Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Thyatic Empire Session 0: Character Creation

I was reminded last night of another reason I get those pangs of longing for simpler systems. We spent the entire evening doing character creation, and didn't manage to get to the adventure itself. While this is hardly an alien phenomenon to me - the "character creation session" is a staple of most modern campaigns, I believe - at my age I often wish we could just sit down and play like we would any other type of game. The boys' palpable disappointment at not being able to begin the adventure after laboring over their characters for so long was something I had hoped to avoid. Alas, RuneQuest 1984 has a pretty complex skill-generation segment, which is what bogged us down for most of the evening. When you consider the old tales of D&D grognards rolling up new characters during game play after losing their PC to some devious trap or monster that proved to be too great a match for them, you start to feel like maybe something good got lost along the way. After investing so much effort into building these characters, the thought of one of them dying and having to go through the character creation process again sounded like more trouble than it might be worth. Of course, I say that, but the boys mentioned several times that they had other ideas if their characters did die.

Still, RQ'84 (I think it's referred to in the RQ community as RQ III) has some interesting ideas on character creation. Your Attributes give you modifiers to your skills, which itself takes a little time to figure out, because different Attributes affect each skill category differently, dependent upon the category - you may add percentile bonuses based on how many points the Attribute is over 10, but in some cases it grants you the bonuses if you're under 10, etc.

Once you figure out what Culture you're coming from (Primitive, Barbarian, Nomad and Civilized), you decide on a career, and that determines a lot of your skill percentages before you place the last 30 points wherever you like. It factors in how old your character is and how long he's been in his particular career; the skills you get from your career list multiples, and for each year your character has practiced that career, you get a number of skill points on the given skill multiplied by the listed number. For example, if your career listed Boat x1, you'd get 1 percentile on the Boat skill for every year you were a Boatman; if it said Boat x3, you'd get 3 points per year, etc. This meant that Michael was easily able to make his Rakastoi who had been a Warrior for many years, but has been an Entertainer in more recent years. The boys were able to make characters who were a Malpheggoi who had been raised by Shadow Elves and a Shadow Elf who was the son of a smith and a fire-mage, and had some of both of their skill (he called himself a "flame warrior," which I thought was pretty cool and suitably Elven). I bent the RAW here and there, but honestly, I didn't have to do much - RQ III made such allowances pretty simple.

However, this means that Michael's character - an older adult - has far better skills than the boys' characters do, since the boys both decided they wanted to be 16, and you only begin counting skill points per year after age 15. It took some effort to convince the boys that they weren't going to be failing every time they tried a skill, since their percentile ratings were so low. The game system allows the GM to set modifiers to their ratings based on conditions, and as the game clarifies, the percentile rolls are really for stress situations, anyway - like combat or serious do-or-die pressure - not everyday use. I imagine this will be bourne out in play.

Another old school artifact appears in early BRP - the Appearance stat. Some iterations of BRP replace this with Charisma or omit it entirely, but I felt like sticking with the original version to see how it played out. C's Malpheggoi, Mair'foll, got a pretty high roll for his APP, so we decided his scales were extra-shiny, and he said his character had natural feathered plumage - a detail I hadn't considered for the lizard-folk, but I really liked the notion, so I decided it was a rare trait among his kind, and probably part of the reason he was adopted by the Kaldoroi. N's Kaldoroi Shy'don, on the other hand, got an APP of 6, which N interpreted to mean he had a wild, bedraggled appearance, with an unruly mane of hair and a body so skinny that his clothes never seemed to hang quite right on him. It also gave us a reason why Mair'foll and Shy'don stuck together as they grew up - they were both social outcasts among the Shadow Elves.

All this being said, by the end of the evening, characters were completed, so we'll be able to jump right into playing when we next have the opportunity to meet. I designed my adventure so that we wouldn't have to endure the Buying Equipment phase of creation. Inspired by Elder Scrolls IV and V, the PCs will begin the scenario having been captured by Vikings, stripped of their weapons and armor, bound hand-and-foot and brought to a sea-cave to await the arrival of a slave galley.

One other mechanic I wanted to adopt for this game was that of Hero Points (or Fate Points, or Drama Points, or whatever you want to call them). As I think I mentioned in a previous post here, the boys - like my nephew and nieces when they role-played for the first time - have an overriding desire to dictate the outcome of any given imaginary situation. Getting them to remember that in an RPG they don't get to decide the outcome, but only what their characters do (or try to do), has been difficult at times. I decided that this time I would give them a mechanic by which they could do this, but under certain conditions. First, they would have a limited amount of Hero Points to spend (I arbitrarily said three to begin), which would refresh only after the end of a game session or through some coolness on their part - I was admittedly vague about what said coolness should entail, but I'd like to impress upon them the notion that sometimes in a narrative it's more interesting not to succeed or be the strongest and most impressive at all times. I also want to reward them for being, well, Heroes.

Secondly, the Hero Points can be used in a couple of ways: either to reroll the dice and take the better result of the two rolls; or to change a minor detail of the story. The boys latched on to this latter usage, of course, which prompted them to make several suggestions as to how they might escape their imprisonment, thus providing me with examples of what consituted a "minor change." C couldn't decide that the Vikings didn't notice Mair'foll had a sword in his pants, but he could decide that he had stashed his sword into a nearby barrel before the Vikings could take it from him.

Following all of this, I took the Bachelor's Night prerogative to stay up far too late playing Michael's copy of Skyrim. Delighted by his reports that your character can choose to marry an NPC, I decided to make a new character - a High Elf male - and start the game over. I was initially wary of making a magic-heavy character, as my previous experiences in Elder Scrolls magic-use was always pretty limited (I usually prefer to hack at enemies with my sword), but the combination of magic and sword turned out to be pretty fantastic. The magicka-replenishment rate for High Elves is pretty great (according to Michael), so I was going into every fight giving my foes the flamethrower-hand and then slicing and dicing as they burned. The experience reminded me why BECMI Elves are cool as a character class, though of course Skyrim is more forgiving about combining armor-use and magic. Still, it made me consider playing an Elf if I ever get the chance to join a FLAILSNAILS/Constantcon* game...

*Speaking of which, I just noticed that someone's running a GURPS 4e version of the classic Caravan to Ein Arris adventure at 9PM next Saturday. I wonder if I should try to convince Michael to join it with me...?

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