Tuesday 4 July 2017

Concept Driven Character Creation

I spent a long time pondering how best to present the process of creating a character in Explore; simple practical steps that would allow you to quickly create a character you were happy with. Although it seems simple enough - allocate the bonuses to your attributes and spend points on skills - they are interlinked decisions. Of particular importance is this: the first time you create a character it should be an opportunity to learn how the game works, it should not be necessary to first gain an in-depth knowledge of the rules to make sensible decisions.

In the end I realised that not only did I have three fundamentally different approaches to creating a character - further it is actually desirable to have different methods. None of these is a "better method" than the others, and I like all three for different reasons.

Method A: Attribute First

This is the "purest" method. You create a raw, untrained character that matches your concept, and then develop them with skills you feel appropriate.

Choose three attributes which describe your character well (e.g. "tall", "athletic", "intuitive" ) and three which the opposite describes your character well (e.g. "slight", "poor memory", no "soul").

This should be a reasonable start for a description of your character.

Put a bonus of 2 in the attributes which described your character well, 0 in those where the opposite was true, and 1 in the remainder.

For example the character described above gets:

From this fill in you character sheet to see what bonuses your character has in different skills. This should confirm that your character has a natural advantage in the skills and saves you would expect from your character description. If not, then revisit your choices (or fix the rules!)

In our example we have:
+4: Muscle:Kill, Muscle:Lift, Melee, Unarmed, Thrown, Bows, [Parry], Muscle:Acrobatics, Muscle:Run, Thief, Scout, [Artefacts]
+3: [Body], Muscle:Sprint, Wilderness, Ride, [Directed Spells], [Observation], Language, Lore, [Detect Magic]
+2: Healer, [Psychic Attack], Music, Art, Dancing, [Runes], Craft
+1: [Psychic Defence]

Note for purposes of spending points on skills note that you don't spend points on the items in [brackets] - these are skills you get for free. Also note the various Muscle: items are all aspects of a single skill "Muscle" - you spend points on Muscle and then decide which aspects of Muscle to improve (power, speed or acrobatics).

Next, as your character, choose what skills you want to learn. You may want to improve weak areas, or concentrate on things you're naturally good at.

Our character has a clear non-magical inclination. They have quite a broad range of skills at +4, and looking at their +4 in kills and bows but only +3 in body decide to concentrate not on straight-up combat but a more sneaky approach, taking as main skills scout, bows, & muscle (for kill).

Method C: Class First

This is the most traditional method and the easiest to understand. You select a standard character class which comes with a standard set of abilities, and advice on how to distribute the attribute bonuses.

Select a class you wish to play. Each class advises which attributes are important for that class, and which are unimportant. Put your 2s in three of the important attributes, 0s in three of the unimportant attributes.

For example, a Warrior's primary focus is Melee fighting. Hence their primary four skills are Melee, Kill, Parry, and Body. All four are of equal importance and use attributes CQI, HBA, CQA, HBT. Height, Build, Athletics, Coordination and Quickness all give bonuses to two skills. Intuition helps with Observation, and Toughness helps with Psychic Defence - both also key skills for a warrior. Hence the description of the Warrior class lists as important attributes Height, Build, Toughness, Athletics, Coordination, Quickness, and Intuition.

In contrast Dexterity, Memory, Empathy and Soul give bonuses to few useful skills, so these are listed as the least important attributes.

We choose Height, Build, and Quickness to be +2, and Dexterity, Memory and Empathy to be 0; the rest are 0.

When the character sheet is completed this gives us: (with relevant skills for a Warrior in bold).
+5: Muscle:Kill, Body, Muscle:Lift, Muscle:Sprint
+4: Melee, Unarmed, [Parry], Muscle:Run, Muscle:Acrobatics, Dancing
+3: Ride, Scout, Bows, Thrown, [Detect Magic], [Directed Spells]
+2: [Observation], [Psychic Defence], Thief, Wilderness, Art, Lore, [Psychic Attack], [Runes]
+1: Music, Language, Healer

Method S: Skills First

This is the most complicated method, one which is focused on getting the best bonuses for your character.

Select two or three key skills you want your character to be good at, then place the +2 bonuses in your attributes one at a time, selecting them to maximise your key skills, filling in these bonuses against the relevant skills. When you have placed all your +2 bonuses, place your +1s to complete your key skills, and then use the remaining +1s to ensure a balanced character, or place your 0s in attributes you won't benefit from. In this method you often switch around where your bonuses are several times to create the character you desire.

For example we want our character to be good at Scout, Bows and Muscle:Kill. (Bows to hit the target, Kill for the strength to shoot a strong bow). That means the key attributes are CPI, DPI, and HBA. We only have three +2s to spread out, so we put them in Perception, Intuition (both shared with Scout and Bows) and save one for Muscle:Kill. Since Athletics gives us a bonus also on Parry we put our last +2 there. To keep a good bonus in each of these four skills we don't want to then put a 0 in HBCDQ - which only leaves Toughness, Memory, Empathy and Soul. We don't want Body of less than 3 (the average) so opt to put the zeros in MES.

This gives the following bonuses:

+5: Bows, Scout, Thief, Thrown
+4: Muscle:Kill, [Parry], [Observation], Melee, Wilderness, Unarmed, Muscle:Lift, Muscle:Acrobatics, Muscle:Sprint, Muscle:Run, [Psychic Attack], [Detect Magic], Lore
+3: [Body], Healer, Art
+2: Ride, [Directed Spells], [Runes], Dancing, Language
+1: [Psychic Defence], Music

We buy rank 3 in Bows, Scout and Muscle (3*4=12 points), rank 2 in Melee (2 points), and rank 1 in Thief and Wilderness (total 16 points = level 1).
We don't bother spending any points on Thrown, despite our natural ability in it.
We get some of the skills in brackets for free - we get rank 1 in Body and Psychic Defence (as we're 16 points = level 1), rank 4 in Parry (for the 10 points spent on Bows, Muscle and Melee), rank 3 in Observation (for the 6 points spent on Scout, Thief and Wilderness).
We don't get any ranks in Runes, Detect Magic, Psychic Attack or Directed Spells as we've not spent points on spells.

We also get some points to spend on the "secondary skills" - Lore, Art, Dancing, Language, Music. These should probably be in another font to show they're different.

Note that this character has no +6s and no +0s - it is not what you would expect from a Min/Max character optimisation. Also they have ended up with a weak spot - only a +1 in Psychic Defence. There is no "best" allocation of points - which should mean you avoid cookie cutter characters despite the lack of random attribute generation.


As you can see, both Attributes or Class first are simple enough systems. Make some simple decisions and copy the numbers on to the character sheet and you're done.

The Skills first system requires you to understand the system, so is difficult to explain directly, but once you have done either of the other two systems a couple of times you should understand how the system works and anyone could do Skills first. I find that after I have created a character via this method I tinker a bit with swapping attributes about to get the best fit, and I think that's probably helped by having a trivial spreadsheet (or online form) so you can quickly play around with different choices and see the effect.

For the completed rules I'm planning on one chapter being entirely about creating class based characters using the Class first Method (i.e. a step by step creation process), then a second about creating skill based characters starting with the Attributes first Method, then a brief explanation about the Skills first Method.

Probably that's the next thing I should be working on - the two chapters on creating a character in a logical order.