Nem's Char Gen Method

It is 1845. One hundred years before the end of the world. Central Asia has become a chessboard for the British and Russian empires – the dominant powers of the globe. A tabletop RPG campaign set in Afghanistan, where a cold war heats to boiling point. The Great Game (Ætheric Dreams).

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nemarsde
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Nem's Char Gen Method

Post by nemarsde » 09 Apr 2016, 20:08

I found creating a character for The Great Game very interesting, not surprising since I haven't created my own ftf character since... Rossi720's Exalted game, Broken Circle? Nah, he did all the hard work on that one iirc, I just stuck a name and a face on the guy. Before that? :? It would probably be back in high school!

But as a GM, I've churned out pre-gen characters and NPCs by the metric pooh-ton, and I wanted to document some of the process I went through for The Great Game and share it here. Read, ignore, entirely up to you.

[Big, feel free to rename this thread as you wish. It's your forum.]

nemarsde
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Ruminating

Post by nemarsde » 09 Apr 2016, 21:19

I'm well-acquainted with the Victorian Age, I wrote an essay about Col Fred Burnaby at college and my favourite book is still The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Likewise, Lord John Roxton is one of my favourite fictional characters.

But 1845 is a funny old time, a transitional period, and most of my ready associations with the Victorian Age are really the late-1800s, post-American Civil War.

But in 1845, the year our game is set in, Victoria's been on the throne for less than a decade, the British Army are still issued with flintlock muskets, tea clippers were a new innovation, and the Empire was only just entering its "Evil Empire" period, after the First Opium War. It's not a period I'd describe as classic Victoriana, and for a while that threw me, until I started thinking of it as more a post-credit Napoleonic period.

Muskets, Redcoats, blackpowder and ships of the line. That put me in the right frame of mind.

I knew from the get-go that I wanted to play an adventuring type. A firm idea didn't really settle until I was reading Sir Samuel Baker's writings on 4-bore muskets for hunting big game. I remembered him as an unfashionable gentleman, something of a social pariah, and having a quick read of his history gave me the inspiration I needed. In short, I wanted to play someone with something to prove.

That's where the idea of a provincial gentleman came from. A gentleman, yes, but with a rather unfashionable birthplace and heritage. A man who's ambitions in life run contrary to his own pig-headed nature.

With a little more reading, soon enough a character took shape and I wrote him up.
Major John Hare

Hare is a not quite the English gentleman that he strives to be.

His grandfather was a loyalist during the Revolutionary War, serving in Butler's Rangers. John has inherited his grandfather's penchant for soldiering, the British, and rather stubborn refusal to do what everyone else thinks he should do.

None of this has stood him in good stead. Although he has the airs and graces of an English gentleman, he hails from the territory of Ontario. Eager to see the Empire, he couldn't afford a commission in the British Army, or the education for one in the Navy, Engineers or Artillery. Damned if he was going to enlist, he finally gained a lieutenancy in the Royal Marines--- the officer's equivalent of social suicide.

Hare proved himself a troublesome officer in the eyes of his superiors. He often favoured his own judgement over his orders, was brusque in tendering his opinion, unasked for or not, and could even be quarrelsome. However, no-one doubted his dedication to Queen and Country, or his daring in battle. For this reasons, he rose in rank to Major, even though he was the kind of officer most men would want to respect and admire from afar, not have to follow on some foolhardy escapade.

Now, with the Marine Forces undergoing an awkward reorganisation into light infantry brigades, Hare has gained large tranches of leave. His current whereabouts are thought to be the Hindoo-Kush, where his compatriots report he is searching for the Golden Markhor, with the intention of shooting it.

In his mid-thirties, Hare is a lion of a man, some 6 feet 3 inches tall, and built like a 17-stone anchor cable, with neatly groomed blonde hair and a ruff of side whisters grown into friendly mutton chops.

He knows his way around a tall ship, including the tops, and is an expert climber and marksman. Not a rich man or a priveleged one, he seeks to become both.

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Distilling

Post by nemarsde » 09 Apr 2016, 21:27

Writing a few paragraphs was OK, but I decided it wasn't suficient for my purposes. Too long form, too muddled, the character wasn't jumping out at me.

That got me thinking about the process I used for creating Blackbird characters, and one of the key phases with that system was distilling the character concept.

So I went through the char description above and parsed out the key descriptors, in order of appearance, resulting in the list below. Some descriptors were the same as the ones I used in the long form, others were adapted to be more concise.
  • Major
  • British Loyalist
  • Stubborn
  • Airs and Graces
  • Gentleman
  • Provincial
  • Royal Marine
  • Officer
  • Opinionated
  • Brusque
  • Fractious
  • For Queen and Country
  • Gallantry
  • Foolhardy
  • Hunter
  • Lion of a Man
  • Built like an anchor cable
  • Groomed
  • Climber
  • Marksman
  • Adventurer
At this point I realised this exercise was going to be more interesting and involved than originally thought and posted this thread.

Now I'm thinking, maybe I should create a Blackbird character before I create a Cortex Plus character. To do that, I'll have turn the list above into traits, tags, flags and secrets. I'll have to prioritise. What are the most crucial, defining traits of this character? So essential, that without them headlining the character sheet, another player couldn't pick up John Hare and start playing.

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Blackbird

Post by nemarsde » 10 Apr 2016, 09:51

If you recall, in Blackbird a character has several Traits, and grouped under these are the related Tags. Further down the character sheet you'd have Flags or Keys*, and finally Secrets.

*Keys are used instead of Flags for stand-alone, one-off games. For example, in the footnotes of my original character description I underlined key objectives. Find the right wife. Bag the Golden Markhor. Keys, they'd help drive the story forwards. Not so important in a campaign.

In a traditional RPG, Traits and Tags would be skills, ability scores, powers, etc.

Flags are for allegiances, relationships and personality quirks.

Secrets are meant to give the character some special, possibly cinematic or meta-game effect. They aren't really relevant for this experiment.

In Blackbird, all the above have a mechanical effect, so it's important they're designed with the rest of the characters in mind. Since this is just an experiment, I don't have to worry about optimisation or carving my niche.

We'll pick out a couple of Secrets at the end, so for now I divide my descriptors into two categories.
  • A. Skills, Ability Scores, Powers
  • Major
  • Airs and Graces
  • Gentleman
  • Royal Marine
  • Officer
  • For Queen and Country
  • Hunter
  • Lion of a Man
  • Built like an anchor cable
  • Groomed
  • Climber
  • Marksman
  • Adventurer

    B. Allegiances, Relationships and Personality Quirks
  • British Loyalist
  • Stubborn
  • Provincial
  • Opinionated
  • Brusque
  • Fractious
  • Gallant
  • Foolhardy
From this I need 4 Traits and 3 Flags. Since this is Blackbird, one of my Flags must be a bond with another player character, so that's only 2 Flags to extrapolate from the list.

Traits first then. Before I can subdivide, I need my categories. I accomplish this by elimination. If I was only allowed four descriptors (much like Risus characters, frex), which would I choose from List A?

Immediately I see that "Major" is redundant. Right at the top of my character sheet is Major John Hare. That's sufficient, I don't need to repeat myself, so I'll cross that one out.

The Trait categories pop out at me straight away though. (I've noted in parentheses how I categorised them.)
  • Officer (command/knowledge)
  • Gentleman (social)
  • Lion of a Man (physical/athleticism)
  • Adventurer (survival/fieldcraft skills)
Put those into a character sheet and look at what you get.
Major John Hare
TRAITS
Officer
Gentleman
Lion of a Man
Adventurer
That's already a pretty good summary of my character!! I can heartily recommend anyone taking the process this far.

I drop my remaining List A descriptors into each category and these become my Tags. Important to note that a fully functional Blackbird character has around 30 Tags. I have 8 descriptors left, after defining Traits, so if I'll need to inject more at the end.

Let's move on to Flags though. We only have two to play with, since one's reserved (see above). They must give an insight into the character's personality. The Traits don't give us that. Major John Hare could be a nice guy or an utter shit for all we know. We don't want to nail down everything about the character -- where's the fun in that!? -- but Flags give guidance. If every character in a Blackbird group has well-designed Flags, the story should be driven in roughly the same direction.

A quick look at List B tells me we must have "Gallant" and something about him being a British Loyalist, frustrated by his Provincial heritage. I'll infere that he's headstrong, rather than Flag it. From a design perspective, you don't want to tell a player (in bold no less) to play a character as "Stubborn", "Opinionated" and "Fractious". ;)
Major John Hare
TRAITS
Officer
For Queen and Country, Royal Marine
Gentleman
Airs and Graces, Groomed
Lion of a Man
Built like an anchor cable
Adventurer
Climber, Hunter, Marksman

Flag of Gallantry
Battle brings out the best in you, and you won't be swayed from the right course by the danger ahead or orders from above. Add a dice for daring heroism.
Flag of New World Ambition
You were born to wealthy British landowners... in Ontario. Add a dice when proving yourself to the Empire's elite.
I haven't discussed a bond to another PC, something well worth doing, but looking at the rest of the group, it's easy to create an example for my third Flag.

Secrets. Somewhat irrelevant; I'll never be playing this character using Blackbird. Yet I sense I might learn something from it, and I want to complete the experiment, so I'll continue.

The first thing that springs to mind is survivability. Gallantry is often cited in post-humous awards, so I might need some mechanic that keeps Major Hare alive long enough to earn his reputation. Perfect for a Secret. I grab an appropriate one from Blackbird Companion and tailor to suit. I'd ideally use the second Secret to build in more co-operative gameplay between the PCs. As we don't have any other Blackbird PCs, so I'll use a Secret to add some gun fap. Yes!!
Secret of the Forlorn Hope
You've never understood why they call it that. If your dice pool is full (and was before you rolled) you may re-roll once.
Secret of the Howdah Pistol
Two iron barrels of tiger-killing mayhem. Made in London. You gain a bonus die to any action taken with your howdah pistol. Any other character using it loses a dice.
Technically, I should throw in some more Tags, probably in a 9, 9, 7, 5 formation, but that's largely redundant. Balancing Tags for Blackbird can take a while, and in this case there's no reason to. I feel the experiment is complete. So what do we have?

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Major John Hare (Blackbird Version)

Post by nemarsde » 10 Apr 2016, 20:37

TRAITS
Officer

For Queen and Country, Royal Marines
Gentleman
Airs and Graces, Groomed
Lion of a Man
Built like an anchor cable
Adventurer
Climber, Hunter, Marksman

Flag of Gallantry
Battle brings out the best in you, and you won't be swayed from the right course by the danger ahead or orders from above. Add a dice for daring heroism.
Flag of New World Ambition
You were born to wealthy British landowners... in Ontario. Add a dice when proving yourself to the Empire's elite.

Secret of the Forlorn Hope
You've never understood why they call it that. If your dice pool is full (and was before you rolled) you may re-roll once.
Secret of the Howdah Pistol
Two iron barrels of tiger-killing mayhem. Made in London. You gain a bonus die to any action taken with your howdah pistol. Any other character using it loses a dice.

nemarsde
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Retrospective

Post by nemarsde » 19 May 2016, 19:12

Having created a Cortex Plus version of the character, I struggled with the Distinctions and reworked them twice.

In the end, I referred back to the Blackbird Traits. I needed three Distinctions, and I had four Blackbird Traits. "Officer", "Gentleman", "Lion of a Man", and "Adventurer". From these I could create "An Officer and a Gentleman", "Lion of a Man" and "Adventurer". Some tweaking for flavour and gave me "Marine Major", "Lion of a Man" and "Outlander", perfectly encapsulating the character.

So to conclude, I only needed to go so far as to define the Blackbird Traits. Beyond that, the exercise was less useful, though no less interesting. ;)

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