So, having recently worked up a number of characters for one shots at Gen Con, I needed to figure out a way to make a lot of characters quickly. If we ever print a revision to Becoming Heroes, one thing I want to change about the book is to write a lot more advice about choosing traits. Until then, however, I want to share a “quick generation” pattern that I think works really well.
Choose your arc first. This will help you with the next bit. Also, some arcs have special trait requirements, and you’ll want to keep that in mind.
Next, choose traits to fit specific aspects of your character, as listed below:
- Power: A thing your character can do that others cannot. You might be Attuned to the Forest. Or you could be a Demon Summoner.
- Feature: A mundane aspect that is really useful. Are you a Shrewd Merchant? Maybe you have The Luck of a Fool.
- History: The background you come from. Were you trained as a Forest Guardian? Perhaps you’re a Former Assassin.
- Weakness: A character flaw. Perhaps you have an Uncompromising Devotion to the Faith. Maybe it’s an Endless Hatred for Monsters.
- Quirk: Some tick or habit that others will notice. Are you a Zen Gardener? Are you a Wicked Gossip?
- Disposition: How you come across to others. Are you an Eternal Optimist? Perhaps you Brook No Offense.
- Description: How people describe you. Do you have a Gallant Bearing? Or are you a Master of Deception?
- Physicality: How you physically interact with the world. Maybe you have Tattoos of Arcane Power. Maybe you’re Born of Giants?
After that, choose ties:
- Someone you love
- Someone you hate
- Someone you need
Then choose circumstances and a virtue—I find these go pretty smoothly after the rest. With this mould, I was able to create six characters in a few hours by myself. If you’re doing this as a group, I’d recommend going down the list with each player creating one trait at a time.
While we’re generally all about Becoming Heroes, we’ve recently hit upon one part that is harder than it needs to be—character generation. Right up front, we ask you to decide eight traits, three circumstances, and three ties. We don’t give you a lot of guidance around selecting these traits and people get stuck around six traits in.
Now, I don’t think getting stuck is a fatal flaw—it usually clears up when you talk about it as a group—but we’re going to add trait suggestions to each arc in our next revision. For instance, the Lost King should probably have some trait relating to their nobility. The Dutybound should have a trait related to where their duty comes from. Lots of places can inspire traits; the system just doesn’t yet help you find them.
In designing Piece of Work, we’re addressing character generation directly. We’re using a Dread-esque questionnaire that walks you though building your character. It works phenomenally well. First, it breaks up tasks like “allocate your skill points” or “pick your gear” into a series of discrete steps. Because those are smaller decisions and those decisions have context, they’re much easier to make.
Second, it lets us gently reinforce the tropes and setting of the game. Instead of just picking a random piece of gear, you have an item you picked up when things started to go wrong. Instead of just knowing the person to your left, you’re childhood friends. This added context pushes characters to create conspiracies, attach nostalgic meaning to things, to have conversations with other characters fraught with historical subtext—all staples of the noir genre.
I’m now on the hunt for other systems that use smaller choices to reduce the strain of creating a character. Dread is obviously one. Spirit of the Century‘s phases works this way. And Leverage not only has bite-sized char-gen steps, but moves some of those choices out of char-gen and into actual play. What are some of your favorite char-gen systems, and how do they help create a character?
So we recently had a request from the brilliant @strasa for a post about meshing multiple arcs together when running Becoming Heroes. It was always our intention that it be done, as closely as possible, to give everyone an epic sense of destiny at work. Nothing is as iconic to fantasy as this particular story structure—that everyone arrives at the crossroads of destiny at once, at the same time, for one last final battle between good and evil.
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Well, Gen Con was utterly fantastic, despite feeling like I’ve been run over by a steamroller even a few days later. We got to meet nerd-famous people, hang out with friends, and to at least some extent, play games. One of those games was run by me, and was a game of Becoming Heroes inspired by Dr. Who. A few people expressed interest in hearing about it, so I figured I would write it up and post it here. Caveat: this post is long, despite only representing two hours of play.
A bit of context. Graham Walmsley was the inspiration behind running a game at all; left to my own devices, I would’ve stayed in the booth for another few hours. I’m much, much happier that we did get to run a game. Unfortunately, Graham couldn’t make it to that actual game, so I thought that I wouldn’t have an audience. Games on Demand is magic, though, and within a few minutes there was a full table of players eager to learn the game.
Right. On with the show.
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Gen Con was fantastic. Thanks to all the people, too many to name, who made it awesome. We sold well, we played well, and we had a great time. Particular thanks to Ryan Macklin, Jason Morningstar and Allie McCarthy for their help with advice on how to sell and pitch.
For anyone who bought the book and didn’t give us their email (I think that there are one or two of you), contact us so we can get you a PDF copy.
Thanks for a wonderful year, and we hope to see you all next year!
Well, there’s one more day of Gen Con, and Transneptune Games has had—and hope to keep having—a great time. I’m taking a breather from the gaming, socializing, selling and accidental game designing, to recuperate.
If you’re here, and you’ve not said hi yet, come by booth 1745 in Entrepreneurs’ Avenue. Unless you find us tonight, we probably won’t be able to run Becoming Heroes for you this year, but hopefully we’ll see you next year and we can play it—and whatever games we’ve produced between now and then.
We’ve been talking a bit about games without GMs, particularly as we work up Lucid for the con. (Quick teaser: it’s an RPG about lucid dreaming. We think.) In so doing, it’s exposed an interesting point. The idea of what a “game master” is depends on the system you’re playing. Adversary? Guide? Prompt? All plausible roles. All different in how they play. The part that has me going is that this is a different distinction than who has control over which elements of the story. It’s not concerned with how, but why. Why has always been a more interesting question to me, if a bit troublesome.
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Great news! We finalized our print layout and are ready to accept orders for Becoming Heroes. You can pick it up here. We’re still working on the PDF/digital formats—we’re hoping to create a full-size and tablet version, and should have them soon. This is the culmination of a year of work for us and we’re very pleased with the results; I hope that you all feel the same.
In other great news, we will have a booth at Gen Con! Number 1745 to be precise. We’ll be in the back right of the dealer room in the space reserved for first time exhibitors. You’ll be able to pick up print copies of the book, sets of beads, art from the game, and a copy of our free leaflet RPG Lucid. (What’s Lucid, you ask? Swing by to find out!) Alas, we’re still playtesting some changes for Piece of Work and have decided not to rush the game for the convention.
If you’re going to Gen Con, you should also stop by the various indie booths on display. Of course, the DriveThrough RPG booth (767), but also the amazing folk over at Margaret Weis Productions (1619); we are uncertain if Evil Hat or Bully Pulpit will be in attendance. [Edit: Bully Pulpit will be there. Rejoice!] All of these people have been a huge influence on us and we owe them all collectively a beverage of their choice. (Feel free to swing by and collect—we will make time for you!)
Expect traffic on this blog to drop during the con. Until then, look for several posts over the next few days!
3:16 Carnage amongst the Stars action announcements Apocalypse World authority balance Becoming Heroes being awesome blank pages boundaries character creation choice D&D death design designers Dread epic Et in Arcadia Ego Exalted Fiasco fun game tasting gaming Gen Con GM history How We Came to Live Here Leverage mechanics models motivation Mouse Guard My Life with Master narrative space playtesting Primetime Adventures setting situation Spirit of the Century story theater theme theory world-building
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