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An Integrated System for Character Design

Copyright Denis Garnier ©2003

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

This proposal tries (and hopefully manages) to deal with each and every aspect of character development, from balancing characteristics scores and talents to professional bonuses and special skills (i.e., Everyman, etc.). This system was designed using the fantastic 'Irregular Realms' but works quite well with the standard rules. The basic mechanic is a single pool of creation points (CP) with which players can buy everything they need (including features, talents, race and other optional items). 

This system is very adaptable and may lead to abuses by some players. It requires significant GM supervision along with heavy reliance on the character's background, the true foundation of character development.

We'll see later how to handle stats and how to restrain players from abusively maximizing them by integrating professional requirements and using super-linear pricing. On average, the goal is to have starting bonuses ranging from +40 to +45.

The first purchase is race. The basic Rural Human is the reference and so it is free. The cost may reach as high as 50 for the mightiest races (such as the Noldor in the Lord of the Rings). This will cause characters from the most preferable races to have fewer CP to spend on talents and stats. This proposal is consistent with the standard rules.

In my mind, the problem of choosing talents and skills must be dealt with simultaneously. I strongly recommend allowing each newly designed character a free training package, thus allowing the player to better define its character. That way, a player can then choose his talents according to history. A character created with a strong military background for example, will probably have many (if not all) of his talents (save for the innate ones) somehow related to his background.

Throughout this document, I will refer to the races from the Middle-Earth Realm since they are both varied and well known.

Character's design, definition phase

To generate a character, the most important step is to develop the history. Such a statement may seem a little obvious, but it's all-important. For a character, all of his skills and talents are products of his history. A portion may be innate, but the bulk of what he is and does depends on his first trainings and his experience as a youth.

For those reasons, defining the general lines of a character's history must precede the simple application of the rules. Once the character has been thoroughly defined, the player will assign features, talents and skills more logically. Those features will stick to the background and that's the way it should be.

It is generally not prudent to proceed from features to history. Features will be introduced later, once the development phase is over and the character is well defined. Then the player may attach names and features to his character's skills (this is even recommended). To know that Bob the fighter has 5 ranks in 'broadsword' skill is fine, but to know that his instructor is Bill and how the two met is far better. This is repeated for each major skill and talent and allows Bob to develop a list of acquaintances, people that may have helped or hindered him in the past. Thus a full-fledged background is developed and Bob the fighter becomes more than a mere enumeration of skills.

  1. Available points.
  2. Race
  3. Archetypes and trainings
  4. Stats
  5. Talents and Background options
  6. Initial skills
  7. Character's development
  8. Example

Available points

Once the definition phase ended, the attribution of points begins. To create a character, a player is given 100 CP. With those points he will have to buy race, stats, talents and will be able to customize his character's archetype. The skills will be purchased later with development points (DP) as usual.

Race

As a general guideline, the more powerful a race, the costlier it is to choose it. If a race provides high stat bonuses and other advantages (night vision, everyman skills...), it will be costlier to purchase, giving the player fewer CP to spend on talents and stats. This may not be realistic, but it is needed to keep the races balanced. For example: in a Middle-Earth setting, if the Noldor were awarded as many CP as the Rural Men, our gaming sessions will soon be over-crowded by very talented Noldor to the detriment of the 'lower' races. Here are the costs for the races of Middle-Earth.

RaceCostRaceCost
Dwarfs/Khazad10Haradrim00
Umli10Lossoth00
Noldor40Rohirrim00
Sindar30Rural Men00
Sylvan/Nandor20Urban Men00
Half-elfs30Variags00
Hobbits10Wood Men00
Beornings00Woses10
Black Numenoreans20Orcs00
Umbareans10Uruk-hai10
Dorwinrim00Half-orcs10
Dunedain (mixed)20 (10)Trolls10
Dunlendings00Olog-hai20
Easterlings00Half-trolls20

Archetypes and trainings

At this point, the player chooses his character's 'profession'. To that end, he has to ask himself some questions. How does he want his character to evolve, and how has it been trained? This is roughly equivalent in game terms to: what are the archetype and training packages.

First, the archetype—this indicates the character's areas of expertise and weaknesses regarding skills. It is a very good indicator of what the character may become. I usually use the 'Irregular Realms' Tim Dugger has granted us. But it is possible to use the standard classes.

Next, a free training package is used to 'refine' the archetype. A character may be a pure user of the realm of arms, but he will be very different if he has been trained as a knight or as a city guard. His skills and background are vastly different as are their starting equipments. The most important is that this combination (archetype + TP) makes it easier for the GM and the player to allocate the special skills (Everyman, etc.) to the character. In the former example, a city guard may well have developed Surveillance and Streetwise as Everyman skills whereas the knight is more likely to have acquired Heraldry and Mounted Combat.

Rather than giving the players 10 free steps to customize his skill costs (as suggested in 'Irregular Realms'), one step can be purchased for 1 CP. I also think that no negative steps should be allowed. If a skill is not suited for a character, he simply ignores it. Allowing him a 'negative' gives him more 'positive steps' to further increase the skills he favors. The culture and professional training of the character should indicate the only restricted skills. The GM can also treat restricted skills as flaws, but then only in relevant categories where they will be a hindrance. While a high elf magician with plate armor as a restricted skill is not really diminished, with the power awareness category thus classified, it is altogether different. It may be the equivalent of a major or greater flaw.

I strongly believe archetypes and TP to be inseparable. To go further, it's also this combination that allows establishing the professional bonuses. Continuing the previous example, the city guard may have +15 in the weapon group, +10 with armor, +5 in Stealth, Urban, Awareness, Body Development and Combat maneuvers. The knight would have the standard fighter bonuses as they suit him well.

The GM must be aware that a player may thereby acquire ranks in skills that diverge from his archetype. For example, a pure subterfuge user may acquire the amateur mage TP and acquire skills far beyond the normal scope of his archetype. The GM should closely monitor this, but I don't think it necessary to forbid it (as long as the background is consistent). However, the GM may require the player to pay for such 'skills expansion' with 10 CP.

Stats

A character's abilities are defined by his stats. Since the scores themselves are almost never used, I have discarded them and retained only the bonuses. Players can assign bonuses ranging from –3 to +10 to their starting stats. I prefer not to let them put a lower bonus in any stat to prevent them from maximizing their favorite stats excessively. If a player wishes to attribute less than –3 to a stat I have him do so with a flaw.

Two options:

  • Give the character a +3 bonus in any stat that benefits from a stat gain in their TP.
  • If you choose to use prime requisites, a bonus of +5 must be assigned to each prime requisite.

You can also be less firm by letting them transgress those requisites but make them pay 1 CP per unmet requisite (reflecting the hard time the character as to go through to learn his profession being so pitifully under talented).

Stat valueCost (in CP)Stat valueCost (in CP)
-3-3 (a +3 gain in CP)44
-2-2(a +2 gain in CP)55
-1-1(a +1 gain in CP)67
00 (starting level of all stats)79
11811
22914
331017

High stats may be acquired at the beginning, but it is costly and to the detriment of talents. It may be more interesting to boost stats via talents even if it is costlier as we will see in the development phase.

Talents and Background options

In this phase, the player chooses his background options. Each background option in RMSR is now equivalent to 10 CP. You can now spend your CP as indicated in RMSR. Each option costs 10 CP.

Additional Languages Up to 20 ranks in languages allowed by adolescence development.
Extra money Under various forms. Roll on RMSR T 1-5
Special objectDetermined on table T 1-5
Special bonus+5 to a category or +10 to a skill, bonuses do not stack, only if the category has a combined or standard development.

Talent Level Cost without flaw Cost with the same level flaw Cost with aggravated flaw
Lesser 20 § - 10
Minor 30 20 10
Major 40 30 20
Greater 50 40 30

Note: § means that if the talent perfectly matches the character's background the cost is reduced to 10 CP.

No talent should grant a character any special skills (Everyman, Occupational or Restricted). That can only be done at the archetype definition phase as stated in 'Irregular Realms'. To achieve a result similar to that of 'Directed weapon master' in the Talent Law, one would have to choose the 'Weapon master' TP (the one in MAC will do) and then select the first weapon category as Everyman and primary weapon as Occupational (costs 8 steps in Tim Dugger's system or 8 CP in the integrated system).

Initial skills

There are four sources of a character's skills:

  • Adolescence: when a character assimilates his culture.
  • Hobbies: what the character has learned during his leisure time (if any).
  • Training: formal teachings the character has received (archetype + TP).
  • Development: what the character learns using his DP.

Skills gained during adolescence are indicated on the adolescence table. This indicates the common knowledge all members of any given culture share. There we can find the Rohirrim extraordinary abilities with horses or Dwarves skill with axes. These skills are free or, rather, their costs are included in the race cost.

Hobbies are influenced by culture, but are nonetheless unique to each character. They reflect what the character has learned during his "down time." Each culture sets limits on the possible hobby skills. For example, a Hobbit in Middle-Earth cannot have learned magic whereas a Nando Elf of Mirkwood can easily have dabbled with illusionary magic even if he is a fighter. The hobbies skills are acquired exactly as prescribed by RMSR.

Training further defines the character's archetype. Those ranks are free and are used to make of each character a credible representative of its trade. Thanks to those ranks, a hunter gains skill in archery and a demonist ranks in demon lore and the like.

Lastly, development is the phase in which the player has the greatest degree of liberty in the choice of skills. The player receives a pool of development points (DP) to spend as in RMSR. The amount is 65+AG+CO+ME+RE+SD. The player can purchase either skills or additional TP as in RMSR. A character can acquire virtually any skill he wishes provided that once again the skills match the character's history. It is possible at this point that a scholar with a very secluded background begins to visit dirty barrooms and thus acquires some ranks in Streetwise.

At that point, the character is almost ready to play. His history has been thoroughly refined—he is well defined by his stats, skills and talents.

Character's development

As the character continues his adventurous life, his skills will improve and maybe his stats as well. His possessions will certainly increase. Only talents should remain roughly the same. At each level (or stage of development), each character receives 65+AG+CO+ME+RE+SD DP to buy new skills or improve stats. The costs to better the skills and categories are set by the archetype. The costs to improve stats are as follows:

Current Basic Stat (excluding talents...) Cost in DP to improve
From -∞ to +3 8/20
From +4 to +816
From +9 to +1032

These costs are deliberately high. I think that after intensive training, a character's stats have reached their highest potential or almost so. One can increase them, but only with great effort. It is also useful to have boosted a stat bonus via a talent rather than directly through stat purchase. The cost in DP to increase a stat bonus is based on the basic stat. A character with a +8 bonus in Empathy, for example, must spend 16 points to increase it to +9. A character with a +3 basic bonus and a +5 talent bonus in Empathy will enjoy the same total bonus of +8 but since the basic bonus is only +3, he will have to pay only 8 points to increase that stat.

Another solution that I use is to give the players a +1 bonus for each 10 ranks reached in any category of each group. That is, if a character reaches 10 ranks in the one-handed weapons category, he will be allowed to add +1 either to agility or strength. Reaching 10 ranks in another category in this group will bring him no bonuses however. He will receive another stat bonus from that group only when reaching 20 ranks in that category. On the other hand, if he reaches 10 ranks in medium armors for example, he will be allowed the same advancement.

Example

Let's talk about Elterel Miethel Sindelliel, a young elven warrior-mage of noble birth belonging to the Order of the Bright Flame, a group of mystical fighters dedicated to expel demons from the world.

In spite of my advice on developing an extensive history, I won't go through that time-consuming process right now; it's just too long. To illustrate the CP spending process:

  • Definition phase: young high elf dedicated to fight against evil creatures trained in battle magic and swordplay.
  • Race: 30 CP (Sindar)
  • Archetype: 30 CP
    • Essence and Arms
    • Free TP: 'Brother of the Bright Flame'
    • 5 skills as Everyman: Situational Awareness: Combat, Firebolt (a professional trademark), Stunned Maneuvering, Brawling (given his turbulent background), Two-Weapon Combo (broadsword and dagger)
    • 25 CP spent for stats: +2 in SD, PR, IN, CO; +4 in AG, QU, ST; +5 in EM.
    • Professional bonuses are: +5 in Armor and Directed Spells, +10 in Body Development, Combat Maneuvers, Spells and Weapons.
  • Talents and Background options: 40 CP
    • +10 to Fire bolts skill, +5 to Warrior-Mage magic category, a +10 broadsword
    • A lesser talent fitting his background: Guild background.

He still has to total his adolescence, hobbies and TP ranks and then spend his 74 DP to be ready to play.

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