Paper Dragon Slayers
What does the character look like?
What is the character trying to accomplish?
What role does the character play in a family, if any?
What motivates the character?
What amount of risk will the character take?
How will my character affect the world he/she lives in?
In any given story, how will my character affect the plot?
How do other players and their characters perceive my character?
Do I want to run a character with personal expression, or experience something new?
Will I need a mentor to create my character?
What tools and equipment will my character use?
What other characters will my character associate with or spurn?
How will I interpret my character’s position in the story?
How will I present my character and role playing mask?
Will I be able to play this character well?
Maps and Puzzles
Your main character is analogous to a map that is also a puzzle. All the little bits and pieces of a character’s life must be put together to lay out the map of the character sheet. A map that will help guide you through adventure stories. Some of the pieces will be left out so they may be discovered in future adventures; the character questions of goals, quests and other sorts of development will be left out to explore after the character is created. What is needed at this point are the edge pieces; the outside parameters that will verify the character’s existence and bring it to life in the game world.
A character sheet lays out ways to get around the specifics of your character. The "specifics" are the mechanical intersections that justify a corresponding relationship between the character and the game setting. The roads hasten the journey, but the scenery on the map is what’s interesting. Mountains, forests, cities are the history, habits and attributes of your character's lore. They are the destinations that make the journey worthwhile. A journey through unexplored country ending in a place of wonder and new beginnings.
Every trip across a map deserves a stop at the statue of liberty and the Grand Canyon (the haunted caverns and giant bug farms are fun too). Putting together a character biography is the act of establishing moments of its formative life span events. The events where fate was forever altered and the calm spots that heal the repercussions of those moments; the depth of a character that is fathomed by the questions of a life will be the resources that will give your game play experience rich context.
To establish a character’s condition, or status quo, a loose organization of life span events will create a more involved character, having greater justification and detail that makes story contributions easier and more fun. People react to situations as a result of opinions gathered over a lifetime. Events that substantiate their perspective and offer avenues of agreement and rebuttal while experiencing something new. It is a means in which to deal with new situations and reflect upon the past. A game character’s life revolves around new events and fierce adversity going forward in time with a history of lore feeding inspiration for the future and self development. Characters need a biography to substantiate their fictional existence. A biography, or bio, will flesh out a character to a new level and give the GM a volume of material for use in completing the bond between character and game. More “script” inspiration added into the unwritten story, popping up when you least expect it.
A bio does not necessarily have to be a complete work or written in stone, but a body of data used to answer basic questions of reason and reaction. The amount of background information should be in proportion to the functional depth of the character you want to play and the game system. If you want to run a pinhead barbarian, his history could be a hatching followed by amnesia leading up to the moment his life starts as an adventurer. If your glass is half full, it might be an opportunity for great character exploration and expanded development opportunities. Most times, however, the lack of a bio will detract from story potentials. A character with significant background material, on the other hand, will have more specific points of reference to adapt to a story line. More conflict and resolution leading to an intricate character with colorful character “memories.”
The Living Map
A bio or background is not so hard to put together. It’s made up of the details we usually overlook in our daily lives. Birth events followed by adolescence and growth. Friends and family, where the character lives and works and other basic information that establishes the parameters of who they are: race, age, language and the way they fill their time. Character mechanics identifies a character’s working parts while a bio answers questions about why they work. A character may the skill Familiarity with Llamas, but the reason a character has that skill is the Llama farm the character grew up on. A bio is the substance that gives a character form.
Sometimes the easiest way to fashion a character bio is to just sit down and write. Imagine events that could have possibly contributed to the character’s status quo. Reverse engineer the character sheet giving reason to each detail. Shaka Zulu was born to lead his people. Superman’s powers are a result of his alien physiognomy. Oedipus was a victim of his fate, yet he solved the riddle of the sphinx trying to escape that fate. Biographical information that was part of the story's telling.
Bios don’t have to be elaborately planned or centered on the ultimate of life’s tragedies but connecting events to mechanical character aspects will fill the character with fictional strength. Each character will have a different bio with different design reasoning; a conglomeration of life’s curiosities that the player creates no matter how bland or exotic they may be. If you have trouble when you first start running characters, take bits and pieces of personalities, real or fictional, that made you stop for a moment and ponder the "why's." The falling snowflakes from the first snowfall that urged you to stick out our tongue and taste. Pay attention and perceive the experience.
Legends and Rules
Every map needs a legend to accompany the illustration. A character at this stage is only a mental construct and it must be identified for everyone else to understand. The legend in this case is the rules of the system. Have the rule book nearby when you start putting your character together and get some more scrap paper for notes.
Your character needs resources. Determine how much leeway the system gives for character creation and take in the considerations when you choose a character’s resources. Some systems have a set of predetermined rules for character creation and others incorporate dice rolls to introduce an additional ingredient of randomness to the character’s construction. These types of systems usually use this type of character arrangement for specific gaming purposes of system or setting. Game systems such as the Hero system allot players a point base from which to create the character. A "pool" or measure of points is assigned to a player who can then trade those points for abilities, resources, contacts and a variety of character "substance". Others use character generation tables or templates to cover the initial work, giving players a place to start almost right away. The character presented here, will of course be built with using the Hero system from the ground up. Players using predetermined generation or template methods should still read through this section because the methodology will work with all systems. Predetermined character construction is only the place to start; comprehensive character design should be allowed in any game setting. The best way to handle this issue is to approach the GM and discuss it. Unless it conflicts with a current story line(s) or campaign setting, most GM’s are lenient in this capacity. Try to keep the character in congruity with your concept and motivation. Align the characters resources and bio with the concept making each new piece of the puzzle fit. If you are going to run a shadowy detective, he’s not likely to have a “guns in your face” construction and attitude. Don’t patch your characters together without a little rhyme and reason.
Establish the character concept by mapping your character’s form. The first part of character mechanics that should be figured out are its characteristics. Characteristics are the semantics that situate the physical and mental attributes of the character. A numerical system of identifying scales will determine the functional ability of each statistic. This enables a base statistical analysis that can be referred to each time the character interfaces with the game setting. When our hero attempted to leap on the errant llama, it was necessary to compare the character’s strength (STR) and dexterity (DEX) to determine the success of the encounter. Having a base numerical comparison with that of the character’s corresponding characteristics, it was easy to understand whether or not the character successfully functioned in the encounter by comparing it to the Llama's characteristics.
All game systems have a collection of characteristics needed by the characters to fully function in the game environment they are supposed to operate in. Compare the semantics of the corresponding characteristic rule to understand exactly what the scale covers. For example, in the Hero system “Body” represents a character’s physical body and the amount of damage it can withstand from falling off of moving Llamas. Most rule books offer tables and explanations for a comprehensive grasp. Look over the following list of HERO system characteristics to get a feel for characteristics and their usages:
All game systems have a collection of characteristics needed by the characters to fully function in the game environment they are supposed to operate in. Compare the semantics of the corresponding characteristic rule to understand exactly what the scale covers. For example, in the Hero system “Body” represents a character’s physical body and the amount of damage it can withstand from falling off of moving Llamas. Most rule books offer tables and explanations for a comprehensive grasp. Look over the following list of HERO system characteristics to get a feel for characteristics and their usages for this example but remember that these are building blocks that change from game to game. The principles are the same and this is just one example.
Strength (STR): This characteristic represents the character’s raw physical power and is used whenever a character needs to exhibit or resist force. It does not dictate any particular physical appearance, unless stated by the GM. For the Hero system, STR has a direct connection to determining the amount of damage a character does in hand-to-hand combat, and how much can be lifted, carried, or thrown. Strength also adds to the base Physical Defense, Recovery, and Stun (explained further on). A character can lift twice as much for every increment of 5 points spent on STR. One point of STR costs one character construction point.
Dexterity (DEX): In an imaginary setting, movement and reaction become an important point to consider. Dexterity represents a character’s skill and grace of movement, agility and reaction time and covers everything from dancing and combat to nimble things done with hands and balancing. A character’s Combat Value and Speed are based on DEX and plays high with functional ability. Certain skills are also based on DEX, making DEX a valuable character resource. Because DEX effects are very important, the relationship of point expenditure becomes part of the equation (this stat is more "expensive" than others).
Constitution (CON): Adventure and excitement is not always for the weak at heart, and the Constitution of a character will measure that trait. Representing how hardy and healthy a character is, CON is also a valuable resource. It will determine the ability to resist nausea and sickness, and resistance to the elements. Constitution keeps a character from being stunned easily in combat and adds to the base value of Energy Defense, Recovery, Endurance, and Stun. One point of CON costs 2 character points because it gives a character the ability to resist external conflict.
Body (BOD): A character needs BODY to determine general physical development; it’s physical structure. A high body could mean a large or dense form, while a low body could be scrawny or small. In game terms, body is used to set the level of how much damage a character can take before being killed. Body adds to the base value of a character’s Stun. It also helps a character resist conflict and costs two character points for one point of BODY.
Intelligence (INT): Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. It is not wisdom. The Hero system does not have a wisdom characteristic (although many game systems do), leaving it up to player role playing. Intelligence equates to a characters ability to think “fast on its feet” and to learn. When building a character, remember that it is a base for perception and many skills. Keep your character concept intact, but a low INT might require a little more attention to a balance of resources. One point of INT costs one character point and a good IQ translation is INTx10.
Ego (EGO): Representing a character’s mental power and strength of will, ego exemplifies internal condition. Ego helps players determine the outcomes of internal character struggles: the need to resist interrogation, overcome battles of willpower, or deal with disadvantages and internal conflict. It is also used to measure the realm of mental powers such as ESP, TK, or any other as of yet determined innate human ability. Because of its usefulness to resist internal conflict, one point of Ego costs two character points.
Presence (PRE): When characters interact, the moment of attention begins with presence. A first impression based on the context of the scene and the individual. Exuding forcefulness and charisma, presence does not suggest or bias good or evil, but the magnitude of an individual’s passive influence by their close physical proximity or presence. It’s the difference between being a wallflower or the life of the party. Presence is effective in its interaction capabilities, linking it to skills and combat. Presence allows a character to impress or awe others and to resist the effects of another character’s ability to impress or inspire awe. Costing one character point for one point of charisma, Presence is often a valuable resource.
Comeliness (COM): Comeliness represents the physical aesthetics of a character. Closely linked to presence, comeliness could represent a character’s sheer beauty or horrid ugliness. The comeliness scale takes into account all the mid-level appearances, the extremes at both end can effect presence and character abilities. Comeliness may sometimes affect certain skills or Presence attacks if the characteristic is relative to the situation. Being useful but not a requirement, COM costs one half (½) character point for one point of comeliness.
Not on the Map
When playing different game systems, stories will sometimes require a different focus of abilities. Particular genres and/or campaigns might need different scales of characteristics. Different systems are a product of the authors, created with a different mechanical flavor to highlight particular aspects of the game. Whenever a player is in doubt regarding the exact nature of a characteristic, check a dictionary for the definition of the word and then compare it with the rules of the system. In the context of the system, the rule book is always the deciding reference. From there, check with the game master to determine exactly how the characteristic fits into play and how it is judged.
A Matter of Perspective
Characteristics represent the physical make-up of a character. They are mechanics that will be used on a constant basis to interact with the game setting. When designing a character, try not to look at them as pure numbers as each number represents a particular character aspect, creating a basis of understanding. Interpreting the numbers, a player should make a sketch or description of the character using the complete scale of characteristics to flesh it out. Take into account the variable nature of character construction, combining characteristics can add a new perspective to a character. For instance, giving a character high Comeliness and Presence could represent a super-model or Greek god. A high Body with an average size could represent an alien from another world with a higher gravity causing a denser body. A low Body with a high Intelligence could be a scrawny scientist or smart animal. Use characteristics to set the level of functional interface and let your imagination conjure its fictional representation.
Facts and Figures
By outlining a character with these attributes, we can represent and precisely communicate all of a character’s innate functions. In addition, Hero employs a secondary set of criteria called Figured Characteristics. This supplementary set of numbers further defines character impact on the setting and visa versa. It also helps improve the connection between the character and setting in measurable quantities. Adventuring is usually a bit hazardous, making combat and other types of fictionally dangerous encounters dependent on precise measurement. The following characteristics help quantify key points of conflict for game play. Figured characteristics are calculated as a portion or whole of a base characteristic to simulate a character’s innate abilities in high-action encounters.
PD - Physical Defense: Physical Defense is used to resist physical attacks. The term "physical" is used to identify everything from punches and melee weapons to falling rocks and high speed vehicles. It describes the sphere of physical contact. A character’s PD is subtracted from the Stun and Body done by a normal physical attack. Physical Defense has a base value of (STR/5), and may be increased 1 point for 1 character point.
ED - Energy Defense: This characteristic represents how tough a character is against energy based attacks. Attacks from villain’s lasers and lightning guns are applied to ED, and could also represent the heat of a scorching desert, a lightning strike, or a malfunctioning matter transporter. A character’s Energy Defense is subtracted from the amount of Stun and Body damage done by normal energy attacks. Energy Defense has a base value of (CON/5), and may be increased 1 point for one character point.
SPD - Speed: Speed gives a time frame for action in motion. Without a measure for speed, anything is possible, because there is no time limit - - no way to gauge the universal element that binds all things. In a high-adventure setting, time becomes crucial. Sometimes an entire story may depend on a ticking clock. A character’s speed sets the level and frequency of motion, representing how many actions a character may perform in a turn. Speed is the most important characteristic in HERO, because it sets the exact amount of fictional interactions a player is allowed in any strategically oriented scene. Speed has a base value of 1+((DEX/10). Each additional point of SPD costs 10 character points. Speed does not receive the benefit of upward rounding, and must be purchased to even out fractional values costing 1 point for 1/10th a point of Speed.
REC - Recovery: In those high-adventure situations, all character’s take their lumps from time to time or at least get tired. Recovery measures the time it takes to get back on your feet and to heal. Recovery has a base value of (STR/5)+(CON/5). Each point of REC allows a character to regain one point of lost STUN and one point of used END at the end of each turn. This is called a post-segment 12 recovery phase. A character may also choose not to actively engage in an encounter and take a Recovery. Each additional point of REC costs two character points.
END - Endurance: Moving around and engaging encounters takes endurance. Aptly titled, END measures the amount of effort a character can expend before it becomes too tired to do anything. Because almost everything takes endurance, a character who uses a power, moves, or uses Strength expends END. END has a base value 2xCON. It is important to the game, and a reduced cost of ½ character point for 1 point of END makes it a valuable resource.
STUN - Stun: Stun represents the amount of damaging lumps a character can withstand before succumbing to unconsciousness. This is also a necessary category for measuring a character’s ability to engage and succeed a hostile encounter. It gives the player an idea whether or not rushing into battle might not be such a good idea...at least not without friends. Stun has a base value of BODY+(STR/2)+(CON/2), costing 1 character point for each additional point of stun.
Use the rule book to become situated with the mechanics of characteristics. Once that is done, a player can then estimate values, compare them with the character concept, and move on to the next step in construction. In our example character, we want our character to be strong, but only slightly above average to save construction points for other things. The concept is a scoundrel buccaneer who travels a relatively large section of coastline as a ship merchant (who is not so adept at riding at llamas). Saber duels and daring escapes will probably come up regularly, because we know the character is going to be run in a “High Adventure” genre. A good concept for this character might include intelligence and presence to help the suave buccaneer out of various “diplomatic” encounters. A good comeliness might help in amorous situations, so we’ll focus a bit on those numbers as well.
Review the comparison tables and hone the character concept by making it work from the start. Our hero won’t begin as a legend on the high seas, because the fun of role playing is working up to that point. Experiencing all the stories that contributed to the legends mythical rise and continuing to play the character as legend later on with familiarity and the excitement of a well seasoned character. The harder you work to fashion a good character and carry it through to a lofty development, the more endearment you’ll have for the character. A character that faces no adversity and needs no development will get boring, quickly. Try to start out with reasonable levels of ability, comparing it with the character’s purpose, concept, and general needs. Estimate the statistical starting point of the character (usually provided in the game system's rules) and work with those. Log the characteristic values on scrap paper, and calculate the costs.
A character sheet always starts on scrap paper. Over the course of transplanting the concept to the character sheet, many changes will occur trying to get the most out of the mechanical point allotment. Some fine tuning might be necessary later on as the costs of additional character resources begin to add up. Priorities will change as you further scrutinize the concept, trying to fit a larger-than-life character into a mechanically pre-determined configuration. Fitting the idea into understandable terms, certain aspects will be needed or preferred over others, creating the first part of the game challenge (That llama riding skill might not be as important as saber dueling). Having considered these factors, our hero looks like this on the character sheet:
It’s time to put all that quality daydreaming to use and get your character on paper. You have decided on a genre and thought about a character concept. The character has been oriented to the game system and a general idea of what it will be. Now it’s time to put all the puzzle pieces together. A general map of character construction has been laid out with forethought of the character’s motivation and conditions. The map starts by laying out the key details of your character “map” on paper by using scrap paper to track the details. While you do so, glance through the system rules and asses the mechanical equivalents of what you want to accomplish with your character. Answer the following questions to get started, and ask some personally germane questions for your character’s individuality and style to shine through.
An important part of building characteristics is the reasoning behind each selection. Don’t reduce a character to pure mathematical efficiency. This is called "min-maxing." Sure it's effective but then you're the Mr. Perfect that wore dress shoes to a pool party and you're kind of an asshole. Perfectly fine in a more twitchy video game sort of setting but lame in a PnP RPG. While they can deal with the mechanics of an encounter challenge, characters will suffer a demotion in concept. Many game encounters are enhanced by mechanical inequities. It allows players to deal with situations using other character elements: skills & talents, tools, power bases and bio. Each of the sample characteristics were chosen to fit the idea.
Looking Things Over
The character will be run in a fantasy genre, oriented around standard levels of abilities. This is to say that the characters will have limited access to extraordinary powers, magic, and other such fictional components. Knowing this in advance helps to decide to try and equalize a point spread over all character elements. An exceptionally high value in any one slot will leave less for the other categories.
Strength: While there are many reasons to give a buccaneer a high strength, the character idea entailed swashbuckling and agility. Long ship tours usually make for a sinewy but muscular sailor. A strength score of twelve allows the character to handle ship duties and gives the hero a slightly-above-average person strength for adventuring. Strength also figures into physical defense, recovery and stun; valuable, but they may be increased as separate characteristics.
Dexterity: A DEX of 18 will give our buccaneer an agile edge over most other characters in this campaign. The cost is high, because the system cost is relative to other characteristics and skills. The higher DEX gives a quicker speed and cost advantage in any DEX based skill which will help the swashbuckler.
Constitution: Any good sailor needs sea legs. Adding four points of CON will give our hero those sea legs. CON also figures into energy defense, recovery, endurance and stun; increasing CON will boost all of these.
Body: Keeping in line with the sinewy sailor concept, we’ve subtracted two points of body. The character still falls in the average body range, but puts four character points back in the base pool to help offset the high DEX cost.
Intelligence: Intelligence is the base for perception and many skills and it’s one for one cost makes it a valuable resource. The concept of our hero as a buccaneer included a sense of guile and wiliness which will come in handy on those really tough adventures.
Ego: The character’s ego was left at 10, leaving it at the base level (slightly above average) takes into account for any possible uses (or defenses) later on.
Presence: When this buccaneer walks into a room, most people notice. Planning ahead for a high level of role playing, an increased presence will help all PRE based skills (which are exceptionally helpful with merchant haggling). Any offensive presence encounters should be well handled, and give the character an air of confidence.
Comeliness: Our hero is both confident and attractive. A higher comeliness could sway presence encounters (depending on the GM), and leaves a memorable impression on other characters.
Figured Characteristics: In our example, we left the figured characteristics at their base levels to keep it simple to understand. After a couple of game sessions go by and a player gets used to the character, it’s easy to boost these numbers a little at a time. If the GM is willing, he or she might even allow a player to reconfigure a character to take in account for any mechanical inequities that may arise. The relative levels of characteristic interpretation may differ slightly from troupe to troupe depending on the orientation of the system to the setting. Just ask a few questions and get the necessary information. The operational parameters of characteristics are relatively tight. Reference the rule book for sample characters for an initial tuning of statistical understanding. Try not to start out too powerful or too weak, just focus on your character’s ability to function in the campaign. Find a good zone for your character and move onto skills and talents.
Skills and Talents
A character needs to be able to do something to move a plot; ways to deal with conflict in the campaign setting. Characters can make a direct story impact by using skills and talents. Many game systems have archetypes; quintessential character molds indigenous to the genre. A good example of genre/archetype association is the horror milieu. Just the thought of a full moon at night in a strange place conjures up Ken Russell-esque backgrounds replete with vampires and werewolves. Archetypes do not predispose all possible character types, but the most likely ones as a place to start. If you decide to use a character archetype, a system's rule book and example characters will usually give a list of offered skills and talents. These prearranged items will help flesh out the character’s usefulness, increasing its functional ability and a good application for successes at basic levels. As a character matures, they will also contribute to the identity and reputation of the character.
Our buccaneer will need ship sailing skills, some sort of professional skills and the proficiencies that will establish its reputation during campaigning. Saber dueling could be its claim to fame or maybe an anti-violent spin could create a more interesting reputation by creating an Errol Flynn type character: prefers to be suave and influential without needing "a big stick". The GM has put together a “pirate on the high-seas” adventure hostile to the PC’s. Deciding to incorporate a sword dueling skill will help the character, but the player could make a personal choice to use it as a last resort. Choosing how often to use a skill and the manner in which it is used adds to character's personality. A slick talking buccaneer avoiding violence for thrill and excitement puts the character in a unique niche, creating situations in game stories. When the hero frees political prisoners from an overbearing king against the behest of the party, characters will come into conflict and role playing will become charged with excitement. (Reminder: Just because characters are in conflict does not give players the opportunity to argue over a plot twist. The characters don’t need to get along, but the players do).
Page through the rule book and make a wish list of skills and talents for the character. Tally up the total character costs and weed them out to determine what is affordable and necessary at the beginning. Various skills, talents, and powers have different types and levels of effectiveness that will have point costs relative to their story impact. By brainstorming a comprehensive list, the character has a better selection of initial skills now inclusive of character goals to work toward (such as improving Llama riding skills). It’s a method of building in ways to promote a well rounded character base of progressive functioning over the course of many stories. The character becomes well-tailored instead of being a patchwork of unrelated resources. As a character accumulates experience points, the player has a general idea of what skills to spend experience points on to increase functional ability. A few more puzzle pieces filled in over time that will help forecast future incarnations of the character. Following is a list of possible skills to be considered:
Wish List Starting List
Familiarity w/Water Vehicles (5 pts) Familiarity w/Water Vehicles
Navigation (14 pts) Sword Fighting
Sword Fighting Defensive Strike
Oratory Offensive Strike
Stealth Martial Dodge
Gambling (3 pts) Oratory
High Society (3 pts) Stealth
Riding, Land Based (3 pts) Gambling
Languages (8 pts) Languages (African, Arabic, French & Spanish)
Astronomy (3 pts) Astronomy
French Cooking (1 pt) Familiarity with common melee weapons
Familiarity with common melee weapons (3 pts) Streetwise
Point totals start to play into the construction process by this stage. Starting characters usually have restrictive initial limits to encourage future growth. Beginning levels in the Hero system traditionally start with 150 points. We spent 48 points on base characteristics by boosting important traits above the system established average of ten. Ten being accepted as the norm of a well functioning individual in all characteristic categories. The initial skills and talents for our character tack on an additional 43 points for a total of 92 points.
Currently, our buccaneer has characteristics and skills. The next character resource to establish is tools and equipment. Resource tools can be equipment, weapons, vehicles, bases (homes, fortresses, castles, etc.) and any other object or device used by the character to take on plot challenges and fictional development that has a mechanical justification. Systems may have a point or money scale to allot equipment while others offer a starting allotment available to players. Tools add to a character’s ability and always require some sort of tally to make sure a character is in balance with the story. Similar to skill lists, jot down a wish list of tools and equipment towards deciding which items are necessary and which are luxury. The key to the decision making process is figuring out what items will best introduce the character to the setting, what items should be acquired while the character points are available, and which items would be most appropriate for the character concept and game setting. Our equipment list breaks down like this:
Wish List Starting List
Galleon (20 pts) Horse
Horse (7 pts) Saber
Saber * Sea charts
Sea charts * Backpack
Backpack * Eating utensils
Eating utensils * Boots
Magic Cloak (7 pts) Dagger
Boots (7 pts) Magic Cloak
Dagger 5" Gliding IIF (- 1/4)
Tavern +2 PRE
It turns out that most of the tools for our character are available at an equitable point level. The galleon was a bit much, but it could constitute a character goal to work toward later on in the campaign, increasing the personal stakes of the character. The horse was 97 points and figures into costing a little differently than standing equipment. Bases and vehicles consume a disproportionate amount of character points because of their inherent attributes. To offset this imbalance, the system compensates by reducing the costs. The horse is a standard horse from the Hero Bestiary. A character could have a special horse like Trigger or Mr. Ed, but the points add up quickly even with point equalization. The horse’s 97 points seems steep, but the game system takes into account the necessity of vehicles. In a pre-industrial campaign setting, a horse can be considered a “vehicle” and take advantage of the governing rules. Vehicles in the Hero system cost a character 1/5 their real cost, reducing our equine mode of transportation to a total of 20 points.
A "real cost" in the hero system identifies the total point cost before assessing mathematical manipulations in the game rules that adjust for disproportionate relationships. Manipulations that are built into the system by the designers with the forethought of fairly rationalizing character concepts. As a method of checks and balances, leeway should always available to a character, but the GM has final say. A GM's view is unique as all information is made available to insure balance and the quality of game play. In addition to real costs, a Hero character will have an active cost. Active costs do include the mathematical frameworks and represent the exact functional ability of a character resource and allow a proportionate measure of that functional ability. These figures are usually considerably higher than the real cost, but players can fit their concept into the starting allotment of character construction points. For example, the horse has an active cost of 97 points. This represents the true mechanical cost of the horse. When applied to the starting figure of 150 points, having the necessary tool becomes unreasonable. The inherent point reduction factor of 5 reduces the horse to a real cost (rounded up) to 20; the cost the player will pay. The horse is now affordable; the character concept remains viable and gets the horse.
(Fun Note: Old timers and game fanatics will know this as "processed damage").
Real costs and active costs can differ in mathematical relationship depending on what method is used to manipulate the numbers. Hero offers power advantages, disadvantages (or complications), and frameworks to players so that characters have a better chance of staying intact during the translation. Sometimes they can reduce the cost by adding limitations, or increase the cost by improving an existing character resource. GM’s will approve these various character construction tools to make sure the character does not get out of hand and imbalance the game. If a player has any question regarding these issues, approach the game master and resolve the issue.
The saber and dagger are a necessity for survival in a rough-and-tumble pirate world. As weapons, the point cost is "expensive" (15 points per die) because of their ability to drastically effect the campaign setting. We’ve taken advantage of the rules and placed limitations on our character’s ability to use the saber and reduced it to a real cost of 7 points. The system is a bit trickier to assimilate for players new to gaming, but the flexibility improves the quality of good character creation. If a player runs into any design snags, get together and work it out with the game master or the player mentor.
Unless a game system or setting’s difficulty is tied in with harsh economic conditions or social access (such as only knights may carry weapons), pedestrian items like sea charts, eating utensils, and an average amount of clothing are considered "givens". They are part of the character’s daily life and can only enhance the story interface. We chose the dagger for shiply duties, basic survival, and the occasional daring-do (you need the dagger to cut the hanging chandelier loose) and a saber for dealing with rogues and upstarts. After consulting the GM, the magic cloak was approved for the character. This is important for two reasons: first, the hypothetical GM made a rule that there would be little or no magic in the game. Second, stealth and presence are skills and may not be attached to the cloak but the GM may have approved the rules bend because it fit the character (or has plans for it to be part of an upcoming adventure; sometimes resources can become obstacles). The magic cloak is a valuable and powerful item, so its point cost was more than that of standard clothing. To add an air of mystery, the magic cloak can be used in conjunction with stealth for night missions and its uniqueness boosts the hero’s natural presence. Assuming we’ll be escaping adversaries over rooftops and off castles, the cloak will enable our hero to glide safely down from high points. The cloak’s contribution to the character’s presentation and functionality more than outweigh its point cost. Our character’s tools add an additional 34 points, bringing the total to 126 points.
Places to Go, People to See
Adventures can get hairy, and heroes always need help sooner or later from somebody. Friends and family, contacts and organizations contribute to a character’s power base. A power base is a collection of agents and/or groups that can aid or contribute to a character’s condition. Detectives have networks of informants, politicians have stoolies and constituents, and adventurers have guilds. Power bases make a strong connection to the story and a good alliance can help characters immensely. Because power bases are part of the campaign, check with the GM for existing possibilities, or get together and write one up. They play well in story lines and make a solid connection between the character and setting.
The cost of power bases depends on the type of organization and the guidelines of the game system. A guild for instance, might not be a direct draw on character points but our hero may have to perform a function in return for the alliance. Minor contacts might come without a price because they are part of the plot. Contacts on the other hand can cost points. Generally, contacts give an extended access to the campaign setting outside of the plot and are considered a resource. Hero has incorporated this into their point system. Our character concept may need a buddy in a coastal city or two, a blacksmith contact, and needs to be a member of a Mariner’s Guild for some perks. Each contact costs two points and membership to guild is three points (eleven points total). The initial power base for the character brings the total to 137 points and mechanical construction is almost complete.
Our asset of 13 points lets us go back to our wish list and pick a few more items. If you’ve played with a particular GM before, you might go back and add in that familiarity with llama skill knowing you’ll probably encounter one. It’s a handy technique but try to do this only if it’s in line with your character concept. The idea at this point is to go back and pick a few more items to help flesh out your character. You might also decide to bank your leftover points in anticipation of upcoming stories in order to tailor your character to a particular campaign setting. We split it down the middle, purchasing a couple more skills, and banking the rest.
Try to keep your character’s bio and resources consistent with each other and its concept. Doing this will contribute to a well rounded character that’s easier, and more fun to play. So far, we’ve dealt with external character items. To balance the character’s fictional existence we need to address the character’s internal condition. To establish methods of reasoning is only the first part. Internal condition is primarily affected by internal conflict.
The final part of character construction is to establish the antagonist within. Many game systems include disadvantages or complications to jump start a character’s motivation. Imbuing a character with internal conflict, disadvantages are extra difficulties placed on characters to add new dimensions of conflict and resolution. They are the inner terrors and hindrances that simulate personal struggles to be overcome; opposing forces that contain or empower character motivations and ideas giving yet another level of tangibility to a good character. Mechanically, they act as resource drains on a character to amplify the intensity of the game challenge.
Many game systems demand that players incorporate disadvantages into their characters and offer additional construction point values in return. Phobias, psychological quirks, physical encumbrances, taboos, flaws and other resource drains all fall under character disadvantages. There are many types of disadvantages and usually catalogued accordingly in the rule books. Check with the game master for additional selections that are campaign specific or fall under a GM’s house rules. You might find a new character twist to try out.
By trying, we can learn to endure adversity. Another man’s I mean.
Don’t necessarily consider them mere shackles but an integral measure of a good character. Admirable heroes conquer challenges from without and within. Good players use disadvantages to create curiously realistic characters that permeate a vibrant game story bringing them to life with new levels of dramaturgy. Meticulous patterns of emotion to encounter the crux of the unwritten story, overcoming some challenges with strength and resources and others with self-resolution. Resolution borne from facing the most difficult adversary. The one we all face; the one within.
We’ve plotted our course and laid out our edge pieces with the character’s physical make-up, skills and talents, tools, and power bases. Disadvantages have been integrated into the character and the point costs have been worked out. The character can now be transferred from your notes to the character sheet. Double check the math and fill in the blanks. Let the GM look it over and make a copy for future reference. Doing this will give a GM a chance to crunch numbers and keep a crisp edge in dramatic situations by narrowing the window of functional ability against the difficulty of the encounters.
This is a simplified example of character construction and only one type of game system. Always refer to the rule book for specific/expanded character construction details and keep the mechanics of the system in mind. Just maintain the relative levels of character resources (characteristics, skills, tools, resources) in line with what you want to accomplish on a regular campaign basis. The “edge pieces” of your character map will help focus the development of your character with each new piece of the puzzle, creating a map to adventure and excitement.
You are here: "X"
Your idea now has fictional flesh. An organized transition from concept through construction has supported your character with a genre connecting it to the setting. A shadow that has been given substance with a biography and mechanical construction. Mechanics enable lines of communication and expression as the character develops. The conflict brought on by plot adversaries creating the game challenge. Plot lines with friends and allies, thugs and villains all coming together in a swirl of story lines and adventures to be resolved by you, the actor and puppeteer of the character.
System Knowledgeability: Before a player can write up a character, it is necessary for a complete understanding of the systems rules. If not, get help from the GM or player mentor. Be sure to take advantage of the systems inherent frameworks
Status Quo: Know your character concept well enough to create the character’s status-quo. Know where you want to start so you can develop a direction for growth.
Characteristics: Compare the concept to the system’s rules and allot characteristics. Keep the character in balance and remember that it’s a starting point.
Abilities: Choose the skills and talents that will help a character affect the campaign and deal with plot encounters.
Equipment: Determine what devices and equipment the character owns. Find out how to correctly appropriate them and allot them to the character.
Power Base: Keep track of who the character knows and is beholden to. Contacts are a valuable character resource and should be thought of during character construction.
Disadvantages: What things are not perfect about the character? Are there an old enemies with a grudge? A questionable reputation or chronic bad luck? Create a more realistic character by giving it infallibilities.
GM Approval: Make sure the GM sees the character for approval. The GM needs to balance the campaign to keep the game challenge in balance.
Heroic Buccaneer: Characteristics
STR = 12
DEX = 18
CON = 14
BODY = 8
INT = 14
EGO = 10
PRE = 14
COM = 14
PD = 2
ED = 3
SPD = 4
REC = 5
END = 28
STUN = 21
TOTAL = 48