Proles, serfs, landlords...  Which leads us to:

Social mobility
Is it possible to go up the social ladder ? At what cost ? Is it possible to fall ?
What are the advantages/disadvantages of each class

Random events
Is there any random events ( la Cyberpunk) ? Are they related to the social class (being drafted), the career (risking prison when you're a criminal) ? Are they outside events (romance, winning the lottery...) ?

Does each step have the same value in years ? If not, is it defined by the chargen rules or is it random ?

Step values
Does each step in the lifepaths have the same value ? (i.e = give the same amount of points/advantages/whatever to the character).
Clyde L. Rhoer

Posts: 391

« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2006, 04:09:36 AM »

Hi Dauntless,

If you haven't come across it before, I would suggest checking out Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth if you can find it. There were two books; a Worlds book, and a Roleplaying book. They were put out by Last Unicorn Games. While I don't remember them having a Lifepath system, the world book broke down societies beautifully in a way somewhat like what you are doing now, where the game had different ratings for society like freedom, technology, etc. It was a really crunchy game, but I've found it great in the past for setting up realistic feeling societies and then just dropping the numbers and using it for setting.

I found this link where someone modified Aria to work with Fudge. It's really stripped down but it maybe of some use:
Clicky here.

Also Ray Winneger's Underground had a lifepath system that was fun (if you are a satire fan), and it also allowed players to make changes to society, which means it broke society down into different sections and therefore might also prove useful and maybe cheaper to acquire than Aria as I don't think it's as rare.

Theory from the Closet , A Netcast/Podcast about RPG theory and design.
clyde.ws, Clyde's personal blog.

Posts: 928

Don't Panic!

« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2006, 09:39:21 AM »

  OK, I am a fan of Lifepath systems as well, check out:

  I think you might be over complicating it a bit. I thikn the key to good and useful Lifepaths is 3 things:
1) Allow for creativity - Meaning, try to exapnd what skills or whatever you are picking with your lifepath, to every possible outcome. So if it is possible for a rich, spoiled brat to learn stealth in order to sneak out of the palace and go slumming, add that option.
2) Keep it simple - Make sure that a novice gamer can use your lifepath system, don't over complicate it...
3) Game Balance - Make sure that one path is not optimal. Otherwise, everyone will pick THAT path...
4) It's about outcome - Wealth and stuff doesn't matter until the end of the lifepath. A character can grow up nin the hood, dirt poor living on government cheese, then win the lotto right before the first session and be rich and street smart, you know?
5) Scale matches actual options - Most settings have the players all on the same tech level, so taking tech level into effect is not necesary. For instance, not all societies are homogenous. I can imagine Bushman in Africa accumulating the skills to be a superhacker or genetic engineer, can you?
  So, in conclusion, I would say make the divisions be a reflection of how they effect the character (Motivations, social standings, teen occupations, social liasons, etc.), instead of arbitrary divisions.

Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
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Posts: 152

« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2006, 10:51:51 AM »

It's not quite a lifepath, but it's got its lifepathy elements.  Click on http://forgreatjustice.net/bbs/viewtopic.php?t=91 and scroll down a bit, and there's a system where you roll 11d10 and get all the character's skills, stats and some meaningful life events.  But it's hardly generic.


Posts: 139

« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2006, 11:43:50 AM »


Well, I don't want the Lifepath to be TOO flexible.  The whole point of a Lifepath is that it constrains the choices so that some things which are implausible given the background are either impossible for the character to achieve, or incredibly hard/expensive (I'm designing this as a "buy your traits" rather than a random generation).

One of my tests is this:  Take a character from modern day United States.  Let's say the player wants to build a character and envisions the character being primarily a scientist, but with a few combat skills...including Heavy Weapons.  Now, given the reality of the United States, the only way this is possible is if the Character served either in the military, as a mercenary, or as a terrorist.  Police training will not teach you how to use an anti-tank guided missle.  Thus, the only way the character is allowed to buy certain "restricted" skills is if he takes a lifepath option which has those skills listed.  In other words, the character would have to take a military, mercenary or terrorist lifepath if the player's concept of the character is for him to have such skills.  I do NOT want the player and GM to just handwave things and say....well, his Uncle Bob has black market connections and ole Uncle Bob taught him the ways of the M60 and Dragon ATGW.

I may allow some kind of "Special" package which if you can justify it plausibly to the GM you can create such a concept for your character....but it's gonna cost you plenty.  In other words, character concept is guided by the Lifepath. 

Of course the objection can be raised that a lifepath can't account for every single premise of a character concept.  True enough.  But such oddities should be so rare that creating such a character should cost more points.  In other words, my point system isn't meant for "game balancing" but rather to justify character concept.  It will hopefully be possible in my system to create a character who is more adept than other characters so long as the concept is justifiable.

Posts: 182

« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2006, 06:12:05 PM »

Hi Dauntless,

Perhaps you have stated this explicitly elsewhere but from the inference, you are wanting to make a modern lifepath system.  Is that the case?  If not, then another factor to consider is the 'reality' factor?  If magic (supers, aliens, etc.) exists, then that changes the lifepath options.

In a related topic, are you wanting to allow alternate histories in your universal lifepath system?

Sorry if I am asking pointless questions but I didn't know your exact design goals.



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Posts: 35

aka George Heintzelman

« Reply #7 on: June 22, 2006, 06:17:34 AM »

Hi Dauntless,

If you haven't come across it before, I would suggest checking out Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth if you can find it. There were two books; a Worlds book, and a Roleplaying book. They were put out by Last Unicorn Games. While I don't remember them having a Lifepath system, the world book broke down societies beautifully in a way somewhat like what you are doing now, where the game had different ratings for society like freedom, technology, etc. It was a really crunchy game, but I've found it great in the past for setting up realistic feeling societies and then just dropping the numbers and using it for setting.

I found this link where someone modified Aria to work with Fudge. It's really stripped down but it maybe of some use:
Clicky here.

My books are at home, and it's been a long time since I looked at Aria, so I'm not sure, but I think there was something of a lifepath-ish flavor to character generation, where you determined what Setting each previous phase of your character's life took place in. I forget the mechanical consequences, but I think the OP would definitely find it worthwhile to look at to mine for ideas (although I wouldn't recommend emulating it too closely; the Roleplaying part of Aria was nigh-unplayable).

Also, the link you cited (I played in the game for a time a number of years back), unfortunately for the OP, was exclusively a Fudge rewrite of the world-building/societies as characters part of Aria, and didn't touch the individual character part.

Posts: 139

« Reply #8 on: June 23, 2006, 04:13:50 PM »


No, I want the Lifepath system to be as universal as possible.  The example I was just a test...if the system allows this to happen, I'd consider it a design flaw.

In essence, what I want is a set of building blocks I can use, one part that describes the World background and the other that details certain traits of the character.  The World Background should be a set of building blocks that you can use to contruct valid Lifepath options..."roads" if you will....and the character traits then determine which "roads" the character has access too.

To me the easy part is the character traits.  The hard part is in building the game society and various potential paths you can take.  For example, in a fantasy setting, a world which has an agrarian Slavery society will be far different from a setting based on magical caste society which eschews warriors.  You might be able to create a magic user in the agrarian society, but it will be much cheaper than in the caste society (provided your character has the proper traits and talents).  And in the agrarian slave society, your character might have the "gift", but be disallowed from becoming a mage due to his slave status.

So far I've come up with the following: when the character is on the Lifepath, he takes "Packages".  These Packages have various criteria that must be met, have a cost, and themselves either contain one or more sub-packages (called Fields) or one more sets of skills called a Skillsets.

--Restrictions: anything that could ban a character from taking this package is listed here
--Co/Prerequisites:  any precondition necessary for getting this package is listed.  It can be Character Background Traits (age, social class, wealth, religion, etc), a previous Package completion, or anything else.
--Cost: in Fate Points (some things even if you meet the requirements are just a matter of luck).
--Field(Base/*Optional):  A Field is really a sub-Package.  It may have its own Restrictions, Prerequisites and Cost, and possibly its own Fields as well. Eventually though, a Package must contain at least ONE Field that itself contains a Skillset (all the skills you are eligible for are described in Skillsets). Field, Base will (eventually) contain the Skillset that you get your mandatory skills from.  Optional Fields are just that, optional.
--Skillsets:  A Skillset basically just lists which skills you are taught or are eligible to learn/practice in. The level of the skill is based on a set amount of experience (based on the characters appropriate Attributes and Learning) per year and possibly adjusted by a multiplier.

I think what I have to do now is do the following:
A) What kinds of Packages and Fields would a particular society offer?
B) How does the society restrict certain packages?
C) How to cost out the Packages (taking into consideration that better schools, military units, etc. will provide tougher prereqs but better training too)
D) Determining the appropriate Skills to put into Skillsets

Also, I'm not so interested in "events" that happen in a Lifepath generation system.  I'd much rather the player come up with the background and events of the character than list a table of events that can happen.
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