There are critical events in all our lives – certain situations that allow us to develop as people and learn new skills. Some of these situation may occur through choice whilst others are forced upon us and we all experience these event differently. Two people can attend the same school at the same time yet for one, it is a forgotten period of their lives but for another it defined them as a person.
The question is, how to capture this random, nebulous and highly personal experience in a quick and easy game mechanic? [See Part 1 for more information on the design issues].
Trust The Players
The 6d6 RPG is a game of positives. The absence of a card, such as Brawn, does not mean the character is a puny weakling, just that their strength is not an important part of the character. The choice of the Brawn card is a positive action – the player saying to the GM that this aspect of my character is important.
It was returning to this basic idea – of accentuating the positive – gave me the latest breakthrough in designing the character generation.
Previously I had been hung up on a formal narrative. Stuck on the idea that characters picked up their abilities and skills at different stages of their life – pick 2 skills in childhood – 4 skills in their teenage years etc etc. But I could not make this fit to all the different types of characters that players might want in a fantasy setting, let alone what they would need for the very different demands of a super-hero game or a post-apocalypse game.
And then I remembered to trust the players.
Throw away the formal structure, break everything down into parts and let the players pick those bits that are important to their back story.
A path card is a very simple mechanic. It represents an important part of a character’s life or path and it makes available certain abilities and skills. The card could represent something formal such as Education and make available obvious skills such Literacy. Or it can be something vague such as City Life which gives a character access to things like Streetwise. There is no fixed idea of what a Path Card should represent, leaving the door open to GMs to create as many different paths in as many different styles as they like.
In generating the character, a player picks several path cards representing their character’s life. The absence of a City Life or Education path cards does not mean they have never been educated or been to a city, just that they are not important parts of the story.
Each Path Card costs the same number of points to buy as an ability or skill card. This forces the character to make a choice: Spend points getting lots of path cards to gain access to a wide range of skills or limit their path but have a more points to spend on a smaller pool of abilities.
Generating a Character
The first step is to select a race card.
A High Elf race card
It gives the Elf certain free cards, such as movement and sense, but most importantly the Elf Blood card which is the first proper Path card.
The Elf Blood path card
This ‘Blood’ cards let a character select their core Body, Mind and Soul cards based on their race. In my generic fantasy world, elves are not muscle bound creatures so they lack the Brawn and Toughness from their available cards. Players wanting to a physically strong Elf will need to pick up another Path card that does make Brawn available.
The Goblinoid Blood path card
For comparison, the Goblinoid Blood card above has a very different selection of available cards. By combining what cards are provided free by the Race Card and what options are available on the Blood card, a GM can define abilities that every member of a race has and those which that are common. Yet players can still create mold breaking characters, such a strong elf or a sweet, caring Goblin by picking other path cards.
Four sample path cards
Each player starts with their choice of Race card and any free cards that grants. After that each card they buy, whether it is a Path card such as Militia, an ability card such Brawn or a skill like Pick Locks, cost four Character Points (CP). Each of these cards is worth 1d6 when played during an action and can be improved by spending additional CPs.
The player has 36 + 6d6 CP to spend with an average character having 57 CPs and picking four path cards, four Body/Mind/Soul cards and six skill cards. Skill heavy characters like magic users may have to sacrifice some Body/Mind/Soul cards to afford the skills. Conversely, a warrior may focus on one or two skills and take more physical cards as they work as hit points.
GMs are free to tweak this system and can do so easily. For a super hero game or a high fantasy world, all character could start with 150 CPs or more. It is up to the GM.
Design Goals Revisited
In part one I stated a number of design goals:
- Allow players freedom to create the characters they want
- Allow GMs to easily define their world by limiting or expanding the player’s range of options.
- Make it easy for a GM’s house rules to be passed on to other groups
- Give a character at least a skeleton of a back story
With the current system I think these have been attained and just need the polish of further testing.
Players can create any character they wish by combing different path cards. GMs can control this process by adding or removing Path Cards from the pool players can choose from. Race and Path Cards are easy to pass on to other groups both physically and online allowing ideas to spread rapidly.
Finally, the path gives some idea of the character’s past. A narrative on which players can build character and which prevents all 1st level characters being identical.
But I wanted to push this narrative idea further. Tomorrow I will explain my first experiments with a group character generation process.